Shining a spotlight on the performing arts community.

MATER DEI High School PERFORMING ARTS Spotlight: A Higher Calling

  • June 9, 2023
Life Enriching Experiences

Mater Dei High School, based in Santa Ana, CA, has a strong performing arts program that offers its students opportunities to explore and develop their musical, dance, and theatrical talents. But it also has a higher calling: to impact the lives of the local community with the life-enriching experience of the arts. “All our programs do community outreach service throughout the year,” explained Marisa Winch, Mater Dei’s Coordinator of Performing Arts Operations and Events. “They feature elementary school band and choir programs, trips to a local U.S. Marine base to provide entertainment and dance classes to families on base, and a children’s theatre tour to local elementary schools.” As stated in the Overview of the Arts for Mater Dei, their vision is to “empower ambassadors of change through artistic expression.” And changing lives is what they continue to do every day.

The breadth of the program serves as a magnet for aspiring performers. Maxwell Beckman, currently a junior, transferred to Mater Dei in his sophomore year, feeling his former school had “many arts programs established but no emphasis on them at all because of the school’s relatively small size and its focus on sports.” Beckman is now involved in the Instrumental Music/Band/Theatre and Choir programs. His favorite theatre production so far has been the musical, Once on This Island by Lynn Ahrens.

Ave Maria

And there is another advantage to Mater Dei’s Arts Program: As a Roman Catholic co-educational college preparatory school, certain exclusive one-of-a-kind performing venues are available to its hard-working and talented choirs. We’re talking about the Vatican.

For Jadyn Coulter, Mater Dei High School Class of 2023, traveling to Rome to sing at St. Peter’s Basilica and on the steps outside the Sistine Chapel was unforgettable. “We sang ‘Ave Maria’ in the stairwell outside of the Sistine Chapel,” Coulter remembered, “and everybody was so moved by the space and the experience. It was so full of pure emotion and one of our most passionate and soul-bearing performances of that song.”

The Grotto

Mater Dei also has its own spectacular venue: Mary’s Grotto, part of the school grounds that in 1990 were transformed into a parklike setting. It is where Shakespeare in the Grotto is performed each year, and now Materpalooza and Coffeehouse, a two-week-long festival inspired by Mater Dei’s Guitar and Vocal programs.

Amazing Variety of Performing Arts Programs

Winch, who has been in her position at Mater Dei for the past five years, is also a 1996 graduate (“I was in the band all four years and participated in our Senior Musical”), is one of more than 25 faculty staff who are dedicated to Mater Dei’s performing arts department. “I get the honor and privilege to work with talented student artists from all four of our Performing Arts programs!” she enthused.

In a typical year, Mater Dei stages about 13 mainstage performances, with around ten other performances by smaller groups/ensembles. Productions are drawn from Choral & Vocal Music, which includes six ensembles, four a capella groups, and a Vocal Conservatory program; the Dance program, which includes Dance Conservatory, Hip Hop, Song, and Dance electives; instrumental bands that include Marching, Pep Band, Jazz, and more; and Theatre.

Backstage and Front of House

Mater Dei students also get immersed in every aspect of its productions: onstage as performers, backstage as crew, working front-of-house, and marketing. They also act as mentors. Coulter, who sang in the Junior High Honor Choir (drawn from local junior high students) before arriving at Mater Dei, now works with the younger students: “At our recent Spring Concert. I was able to help the Junior High Honor Choir with their set, and it was such a full circle moment for me.”

It can even be possible to create new curricula, as alumna Ruby Mejia did with her Backstage Pass Podcast. “I created the podcast for the performing arts department,” she remembered. “I was able to work with my best friends and hear so many amazing stories of the love and passion that students had. Being able to accomplish that makes me very proud and has to be one of my favorite memories.” 

During Mejia’s sophomore year, the all-school musical was The Addams Family, for which she worked on the publicity team for the first time. “The team and the ensemble truly made this show one of the best experiences. I am very fond of all the memories I made and the work our team did, especially the t-shirts, and commercials we created.”

The Ludus Advantage

One of Coulter’s many jobs at Mater Dei was working the door for events, and it was there that she encountered Ludus. “Using Ludus helped our events run smoothly and helped us get people in the door very quickly,” observed Coulter. And, she added, “It was so nice introducing Ludus to some of the younger Performing Arts members who learned how to use it for future performances and found it as easy to use as I did. I always love greeting people before performances, so whenever I get a chance to work the doors myself, I always have a good time as well. Having Ludus on my phone makes it easy and gives me a great excuse to help out with the tickets at the door, and I get to help everyone get to their seats and access their tickets very easily.”

Ludus’ versatility was key to its selection. When a larger company purchased Mater Dei’s former ticketing vendor, Winch cast about for alternatives. For other schools in this position, she advises, “When looking for a ticketing/fundraising platform, make sure to ask questions to ensure the platform fits your needs, as well as is open to growing with you. And customer service is a MUST!”

Winch ultimately chose Ludus because it was so responsive. Ludus president Kevin Schneider says, “Mater Dei came to Ludus when it was first beginning and has continued to help us grow and improve. Winch’s feedback is invaluable to our success.” For Winch, “The best thing about Ludus is it constantly asks for feedback and works to add features that meet the demands of its clients. This allowed me to evolve how I use the system for my patrons.” 

Mater Dei High School Performing Arts continues its tradition of professionalism and excellence into the 2023-34 school year. Make sure to check out their next season at