More than an education at NOCCA

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 25, 2012

By David Vitrano


NEW ORLEANS – While most 12th-graders are getting ready for graduation and its accompanying festivities, a group of students from St. Charles Parish has been working overtime not only getting ready for college but wrapping up their time at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts as well.

Dean Wray, whose base school is Destrehan High, has been a drama student at NOCCA for a few years, has come a long way in his time at the institution.

“I have developed my own means for exploring a role,” he said. “I’m starting to take these steps for myself. I’m really figuring out how I do this. That’s what it’s been about the whole time.”

It has been a banner year of sorts for Wray, who experienced not only personal but professional growth over the course of the last year. He recently appeared onstage in Southern Repertory Theatre’s production of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” produced in conjunction with the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival.

“That was a fantastic experience. It was interesting to work in a completely professional environment,” he said. “Doing the show at that time at that location, it was amazing. I learned a lot.”

Wray was quick to point out, however, that his time at NOCCA prepared him for the challenge.

“I really think I should be grateful to NOCCA,” he said. “They really prepare you. While you’re here, that’s how things run.”

Now Wray is ready for his next big challenge — college. Although he is not yet sure where he will go to school in the fall, that does not mean Wray is not prepared for the experience.

“I have my college route really planned out. I have a game plan for each school,” he said. “It’s a giant reset button, and I’m going to make the most of it.”

Another Destrehan High student, Vivian Buchanan, seems just as eager to explore the world beyond NOCCA’s walls.

“I’m excited,” said the vocal student. “I had an excellent education, but I’m ready to branch off.”

Over the past few years, Buchanan has grown from bit parts to a full-fledged star.

“This year I’ve really honed in on who I am as a performer and who I am as an individual,” she said. “I think that’s really important before you go off to college.”

In the fall, Buchanan will be attending the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston majoring in vocal performance.

“I hope to get the most I can out

of those four years and pursue a career as an international opera singer,” she said. But no matter the heights she reaches, Buchanan will always owe a certain debt to NOCCA.

“I think, more than anything, here at NOCCA they’ve taken my passion seriously,” she said. “That’s really refreshing for a high school student.”

Fellow vocal student Emily Barber, a senior at Hahnville High, has had less time than most at NOCCA, but the impact of the institution has been no less astonishing. Although she has been in the choir all four years of high school, Barber did not start attending NOCCA until this year.

“I didn’t really think I’d make it,” she said. “I kind of auditioned on a whim.”

Still she has packed as much as possible into these few months.

“I get some training from some amazing teachers,” she said. “I’m going to Loyola University for vocal performance, and I don’t think I would have been able to do that without NOCCA.”

Jaquan Moses, a student at St. Augustine in New Orleans who hails from St. Rose, has spent his time at NOCCA pursuing quieter endeavors. As a visual art student, Moses has explored a different side of the arts than his vocal and dramatic colleagues.

“I have always been into art,” he said. “I’ve been in talented art since first grade.”

Moses said he draws inspiration from a variety of sources, from his family to established artists, but most of his works come from within his own mind.

“I like to deal with surrealism and optical illusions,” he said. “Mostly daydreamy topics.”

Moses said attending NOCCA has not only helped him hone his craft but also enable him to explore avenues he might not have tried on his own.

Although he is most used to working with brushes and canvas, Moses said, “I’m really liking my ceramic projects I’m doing right now. And my photography.”

Moses also said one of the main advantages of attending NOCCA is the environment.

“I’ve been more around art and had more opportunities to do things with my art,” he said.

NOCCA’s end-of-the-year festivities are ongoing. For a schedule, visit