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VOL. 37 | NO. 13 | Friday, March 29, 2013

Offering youth a ‘safe haven,’ chance to explore creative side

By Evans Donnell

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Christian Youth Theater will present "Hat’s Off to Broadway" for two weeks this summer, July 8-12 and July 22-26. Details available at www.CYTnashville.org.

-- Photo Courtesy Of Katie Heinemann

Theater camps and classes for children are nothing new in the Nashville area.

Nashville Children’s Theatre and Franklin’s Act Too Players offer a variety of programs for all ages, but Christian Youth Theater (CYT) Nashville, as the name implies, approaches arts education from a different perspective.

“We try to emphasize that we are a theater program that is based on Judeo-Christian values,” CYT Nashville Artistic Director Katie Heinemann explains. “There’s no emphasis on a church aspect but on a values aspect.”

While the camps and classes are typically held in churches, CYT – founded in San Diego in 1981 – is open to all regardless of personal beliefs. The program has spread to more than 20 U.S. cities, offering instruction in drama, music, dance and other theatrical arts to children ages 4-18.

The group bills itself as a “safe haven” for children to explore their creative abilities in an encouraging environment.

“On a personal level, I think it provides an extremely healthy environment for children to be part of an extracurricular activity,” says Heinemann, who attended CYT while growing up in San Diego. “That can be so moving, influential and uplifting.”

CYT’s values education includes treating others with respect, character development and gaining confidence.

Why arts education matters

Studies at UCLA show that students with a high degree of involvement in the arts outscore those with little or no exposure on college entrance tests – 44 points higher for math and 59 points higher for verbal on the SAT, according to College Board figures.

Linguistic anthropologist Shirley Brice Heath’s research shows that children involved in the arts are 25 percent more likely to feel satisfied with themselves and eight times more likely to win awards for academic achievement as are students who are involved in sports, academic activities, and community service programs.

CYT’s mission, Kennedy says, includes learning life skills.

Participants in Christian Youth Theater’s one-week camps and 10-week class sessions have a chance to participate in showcases and performances of such shows as "You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown."

CYT Nashville will present the show May 17-19 at Columbia State Community College’s Franklin Campus theater. Youngsters taking spring classes with CYT may audition for the show April 5-6.

For more information on CYT Nashville – including class and camp schedules, fees and scholarship opportunities – visit its website at www.cytnashville.org

“The program builds character,” Kennedy says. “We want them to learn these skills and have an outlet for performing and creativity, but we also want to teach them what it’s like to work together as a team and consider the bigger picture. We want them to try to build each other up.

“The theater in general is very competitive and can be quite negative. …We try to teach them that everyone has a place and everyone can contribute.”

Parent says it’s like a family

Mary Young also participated in CYT in San Diego, and her 10-year-old and seven-year-old sons have been part of the program here.

“They’ve done the summer camp, and they loved it,” she says. “Then they took fall classes and enjoyed those, too.”

“They encourage the children to be loving toward one another, and accepting of others when there are differences,” Young adds. “It ends up becoming kind of a second family and a great social outlet. The (CYT) community is so supportive and encouraging of everyone.

“There’s a place for everybody, and that’s the beauty of it to me. You don’t have to be the world’s greatest singer or actor, either. You have to remember there are other roles involved in putting on a show, like sound engineering or lighting, backstage crew or green room, and really anybody can do one of these roles.”

“CYT is an amazing community that’s like a family. It’s always had that feel,” Heinemann adds. “It seems to have that no matter where a CYT affiliate is set up.”

Any endeavor that’s new to an area has its chance of failure, but Young, who has other family members involved with CYT’s Kansas City affiliate, is hopeful regarding CYT’s chances of thriving here.

“I think it’s hard to get this up and running because you need a foundation of families that are supporting it,” she says, “but my hope is that it really takes off because I think it really meets a need.”

‘Charlie Brown’ is next show

“Even if you don’t make theater your lifelong profession, it’s still planting beautiful things in a person,” Young says. “I feel being in CYT really built my confidence and I think that’s invaluable. It’s a life skill that you’re going to need in anything you do.”

Last summer, CYT Nashville began with a camp at Grace Chapel near Franklin, attended by 53 youngsters.

“It was an amazing experience,” Heinemann says. “We were so happy at the way it turned out.”

Spring classes began in early March at Franklin Christian Church and Nashville’s Belmont Methodist Church.

The lack of a permanent home is not seen as a liability by CYT, though: “The great thing about not having a permanent location,” CYT Nashville Managing Director Sarah Kennedy says, “is we can go wherever there’s a demand.”

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