Get Thee To The Theater
● By Aimee Cormier
Christian Youth Theater
By Anne B. Minvielle
Many of our most well known poems and drama lines are attributed to William Shakespeare. It was Shakespeare who said, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.” The poet and playwright was undoubtedly thinking of the nature of man and his roles in life. If he could have seen centuries into the future, he might have thought of young actors who think of the stage as part of their worlds. And when he wrote, “Get thee to..,” he probably wasn’t thinking of Angelle Hall or the stage at The Bayou Church.
Parents today would do well to investigate the possibility of having their children act, sing or dance on stage or become involved in some way in children’s theater. If these parents truly want to see an improvement in literacy and cultivate the curiosity and imagination of their children, they should enter the wonderful world of live theater and bring their children along for the ride.
Although the concept of children serving as actors while the older more experienced students serve as directors of plays might seem foreign at first, research reveals that the United States is not far behind Europe in establishing children’s theater groups. In fact, Minneapolis is home to the third such group in the world.
Unfortunately, many philosophies of education now make community children’s theater imperative. Many school districts are dealing with budget cuts and when all the emphasis is placed on preparing students for standardized testing for the purpose of rating the school, one of the first areas to suffer is the arts. This lack of budget priority is despite educational research, which proves that children involved with theater have better imaginations, creativity and speaking skills.
The more children’s theater expands in communities across the country, the more benefits are realized. In the world of TV, movies and high tech devices, children will often have a decreased attention span. If involved in theater, they learn to focus on live action and to develop a relationship with the characters. Their creativity is developed, and they learn commitment to their roles, whatever they may be.
According to the Alliance for Theater and Education, drama improves academic performance. The association says, “Students involved in drama performance, either coursework or experience, outscored non-arts students on the 2005 SAT by an average of 65 points in the verbal component and 35 points in the math component.” Assuredly, participation in drama helps improve a child’s self esteem and confidence.
Acadiana is very fortunate to realize these benefits of children’s theater because of a national program known as Christian Youth Theater (CYT). Just the name of the group inspires support and participation. Although Lafayette is the home base for the local group, children and young adults from all over Acadiana are welcomed to participate.
Gerald Broussard, Chairman of the Board of Directors, first learned about CYT before it found a home in Lafayette. Broussard is a graduate of UL Lafayette and with his wife, a Crowley native, raised three daughters. He has been in the media business for 15 years. He describes his part in CYT as interesting.
“My brother’s kids got involved in CYT, Houston. My family went to visit my brother about 8 years ago. We were invited to sit in on a rehearsal. My girls had been in dance, but I didn’t know a thing about drama. When we walked in, I saw their eyes light up and the excitement of the home group, and I decided that this would be a good thing to bring to Lafayette,” Broussard explains.
Broussard adds that when they retuned to Lafayette, he had a family meeting to discuss whether everyone really wanted to start a group. They all agreed that the program was special and that they were all prepared to make it work. That was the beginning of CYT, Lafayette in 2009.
The family started reaching out to youth groups and dancing schools. They started having parent meetings, and even a one-day summer camp, attended by a least 100 children. People liked the idea of having a place to bring their kids where they would develop character.
“At this time, Lafayette was looking for something for the kids that was not sports and was wholesome,” Broussard says. “We hit a nerve and really didn’t think we would have such a good response.”
Parents were even more impressed when they learned the particular objectives that Broussard had in mind. “I always tell people that our hearts are not about becoming just a theater group. We use theater to help grow kids, not vice versa. We aren’t about making stars. There are so many lessons we learn through the process,” he says.
In order to officially become associated with the national CYT organization, Broussard and other leaders studied the history of the group. They learned that CYT was founded in 1981, in San Diego by Paul and Sherryl Russell. They were both teachers and had long wanted to bring wholesome entertainment to their community. The response to their dream was fantastic, and they staged a production of “The Sound of Music” to an audience of 5,000.
Since then, CYT has spread throughout the country and is now the largest children’s theater organization in America. CYT-USA annually trains more than 10,000 young people, ages 4-18. It is actually expanding to other parts of the world.
Broussard explains that CYT is actually an after school theater arts training program, so committed students, even if they are home schooled, have the opportunity to participate. The lessons in drama, dance, voice and aspects of theatrical production are held in the evening, using the facilities of churches. CYT, however, is not affiliated with a church body and people of all faiths are welcomed. CYT graciously appreciates the generosity of The Bayou Church for the use of their facilities and that of Crossroads Church, which has offered its theater for performances and rehearsals.
Broussard says he has witnessed children who become members first come in shy and blossom after becoming part of a small group.
“When they loosen up, we challenge them to audition for the big productions. That audition process itself is a big part of the learning process, as they go in front of a panel and present a one minute monologue and a one minute song,” he says.
The children who enter CYT are placed in groups according to age. Of particular note is the Dreams group, made up of special needs children, who find a place in the larger groups and learn to perform in their unique way.
In January of 2016, children in CYT performed “Shrek, Jr.,” with the older, more experienced members involved in the production of “Footloose,” performed in Angelle Hall on the UL campus. Members of the audience at these shows, as well as what is called a “Showcase,” made up of simple acts performed by the younger ones, are constantly surprised at the level of expertise of these trained young actors and the quality of the other elements of production, such as lighting, make up, stage movements and props. These are first-rate performances and the delight of the children accomplishing so much is satisfying and deeply rewarding for the parents as well.
Parents are an integral part of any CYT production. When they register their children for participation, they commit to volunteer work, which may range from making costumes to selling concessions. They seem to enjoy their roles as much as their children.
Brandi Batiste is one of the mothers who were involved in January’s presentation of “Shrek, Jr.” Her son, Kylan Williams, played the part of Donkey and amazed many with his lack of inhibition, his speaking talent and his understanding of his character.
According to Batiste, “’Shrek, Jr.’ was CYT’s first production starring children the age of 8-13. For 10 weeks, the cast rehearsed vigorously every Tuesday evening during CYT classes and some weekends.” She adds her opinion of CYT. “CYT is a place where kids develop character, be uniquely who Our Father in heaven created them to be and experience His presence in every aspect of this organization.”
In order to see what participation can do for a child, one might look at Alison Wood as a good example. Wood is 21 years old and a full time college student. Amazingly, she found time to direct “Shrek, Jr.” and also to teach acting workshops that are essential to CYT. She first became interested in CYT when she was a sophomore in high school and saw the production of “Annie, Jr.” She thought that the group might be of interest to her and she joined.
According to Wood, “I was new in Lafayette and had been diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder. CYT, thanks to the classes and opportunities, gave me confidence to perform as someone else or something else. I gained the confidence to go to auditions, and I performed in 7 productions.” Some of her favorite roles were of Belle in “Beauty and the Beast” and Ariel in “The Little Mermaid.” She is now applying to several colleges throughout the country that have programs for musical theater.”
CYT of Lafayette provides a wonderful program for Acadiana’s youth, but the group needs financial support from the area. If you are interested in making the goals of this organization, which teaches Judeo-Christian values, possible through classes and productions, go to the group’s website at cytlafayette.org or contact Gerald Broussard at 337-258-1363. You will be making dreams come true.
Knowing how CYT has blessed Acadiana would surely make Shakespeare complete his words with, “Get thee to a CYT production.”