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Draper Journal

Juan Diego Catholic High student snags best supporting actor from Utah High School Musical Theatre Awards

Aug 05, 2020 02:39PM ● By Julie Slama

Juan Diego Catholic High’s Anthony Tibolla, seen here playing Rev. Moore in “Footloose,” won the best supporting actor award in the virtual Utah High School Musical Theatre Awards. (Photo courtesy of Juan Diego Catholic High School)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

In a typical year a packed theater of high school students eagerly await the announcement of the Utah High School Musical Theatre Awards; this year instead had them at home watching screens.

In a world that has gone virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the first-ever live streaming of the awards show, presented by the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre, announced state winners, including Juan Diego Catholic High’s Anthony Tibolla, who won the best supporting actor award.

Tibolla, who already was named a finalist, watched the live stream when it was announced he won. Tibolla not only won a trophy, but he was awarded $1,250 in scholarships and invited to compete in the CS Music Competition.

“At first I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “My family was sitting in the living room, and I was in shock when I heard a very loud scream. My grandparents and aunt and uncle called and texted. Then, I got a bunch of texts congratulating me. I was a little sad that we weren’t there as a cast to celebrate because we’re like family. The whole thing was and still is surreal; it’s a very big honor that I’m very grateful because it is what I want to do. It was on the school morning YouTube announcements we all watched at home and some teachers emailed. It feels good. Anyone like me who has artistic passion and inevitably doubts their ability, has confirmation to think, ‘I’m OK at something I’m passionate about’ and that’s very cool.”

Tibolla stepped into theatre in eighth grade and was cast in the high school’s production of “Grease.”

“Whoever watched me in ‘Grease,’ admittedly saw I was very bad; I couldn’t dance and I’d still say I’m not what people call a dancer,” he said. “I was scared, but my mom encouraged me. I had really bad anxiety and performing in front of people scared me. But I was asked, ‘what’s the worse thing that can happen if it’s something you love doing?’ I kept at it and love musical theatre. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Tibolla, a high school junior, has performed in several Juan Diego performances, such as “Godspell” and “Guys and Dolls” as well as recently in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night” where he played Christopher, a 15-year-old whose condition isn’t stated, but leads one to believe he has Asperger’s syndrome, autism or savant syndrome.

With his award-winning role as Rev. Moore in “Footloose,” he let himself feel the loss and then, as the character, tried to shut out his emotions rather than to allow love to help himself heal.

“He was angry and didn’t want to lose his daughter like he did his son, but he still extremely loves and cares for his family and that is something we can all connect to,” he said.

Juan Diego theatre director Joe Crnich is glad his student, who he said, “works extremely hard, is dedicated, funny and really low key,” got recognized for his performance.

“I’ve worked with Anthony since his eighth-grade year; he has continued to grow and grow, and he just had a great breakout moment,” he said. “We were working on the reprise of ‘Footloose,’ when Rev. Moore confesses to the congregation and we needed to see that moment when he puts the burden down. It just wasn’t there. But during the performance, Anthony found it and figured out a way to make it work, emotionally, and let us in. It was magical.”

Tibolla wasn’t the only area winner. Hillcrest High tied for best choreography in the fall 2019’s performances of “42nd Street” and Cottonwood High won for best orchestra with “Matilda.” 

It was Hillcrest High’s first win for best choreography, said Chelsea Lujan, dance teacher and choreographer for the show.

“Once we decided on the show, I let the kids take the initiative to learn the (tap) steps,” she said. “If they learned them by August, then they would be on stage in the musical. Some of them watched videos, some took classes and some already knew how to tap so when we came together in the fall, we had a core group who could help teach the rest of the cast.”

About 90 cast members—productions company, dance company and 30 other dedicated students—provided extra help for other 80 members of the chorus, who found themselves dancing in the aisles during the performances.

“We had tappers helping non-tappers and they fed off each other and got more and more excited. They wanted to do their absolute best and succeed. They know what a Hillcrest musical is and our expectations and they put forth that effort, work hard and value that to create something that is spectacular. What was fun about the students learning it was hearing students tap in the hallways, shuffle under their desks—but I think it drove the teachers crazy,” Lujan said. 

The cast watched the awards individually, about 50 of them group chatted together.

“They were really happy they were honored for their hard work and saw how much what they did was appreciated,” Lujan said. “It was a little sad to be away from each other during this, but I’m glad they got the recognition.”

Cottonwood High’s instrumental director, Amber Tuckness, immediately received texts from friends, congratulating her orchestra pit for their accomplishment.

“I immediately sent an email to my students afterward, telling them how proud I was of them,” she said. “It’s a nice recognition and I’m thankful that they were honored. We had a huge pit full of musicians and this award validates us. So many high schools don’t have live pit orchestras anymore, but we do and that is one of the reasons our musicals are so successful. Recorded music is not the same feel and it’s harder for the actors.”

Tuckness said that typically pit orchestra students are learning music on their own time; it is not part of their grade. Rehearsals may take 50 hours in advance and then another 10 days of practicing with the actors.

Tuckness said that after the judges watched their performance, they came to the stage and talked to the students.

“The kids got the immediate feedback from the judges and got complimented on providing live music to the show. It was a fun show to do,” she said. “I’m glad they did the virtual awards ceremony; it was one less thing to take away from the kids this school year.”