Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Christian Youth Theater

"C" is for Christian, in my A-Z challenge

I was fortunate to work for CYT Richmond in the Winter and Spring of 2009. My wife, a piano teacher, had gotten a phone call for teaching for CYT. While she was too busy to take on any extra work, I was intrigued by the call. I had already taught technical theater and puppetry for the Ashland Stage Company's after school arts program, and I have been doing storytelling for kids in schools ever since my own boys, now 22 and 25, were in kindergarten. I was part of a storytelling performance troupe, The Wonderland PLayers, in Ashland, VA. And of course I have a lot of experience under my belt as a theatrical set designer and technical director.

From Christian Youth Theater's (CYT) website:

Christian Youth Theater (CYT) is an after-school theater arts training program for students ages 4 - 18. Since its founding in 1981 in San Diego California, CYT has grown to be the largest youth theater in the nation. There are affiliates across the country training thousands of students a year. CYT is a non-profit 501(c)(3) educational organization funded primarily through its tuition, ticket sales and outside contributions.

In the Winter, CYT was working on Narnia. They brought me in to help out with scenery. Some faux finishing techniques, covering some large boulders, and designing trees. All went well, I had a great time, and got paid a decent rate. I wound up designing the sets for their production of Willy Wonka, which is one of the highlights of my career thus far. The experience was spectacular.

CYT is a finely tuned machine. If ever there is a model of how educational theater should be done, this is it. Children pay a tuition to take classes, and when their children are in a show, their parents have to sign up to work on one of the crews. CYT rents adequate shop facilities for scenic construction and costuming, and hires professionals to run each of the crews. However, theaters are rented from local schools and other facilities on a per show basis, and classes are taught in area schools, churches, etc...
They also depend heavily on financial donations.

Crews work for about a month prior to the opening of a show on a weeknight or two plus Saturdays, creating scenery, props, and costumes. The parents I worked with were among the most delightful crews I've ever worked with, with a real passion for excellence. There were well over 20 people working on the sets, eager to understand my designs and execute them to my standards. I also had some of Richmond's top notch scenic artists working with me, resulting in a scale of achievement that astounded me.

Here are some pictures of the set design:

The Wonka factory in the background with city skyline, and the Bucket Shack in the foreground. Design inspired by architecture of Richmond, Virginia, including the defunct Lucky Strike warehouse.

Bucket Shack rotates to reveal interior, with "funhouse" style bed.

Chocolate River Room with Tim Burton inspired Candy Canes, flower umbrellas, and fabric waterfall
Physical model of set

Construction of Wonka Factory. Wings swing inward to become stairs.

You can see photos of the actual show by going to CYT Richmond's website gallery and clicking on Willy Wonka.

I was amazed that not only was a stage full of (at times) almost a hundred kids not a mess of chaos, but that the show was among the best live theatrical performances I've seen.

CYT is an exemplary case of outstanding arts management, quality education, great entertainment, and cooperative creation. Any arts organization would do well to study the example they have set.

Here's a video from Youtube of their closing number:

"C" is for Christian Youth Theater, and April is Parkinsons Awareness Month

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