Developing Character through Theater Arts
When the curtain goes up and the lights go on at a Christian Youth Theater production, audiences receive a quality Broadway-style treat. But it’s not just the close to a hundred smiling kids or the elaborate sets that impress.
Eleven years ago, Donna Amadee and Brooke Abrahamsen started Richmond’s branch of this San Diego affiliate in Amadee’s house with 60 students. Now, nearly 40 productions later, CYT, a nonprofit after-school theater arts training program, touches 2,000 students each year through classes, camps, and productions.
Abrahamsen, CYT’s artistic director, loves seeing students develop their talents and life skills through the program. “We believe that a competitive program allows the opportunity to teach a lot of life lessons: how to present your best self and make a good impression; how to handle disappointment; the meaning of commitment, discipline, and teamwork; and the power of creativity,” says Abrahamsen.
While ages 4 to 18 can start CYT at any time, many grow up in the program. St. Gertrude senior Taylor Mugford, for example, began taking classes at age 9 And is beginning her final season with CYT. These kids have a blast, but also benefit from the positive environment. Teens look up to their teachers, and those teens become role models for the younger performers.
“There’s a huge camaraderie with the kids,” says Chris Osborne, CYT technical and warehouse manager. “Even kids trying out for the first time get sucked right in. It’s one big family.”
And this community is for the whole family. For each production, while children learn blocking, singing, and choreography from industry professionals, parents take to the hammer, the paint brush, and the sewing machine, and help bring the production to life. In the weeks prior to opening night, Taylor’s parents can be found at CYT’s warehouse building sets and props.
“The whole family participates, even though only two of our four children are involved with shows,” say Sharon and Drew Mugford. “The other children support CYT by encouraging their siblings, helping prepare for auditions, babysitting, and most importantly, attending shows.”
High school CYT kids also bring theater To the community through a program called High School Youth Pursuing Excellence (HYPE). This summer, they taught theater to a group of inner-city students, culminating in a mini-performance of Seussical.
Nearly 150,000 patrons have attended CYT shows over the years and with the theater’s new Southside location, the eleventh season, which kicks off this fall, promises to reach even more people.
Ticket sales support the non-profit, but also buy an invaluable family experience. “It begins with getting somewhat dressed up, leaving your iPod and electronics at home and doing something with your family,” says Nancy Tynes, marketing and development manager, who is also a CYT parent. “It promotes good values, wholesome behavior, and the shows are family-friendly so you don’t have to worry about covering your child’s ears. At the end of the day you walk away having learned a message about life that’s meaningful.”
Whether on stage, behind the scenes, or attending shows, parents Sharon and Drew Mugford will be the first to tell you the CYT experience has been a valuable one for their entire family.