Singing, Acting, and Dancing to Earn College Scholarships

Whether or not we admit it, every mom does it: we all wonder what our littles will be when they turn into “bigs.” And then we wonder how we’ll pay for it. My first semester of in-state college tuition was incredibly cheap by any standard, especially considering what typical tuitions are these days. But what if your little could sing, act, or dance his/her way into college funds?

As my little stomped around the house singing AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” recently, I pondered his future. He can also belt out the entire Cars soundtrack at the top of his lungs, so his may include a stage. Confession time: I’m a former choir and musical theater geek, and the idea of earning college money through performing arts sounds pretty cool. (While I was too impatient to learn to play the piano—or even how to read music—I was overheard singing in the hall at school and was asked to try out for choir, which lead to the school musical, other performances, and ultimately to Carnegie Hall. Sure, I was part of a huge choir, but hey—I performed at Carnegie Hall! I can now be heard in intimate venues, like my shower, on a pretty regular basis.)

So, how can your little turn singing, acting, or dancing into money for college? Thanks to Las Casas Foundation, a San Antonio nonprofit determined to spread the love of performing arts, one student at a time. Las Casas awards $100,000 in scholarship funds annually to help recognize and assist area students who have interest and talent in performing arts.

Never heard of Las Casas? If you’ve enjoyed a show at either the Majestic or Empire Theatres, you have Las Casas Foundation to thank. The nonprofit spearheaded the restoration of both historic theaters, giving San Antonio two amazing venues to enjoy music, musical theater, comedy, drama, and more that are true works of art. If you haven’t stepped inside either theater, check out their calendars and get in there—the theaters themselves are a wonder, and the concerts and shows they host are fantastic.

Las Casas Foundation is now tackling more than theater restoration—it wants to share those theaters, and the performing arts themselves by growing future performers and audience members. To help spotlight high school students who demonstrate talent in the performing arts, Las Casas awards financial assistance to college-bound students based on their interests and abilities through the Las Casas Performing Arts Scholarship Competition.

Since its inception in 2009, the Las Casas Performing Arts Scholarship Competition has awarded $585,000 in scholarship money in the disciplines of theater acting, musical theater singing, and dancing, making it the largest scholarship funding source of its kind in the United States. And it all happens right here in San Antonio.

The Joci Awards, as the Las Casas Performing Arts Scholarship Competition is known, work to recognize and assist hopeful college-bound high school students who excel in the fields of acting, singing, and dancing. Named for Jocelyn L. “Joci” Straus, founding chairperson of Las Casas Foundation, the competition is open to students attending public and private Texas high schools, as well as home-schooled students. More details on eligibility requirements may be found here.

Finalists performing in the 2015 Joci Awards.
Finalists performing in the 2015 Joci Awards.

Five categories are featured in the 2016 competition: Vocal, Acting, Dance, Best Lead Actress in a Musical, and Best Lead Actor in a Musical. Each category awards scholarships ranging from $2,000 to $5,000, and other scholarships are awarded to essay winners. An additional $10,000 is awarded to an overall competition winner, meaning one talented student can act, sing, or dance away with a total of $15,000 to help pursue his/her college dreams—and perhaps win a trip to New York for the National High School Musical Theatre Awards at the same time.

New York?? Yes, the competition also serves as a regional award program for the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, known as the “Jimmy Awards” in recognition of the program’s founder, Jimmy Nederlander. The students who win the Joci Awards’ best lead actor in a musical and best lead actress in a musical awards are awarded the opportunity to participate in the National High School Musical Theater Awards in New York City, a national celebration of outstanding student achievement recognizing individual artistry in vocal, dance, and acting performance.

But the Joci Awards are much more than just scholarships. As a part of the educational experience, Las Casas provides workshops and master classes to any student who has applied for the scholarship program and who is interested in honing his/her skills. The workshops are held to help competitors prepare for the competition, and the master class helps finalists further hone their skills before the award competition, giving students the opportunity to learn from theater professionals and benefit from professional feedback to help them improve no matter how they finish in the scholarship competition.

A dancing competitor during the 2015 Joci Awards.
A dancing competitor during the 2015 Joci Awards.

Competitors may also review the judge’s comment sheets from the preliminary auditions to gain feedback for future auditions. Since auditioning is a skill that is not easily practiced, this valuable insight can help performers further hone their skills as they prepare for their future in the performing arts. Each year, nationally acclaimed theater professionals conduct the workshops and master classes, as well as judge the preliminary auditions and select the Las Casas scholarship winners based on their performances. The selection panel includes nationally recognized playwrights, actors, choreographers, and dancers.

Know a student who should apply for this year’s competition? All of the details you need can be found here. Don’t delay—this year’s application deadline is Friday, February 5, at 11:59 P.M.

If you want to catch a glimpse of some terrific young talent, the competition finals are open to the public. This year’s final competition will take place on Sunday, May 1, at the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre. Tickets for the competition are available for $10 per person and can be purchased at the Majestic Theatre Box Office or by calling Ticketmaster at (800) 745-3000. Ticket sales benefit the competition’s scholarship fund, so in addition to seeing a great show, you’ll also help the scholarship fund reach more students.

Aaron Taylor performs in the 2014 Joci Awards.
Aaron Taylor performs in the 2014 Joci Awards.

And if all of this sounds terrific and you’d like to support Las Casas Foundation, you can join the foundation. As a member, you receive insider status for all of the great events at the Majestic and Empire theatres, including concierge ticket service. That’s right—instead of calling Ticketmaster, you can call Las Casas and get great seats to the hottest shows, all while benefiting Las Casas’ educational initiatives. For more information on Las Casas Foundation, the scholarship competition and more, visit Now, I have to go see if we can craft a musical out of Cars.

An Army brat who came to Texas for college and ultimately managed to make the Lone Star State her permanent home, Dawn became a mom “AMA” (advanced maternal age), giving her the opportunity to use a stroller vs. a walker as she navigates the world of motherhood. Her growing up way too fast native Texan loves all things Star Wars, Legos, dinosaurs and keeping his parents on their toes. When she’s not busy parenting the original strong-willed child, Dawn runs Tale to Tell Communications, a San Antonio-based PR and marketing agency. An award-winning writer, Dawn also contributes to San Antonio Woman, Rio Magazine and Texas Lifestyle Magazine. She and her family enjoy exploring all that San Antonio has to offer, going on adventures and playing tourist together as much as possible. Favorite Restaurant: Clementine Favorite Landmark: The beauty of the River Walk, especially La Villita Favorite San Antonio Tradition: Celebrating anything and everything with color, music and food