CYT Dallas’ Heart is Beating Strong!

Are you involved with CYT? Were you at Expo this year? Guess what! You are impacting others and showing them the heart behind CYT without even realizing it! Take a look at Ruth Bennett’s (CYT Dallas’ Board Member) take-away from her time at Expo.

“I attended CYT EXPO in San Diego a few weeks ago and came away with some definite impressions of what this thing really is and what Tyler has been trying to communicate to us while he follows God’s lead to get this going for CYT Dallas.
May I share some observations?
First, I’m very thankful that the first national gathering I attended was the one that the young people attend to compete and perform. The improv competition was gut-busting worthy and the showcase each city performed (a dance and song from a musical they had done) showed their dedication to great art.  My favorite take away regarding the young performers:  when J. Mark McVey (who has performed the role of Jean Valjean 2000+ times) compared the life of that character to his own, marking bitterness, forgiveness and then a heart of abundant generosity. During his presentation he would sing songs from Les Mis that most young people would scoff at.  But these CYT students – who have all labored and struggled to perform these same songs – stood to their feet over and over with great praise and admiration for this tenor in anguish.  It was noteworthy for several reasons but I was excited that this level of respect for theater was well taught to our young and that they want to value it and carry it on.
Secondly, I was with Tyler…THE Tyler.  My, how you all treasure this young man! It was endearing to me to see how well regarded he is by all of you and to confirm what I felt I knew…he is very gifted, very respected and highly sought after.  Currently, Tyler wears all 3 hats (AD, MD, AC) while we begin this great engine.  (Yes, I’ll pause while you say a quick but passionate prayer for him.)  My time with all of you seated in me what each role truly is and the significance of what Tyler’s role has been for us thus far.  Applications are being taken…
Lastly, during leadership sessions, every aspect of what CYT does and what that should look like was covered.  Interestingly, each city had slightly different ways to accomplish the same things and CYT INC gladly received new ideas that sounded like they would help the experience. I learned a lot.  I also had a driving need to see the CYT Warehouse in San Diego where all of their props, costumes and set design happens.  Magically (thank you God) the Area Coordinator for San Diego offered to take me there.  It was crazy unfathomable!  Wow! Show after show all laid out in fabric and wood in a massive building of pathways and ladders.  My take away: My guide, Katrina, took me to Mt. Helix – Paul Russell told us about this outdoor amphitheater on the top of a mountain when he and Sheryl visited with us on a trip they took to Austin.  Along the way she told me many stories but my favorite was that she was raised strictly Catholic and has never been comfortable with praying aloud.  She said it was always taught as a private, silent conversation with God.  It was irreverent to say “Jesus” out loud. When her daughter got involved with CYT there was a barrage of praying aloud that shook her (Katrina) a little bit and she took some time to adjust.  She said that the thing that has blown her away is that, in the presence of CYT leaders, her daughter quickly became a vibrant prayer with no hesitation about praying aloud.  The young leaders there began a bible study and invited the CYT kids and this has made all the difference in this family.
My CYT EXPO 2016 summary?
1 – I can now see the path we are on quite literally.
2 – We are blessed to have Tyler as our seed for growth. We will listen carefully to his thoughts.
3 – We are about to make this come alive for Dallas families and set some awkward kids in their element!
Thank you to each and every participant in EXPO that shared ideas and pitched their passions near me.  It’s an honor to be on board.
Ruth Bennett
CYT Dallas”

CYT Dallas is coming alive!! Keep that heartbeat going strong! We believe in you and we can’t wait to see your impact on the community!Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 9.06.17 PM

Who, What, Wear at EXPO!



Hi everyone, this is Rachael Baciocco from CYT Inc! I’m running around with the rest of the staff helping to get everything ready for EXPO. (And all the while wearing that cool backpack you guys all get when you arrive!) We are so excited and can’t wait to meet you all! EXPO is right around the corner so here are a few more fun details just for you.

So, you want to know the “Who, What, and Wear” at EXPO?

WHO you ask? That’s easy. YOU! That is, if you’re going to EXPO. If you haven’t signed up yet, it’s not too late! Click HERE to register now!

WHAT cool items can we hope to win at this year’s EXPO? Well I’m glad you asked! There are some amazing prizes you can win through the Opportunity Drawing! (items include Apple watch, iPad mini, $250 Visa gift card, NYC condo 2 night stay, and more!)

Tickets can be purchased at EXPO only!

  • $1 for 1 ticket
  • $10 for an arm’s length of tickets
  • $20 for a body length (bring someone tall!)

Also, we will be doing free give-aways all EXPO long, and you could win some cool prizes JUST BY BEING THERE!

But what are you going to WEAR? Here is what the EXPO staff is wearing (this is for you, Kara & Emily from CYT Fredericksburg!) Why not match with some of our staff and wear these items too? Of course you don’t have to, but how fun would it be if we were all wearing CYT gear the entire event? You will receive an “EXPO only discount” on all of these items and more, because we LOVE you! So there!

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Sunday: Affiliate Shirt / I <3 CYT

We’re wearing our I <3 CYT shirts! Come to check-in wearing your affiliate shirt/Improvathon shirt loud and proud, or wear your I <3 CYT shirt and let the world know how much you love CYT!



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Monday, the first full day of expo! With our #Auditions shirts on we’ll be ready to take on the day and say that we #NAILEDIT




Tuesday: Retro CYT Shirt day/trucker hat

Hey! Remember those cool tanks from last year’s EXPO? Or perhaps your Awkwardly Closer Than Family shirt? Wear any of the older CYT shirts, like one of your affiliate show shirts, Shuffle Off To Buffalo T-shirt, you get the idea. And don’t forget to wear your new Trucker Hat that you can purchase at EXPO!


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Wednesday: #JAZZHANDS

Wednesday is the last day of EXPO (AKA the #BIGFINISH). Wear your new #JAZZHANDS shirt with the EXPO staff, or another CYT shirt you have!




And that’s the Who, What, and Wear of it! Get your gear together, get excited, and get ready for EXPO 2016! See you in June!

CYT San Diego wants YOU at EXPO!

Below is a letter from the CYT San Diego key staff. They can’t wait to see you at EXPO!

Hi CYT Affiliates!
CYT San Diego is so excited to host you for our 2016 National EXPO!  We look forward to playing, learning, and laughing together. It’s a time for all of us to get to know one another better and learn more about what’s happening in each of our cities.  We pray for safe travels and welcome you to the sun, sand, and water!  See you soon!
CYT San Diego Staff

San Diego and Inc Staff LOVE CYT! L to R Janie Russell Cox, Rachael Baciocco, Travis Russell, Heather LaForge, and Laura Bertagnolli

Registration for EXPO 2016 is still open! Register HERE!

“Expo captures and magnifies the soul of CYT.” Interview with CYT and HYPE Alumnus, Jensen Kirkendall

Lydia Kinne, National HYPE Advisor, recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jensen Kirkendall, former CYT Santa Cruz student and originator of the now-popular phrase, “Awkwardly Closer than Family,” about his past experience with the CYT EXPO. Jensen has attended four EXPOs in all three capacities – as a HYPE student, an Improv student, and as a “general” student, and today he’ll be sharing with us some of the highlights of those experiences – especially as it relates to HYPE.

EXPO 2011

EXPO 2011 – Jensen is sitting on the wall, far right

Q: What is the best part of EXPO for you?

Jensen: My favorite part is being able to see how similar all the different CYTs are and being able to interact with everyone. There are always a few people that I really connect with in a very short time, and that would not happen at a typical conference. You take a regular conference with old people, and you throw in some teenagers; some acting, singing, and dancing; and some Jesus: that’s what EXPO is. There’s nothing like it.

EXPO 2012

EXPO 2012

Q: Why should a HYPE student come to the HYPE workshops at EXPO?

Jensen: HYPE students are a special part of CYT that I believe add an essential element. I have always said that it emphasizes the Christian in CYT. Building leadership qualities in high school Christian actors is a remarkable opportunity for making a difference in the world of the arts. EXPO gives a fantastic opportunity to gather like-minded people in order to compare methods, assess universal priorities, and better understand the leadership roles. It is both helpful for new HYPEs–giving definite direction and understanding of the mission– and for longstanding HYPEs–providing and receiving encouragement and guidance.


Q: What were some of your favorite moments from the 2015 EXPO?

Jensen: I technically wasn’t a part of a CYT Affiliate in 2015, so I was a little bit out of place in HYPE. However, despite this I greatly enjoyed my time and always felt welcomed by all. One of my favorite memories from the most recent EXPO was renting out a 4 person pedal cart and almost crashing it into a wall repeatedly. However, in the past EXPOs when I was a part of a CYT, my favorite memories have been the trust exercises and problem-solving activities that we have to do with people we just met and simply spending time with other groups informally and sharing laughs and life.

EXPO 2013

EXPO 2013



Q: What are some ways that students can grow in leadership at EXPO?

Jensen: CYTers are two-fold leaders. We see in our culture how heavily media and acting influences people. This, in itself, is a form of leadership. This defines leadership as having influence over someone’s thinking and potentially their behavior through telling a story about life. Then, add to this the Christian faith. Jesus shows leadership in the form of servanthood. We as Christians lead through serving. So, what does this have to do with EXPO? EXPO is a grand-scale integration of acting and faith that takes place in each CYT. It is about combining the art of portraying the human spirit (which is made in the image of God) with the practice of serving with the Holy Spirit. EXPO is a blown-up image of how this integration can take place in each CYT. This may not be what most people take from it, but as a HYPE student, it is there if one simply looks and listens.

EXPO 2015

EXPO 2015

Q: If a student was undecided about coming to EXPO, how would you convince him/her to come?

Jensen: If you are undecided about coming to EXPO, then I would ask you if you love CYT. If you answer yes, then you should definitely try and get to EXPO. EXPO captures and magnifies the soul of CYT. Simply observing all the kids and adults interacting shows this, oftentimes more than the actual activities (however these are essential and fun). If you love CYT, you will love EXPO.


Price goes up May 1st. Don’t miss out on the fun; register today HERE.

Leadership Guru, Pastor, and CYT Dad

We are so pleased to announce that Sam McKee will be joining us at EXPO this year to spend some time with our leaders in encouragement, focus, and training. Sam brings a breadth of knowledge on leadership, as an ICF-Certified Leadership Coach, and is excited to share his giftings with us all! We sat down for an interview with Sam. Read below to learn more about who Sam is and what he plans to do with us at EXPO 2016.


Tell us about yourself!

Sam McKee loves CYT because it’s given his director wife (Myronie) and actress daughter (Kiera) a place to serve and shine. Sam is the founder of Evergreen Leadership LLC which is based in the Portland Metro Area. Sam has 13+ years of experience coaching leaders from stellar companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Mars Inc. He’s taught Ivy-League leaders at Columbia University about personality types and leadership.  He has a special passion for organizations with a mission, so he has coached leaders of Guide Dogs for the Blind and spearheaded leadership development efforts for Neptune Aviation, an aerial firefighting company. From New York to San Francisco to London and Dubai, from Beyoncé’s musical director to an NFL coach, his diverse clients have taught him leadership lessons he passes on to others.

Coming from a pretty broken and violent home, Sam became a Christian during his college years through a homeless man and an energetic African-American Church near Chicago. Now he loves to share the joy he’s found in Christ with anyone who’s searching for something more. He’s spoken to youth and young adults in colleges and churches in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Denver, Chicago, and Australia.

Sam earned a bachelors degree in journalism at Eastern Illinois University and wrote for a Chicago newspaper before going to seminary. During seminary, he was part of a team that planted a church in one of the murder capitals of the US. After seminary, Sam served as a snowboarding youth pastor in Colorado and California.  In 2008, he and his family moved to the Portland, Oregon area to plant a church for people who are far from church but hungry for God. This group also started an orphanage for 57 “sons and daughters” in a zero-income village in Uganda. This past year, he passed the church leadership torch to some younger pastors who are taking the church to the next level.
In his free time, Sam plays football, soccer, golf, ice hockey and almost every other sport. But his favorite times are spent hiking, biking, rafting and otherwise exploring the beautiful Northwest with his wife and their two children, who have more energy than the sun.

The Amazing McKees. Recognize Myronie? She's an Improvathon judge again this year!

The Amazing McKee Family. Recognize Myronie? She’s an Improvathon judge again this year!


What are you looking forward to sharing with CYT leadership?
I’m excited to say that the best way to develop kids, volunteers and directors is by developing a positive eye and a positive voice. Psychology for many years focused solely on brokenness and dysfunction but in the past two decades, a revolution began. Positive psychologists asked, “Why can’t we study wholeness, health, happiness and high performance so we can get more of it?”  They’ve found that the highest performing teams and families have a 5-to-1 positive to negative ratio!  So instead of asking “What’s the biggest problem here?”  leaders ask, “What’s the smallest change that could make the biggest difference?”  We focus on the good and positive and we enlarge it and multiply it. We replace negativity and superiority with positivity and curiosity!

Jesus said, “”The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”    Matthew 6:22-23
Paul said, “You’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.    Philippians 4:8-9 (MSG)

Positive Strength-Based Leadership inspires athletes, leaders and companies to achieve wholeness, completeness and greatness through leveraging each person’s unique strengths.

The session will draw leadership lessons from Facebook, Zappos, M&M’s Mars Inc., and the U.S. Navy and the latest research in positive psychology to lead our theaters, children and families to be their best. We’ll find time to celebrate our peak moments from the past and envision where we want to be 1-3 years from now and beyond (legacy). Then we’ll dig into our unique strengths and how we can use them better and the pitfalls of overusing a strength. Leaders will leave with fresh inspiration, a new paradigm for leadership and the Strengthsfinder 2.0 tool which they can use with everyone on their team back home.

Anything the leaders need to do prepare for our time together?
Yes! Please do the following:

  • Please order a copy of Strengths-Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath. Both the Kindle and paper versions include the assessment.
  • Take the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment. A unique access code is enclosed in the back of your book or e-mailed when you purchase the Kindle version. After you complete the 25-minute assessment, Gallup will tell you how to access your strengths report. Make sure you download and print your “Strengths Insight and Action Planning Guide” which is an 18-page report.
  • Go through your Strengths Insight and Action-Planning Guide.
    1. Identify the top two insights about you that you want your theater team to know to work best with you.
    2. Which strength do you want to use more effectively?
    3. Share a time when you have overused a strength and it may have negatively impacted the team.

Please take a look at your Strengths Report and be ready to share:

  • What you think are your Top Three Strengths (you might agree with the order in the report or not…)?
  • Personal or professional examples of each strength in your life?
  • What strength(s) do you want to use more effectively to help your team?
  • What was your greatest insight as you read your report or the Strengthsfinder book?

Our theme verse for the conference is Ephesians 3:20-21, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” How has this verse been meaningful in your life?
When I was a pastor in the Bay Area, I whispered this verse in the ear of a mom who was in ICU. She had two teenage kids she was about to leave behind. She was the sickest woman in the hospital and she had used more blood products than any patient in their history. I read her the verses and I said the word “power” in the Greek is “dunamis” which is the root word for dynamite. I told her that God had more power than any doctor and that her kids needed her to stick around so I was praying in the name of Jesus for her to live and recover. At the same time, her teenage daughter felt like Jesus was saying that her mother was going to recover but that it wouldn’t be overnight. She would gradually get better and two months later walk out of the hospital in January. Her doctor was famous for having treated Hall-of-Fame 49er receiver Jerry Rice’s wife had one last method he hadn’t tried to stop her uncontrollable bleeding:  a Vietnam-era compression suit. He did it and it worked and this mom is still around loving her kids who are now in their 20’s. As a former pastor, I know that not all our prayers get answered this way, but some of them do. Miracles still happen when we have the guts to pray, believe and act.


Haven’t registered yet? Do it before the price rises on May 1st. Register HERE!

Act. Sing. Dance. Live. at EXPO 2016

These four words sum up the focus of CYT. At this year’s EXPO all registered students will participate in master classes focusing on these elements. These talented artists are all qualified educators, who believe in passing on their knowledge of their craft. The workshops will explore not only the practices of Acting, Singing, and Dancing, but also how the tools learned through these crafts translate to living a God-fueled life.

So sign up today, and be ready to learn, play, and grow in these incredible master classes. Read below to learn more about these teaching artists!

Heather LaForge, Ph.D.


Heather LaForge (CYT Inc. Director of Operations) comes to us from Northern California where she was the Artistic Director of CYT Santa Cruz. Prior to moving up north in 2009, Heather received her Ph.D. in Theatre from UC San Diego. During college and graduate school, Heather honed her acting and directing skills. She’s directed a variety of plays and musicals, specializing in character-driven dramas. She is passionate about educating students about technique in acting, focusing on physicality and voice work to create meaningful text-based characters. Heather makes her home in San Diego with her husband and two young daughters.

J. Mark McVey

J. Mark McVey made his Broadway debut as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables after having won the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Actor while in DC. The first American to perform Valjean in London’s West End, J. Mark also reprised the role with the Los Angeles Philharmonic to sold out crowds at the Hollywood Bowl and once again in the 25th Anniversary Tour of Les Miserables where he won the Ovation Award and the Award on his way to eclipsing more than 3,200 performances in the worlds favorite musical Les Miserables. J. Mark McVey made his Carnegie Hall Debut with Mr. Marvin Hamlisch and continues to perform with numerous symphonies around the country and the world. J. Mark’s Television credits include America’s Got Talent and Days Of Our Lives. Mark made his PBS Debut with the Boston Pops and followed that performance with the PBS Christmas Special for the U.S. Military Troupes where he was featured with Marvin Hamlisch and The National Symphony Orchestra. Mark also appeared in the PBS Special ‘A Tale of Two Cities in Concert.’ Other Broadway, NY and regional theatre credits include; The Who’s Tommy, The Best Little Whore House Goes Public, Chess, Carousel, My Fair Lady, South Pacific, Seven Brides, Show Boat, Hey Love, A Helluva Town, Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil, Rocket Boys and many more. J. Mark McVey earned a Double Platinum record for his participation on the Trans-Siberian Orchestra recording of ‘The Lost Christmas Eve’. He also has 3 solo CD’s: “Broadway and Beyond” “If You Really Knew Me” and “One Among Few”, as well as a Family Christmas CD. Mark continues to record having a new project due out this year. Mark’s greatest achievements are his 2 beautiful daughters, Grace and Kylie, a collaborative effort with God and his incredible wife, actress and singer, Mrs. Christy Tarr-McVey. Mark thanks God for his gifts, his family for their love and you, for supporting the arts!

Colleen Kollar Smith











A native of north San Diego county, Colleen is proud to be the Executive Director at San Diego Musical Theater. Prior to SDMT, she served as Director of Organizational Advancement at New Village Arts and before that as Director of Development and a member of the resident acting ensemble and resident choreographer at Lamb’s Players Theatre. Achievements include: 100 Hours of Stories – in which Lamb’s broke the Guinness World Record for Longest Marathon Theatrical Performance and raised $200,000; and co-creating Mixtape, San Diego’s longest running home-grown musical, which ran for 3 years. Colleen’s work has been seen at Cygnet Theatre, Moonlight Stage Productions, Intrepid Shakespeare, and La Jolla Playhouse. After earning a BA in Drama from UC Irvine, Colleen started her career as an intern at Steppenwolf Theatre Company. She holds an MA in Nonprofit Leadership and Management from the University of San Diego and is an inaugural recipient of the Galinson Fellowship with AFP San Diego. She makes her home in Oceanside with her husband, local playwright and actor Lance Arthur Smith, and their two daughters, Scottie and Pepper.