Theatre seniors dedicate themselves to the arts

Class of 2023 Theatre Program Spotlight


Photo courtesy of Alexis Helmer

Senior Alexis Helmer performed the national anthem at the Cal State Fullerton soccer stadium. Helmer’s uncle is the CSUF women’s soccer coach and asked her to perform.

Editor’s note: The first year back without COVID-19 restrictions was a successful one for the FUHS Theatre Program. Our campus was named one of the twenty-five Premier Communities for Theatre Education by the Educational Theatre Association. The Wolves won second place in the California Educational Theatre Association’s festival competition, and Bright Star was nominated for the JRAY Awards’ Best Dramatic Show. The graduating seniors had a lot to do with that success. Although the Tribe Tribune was unable to feature all theater arts seniors, here are highlights about a few of them.

Alexis Helmer

From the moment senior Alexis Helmer saw Broadway’s Wicked as an incoming freshman, she knew she wanted to perform on the big stage and live in New York. 

“It’s always been my dream to be a part of that city life,” Helmer said.

Throughout high school, Helmer has participated in FUHS’s theater program, choral ensembles, dance classes, and varsity soccer team as a striker. In addition to her already challenging schedule, Helmer manages to balance her role as the Thespian Troupe’s publicist, take vocal lessons, attend audition workshops, and work through many after-school rehearsals.

Helmer sees herself starring on Broadway, TV shows, and movies. She credits her mother with helping her stay focused enough to reach her goals. “My mom specifically helped me throughout my college application process starting the summer of my junior year,” Helmer said.

Drawn to its world-famous programs, rigorous competition, and location in the Big Apple, Helmer applied to NYU for a degree in musical theater in December.

Helmer’s dream school quickly became New York University, which would give her access to the world of Broadway. After five long months of waiting to hear back, Helmer learned that she was accepted to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

“I’m really looking forward to being able to compete and grow with other actors,” Helmer said.

Alexis starred as Alice Murphy in FUHS Theatre’s production of Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s musical, Bright Star. Helmer portrayed both a young (left) and older (right) Alice, with many quick changes and character shifts from scene to scene. (Photos courtesy of Alexis Helmer)

Donny Cannady

Senior Donny Cannady has been writing plays since he was a freshman.

“In third and fourth grade, I would actually write comic books,” Cannady said. “Writing screen-plays is very far from drawing, but I think in pictures.”

Although he began with melodramatic plotlines about Sonic or Kirby, Cannady now writes plays with darker, more serious topics. He has written about 7 full-length one-acts and over twenty short scenes.

Cannady’s one-act play The Notifiers was selected to be professionally produced in San Diego’s 2023 Plays by Young Writers Festival. The play takes place during the Vietnam War, following a veteran and a young boy delivering death notices to the families of soldiers.

“At its heart, The Notifiers is about not letting yourself be desensitized to bad things,” Cannady said. “With how fast our media moves on from tragedies, horrible events are forgotten quickly and become normalized.”

Cannady’s one-act Brighter Colors won second place in the California State Thespian Competition’s playwriting category. Not only was it put on by actors from all over California, but FUHS also produced a staged reading during May’s Playwrights Lab.

Brighter Colors faces the harsh reality of recovering from addiction, following siblings Harlow and Beck.

“It’s my most personal play yet,” Cannady said. “I’ve never been so passionate about one of my pieces.”

Cannady will be attending Fullerton College with a major in Film Production, with the goal of one day becoming a famous writer-director.

“There are some names in a film that everybody just knows,” Cannady said. “Wes Anderson, Edgar Wright, Quentin Tarantino. I want to be one of those names.”

While playwriting throughout his high school career, Cannady has also participated in the FUHS Theatre Program all four years. Here, he can be seen starring in this year’s production of The Skin of Our Teeth as Mr. Antrobus. (Photo by Jonathan Piña-Villanueva)

Lily McWatters

Lily McWatters began her theater journey at Beechwood School, beginning in elementary, proceeding through middle school, and then fours years here at FUHS. Her four years of dedication to theater has led Lily to become the Thespian Troupe President and Drama Club President. McWatters credits Despars for shaping her into a strong leader, a person confident in herself, and someone people can look up to. (Photos courtesy of Lily McWatters)

Ryder Tucker

Senior Ryder Tucker began performing at a young age, starring in Knott’s Berry Farm ride safety videos around age 10. Above, he can be seen in a green screen recording for the 2012 Knott’s Scary Farm show Possessed. Tucker was first introduced to acting by his father, a Knotts show director. He will be taking a gap year to “see the world and try new things,” hoping to explore past the world of theater. Tucker finds himself drawn to history and language arts, considering becoming a teacher. (Photo courtesy of Ryder Tucker)
Tucker credits FUHS theater director Michael Despars and his fellow theater seniors with allowing him to open up and bloom. “The program has shown me a sense of community and leadership that I will carry with me,” Tucker said. “I hope to help students that feel like they don’t belong, just as the program helped me when I was a freshman.” (Photo courtesy of Ryder Tucker)

Marco LaRosa

Senior Marco LaRosa will be majoring in film studies at Cal State Northridge in the fall. In the future, he hopes to direct, screenwrite, or otherwise be involved in filmmaking in Hollywood. FUHS’s choral and theatrical programs have shown LaRosa what he wants to do with his life. Thanks to these communities growing his love for the arts, LaRosa has decided to pursue a career in film. All of his favorite memories at FUHS involve being surrounded by friends who have a collective passion for performing. (Photo courtesy of Marco LaRosa)

Ian Klatzker

Senior Ian Klatzker will attend Cal State Fullerton’s BFA Acting program. Klatzker participated in the FUHS theater and choir programs throughout high school. He is also a four year member of the Comedysportz team, having recently been awarded the “Dad Trophy” at the Thespian Banquet for his neverending dad jokes. Klatzker recently starred as Jimmy Ray in this year’s spring musical, Bright Star. “I started theater in fifth grade,” Klatzker said. “Around that time, I was first introduced to school plays. I always found it fun, and I’ve been doing it ever since.” Klatzker said he is excited to branch out, hopefully pursuing acting through film. (Photo courtesy of Ian Klatzker)

Nolan Shirk

Senior Nolan Shirk will attend Fullerton College with an undeclared major. Shirk plans to continue live theater as a hobby rather than a career path. The Shirk family has deep roots in the performing arts, especially in Fullerton. Nolan’s mother was a Disneyland parade dancer, his grandmother was the FUHS costume director until her retirement in 2020, and Shirk’s father assists with technical direction for shows and events across the FJUHSD. Having been immersed in theater for many years, Shirk is grateful for the life lessons it has taught him. “Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there,” Shirk said. (Photo courtesy of Nolan Shirk)

Evan Hanson

Senior Evan Hanson enjoys making people laugh. Above, he can be seen with the cast of “XBox X-Life,” a scene from this year’s production of Stories from Orangethorpe. One of his future goals is to be Adam Driver’s stuntman and live in the Pacific Northwest. After graduation, Hanson plans on attending Fullerton College, later transferring to a four-year university. Hanson has grown throughout the course of his high school career. “Physically I think I got a little taller, and mentally I’m more mature,” Hanson said. (Photo courtesy of Evan Hanson)