Students find more than schooling at arts center

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 16, 2011

By David Vitrano


NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Center for Creative Arts is well known for offering the creatively gifted youth of the region a leg up in pursuing their arts-centered passions, but for two local drama students there, it offers something much more — a place where they can just relax and be themselves.

“It’s nice to be at a place where you have other people like yourself,” said LaPlace resident Candace Taylor.

Taylor, the daughter of Douglas and Stephanie Taylor, is a senior at Cabrini High School in New Orleans, so when the final curtain closes on “Intimate Apparel,” running April 19-21 at 7:30 p.m. at NOCCA’s Nims Blackbox Theatre, she will be saying goodbye to this comfortable environment.

“This is the last show for me,” said Taylor. “I’m not really a crier, but I think I might shed a few tears.”

Taylor’s NOCCA journey began just as she was about to embark on her high school career. With an aunt who worked at the institution and a cousin who was a student there, Taylor was acquainted with and intrigued by life within NOCCA’s walls. After attending a two-week summer workshop, Taylor knew she had found a new home.

Now with a few years under her belt, she is able to look back on those days with fondness and a little bit of nostalgia.

“It’s been awesome,” she said. “It’s been a lot of hard, extra work, but the people here are awesome.”

Taylor said some of those people who were there with her for the summer workshop have shared her journey from newbie to seasoned veteran.

“My voice has progressed, and from what people tell so has my all-around maturity,” she said.

That maturity will come in handy as she prepares to depart for Boston’s Emerson University, where she plans to study broadcast journalism. When she does, she will take with her all the knowledge and experience she gained while studying at NOCCA.

Said Taylor, “I think NOCCA has opened my mind to broader things, to be more accepting of things others might not feel are acceptable.”

Dean Wray of Destrehan High School, also a level 3 drama student at NOCCA, shares Taylor’s love for the nature of the school.

“Artists not privileged to go to NOCCA dream about this kind of environment,” he said. “Being able to be myself without having to filter it through other people’s eyes has helped me grow.”

Unlike Taylor, however, Wray still has one more year to grow and explore at NOCCA.

“Next year is going to be kind of capping off my years here,” said Wray.

The son of Annette and Scott Wray, he auditioned for NOCCA at the urging of his eighth-grade drama teacher.

“At the time, I was really into sports and stuff,” said Wray. “I’m glad he gave me that little kick.”

Throughout his years at NOCCA, Wray said he has seen growth within himself, but is happy to have another year to truly find himself as an actor.

“I certainly didn’t have the voice I do now,” he said, adding, “I feel like I have all this knowledge but I don’t quite know what it is.”

When he completes his final year, Wray may be following Taylor to Emerson or another school in the Northeast.

“I think I need to expose myself to something radically different,” he said.

But before that, Wray is content to continue his voyage here.

Said Wray, “I would definitely not be the person I am now without NOCCA.”