Category Archives: Events

Cultural events of the Conejo Valley

Conejo Valley Trail Work Day – Sat. Oct. 15th

If you hike the trails around the Conejo Valley as much as we do, you might want to consider taking part in the 26th annual trail work day sponsored by the Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency. This is a great chance to get involved locally in the stewardship of our open space, meet really nice and caring people, and get a good workout. This year work will focus on the Conejo Canyon area. For more information, visit http://www.cosf.org or Download an Event Flyer

Last year was a blast, check out our video.

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Carrie White Burns in Thousand Oaks

Carrie960x277BannerWhen I first heard that YAE was doing Carrie the Musical, I’ll admit that I wasn’t thinking this would be good “musical” material. I hadn’t heard that the classic Stephen King thriller had been given a musical treatment and thought it was odd to use a horror film as material. Maybe this was because Carrie was the first R rated film I’d ever seen and I continue to think it’s super creepy. Well, I went to last night’s performance at the T.O. High School theater and I was pretty much blown away.

First, the casting. Let me tell you that all the main characters were cast perfectly and they all have so much talent. I’ve seen a number of them in other productions, but this play gave them a chance to really let it go. One actress I had not seen before is Julia Lester, who played Carrie White. She was nothing short of spectacular, and not just because of her soaring voice (awesome!). She performed with such an emotional sensitivity that we couldn’t help but feel for her. She really made us feel what it’s like to be the bullied kid, and I don’t think anyone watching could get through this without thinking of someone they knew as a kid that had to endure this kind of treatment. Her songs tore at the heart strings, particularly the several songs she sang in scenes with Katherine Steele in the role of her mother (Margaret White). These scenes were profoundly intense and captured a changing relationship in a raw and uncomfortable way. It was genuinely moving.

I don’t think the intensity would have been as convincing without Brooke Sikkema’s portrayal of the evil Chris Hargensen. As the anti-Carrie, she exuded a palpable sense of human indifference that we have probably all seen back in school. There are just those people that are so uncaring, and Brooke played it convincingly. I also appreciated the performances of Kate Fruehling (Sue Snell) and Douglas Shao (Tommy Ross). I thought they represented our collective conscience and the thoughts of mature and honest people. In their attempt (in vain) to make up for Sue’s prior insensitivity toward Carrie, they showed how hard it is for us to make amends for our treatment of others and made us see how hard it is to be forgiven by those we may hurt.

The Director’s note in the program drew a linkage between what we see in this play and what really happens to bullied kids. Maybe paranormal payback isn’t so common, but we’ve seen young people lash out in mass shootings around the country. There is a life lesson in this play, and I feel the cast really made us think about the issue of bullying in school. I think the director (Mark Andrew Reyes) made this play relevant and poignant.

For those on the fence about seeing a horror movie musical, I hope you’ll go see this play. This is no kids play, it is mature and powerful production with some intense feelings. This play does what theater should do, it will make you think and feel. To all that were involved in this production…good for you, you nailed it.

Carrie the Musical plays through August 7. Get info and tickets at http://www.yaeonline.com/

Chillin’ with Volunteers and the Conejo Open Space Trails Advisory Committee

Having recently become an officially appointed alternate public representative for the Conejo Open Space Trails Advisory Committee, I was excited to attend the Committee’s annual volunteer work day on Saturday morning October 17th. I arrived early to meet committee members and help get volunteers checked in. I was very impressed with the organization and the speed and efficiency getting vast numbers of volunteers checked in. There must have been about 200 hundred people in total. Once checked in, volunteers boarded city buses to take us out to a new trail route between Lizard Rock (Wildwood Park) and the Hill Canyon Treatment Plant. Another large group was deployed on a weed management project nearby.

The crowd was separated into teams of ten or so and deployed to marked areas on the trail. The trail route had already been “brushed” (shrubs cleared) and the volunteers were creating the new tread. A contingent of trail construction experts affiliated with the Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Association (CORBA) were on hand, along with rangers and COSTAC members to make sure the trails were being properly constructed. Volunteers were of all ages and a number of families came as a group to help out, and there was a great sense of camaraderie among all participants. This is what we at Chillin in the Conejo call “Conejo Spirit!”.

Since a spinal injury has left me fairly useless with a swinging tool, so I decided to man my little Go-pro and capture some video of the event; mainly time lapse videos of the trail construction. Here’s a clip of the highlights.

More Photos


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Legally…….Awesome!

Young Artists Ensemble’s Legally Blonde is Legally Awesome!

Elle1Elle Woods (McKenna Tedrick) is the quintessential Malibu Barbie that has everything, including the most handsome boyfriend ever, Warner Huntington III (Jordan M. Schneider). Warner is off to Harvard Law School and thinks Elle is not serious enough for him. When he breaks up with her during a date instead of proposing to her, Elle falls into a self-destructive spiral until she gets the inspiration to apply to Harvard. When she is accepted, she arrives with her little dog Bruiser to find law school is inhabited by a seriously pretentious bunch of snobs, including Warner’s old prep school mate, and new girlfriend, Vivian Kensington (Natalia Vivino). Vivian takes delight in ridiculing Elle and crushing her confidence. In a moment of desperation, Elle is saved from committing a potential beauty crime (going brunette) by Paulette the hair dresser (Aly Valles), who has her own problems with love.

Aided by the nerdy and frumpy Emmett Forrest (Parker Apple), Elle learns how to succeed in school, while she builds his confidence and teaches him the value of style and personal presentation. Ultimately, Elle, Emmett, Vivian, and Warner are all selected for a coveted internship that has them defending fitness magnate Brooke Windham (Anthea Sobie), a client of their pompous law school instructor Professor Callahan (Brandon Lawrence). When “serious” defenders are unable to think out of the legal box, Elle’s ability to understand and develop trust with the client and spot a lying witness make her the savior. The thrill of victory is short-lived when Callahan makes an unwelcome pass at her and she learns she was only selected for her looks. Just when she is ready to quit and go home, her peers rally to her side and support her completion of law school…as Valedictorian!

Casting for this show was spot on! The cast is quite large and I’m sure casting such a big show can be challenging. To end up with the lead roles the way they did is amazing in and of itself. Tedrick brought Elle to life on this stage and is an amazingly talented singer and actress. She seemed to embrace the personal growth of her character, and she adapted her performance throughout the show as her character grew.  She owned her role and I was impressed that her voice could hold out with that much singing. Aly Valles was cast as Paulette, a Jersey hair stylist. I last saw her in Mulan, so hearing her with a Jersey accent as Paulette was kinda funny and showed some versatility. She has a big voice, and can do the “bend and flip” with the best of them. Natalia Vivino plays the condescending Vivian Kensington, who later becomes Elle’s supporter. She does “serious” well and was convincing as a stuffy preppy. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll see just how perfectly Vivino portrayed Vivian. Lauren Alexander’s portrayal of Enid is worth mention as well. She doesn’t have many lines, but her physical double-takes just oozed feminism.

For the guys, this must have been a dream play considering the ratio. Since there were far fewer guys, many carried multiple roles. Both Schneider and Parker as the lead men had strong voices and embodied their characters well. I enjoyed watching Apple’s character grow and adapt. My only criticism is that I would have liked to see Warner be a bit less likable. There are two other guys that deserve mention for playing multiple roles. Sean McCarthy was funny as the hunky UPS man Kyle (also Dewey trailer trash, and prison guard). Every entry and exit was made with a beautifully deliberate faux-strut accompanied by a soundtrack that could have come from an adult film. We also saw Gabriel Nunag play everything from a middle-eastern student and a tough breakdancer to an effeminate pool boy. He always seems to give his characters a little flash.

This play has a big ensemble that does a lot of dancing, singing, and clothes changing. They were students, cheerleaders, sorority girls, workout video girls, and inmates. There was a lot of choreography to learn and they obviously worked very hard to make the whole play come together. The show wouldn’t have been the same without their talent. Kate Peltola did a tremendous job choreographing all the dance routines, which were creative and demanding.

Finally, this is a musical and I’m a musician, so I need to point out the quality of the live orchestra. It would have been easy to buy a canned download of the music and play it for the songs, but YAE brought in real musicians to do all the music. These young musicians are all ringers and well-conducted by Susan Treworgy-Calkins. It made the whole show more energetic to have live music. I appreciated that the music didn’t overpower the play. You all deserve some love for a great performance.

The show continues through August 9th. For show times and tickets, CLICK HERE

Here are a few photos I managed to get at the final dress rehearsal. They are from an iphone in the dark from a ways back so they are not very suitable for framing, but they show a great group of young performers having a great time with their craft. You can find some better pics HERE.

Chillin’ with the Channel Islands Tracking Team


Brian spent a saturday morning at the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy’s Rio Vista Preserve with the Channel Islands Tracking Team. The team is a group of citizen scientists that have trained in the art of tracking and wildlife sign identification. They use their skills to help public and non-profit land managers understand wildlife usage along Ventura County’s coast.

The Team organizes training, practices, and certification exams for wildlife tracking and sign ID. The Team is looking to grow their numbers, so if you enjoy the outdoors and want to learn the art of tracking, contact the Team at their Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Channel-Islands-Tracking-Team

Or via email: ci.trackingteam@gmail.com

Wildlife tracking is more than just looking at tracks on the ground. Trackers will look more closely at tracks and other signs, such as digging and scratching, to try to determine behaviors and activities of wildlife. A lot can also be learned by assessing the form and contents of animal scat. From scat you can assess the diet of the animal and its digestion efficiency, and this often can tell you what species left it. Beginning trackers will get pretty good at the common species pretty quickly, such as the bobcats, coyote, and foxes. Skilled trackers will be able ID most animals, as well as bugs, reptiles, and amphibians.

Learning to be a good tracker takes time and dedication. From my experience with the team, I can tell you that these are honestly some of the nicest people you can meet, and they all have an un-matched love for the outdoors. If you like the outdoors and want to meet nice people while helping land managers learn about wildlife, you should contact the Channel Islands Tracking team.

CITT Facebook: Channel Islands Tracking Team on Facebook.

CITT Email: ci.trackingteam@gmail.com

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Young Artists Ensemble Debuts First Shakespeare Play

The Young Artists Ensemble doest shine in their first ever debut of a Shakespeare play

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Showing that the troupe isn’t afraid of anything, the Young Artists Ensemble just brought Shakespeare to the Hillcrest Center for the Arts in Thousand Oaks during the play’s first weekend run. I admire their choice to take on such challenging dialog, and to do so in such a fun and comedic way. Saturday night’s audience was treated to a well-rehearsed and thoughtfully arranged play that should satisfy any fans of the Bard. And lest you think this is just a kids show, I must remind you that we are watching artists doing their art. The cast is very talented and the director has created something special in this production.

For those of you that know the play, you know the shenanigans revolve around the misdeeds of a well-meaning sprite named Puck. Sarah Hathaway delivers this character with the enthusiasm characteristic of the sprite himself. As an actress, she goes over the top to sell the fun nature of Puck. Playing an excited role in Shakespeare means delivering a lot of challenging lines very quickly, and Hathaway nailed it! Her costuming was great too and she looked every bit like a playful sprite.

Puck’s interference centers around the 4 lovers; Hermia (Allison Zatlin), Lysander (Jeremy Graham Orriss), Helena (Bailey Stillwell), and Demetrius (John Monday). All four delivered strong performances and carried much of the play. The casting of Zatlin and Orriss was, in itself, funny due to their disparity in heights. The lines about stature fit them to a T. Zatlin shines as a strong-willed Hermia, and she owned the stage with her confident delivery. It almost sounded like she speaks that way all the time. She wraps her lines in an honest physical expression of her rage and love, making for a very complete performance. If Shakespeare had written about surfers, he would have chosen Orriss to perform them. Rarely do we hear shakespearian actors speak the prose with such a laid-back feel…”how tasty are thine waves oh lonely ocean…”. Stillwell’s portrayal of the lovestruck Helena reminded me of how any teenager might feel when their love interest doesn’t even know she’s alive, but the play shows Helena to be a relentless pursuer of her love. Stillwell’s dramatic style emerges most when she believes that the professed love of Lysander and Demetrius is a cruel joke. She carried the scene like a true woman scorned. As Demetrius, I appreciated Monday’s understated depiction early in the play. It would seem natural for an actor to want to shine above the other actors on the stage, but Monday stays in character as the droll man refused by Hermia. By playing it straight early on, it made his scene of spellbinding love to Helena all that much funnier. The cold and logical man goes love crazy!

Lying alongside the main plot line of the story is a group of starving actors from a local acting troupe that are preparing a play for the Duke. These scenes were nearly all stolen by Ariel McIntyre as Nick Bottom. The pompousness and dramatic flair she brought to this role is truly hilarious. From wanting to play every role in the play to being turned into an ass by Puck, McIntyre’s Bottom remained aloof and ever-positive. The troupe was rounded out by Ben Rosen, Max Meyers, Sean McCarthy, Logan Grizzle, and Peyton Pugh. A highlight for this group was Meyers’ depiction of the lovely Thisbe in the troupe’s play. With makeup that would have rivaled Tammy Fay Baker, his performance won’t be soon forgotten. Their play was performed for the Court that included Theseus (Drake Nienow), Hippolyta (Lotte Bezemer), Philostrate (Zoe Fagundes), and the father of Hermia, Egeus (Wyatt Eaton).

The third sub-plot revolves around a groups of fairies and an apparent spat between Oberon (Nick Rada) and Titiana (Tegan Morely). Married fairies can be complicated. As fighting fairies, they are sternly played, but each gets a moment of fancy. Morely’s depiction of Titiana’s love for Bottom (an ass at the time, thanks to Puck) is noteworthy and hilarious. Rada’s character also seems to delight in this spectacle. The fairies are played by Samantha Green, Emma Gonzales, Andrea Levenson, Lauren Alexander, Kyle Lobenhoffer, Jenna Guerrero, Rainny Vasquez, and Ashley Brown. They flit in and out of scenes as fairies are want to do, often dancing or singing.

A few other notes of praise are due to the production department. First, the costuming is fantastic (Bianca Jansen), particularly with the fairies. Each had a different look and it helped set them apart. The lighting department (Mark Andrew Reyes / Micah Meyers) deserves mention for how the scenes were set. In particular, the scenes in the fairy world were so well done with the lighting. It really transformed the scenes. I also loved the sound effects, which were done by the cast of fairies using a makeshift assortment of noisemakers. They brought much drama and light to much of the play. Finally, recognition is due to Director Megan McDonough. It takes a lot of confidence in your cast to bring Shakespeare to youth theater. Your confidence was rewarded with a fantastic performance.

The verdict? Go see this play!  A Midsummer Night’s Dream Runs Friday – Sunday through May 17th. For more information, see www.YAEonline.com. For more photos, see the Chillin’ in the Conejo Facebook Page

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Conejo Theater for Everyone – Aladdin Jr.

A few weeks back I reviewed the Young Artists Ensemble (YAE) in their production of Aladdin Jr. for Chillin’ in the Conejo. You can see that review HERE. Tonight I went back for the opening night of the same play with some remarkable added cast members from Conejo Theater for Everyone (CTFE).  CTFE is a collaboration between YAE and the Conejo Recreation and Park District’s Therapeutic Recreation Unit where young actors and actresses with disabilities join in the fun. They really did an awesome job together. The nearly sold out opening night crowd was engaged from the opening scene and it added to the fun of the show.

Presiding over the events this evening was Luis U. Tirado as the Sultan of Agrabah. This young man is totally cut out for the throne. His regal repose and firm command were in full effect. Plus, he looked great in the suit! My favorite new player for this production was Shannon Murphy. She played the evil Jafar’s parrot sidekick Iago, and was spot-on with the wisecracks. Rather than wearing a parrot costume as was done in the YAE show, she worked with a larger-than-life parrot puppet that I thought added a fun comedic element. She was really funny. Razoul, the enforcer for the evil Jafar, was also well-played by Brianna “Breezy” Johnson. She has a rather Stentorian delivery, so she barks out orders quite effectively. She has a tough job having to supervise a bumbling staff of evil guards. Joining the troop of guards this evening was Harold “Hoppy” Munz. He has a great scene in the cave where they have imprisoned poor Aladdin. Munz’s timing on his lines adds humor to the scene that was accentuated by how his fellow guards played off him. There was some chemistry here that I really appreciated.

As anyone who has seen this play knows, the singing is really spectacular. The song leaders for the ensemble are the story’s narrators. This evening the narrators included new actresses Miranda Berenstein, Brooke Baldauf, Megan Tresback, and Erin Schleich. They all performed very well and sang their solos with confidence and skill. They are front and center in a number of scenes and all did a fantastic job of setting the scene for the play. The one added cast member that I thought might have had the most fun tonight was Cassie Leas, playing the baker. First, she’s adorable, and her smile could light up the whole theater. She shined in the closing number and I don’t think anyone in the theater missed it. When all the bows were done, the whole cast of the show was treated to a well-deserved standing ovation.

It’s remarkable enough that the Conejo Valley has such fine youth theater opportunities, but the Conejo Theater for Everyone program is really something special. The fine young actors and actresses obviously put their hearts and souls into the production and it showed. As a community, we should all be proud of them. We should also applaud the YAE mentors who “traded places” to help the CTFE performers to hone their craft as they moved into their former roles. Friends, this is Conejo character!

The CTFE production of Aladdin Jr. runs through this weekend, so make your plans to attend right away. Learn more about Conejo Theater for Everyone at their website http://www.yaeonline.com/CTFEInfoPage.htm

Brian Stark – Chillin’ in the Conejo

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