Why we do it…

CYT Founders, Paul & Sheryl Russell, recently received the following letter from a CYT parent, Amy Kennard, who watched her daughter, Kylie, perform in a CYT San Diego production of Godspell. It is reprinted here (along with personal pictures ) with her permission. Enjoy!


Godspell, 2015

Hello Russell Clan!
I didn’t get a chance to say hi to either of you (Paul and Janie) at the show earlier today but once again felt like I had to write!  I hope you enjoyed it.  I know it’s been quite the experience for Kylie…and for me!  In the midst of all the songs, scenes, and dance numbers I’ve ever watched my daughter perform in…none has compared to watching her face in the scene where Jesus died.  In three seconds my hugest prayer as a parent was answered…because I didn’t see her acting.  I saw her reacting as any of us would were we put in a situation to watch our Savior suffer.  She understood what He did for her!  Although I had not seen any of the rehearsals, she had come home from the night they blocked that scene telling me how sad she felt.  How cool to get to experience that place in your heart on stage…and what a confirmation for a mom to see her daughter “get it”!
Kylie in Godspell.

Kylie in Godspell.

So I write to say thank you…

thank you for creating a theater group that does shows like Godspell.
thank you for creating a theater group with other believers doing shows like Godspell that my daughter gets to fellowship with.
thanks for giving my girl the chance to be a part of telling the greatest story ever told…the chance to be on stage doing what she loves while being a light to the world!
Cast of Godspell

Cast of Godspell

I know it may not be a financial winner for CYT, but like I told Angela and Wendy…I so applaud you for choosing it!
Thankful once again!
You’re welcome, Amy. It is truly our pleasure. 


2014 CYT Improvathon Comes to a Surprising Finish…a Wedding!

The soon to be Mr. & Mrs. Norris

The soon to be Mr. & Mrs. Norris

Improvathon is all about the unexpected. Last year, CYTer, Hayley Sharpe from CYT Kansas City, got something really unexpected: her future spouse! Enjoy her darling letter to our CYT founders (Paul & Sheryl Russell), sharing her good news:

Hi there CYT Family!
My name is Hayley Sharpe, and this year I’m one of the coaches for CYT Kansas City’s Improv team.

I wanted to share my story with both of you. Last year at Improvathon, I was on the Kansas City team, House of Shards. It was my last year as a CYT student and I was just going to improvathon because I loved to perform and I loved CYT. At the final performance, Paul got up and said something along the lines of, “Careful, you might meet your husband or wife here!” I immediately thought, no way. There’s absolutely no way I’d meet mine here.

Hayley & Bailey competing head to head at Improvathon 2014.

Hayley & Bailey competing head to head at Improvathon 2014.

But then I met a boy from CYT Riverside named Bailey Norris. Over the past year he and I not only kept in contact, he eventually moved to Kansas City to be with me through my hip surgeries (I recently had a hip replacement due to a birth defect in my hips) and now we are engaged to be married!



We will both be at Improvathon in San Diego (at EXPO 2015) this year as an engaged couple, and we’ll be married August 22!

I wanted to thank you for starting this wonderful organization that led me closer to God and to my best friend, and man of my dreams.

I hope to see you all in San Diego!
Thanks and God Bless,
Soon to be Mrs. Norris

Once upon a time, two kids competed at CYT Improvathon...

Once upon a time, two kids competed at CYT Improvathon…

Congratulations Bailey & Hayley! May God continue to bless your union with peace, joy, & laughter! Now THAT’s why you should go to EXPO!

2015 My CYT Story Competition!

It’s that time again! Has your life been impacted by CYT? Tell us how, and you might be the next “My CYT Story” competition winner! You’re officially invited to participate in the 3rd annual nationwide CYT Essay Competition, where one winner from each Affiliate will win a free registration to the 2015 National CYT EXPO in San Diego, CA from June 21-24th!

Competition Details:

  • In 500 words or less, tell us what CYT has done in your life
  • Submit your story to your local affiliate’s Artistic Director by April 1, 2015
  • Stories will be read anonymously by your affiliate’s Board of Directors and a local winner will be selected by May 1, 2015

For the sake of clarification/ultimate excitement: there will be one winner per participating affiliate (ask your local Artistic Director if you’re participating), and each individual champ will receive a free registration.

  • Each winner will be submitted to CYT Inc, from which a GRAND WINNER will be selected
  • On Opening Night of CYT’s EXPO, all winners will be recognized and a grand winner will be announced
  • The grand winner gets bragging rights, a feature on the National Blog, and a free CYT sweatshirt from the CYT store!

Happy writing!

2014 My CYT Story Winner - Aubrey Muffett (with Paul Russell, Heather La Forge and Sheryl Russell)

2014 My CYT Story Winner – Aubrey Muffett (with Paul Russell, Heather La Forge and Sheryl Russell)

Here’s a excerpt from last year’s winner, Aubrey Muffett from CYT Sacramento.

“No other community of brave, precious souls could have planted and grown me so securely in Him, all the while allowing me a chance and plenty of room for my once timid personality to unfurl. I have been more warmly accepted and firmly encouraged at CYT than any other group. CYT has helped me develop different characters on stage, but even more so my identity in Christ.”

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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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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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!