Tuesday Crew Day – Meet your Improvathon Crew!

Crew Days are our favorite Tuesdays. This week, we’re introducing you to your Improvathon Crew!

Meet Hannah Taraschke from Fredericksburg, VA, and Gabe Bates from San Diego, CA! These two Crew interns are going to rock EXPO with Riley Taylor, our radical Improvathon Director (who is back for year two!). They’ve both been to plenty of EXPO’s, and it just so happens that their favorite EXPO memories are both from 2015! Read on to learn more about Hannah and Gabe.

How did you start with CYT, and how long have you been involved?

HannahI saw CYT’s production of Seussical when I was 12 years old and ever since that moment I have been hooked on CYT! I was a student for 6 years and I have been working for CYT as an improv coach, stage manager, and camp director ever since I graduated.


Gabe: I started CYT@school when I was 8, and did my first “big” CYT show when I was 11 and participated in 20 shows until I aged out.

Top two musicals of all time and why?

Hannah: I love Hairspray because of the fun dancing and Tracy is the most iconic character of all time! I also love You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown because the music is so beautiful and it’s just so sweet and funny.

Gabe: Number 2 – Heathers because it has great music, a great story, and discusses teenage issues such as peer pressure and mental health. Number 1 – Newsies because it is a story near and dear to me and it’s a show that let’s young men know that theatre isn’t just for girls.

What’s your favorite memory from a past EXPO?

Hannah: It’s almost impossible to pick just one, but one of the most beautiful moments for me was at the 2015 EXPO. I was a student and a member of my improv team got a call from his family saying that his grandma just passed away. We all prayed together and we were so shaken up. But we all worked together and decided to still go on stage to perform at the finale. And it was one of the most magical improv experiences I have ever had.

GabeIn 2015 I was in CYT Tour Company and we performed and later got a chance to meet other students from other affiliates.

What are you most excited about for this year’s EXPO?

Hannah: I can’t wait to affirm and love on the students just as the leaders and crew members did for me when I was a student! I’m also excited to see some fierce improv!!

GabeGetting to see other students from other states compete in improv and getting to meet other interns from other locations.

Those are our Crew Interns for the 2018 EXPO Improvathon. Check back every other week to meet more of our Crew, or read some of our past posts to get to know our Student and HYPE track crew! If you’re not registered for EXPO yet it’s not too late – get registered today!


Tuesday Crew Day – Meet your Student Track Crew!

It’s once again Tuesday Crew Day and this week we’re introducing our Crew for the CYT EXPO 2018 Student track!

This year we have two Crew Bosses on the Student Track. Meet Tyler Tafolla and Danny LaPointe! These guys are pros and have been involved with CYT San Diego for years, both on stage and behind the scenes. Tyler and Danny will be assisting this year’s Student Director, Kara List from CYT Fredericksburg! Read on to get to know your Crew Bosses!

What are some fun facts about you?

Tyler Tafolla

Tyler: I graduated college with my BFA in Musical Theatre last summer, I wrote a musical called “Scott Robbins and the Traveling Show”, and I worked as a performer at Sea World for the last 7 years. I met Larry the Cable Guy once at a party. He did the Mater voice for me. It was awesome. Also, I make really convincing dinosaur noises.

Danny LaPointe


DannyI love archery because it’s fun and it makes me feel powerful, my best friend is my 4 month old niece, and I’m American, Canadian, and I was born in South Africa.



What are your top two musicals and why?

Tyler: “The Drowsy Chaperone” and “Little Shop of Horrors”. Drowsy was the first show I ever saw on Broadway. I was in 6th grade and couldn’t stop laughing. I’m a huge fan of puppetry and am a puppeteer myself. Watching the plant sing in Little Shop is always exciting for me.

DannyNewsies because my childhood was basically built watching Christian Bale dance to Seize the Day. And The Lion King because how could you not love grown adult men dressed as rhinos dancing down the aisles?


What is your favorite memory from a past EXPO?

Tyler: I have always been a fan of Improvathon! I use to compete in the San Diego teams and I just love watching improv. It is definitely a highlight of my summer.

DannyLast year, during the screening of Newsies a bunch of students stood at the back of the room and danced along with choreography they had learned in their own affiliates. It warmed my heart.

When you’re not at EXPO having the time of your life, what do you do?

TylerI’m a working actor living in Los Angeles. I am a writer and musician as well. You can find me playing in local coffee shops in North Hollywood. I just recently performed in a staged reading of the musical that I wrote and am currently working on producing a full production in Los Angeles by the end of this year!

Danny: Well, since I graduated from college last May, I’ve just been seizing opportunities where I feel I can help others and share God’s love, so this year I’ve been living in Indiana helping take care of my baby niece and I’m loving every second of it. Next year, I’m hoping to get a job at either Compassion International or Mount Hermon (a year round Christian camp) 🙂

What are you most excited about for this year’s EXPO?

Tyler: I love getting to know people from all different CYT affiliates. Making connections and growing the CYT Family is always the most rewarding part of Expo.

Danny: I am very excited for building the stage and set for expo on the first day, because that’s when I can bring my own tools and impress all of the cyt dads with the fact that I own my own drill and vaguely know about building things. That is the honest truth.  

There you have it, our Crew Bosses for the 2018 EXPO Student Track. Check back every other week to meet more of our Crew! If you’re not registered for EXPO yet it’s not too late – get registered today!



My CYT Story: The Lonely Life of a CYT Dad

CYT is a family event, but sometimes it’s hard for the whole family to get involved. CYT Dad Ed R. from Sacramento shares some of the struggles of being a working parent who’s family is involved in CYT. Through the ups and downs, Ed knows it’s worth every second!


What is this thing? My wife is a CYT Mom, and I’m feeling… alone.

CYT is so much fun for the kids, they don’t even know all the valuable lessons they’re learning. They learn about fun and respect. The kids greet each other and are kind to each other, as well as to the adults – Where did that come from? Plus, they learn to memorize scripture and memorize lines. By supporting each other, they develop this wonderful confidence and comfort in their faith and in themselves.

Oh wait, it’s not just about the fun. Somehow CYT motivates these young people to try out and work hard on a variety of shows. We are on our 8th play. The kids amaze me! I’ve had the opportunity to follow a script as they rehearse; the accuracy is uncanny. The funny thing is that it doesn’t matter in CYT what part you have. The kids are just so excited to be there, it takes on a life of its own.

There is that small commitment of time CYT asks of one parent from each family. They help build amazing sets, make costumes, keep control in the greenroom, serve food, work in marketing, sell tickets, work in tech and party planning — and so many other things I don’t know about. I can’t even imagine the time that people like Wendy put in to run this whole thing. What an amazing crowd, and the Christian values CYT promotes appear to run through the full list of adult volunteers as well. I sometime stop in during tear-downs/set ups and I’m always greeted warmly and offered the opportunity to help. It’s nice that they include this lonely CYT Dad.

I’m a CYT Dad who often works odd hours, so my dear wife has taken on the challenge of helping at CYT. She starts prepping before casting, then goes to pre-meetings, then after casting day the real fun starts. Many occasions we’ve had piles of costumes throughout our home. I’ll admit to even doing a little sewing – just so I can spend time with my wife! The CYT excitement and energy pulses through our house and out the door a few days a week. My daughter is off to classes or practices, and my wife is doing something or other. Then tech week starts. I hug them in the morning before Super Saturday, because I don’t know when I’ll see them again! I’ve been told “If you need to travel, tech week is a good time because we won’t see you anyway.” These are lonely days for this CYT Dad.

Is it worth it? Of course it is. My daughter has more confidence. She’s often asked to act, perform or sing in front of her school or church. She has more friends than I can count. She loves God and isn’t afraid to say so or to pray in public when we eat out. My wife loves helping out, even if she does pull her hair out at times. This current show I’m going to try and help out more. I like promoting this honorable cause AND I like seeing my family. I won’t be the lonely CYT Dad anymore!

Want to share how CYT is impacting your life? Submit your story to the blog!

CYT is Primed for Future Growth!

After 38 years, Christian Youth Theater (CYT) is pleased to announce that Janie Russell Cox is moving into the role of President of CYT Inc. headquartered in San Diego. Effective April 1st, Cox will be succeeding her father, Paul Russell, as President of CYT Inc. CYT has experienced steady growth and expansion over the last several years and is now serving over 20,000 students annually in 28 cities across America. What started in 1980 by Paul and Sheryl Russell as a small community theater has now grown into the largest children’s theater organization in the nation. In 2017 alone, CYT produced 111 shows attended by 250,000 patrons across America. Cox is eager to step into her new role where she can give her talents and time to support CYT globally.

In addition to the traditional after-school theater arts curriculum, CYT serves public and private schools in over 40 locations nationally through its CYT@school program. The organization is also ready to expand into churches who want to bring the arts into their Children’s education programs. Cox knows the market is primed and hungry for what CYT provides: “We do so much more than just put on shows; we witness kids gain confidence, develop leadership skills, and learn valuable character lessons. These students also get support and guidance from talented artists and teachers who know that theater will positively impact their lives.”

The huge benefits that the arts can bring to a community are now fully documented with over 25 years of empirical research. “It is critical to keep arts education thriving in our communities. Developing character traits that will last a lifetime for these children is so important,” added Cox. CYT has seen many of its alumni go on to make a positive difference in their communities by winning Teacher of the Year awards, receiving Tony and Academy Award nominations, creating humanitarian non-profits, and winning medical research awards from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.     

“CYT uses the arts to teach kids about strong work ethic, humility, kindness, trust, and ultimately loving God and loving others. CYT must expand in order to impact as many families as possible,” stated Cox. “For years, we’ve seen theater change the direction of kids’ lives and we have the data and evidence to prove it. We will impact the next generation through the use of theater arts.”

Paul Russell will continue to be the CEO of CYT Inc. and is eager to work with his daughter to expand CYT. “There are so many opportunities ahead and we are thrilled that Janie will be giving her full-time attention towards reaching more families through the performing arts,” said Russell. “The world is changed through a good story and we want the next generation to be the best storytellers of all.”    

With this announcement, CYT San Diego is actively looking for a qualified Artistic Director for San Diego’s six areas, a role previously held by Cox.

Interested applicants should review the job posting at www.cytsandiego.org/cyt-job-opportunities/ and forward their resume and cover letter to CYT San Diego Managing Director, Laura Bertagnolli, at: laura@cytsandiego.org.

Tuesday Crew Day – Meet your HYPE Crew!

It’s Tuesday Crew Day and this week we’re introducing our Crew Boss and Intern for the  CYT EXPO 2018 HYPE track!

If you were at EXPO last year then maybe you’ll remember #TeamJensen. Well this year, Jensen Armstrong Kirkendall from Santa Cruz, CA is back as the HYPE Crew Boss, and with him as the Crew Intern we have Timothy Chapman from Fredericksburg, VA (which is, according to Tim, “the land of suburban corn”)! These two will be helping out Lydia Kinne, the National HYPE Director, throughout the course of EXPO. Do they have a very similar sense of humor? Are they practically the same person? We recently interviewed the two of them, so read on to find out!

How did you get started with CYT, and how long have you been involved?

Jensen Kirkendall


JensenI first decided to do CYT when a cute girl came up to me in church after I did a church skit and told me I should join (Then I got to be her husband in Honk! for the first show 😉 I was only able to be a student for 7th and 8th grade, since I moved too far away, but I was able to stay in touch over the years.


Timothy Chapman


TimothyI started CYT way back in the day about 4 years ago, at the end of my Freshman year, playing the role of Sailor in Tights and Elton John Frog number 3 in Little Mermaid Jr. I wasn’t cut, thankfully, even though my audition was one for the books (ask me sometime about it, but it basically involved a ukulele, reindeer, and loss of memory). I’ve been involved ever since them, working backstage, with HYPE, performing, and on the Artistic Team.


What are some fun facts about you?

JensenI wear shoes about 10% of the time I am alive. That 10% is flip flops I drink tea throughout the day at an altogether shocking rate. I make a mean chicken noodle soup, and have decided to take it to training school to make it get along better with my tomato bisque. If there is one thing I love more than sharp cheddar cheese, it is extra sharp cheddar cheese. If there is one thing I like a tiny bit less than extra sharp cheddar cheese but about equally to sharp cheddar cheese, it’s pepper jack cheese. In the words of G K Chesterton, “Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”

TimothyThere was a point in my life I could say I had lived in Japan for more then half my life (around 12 or 13). I’m a firm believer that Snowboarding is cooler then Skiing. I couldn’t ever do a desk job, unless my boss was Michael Scott. I love you but I probably won’t come to your dance recital. In opposition to the common belief, I have no idea what i’m doing with my life and am open to suggestions. So let’s go backpack the world! I have jumped out of a plane and encourage everyone to try do it at least once in their lives. Canada isn’t real.

When you’re not at EXPO having the time of your life, what do you do? Are you in school, performing, teaching, working…?

JensenI am currently studying Humanities and English and Philosophy at Azusa Pacific University. So that means all I do is read, write, read so that I can write, read what I write, and write about things I read.

Timothy: Not having the time of my life, obviously, but if you are a local of Fredericksburg, you could see me serving Jesus Chicken at the local Chick-fil-A, taking the minimum amount of online Community College classes I possibly can be, hiking, writing CEO’s of companies asking for money, running distances I probably shouldn’t, flipping through life, sleeping longer then I intend to then getting mad at myself because I slept longer then I intended to, meaning to do important work but ending up sleeping longer then I intend to, driving my car a mile over the speed limit at all times, laughing at random times because I told myself a joke, making others not laugh with the joke I just told myself, and hitting Goodwill to buy some flannels. Also if anyone wants to buy me some climbing shoes, donations are not only accepted but encouraged.
What are you the most excited about for this year’s EXPO?

JensenMealtimes…Well, I guess also the students. They always bring back my youthfulness and make me happy to be working!

TimothyProbably working with such cool people and having, as said previously, THE TIME OF MY LIFE. Also being in California. Cuz California is pretty great.

Remember to check back every other Tuesday to meet more of our EXPO Crew! If you still haven’t registered for EXPO yet, it’s not too let! Make sure to get registered today!!




My CYT Story: Growing Confidence and Friendships

The following story was submitted by Ellie H. from CYT Sacramento for our 2018 My CYT Story Contest.

When I was in 6th grade, I was a painfully shy kid who had a lot of trouble making friends. All of my friends had been put into different classes than I was in at my school, and most of the clique-y kids were put into my class that year. My school was not the best when it came to a social life and kids being nice to each other. It was really hard for me to connect to the other kids in the class, though it didn’t look like it on the outside. The next year, me and three friends that I had known for years transferred to a different school in the area, where I had to start all over with more new people in the classes that none of my three friends were in. And since it was the first year of middle school where we finally had more than just one class per day, that meant a lot of classes without my friends. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the friends that I already had and I’m still close with them to this day, but classes that they weren’t in were the worst, and I felt completely alone. Making friends at school was even harder than ever.

But 7th grade was also the year I was in my first CYT show. Two of my few friends encouraged me to join them at CYT – they had done shows there before that I had gone to see, and it looked so cool to be able to become an entirely different person. I thought hey, maybe I could do a show there and become an entirely different person. Maybe then it’ll be easier to make friends. My first show was Beauty and the Beast, and I did absolutely terrible at my audition. But the other kids there applauded anyways – more than just “polite applause”. It made absolutely no sense, but it gave me the confidence to talk to a few more people afterwards, and during that show I actually was able to add some more people to my list of friends. This confidence grew with every show, with the applause of the crowd and the encouragement of the directors and family members that came to see the show telling me that I was doing great.

But there was a problem – I couldn’t become a different person offstage. It just wasn’t working, and I still had no clue how to make friends without the plan of entirely changing myself for whichever person I wanted to make friends with. Yet, I had still made friends at CYT. How had that even happened?

It took me a few more classes and shows to realize that I had made so many more friends through CYT without even realizing it. I had always been very slow to add people to my mental list of friends, because I always thought that they probably secretly didn’t like me and were just faking being friendly whenever I came around or joined their conversations. But that wasn’t true. These people at CYT actually did like me, they actually did like to have me around and they weren’t just acting like it. I could hardly believe it.

The newfound self-confidence that came with this growing circle of friends gave me the ability to make friends at my school too outside of the three that I already knew, and I finally didn’t feel alone in my classes. I felt like I finally had the ability to make more friends on my own, instead of relying on my three friends to introduce me to others and hoping desperately that these new people would like me. And now here I am in my junior year of high school, with an amazing circle of friends around me that was made possible by this theater group that I was introduced to so many years ago.

Want to submit your story to the 2018 My CYT Story Competition? Deadline is April 1.

DISCLAIMER: Though all complete stories submitted will be forwarded to their respective area’s leadership for judging as part of the 2018 My CYT Story Competition, not all stories will be published on this blog. Likewise, having your story published on the blog does not guarantee that your story has been selected as a Regional Winner.

My CYT Story: A Different Kind of Theater

CYT is a different kind of theater company. Check out how Emma C. from CYT Sacramento discovered how CYT is unique!

I have always loved theater. However, I didn’t like how they were always making cuts, body-shaming, and not spreading the love of Christ. It makes me cry to think of a kid my age not being able to preform in a loving environment. That’s just not right. Then, I heard about CYT, a place where theater nerds like me can both spread the love of Christ, work with amazing directors, an preform all at the same time. We did the summer camp, and instantly fell in love with CYT. We did their classes, and eventually did our first show, Crazy For You. Since then, CYT has changed my life. From working with amazing directors in shows to making it look like I got a black eye in the summer camps, I absolutely love every single aspect of CYT.