Spotlight on CYT North Idaho student Kalla Mort

Sigh. I just love CYT students. I recently got a chance to speak with CYT North Idaho student Kalla Mort and she’s a gem of a human. In the below interview, we discuss her various roles, her favorite CYT moments, and what she’s up to now. Enjoy!

How did you first get involved with CYT?
A family friend of mine invited me to come see her in Snow White. And after, that I auditioned for Jungle Book and was hooked from the start!

As you know, CYT is one huge pseudo-family that loves to spread the love to actual family members. Are your siblings or parents involved? 
I have three siblings – two older sisters and a younger brother. My older sister Kelsea was only able to do a few shows before graduating, and my brother Bryson only did one show. My mom always loves being a part of the Make-Up Committee. She loves being around all of the CYTers and being able to connect with them on their level!

Kalla at her sister Kelsea's wedding!

Kalla at her sister Kelsea’s wedding!

What has surprised you the most about the world of theater?
Probably the instant familial bond you have with your fellow actors. Even outside of CYT, the family aspect is there. I never realized you could find a group of “misfits” and imperfect people who still love and support each other like a family would.

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CYT Alumni Jason & Danica Russell want to share the ABC’s of Activism

Jason and Danica Russell are not just CYT alumni, they’re CYT lifers. Jason is the son of CYT co-founders Paul and Sheryl Russell, and Danica was a CYT student starting at the ripe ol’ age of six. Their journey began 30 years ago on the CYT stage with a best friendship (and dance partnership)…fast forward to today and they’ve been married for 10 years and have two kids.


Jason is the Chief Creative Officer at Invisible Children, a non-profit organization that exists to stop a brutal rebel group of abducted soldiers in central Africa (the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA) which is overseen by the warlord Joseph Kony. Danica is the jack-of-all-trades wife/mother/writer/artist/first lady of Invisible Children who dabbles in anything and everything creative.

They’ve spent the last decade devoted to their “firstborn child” Invisible Children, teaching people to fight injustice by taking action (cc: KONY 2012). They’re now applying all they’ve learned and writing a children’s book aimed at anyone who wants to get involved and give back, but feels overwhelmed about where to start.

They say it best on the book’s Kickstarter page:

We wanted to write this book for our own children, Gavin Danger & Everley Darling, as a way of explaining to them what we believe is worth fighting for, while teaching and empowering them to do the same. That they may realize: We are doing our best as parents – to give them the world, and we are doing our best as people – to make that world something worth having.

Take a look at their project page and consider making a pledge to support their efforts. And then watch the video below and join me in hoping they adopt us all.

The journey from CYT student to CYT director (sorta)

You guys. You’re about to meet an extraordinary gem. Caleb Craig is a former CYT San Antonio student, and current intern director for CYT San Diego‘s production of The Addams Family. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with him about CYT life, college life, and future life. Lucky me!

Here's Caleb, ladies & gentlemen.

Here’s Caleb, ladies & gentlemen.

Not so long ago you were a CYT San Antonio student. What were some highlights from your days on the CYT stage? 
I was part of CYT San Antonio’s ambassador group, the Encore! tour group. That has by far been my favorite part of CYT. We had the privilege of working directly with Sandi and Scott Mitchell producing and performing medleys and arrangements of songs from various genres and shows. That group of people have become my closest friends. They’re like family to me.

The Encoure! group with their Artistic Director Sandi Mitchell

The Encore! group with their Artistic Director Sandi Mitchell

Any favorite CYT roles or shows stand out to you?
I was Peter Pan in Disney’s Peter Pan Jr. and it was a dream come true for me. That was my first lead role in any show I’d done. One of my favorite shows that CYT San Antonio put on was definitely The Wizard of Oz. It was filled with so many incredible moments, including a 12-minute quick change from Ms. Gulch to the Wicked Witch of the West. Watching the make-up and costume crew backstage move super fast to completely change the actress’s appearance was something to behold.



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CYT alumni wins full-ride scholarship to Berklee School of Music

CYT San Diego alumni Jackie Foster’s life just changed. She is this year’s only winner of a 4-year, $150K scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Below is the full article from the San Diego Union Tribune that reinforces what a stellar performer she is and how much she deserves this amazing opportunity. Way to go, Jackie!

Jackie Foster performs in concert. The 18-year-old Poway resident has been singing for audiences since her CYT days she was 8 years old. (Photo credit: Steve Abruzzo)

Jackie Foster performs in concert. The 18-year-old Poway resident has been singing for audiences since her CYT days she was 8 years old. (Photo credit: Steve Abruzzo)

Jackie Foster is destined for a singing career, and the Berklee College of Music is willing to bet on it.

This summer, the 18-year-old Poway High graduate was awarded a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to the private, contemporary music conservatory in Boston. The Berklee Lollapalooza Endowed Scholarship — worth more than $150,000 — is awarded to just one student each year, and faculty member Marty Walsh is convinced the school got it right with Foster.

“Jackie’s got a really bright future,” said Walsh, who first met Foster four years ago when she attended a rock music camp at Berklee. “She just has the whole thing going on. As a singer, she’s absolutely astounding, but she can also sing harmonies. She’s got charisma, the moves, the looks and a great attitude. When she walks in a room, she lights it up.”

For Foster, getting a full ride to her dream school is the “mind-blowing” next step of a journey that began 10 years ago, when she first sang in front of an audience.

“This is all I’ve ever wanted to do,” she said. “When I step on stage with the lights and a mike in my hand, it’s pure joy. Being able to share with others the gift that I was given — that amazes me. That’s what I live for.”

Music was a big part of Foster’s childhood. Rock and jazz music was always on the stereo at home, and by the age of 5 she surprised her parents with her robust, note-perfect accompaniment to the cast album for “The Phantom of the Opera.” At 7, she started performing in musicals with Christian Youth Theatre and by age 8, she was taking private voice lessons in jazz, pop, rock, R&B and classical music. She also studied piano and guitar.

Jackie playing the role of Wendy in CYT San Diego's production of Peter Pan

Jackie playing the role of Wendy in CYT San Diego’s production of Peter Pan

At Poway High, she toured nationally in the school’s show choir and sang vocals for the student jazz band. Her singing skills helped her win the crown as Miss Poway in 2013. She has also tried out for NBC’s “The Voice” and Fox’s “American Idol” and has competed in numerous singing contests, including Poway’s Got Talent, RB Idol and the San Diego County Fair’s SuperStar. Win or lose, Foster said she appreciates any opportunity for constructive feedback.

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CYT student named 2015 Distinguished Young Woman of California

Marisa Gomez 2

Marisa Gomez will represent the state at the National Finals in Mobile, Alabama

CYT San Diego student Marisa Gomez is an amazing young woman. So much so that she was just named the 2015 Distinguished Young Woman of California! Founded in 1958, Distinguished Young Women is the largest and oldest national scholarship program for high school girls. Out of 29 girls in this year’s State Finals, Marisa claimed the title. Below is the official press release.

Congrats Marisa!

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – Marisa Gomez from San Diego has been selected to represent the Distinguished Young Women of California Class of 2015. Twenty-nine outstanding young women from across the state spent the week in Bakersfield rehearsing for the program and participating in community events, which culminated with the State Finals on July 26 at Harvey Auditorium. The young women competed in the categories of scholastics (20%), interview (25%), talent (25%), fitness (15%), and self-expression (15%).

Marisa is a rising senior at Academy of Our Lady of Peace, and her parents are Manual Gomez and the late Maria Gomez. She participates in extracurricular activities such as Christian Youth Theatre and speech team. Marisa aspires to attend Princeton, Yale or Fordham University and become a lawyer or psychologist. She will represent California at the National Finals of Distinguished Young Women in June 2015 in Mobile, Alabama.

Marisa Gomez 1

“Distinguished Young Women has given me amazing role models and opened so many new doors for me,” said Marisa Gomez, 2015 Distinguished Young Woman of California. “I’m honored to represent my DYW sisters this next year, and I am so grateful and excited to be given the opportunity to spread awareness of this program and make a difference through it!”

Marisa earned $15,000 in cash scholarships during the state program. An additional $24,500 in scholarships were awarded to other participants during the preliminary and final nights of the program.

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Spotlight on CYT Alum (and Expo guest!) Jon Lorenz

Jon Lorenz: the man, the myth, the legend.

Chances are you (inadvertently) know him. You may have performed in a CYT show that he’s written, been in a show that he’s directed, or you’ve seen him on stage in one of a gazillion productions. He’s among the most talented people on the planet and he’s going to be at the upcoming CYT Expo. Score!

I sat down with him to pick his brain about all things CYT, songwriting, and his role this weekend at the Expo.

You’ve been involved with CYT forever. Your history with CYT in four sentences or less:

In high school, I performed in CYT shows like Bye Bye Birdie, Little Shop of Horrors, Annie, and Mary Poppins. In college, Paul Russell saw me writing music for a variety show and talked me into writing music for Russell House’s version of Aladdin, Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast. After that, I pitched my own projects (Little Women, The Legend of Pocahontas, and Looking Glass Girl) and directed/musical directed 30+ productions for CYT/CCT. On staff at CYT, I wrote and arranged music for Traditions of Christmas, special events and many, many summer camps.

The shows you’ve written for CYT are infamous (embrace it). Which ones are you most proud of?

That’s tough. Honestly, it’s hard for me to watch or listen to anything I have worked on so early in my development as an artist without thinking about how I could do it much better now! I will say that, whatever shortcomings The Legend of Pocahontas may have, it never ceases to amaze me how many people write me yearly about how doing the show has touched them in some profound way. That show is 18 years old and still playing a vital part in people’s lives! I am particularly proud of the 2003 CYT East County production – an exemplary fusion of dance, music, earnest performers, and clear storytelling. It felt like we really “got it right.” And we did the script as written (which, for some reason, rarely happens!)

Where did this gift come from and how long have you had it?

All good gifts come from heaven above. My desire to write music and tell stories comes from a lifelong love affair with stories and music – on page, film, and stage – and my desire to write and direct comes from a longing to share with others what I felt while immersed in my favorite stories. Every show I’ve directed is strongly influenced by every book, record, film, cartoon, play, and radio program I’ve ever consumed. I never considered myself a script writer, but as a director, I had lots of ideas of the kind of story I’d like to tell onstage. So when it didn’t exist, I tried writing it myself.

You’re attending the 2014 CYT Expo as a special guest. What cool things are in store for attendees that you’re involved in?

Lots! I’ll be involved in different workshops –co-leading an Audition Workshop with Paul Russell & teaching a Songwriting Workshop, to name two — and I’m directing the showcase that students will be putting on at the end of the Expo. I have my hand in other exciting parts of the Expo, but you’ll have to be there to find out! It will be epic. And fun. And useful. Don’t miss it.

Fill us in on what you’re doing now.

I just finished writing 1930s style songs for Lamb’s Players production of Twelfth Night in San Diego. It was a privilege to collaborate with a renowned lyricist like William Shakespeare – and a lot easier to not have to write the words! Currently, I am looking at moving forward on a few shows which may come into rotation in CYT in the next year or so (fingers crossed!), but mainly working on a rewrite of Alice for NBC/Universal Stage Productions: new music, new dialogue!

Let’s play word association. What is the first word that comes to your mind when I say the following:

Auditions - Which side of the table am I on? Me auditioning? Stress. Watching auditions? Hopeful.
Alice - Grateful
Opening Night - Ahhhh!
Broadway - Dream
Piano - Friend
Movie musicals - Moulin Rouge
CYT Expo - Opportunity

Thanks for your time, Jon. Have so much fun at the Expo!

Hi Jon!

Hi Jon!

Born and raised in San Diego, Jon Lorenz works as actor, director, playwright, composer, and teacher. He studied acting, directing, and music at Cal State Fullerton and Chapman University, and has spent the last nine years as a Resident Artist and Musical Director for Lamb’s Players Theatre. Jon is the co-creator of Mixtape: a Totally Awesome Musical Journey Through the 80s (book, musical arrangements) which was named by the Union-Tribune as “San Diego’s longest running home-created show.” His musical, Alice (book, music, lyrics) was selected by Stephen Schwartz to be a part of the 2005 ASCAP/Disney Musical Theater Workshop, performed at NYU in 2010, and optioned by NBC/Universal Theatricals in 2013. He lives in San Diego with wife and muse Julie, and their two children Hudson and Macy.

Get ready for hilarity at the Improvation


Real talk: the CYT Improvathon is legendary.

If you’re lucky enough to be going to the CYT Expo in July, you’re going to get to witness it (or be in it — lucky!)

Bobby Marchessault, CYT’s Improvathon Director, is the brain behind this epic entertainment. He filled me in on all things improv and what people can expect this year at the Expo.

Break it down for me Bobby. Explain the Improvathon.

Break it down…in some ways that’s like asking me to untangle a giant hairball. Let’s just say it’s two days of absolute hilarity and fun as teams from all over the county come together to celebrate and share their love for all things funny and improv. All of these actors get together regularly around the country and create stories and entertain, and for this brief event they get to learn from each other, get to know each other, and root each other on in what really is a very difficult art form.

What do attendees and participants have to look forward to at the Expo?

This year, attendees have the opportunity to see 18 teams present their own pre-scheduled improv show. Two shows will happen simultaneously, all day long, every half hour. That’s day one. Then, on Friday, we switch up the format with what we call TheaterSports. All day in the ballroom, teams will perform together in a farcical sort of head-to-head comedy sporting event. One of our judges will “ref” these shows and the audience will help us to award “points” to teams. It’s gonna be a blast and Expo attendees are gonna wanna see as much of it as they can.

The Finals are on Friday night of the Expo. How many teams, and how do you win?
In those first two days of performances, we have judges who will be watching and “scoring” games. The top three teams will put on an awe-inspiring, life-changing, earth-shattering display of improv genius for all the attendees of Expo 2014. Our judges will have the unenviable position of deciding which of those three teams did the best storytelling and entertained us all the most. There are some ideas in the works to include the audience on a percentage of that decision making, but you might just have to show up to see how that comes into play.

What other fun stuff will the Improv students be doing over the long weekend?
As if that isn’t more fun than one can safely handle in two days already? One of the beauties of the Expo this year is that Improv students will also be invited to jump into all the events that the other students are taking part in as well. And on Thursday, we’ll have a giant workshop where both improv students and HYPE students will get to hone some improv skills and play games with actors from other cities and teams. I’m anticipating a pretty amazing couple of days and can’t wait to get to Houston to meet all the actors and see them do their thing.

Thank you so much for all the insight, Bobby!

Dear reader – read up on anything more you’d ever want to know about the Improvathon HERE.


This is Bobby.

Bobby Marchessault grew up in Chula Vista, CA and had his first theater experience at CYT South Bay in the chorus of Oliver. He was hooked and performed in several more CYT productions before becoming a member of the Young Americans where he taught  singing, dancing, and improv in over 100 schools across the U.S., New Zealand, and Australia. Bobby especially loves teaching and investing in youth, using theater and the arts as a way to teach and learn about life. His favorite thing about improv? Not only do actors learn to think fast and respond to our surroundings, it helps us all forget about our inhibitions and hangups and not take ourselves or life so stinking seriously!