SA's Joci Awards - the Biggest Performing Arts Scholarship Competition in the U.S.

Joci Straus, founder of the Las Casas Foundation, surrounded by finalists competing in the 2018 Joci Awards at the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre.

May 20, 2018. Randy Beamer/News 4 San Antonio photo.


The 25 young performers onstage at the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre Sunday night already knew they had won scholarship money just by getting here.

The question for all of them was just how much money they would earn toward their college education from the largest performing arts scholarship program like it in the country.

They were guaranteed at least $3,000 because each of them had already earned a spot in these finals by competing against more than 100 of their peers from 44 different San Antonio area schools.

At the end of a great show Sunday night after each of the students had performed individually (singing, dancing, or acting) and then together in several musical numbers, the moment finally arrived when they all found out how much they had won.

And it was tense.

Maybe as nerve-wracking for all the family and friends in the audience as for the young performers.

The first place winners in each category won a $6,000 scholarship to the college or university of their choice, the second place winners won a $4,000 scholarship and the rest in each category - $3,000.

The overall prize winner for the night, Mikayla Johnson, walked away with another check for a $10,000 scholarship.

And I can tell you, she couldn't believe it.

I was honored to be MC of the 10th Annual Joci Award presented by the Las Casas Foundation.

"The Las Casas is the single largest scholarship competition for the arts in the United States," said Jaselyn Blanchard, of the Blanchard Creative Group, which puts on the event for the foundation.

"And it's all given away in one evening at the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre. It's unbelievable. It makes a huge difference. They're going on to just fantastic schools, going on to Broadway, the TV show 'Heathers,' all because of the support of San Antonio and the Las Casas Foundation."

On Sunday night alone, the private, non-profit foundation handed out more than $100,000 in scholarships, bringing them to a total of nearly a million dollars handed out to San Antonio's most talented young performers over the ten year history of the competition.

The Las Casas Foundation was founded 30 years ago by Joci Straus (hence the name 'Joci Awards') with the aim of preserving and protecting the historic Majestic and Empire Theatres.

The foundation raised millions of dollars - not only to keep them from the wrecking ball, but to restore and preserve them.

The Empire was built in 1913 in the style of a European palazzo as a vaudeville house, then movie theatre, but closed in 1978.

The Majestic was built in 1929 with a Spanish Mediterranean style and at the time was said to be the biggest movie theater in the south and the second biggest in the country.

But it officially closed in 1974, though various performances were held here before the City of San Antonio bought it in 1988 and the Las Casas Foundation raised $4.5 million dollars to restore it.

And they still help with the ongoing maintenance work required for both theatres.

Ten years ago the foundation started the Joci Awards to further their mission of supporting the performing arts in San Antonio.

They also hold a 'Camp Broadway' every summer for young performers who are 10-17 and interested in Master Classes with Broadway professionals.

Congratulations to everybody with the Las Casas Foundation and all of the young performers. I hope to see more of you at next year's Joci Awards!

For more information:

I'll be posting more photos at my facebook page,

And thanks to Emily Baucum for all the twittering.

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