Spotlight Festival

Kern County high school students participate in a theater workshop at last year's Spotlight Festival at Cal State Bakersfield. The annual event will be held Friday.

Cynthia Corrales wants to be heard.

The senior at Independence High School would like her art to be taken seriously. Corrales has devoted her high school career to the theater. Since her freshman year, she has acted and in her sophomore year she started writing her own scripts but she is taking her script "Dereliction" to the next level.

The short play, which explores the emotional aftermath of a school shooting and the grieving that takes place, is one of many that will be performed Friday at the 34th annual Spotlight Festival at Cal State Bakersfield.

In writing "Dereliction," Corrales wanted to mirror the reality that she saw on the news. She studied interviews with survivors with the goal of examining the journey of healing.

"It was very much like a lot of us give a time stamp on how long it'll take to heal," Corrales said. "Either you grieve too long or you aren't grieving long enough. I didn't want to talk about guns, it's just a perception of what it's like to grieve."

For this play, Corrales has taken the director's chair, focusing on making sure her peers feel respected as performers. The process for these young artists is as professional as it can get. Even though the independent production is small, they want to be heard.

"It's been my fear because I'm so young and I lack the professional talent that people will belittle the work," Corrales said. "It's important for our voices to be heard."

Corrales' work, along with that of hundreds of other Kern County high school students, will be front and center at the annual festival at CSUB.

Every February, drama students from 19 high schools attend the festival, taking part in theater workshops that explore everything from acting to set design to puppetry.

Original works written and performed by the teens will be presented in front of a panel of instructors who will give constructive criticism, said Kristina Saldaña, the Department of Music and Theatre administrative support coordinator. At the end of the day, stand out performers will be recognized, she said.

"This is a good opportunity to make connections," Saldaña said. "This shows that there's a path they can take."

The festival, now in its 34th year, has grown considerably. There will be more than 450 students attending this year, said Mandy Rees, the department chair. All hands are on deck, all of the faculty, part-time faculty and department staff will help conduct critiques on workshops, Rees said.

"It's wonderful to get them to a college campus because it gets them interested in education after high school," Rees said. "We're reinforcing the good work that high school teachers do but we bring an outside eye and can see things from a new perspective."

While the aim of the day is to teach, it also enhances the sense of camaraderie between the different schools.

"These young actors and creators are full of energy," Rees said. "They are really interested in learning and they are so supportive of each other. It's not just about their school. They cheer one another on." 

Bowen West can be reached at 661-395-7660.

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