The Open Call rehearsal at the McCallum Theatre on March 12.

For 25 years, the McCallum Theatre has been producing the Open Call Talent Project, allowing local performers of various kinds to not only compete on the renowned stage, but to learn about the entertainment industry—and build a community with like-minded artists.

Open Call is back this year, concluding with three shows featuring the finalists, at 7 p.m., Friday, April 21; and 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday, April 22. More than 60 members of the community will take the stage, with audience members voting for their favorites. The winners will be celebrated at the Saturday evening show.

What usually is an intense rehearsal schedule leading up to the performances was expanded a bit this year, allowing more time for the finalists to connect.

“We actually broke off our initial two-day weekend rehearsal from the tech week. That had more to do with availability in the theater than anything else, but we really loved it,” said Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, producer of Open Call and the vice president of education at the McCallum. “Our first weekend of rehearsals with this cast was on March 11 and 12. We had the cast gather here at the theater … primarily to get to know each other, but also to learn and set choreography for our finale number. That was really fun and different, because usually we do that weekend and then we go straight into our tech week. What happened this time around was that we had our big weekend rehearsal, and then the following Wednesday and Thursday, the finalists came back for their video vignettes, B-roll shoots and an interview. Our tech week will start on April 17. That’s the very first time ever we’ve done it that way. I’m sure we’ll eventually find out if there were some negatives, but so far, it only feels really, really positive.”

Every year, Open Call has a theme. It ties into the finale number, which features all of the finalists. This year’s theme is “Authenticity.”

“Our cast is almost twice the size of last year’s cast,” Thuresson-Frary said. “… It’s a very, very strong year. I’d say it’s a very diverse cast, and so (“Authenticity) feels like a good theme for this lineup of finalists, and also for the times. Our warmup had to do with: What does authenticity mean to you, and when do you feel like you’re your most authentic self? We wanted to highlight that, so we asked questions about that in our introductory video-vignette interviews. Throughout this learning project, we are encouraging people to think about that.”

Thuresson-Frary said Open Call forces the performers to stretch and take risks.

“That bigger (finale) production number is where it happens for a lot of people,” she said. “They may be a solo vocalist, or they may play with their little band, but many of them are not (used to being) part of a bigger numbers where they have a small piece of something that’s a lot bigger. Some people who would never move or dance onstage are asked to participate in choreography, and people who are not normally singing have to sing part of that number. … You have to really show up.”

Open Call awards cash prizes for first place, second place and audience favorite, as well as talent-achievement award winners. The prizes, however, are not the main point of Open Call.

“We want to minimize the competitive element,” Thuresson-Frary said. “There’s a much more important and bigger element here that we want to underscore—that we are part of a community, and we want to support each other. If we don’t work together, we’re not going to really succeed. Everybody performing in and getting a place in that final number helps us underscore that value, and our audience members just love seeing everybody again (in the finale). We try to feature each finalist in a little moment, which will showcase them and what they do. For those of us who create that number, we have to think about how we’re going to put it together so that we can feature the tap dancers and the drums, soloists and pianos and vocalists, so every year it, becomes a new challenge of: How do you put something together that still feels cohesive and nice? Some years are more challenging than others. You may have a steel drum orchestra or a bagpiper, or you have a magician or a ventriloquist or twirlers.”

The 2023 Open Call finalists.

This year’s Open Call finalists have a diverse range of talents. You can see acts including a rock band (Luke Sonderman Band), a ukelele group (Desert Ukelele Marching Band) and clarinetists (Coachella Valley Youth Ensemble), along with various solo performers and dance groups (Aztec Arts Academy, CK Dance Company).

“You’ll have people who submit auditions and get in who are very professional in their performance, because they’ve been singing in church for a lifetime, or they’ve done a lot of community performing,” Thuresson-Frary said. “Then you’ll have somebody who’s maybe only singing in the shower, and this is their first attempt, and then you’ll have the 10-year-old whose mom has a dance studio, and is extremely accomplished for being 10. We really want it to be an inspiration for audience members. No matter who you are and what you do in life, if you come to Open Call, we want you to leave feeling inspired to go back home, go out into the community, and do your thing, whatever that may be.”

As of this writing, a few tickets remain for each of the three shows. In case you miss out on the live shows, you’ll later be able to watch professional videos of the performances—something that will also benefit the performers.

“We’ll have something that they can show for their participation, and hopefully, those who are really attempting to move forward and go on to college or pursue professional gigs or whatever, they have something they can add to their portfolio,” Thuresson-Frary said. “For the theater, this is a huge project that is very popular, so for us to be able to show it right, to the people that did not attend—I think makes a huge difference.”

The Open Call Talent Project’s shows take place at 7 p.m., Friday, April 21; and 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, April 22, at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert. Tickets are $20 to $40. For tickets or more information, call 760-340-2787, or visit

Matt King is a freelance writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. A creative at heart, his love for music thrust him into the world of journalism at 17 years old, and he hasn't looked back. Before...