Canyon High School Theater celebrates first musical competition win in four years

Canyon High School theater director Art Miller (back, right) poses with his ten students who won first place in the musical category at last weekend's DTASC competition. Matt Fernandez/ The Signal

While Wednesday is usually the dreaded “hump day” of the week, this Wednesday was especially sweet for the Canyon High School drama program, which celebrated awards students earned over the weekend at the Drama Teachers Association of Southern California, or DTASC, competition, with cupcakes and sparkling juice in champagne glasses.

More than 70 schools competed Saturday in Calabasas across different categories. Canyon High entered 36 performers across six categories, taking fourth place in the technical field within the Graphics Design and Publicity category, in which the students created a poster and publicity campaign for a show within a set time period using all original art. Canyon also took first place for Musical Performance, a category the school had not entered since 2015, when the Cowboys also won first place. 

“DTASC started out with a small group of high schools performing scenes for each other, and now we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary, and it’s become a competition where we can promote education, community and theater,” said Art Miller, theater director for Canyon High. “For these kids, this win is a very big deal, and it’s a way that we can honor all the hard work they have devoted to mastering the performing arts.”

Ten students from Canyon’s theater program competed in the Musical category, with a medley from Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Per DTASC rules, the group had eight minutes to perform without the use of costumes or props aside from four chairs. 

“This competition is the CIF for theater,” said Wendy Cockerell, who assists Miller and whose daughter Leia is in the program. “Outside of the work they do in class, going to these competitions (allows) the students to demonstrate what they’ve been working on. Competition also pushed these students to challenge themselves more as actors and performers.”

Miller, who is only in his second year teaching at Canyon, said he views the importance of drama education as providing students with an outlet to express their voices. 

“Sports and academics are crucial to the development of a student, but when you have performing and visual arts, it gives the artistic students who might not otherwise get a voice in the core academics or athletics an opportunity to rise and shine,” he said. “All the theater programs in this valley are award-winning and have exceptional directors, but it is wonderful to know that as a new director here that we can continue to create a program of high caliber for the students coming into Canyon.”

Paris Holmes, one of the winning students, said that what he believes made them stand out from the competition was how realistic their performance was.

“I don’t want to say the other schools were too sharp, but their movements were so sharp they almost looked like animatronics,” Holmes said. “We had a very natural and honest feel to our work.”

“A lot of other schools were so focused their dancing or their singing, but we were more focused on the story we wanted to tell,” said another one of the musical students, Lizzie Mendoza. “Also each one of us got a chance to have a solo performance so we were much more of an ensemble performance than the other schools, who only focused on their leads.”

This win is especially impactful for the Canyon High students in light of the recent fires and power outages that impacted their ability to practice.

“The week leading up to DTASC we couldn’t find the time for all of us to practice because seven out of the 10 of us had to evacuate, and some of us couldn’t get back into Santa Clarita,” said student Hillary Mujica. “We all went through a lot that week and it motivated us to want to express what we had been working so hard on. This win means so much to us.”

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