The 2016 Joci Awards Scholarship Competition, spearheaded by the nonprofit Las Casas Foundation, is issuing its final call for applications geared towards high school students with singing, dancing, or acting talent.

Applications are due on Friday Feb. 5 by 11:59 p.m. Interested applicants can apply online here or by calling 210-223-4343 for more information.

After initial auditions, 25 finalists will be selected to participate in a performance showcase at the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre on May 1 before a selection panel of judges that include nationally recognized playwrights, actors, choreographers, and dancers. Finalists will receive scholarships ranging from $1,500 to $15,000.

Since its inception in 2009, the competition has awarded $585,000 in scholarship money to deserving students who excel in the performing arts.

Applications include five different categories:

  • Vocal
  • Acting
  • Dance
  • Best Lead Actress in a Musical
  • Best Lead Actor in a Musical

Although the Best Lead Actress and Best Lead Actor categories are a part of the Joci Awards, they are also a part of a Regional Award Program associated with the National High School Musical Theatre Awards in New York City. During the week long program, winning students from San Antonio, alongside 60 other students selected from all over the nation will experience private coaching with the industry’s top professionals and train for a finale performance where they compete for additional scholarship funds. Two scholarships are also awarded for students to attend New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

By applying to the Joci Awards, students have access to two free musical theatre master classes, which assist students in repertoire selection and performance techniques. The essay submitted with their application may also be selected for the essay component of the competition which awards a $1,500 scholarship.

The Joci Awards are named after Joci Straus, who founded Las Casas Foundation in 1988, as part of a community wide effort to restore and preserve San Antonio’s historic Majestic and Empire theatres.

According to Kaye Lenox, executive director of Las Casas Foundation, the theaters were originally built as atmospheric theaters during the Great Depression that gave people an opportunity to escape for a few hours.

“First there were silent movies, after came speaking movies, so they made accommodations to that but then the big mega complexes began popping up near the suburbs and fewer and fewer people went downtown to the movies, so they became run down,” Lenox said.

When Straus first got involved, the city was trying to figure out what to do with the theaters, she said.

“The question was, do you take them down or do you restore them and use them for some other purpose,” Lenox said. “Joci’s vision was to restore the theaters to their former glory and use them as performance venues.”

Thanks to Straus and the support from businesses, corporations, and citizens, more than $10 million renovation and stage expansion costs were raised, which restored the theatres to their former glory and also revitalized Houston Street and much of downtown. At present, more than 250,000 theater-goers venture onto Houston Street each year to enjoy performances at the Majestic and Empire.

The Majestic’s restoration was completed in 1989 in just 11 months with substantial investments from the City of San Antonio, ACE Theatrical Group, and local philanthropists. The removal of dust and dirt revived the hand crafted decorative plaster moldings and other ornate carvings. In addition, upholstery and carpeting were recreated to mirror the original 1929 design.

After the Majestic’s rehabilitation, Straus then worked to raise funds to restore the Empire Theatre, which reopened in 1998 after being dark for 25 years. The venue was renamed after Charline McCombs in honor of the $1 million gift that Red and Charline McCombs gave to Las Casas that enabled the completion of the restoration. Experts meticulously worked to bring back the gold leafing and precise metallic detailing that embellished the plaster work. The copper eagle, originally mounted atop the theater entrance and feared lost, was found and restored.

Today, Las Casas is a part of a three-way partnership wherein the City owns the theatres, ACE Theatrical Group manages and operates the theaters, and Las Casas Foundation is responsible for their preservation and restoration.

Las Casas Foundation’s role doesn’t stop with the restoration and preservation of historic theatres, they are also dedicated to the development of the performing arts through education and scholarships, which includes the annual Joci Awards Scholarship Competition.

The awards are not just about kids who will go on to star on Broadway, Lenox said, it’s also about every CEO or successful business person that was once involved in the performing arts.

“If you start talking to successful business people you’ll find out that they were once involved in the performing arts in some way and they all credit having been involved in theatre as being a part of their success,” she said. “One of the big things you learn in theatre is that ‘the show must go on.’ You know you have to learn teamwork, that it’s about the whole cast and not just you, (and these are) life lessons that make you successful.”

Las Casas offers a variety of educational initiatives to nurture and grow the performing arts and it is a proud recipient of the National Arts Star Award from the American Foundation for Arts Education in recognition of its significant impact on arts education.

Those interested in attending the May 1 showcase at the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre can learn more details when tickets are announced on March 1.

*Top image: Student finalists perform during the 2015 Joci Awards. Photo by Siggi Ragnar.

Related Stories:

Something Monday Goes to the Majestic & Empire: Where the Stars Leave Their Mark

Hidden Treasures: Backstage Murals at The Majestic

A Conversation with Joci Straus: Guardian of the Majestic, Empire Theaters

Empire Theatre, Clad in Gold, Turns 100

Rocío Guenther

Rocío Guenther

Rocío Guenther worked as a bilingual reporter and editorial assistant for the Rivard Report from June 2016 to October 2017. She is originally from Guadalajara, Mexico and holds a bachelor's in English...