Justine Moore is one of 100 Southern California high school student semifinalists in The Music Center’s annual Spotlight program. The free, nationally recognized performing arts competition and artistic development program offers scholarships for teens.

Though Moore admitted that entering the contest was originally her teacher’s idea, she is enjoying the process.

“The advanced acting class was working on some monologues and our teacher said everyone should record their monologue and submit it,” Moore said. “It was just because my teacher told me to, but then in the second round, I thought ‘this is cool’.”

On April 1, Moore will perform before a new panel of judges and the final two grand prize winners will act on the Ahmanson Theater stage.

Students compete in seven categories: acting, classical voice, non-classical voice, ballet, dance, classical instrumental and jazz instrumental. 

Spotlight provides all teens in the program with expert advice, coaching, auditions and master classes.

“Three weeks ago, we had a master class with Carla Renata (“Superstore”),” Moore said. “She has acted in a few shows on Broadway and taught our master class. We did our monologues and she gave us feedback. It was cool, because she’s a Black actress and has done so many projects.”  

The feedback is the real highlight for Moore.

“After the first two auditions, I got an email filled with feedback,” she said. “It was really helpful. My high school is also a middle school, so I’ve had the same teacher for seven years. It was nice to get feedback from someone who didn’t know me personally.”

A senior at The Archer School for Girls, Moore first recited her monologue there, as she felt it appropriate. She chose a scene from “Gloria,” a play by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. In it, one of the characters mistakes another for a coworker.

“It’s like ‘not all Black people look alike’,” Moore said. “That’s a problem we have at school sometimes. My community needed to hear it and I wanted to try to perform it.”

And perform it she has. Over and over, to the pleasure of Spotlight judges.

“Because of how much they care about us, it doesn’t seem like so much of a competition,” Moore said. “Competing and acting is kinda weird. It’s such a personal thing for everyone and having it as a competition – it’s just an interesting thing. I see it as a performance. I get to perform it again.”

Although Moore has a proven talent, her college plans don’t include strutting and fretting hours upon the stage. Drama is merely a sideline.

“Theater is kinda my safe space afterschool every day,” she admitted. “I love acting and I’m glad I get to act in front of more people.” 

Moore plans to go to college on the East Coast and she wants to study forensic pathology, eventually becoming a medical examiner.

“I’ve always loved science,” she said. “My parents always sent me to science camps every year, every summer.” 

A scholarship prize could push that dream forward. Meanwhile, Moore is in the school play this week, where she plays fairy queen Titania in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” 

“I think I learn something about myself through every character I play,” Moore said. “It’s been nice to be someone else for a little bit.”

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