COSTA MESA — Nicolas Juarez used his cell phone for light as he moved around the darkened theater. Meanwhile, members of his cast and crew scuttled backstage as they quieted themselves for the start of the dress rehearsal.
Juarez took his place in the audience, then watched the show that had meant so much to him back in high school unfold as the students stepped onto the stage Tuesday night.
"When I was a student, it was the first chance I ever got to say something," said Juarez, 22.
Juarez, a 2006 graduate of Estancia High School, was preparing for his directorial debut this weekend. He will direct his alma mater's 31st annual "The Original Show" and help a new generation of high-school students share their creative voice.
The show is a compilation of about 40 sketches that 23 students will perform. Unlike most stage productions, the students have written the sketches.
"It's special in that it's the one show a year that the students get to take a lot of ownership of," Juarez said. "They get an outlet to say what's on their minds."
The great thing about the show is that it changes every year — each season brings something new, he said.
"The Original Show" was first created by Mitchell Hurwitz, a 1981 Estancia High graduate. He went on to become the writer behind "Arrested Development," the TV comedy series about a dysfunctional Orange County family.
This year's show is also advertised to be in 3-D, but what that entails is a secret, Juarez said.
The sketches allow students to talk about, or parody, their teachers, everyday life or what's hot in popular culture.
This year's show is less about spoofing teachers and administrators than in years past, Juarez said.
Part of the reason is because there isn't as much material around campus this year, said Pauline Maranian, the school's drama teacher and the show's advisor.
The students also felt more comfortable using original material, Juarez added.
Senior Joshua Wilburn said he wrote mainly about personal experiences, including some difficult ones.
The 18-year-old said he wrote a sketch about a girl who ditched him on his birthday for another guy. Although not a funny situation in real life, the skit was a catharsis for Wilburn.
"It sort of really relieves yourself," he said. "If you laugh at your own misery, it's sort of not even misery."
The process of pitching ideas, writing sketches, rewriting sketches and acting them out has stretched the students who thought they couldn't write or be funny, Maranian said.
"It's pushing them in their literary skills as well as their acting skills," she said.
For Wilburn, the process has been an "amazing" experience that allowed him to work on different types of comedy, he said.
"It's definitely helped me find my humor," he said.
If You Go
What: "The Original Show," a collection of 40 student-written comedy sketches
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and March 11 and 12
Where: Barbara Van Holt Theatre at Estancia High School, 2323 Placentia Ave. in Costa Mesa
Cost: $8 for students, $10 for adults. Tickets can be bought at the door.