Why children’s theatre matters

Below is an excerpt from a speech that theatre blog writer Lyn Gardner made at the Unicorn Theatre in London while being presented with an award for outstanding contribution to children’s arts by Action for Children’s Arts. Her speech offers some beautiful insight into all that theatre offers for children – not least of which is the importance of imagination. Enjoy!

'A playground scrap over a sandcastle': Shane Zaza as Henry in Henry the Fifth at the Unicorn. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian Tristram Kenton/Guardian

‘A playground scrap over a sandcastle': Shane Zaza as Henry in Henry the Fifth at the Unicorn. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian Tristram Kenton/Guardian

It often feels as if every review or article about children’s theatre represents a tiny triumph. It is a tiny triumph, over the kind of outmoded and ignorant thinking that dismisses work for children and ignores it on the grounds that children’s theatre is not worth reviewing, that somehow something intended for children cannot possibly be of the same worth as a Tom Stoppard play or King Lear. What rot.

As someone who has dipped my toe into writing novels for children, I’m still astonished by how many well-meaning but misguided people ask: “So when are you going to write a proper grownup novel?”, as if writing for children – surely the most challenging of all audiences – counts for nothing. Just as children’s literature of the last 15 years has flourished, so theatre for young people has often not just matched theatre for adult audiences but often surpassed it.

Children’s novels get a meagre amount of review space, but when it comes to writing about children’s theatre, every column inch must still be fought for and over. This lack of coverage matters because it is always the case that what is reviewed in our culture quickly becomes what is valued in our culture. An absence of reviews about theatre that is made for and with children, and a reluctance by arts desks and editors to take children’s theatre seriously not only suggests that we do not value that particular area of theatre, but that we do not value children and their experience of the world.

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Q&A with CYT Indy’s Artistic Director Tyler Hutchinson

To know him is to love him. Tyler Hutchinson is the (new-ish) Artistic Director for CYT Indianapolis, and he recently sat down with me to talk about how he became a part of the CYT family, the scope of his job, and his big dreams (which are both centered around animals). Intrigued? Read on!

You’re the new Artistic Director for CYT Indy. How did that opportunity come about?

CYT Indy had an amazing Artistic Director before myself, Angela Manlove. She was amazing. However the Lord called her and her husband to Boston. Upon her departure, the position became available and gratefully the Board of Directors felt that I was the best fit for the job after reviewing my resume and my involvement with CYT students and families.

What did you do prior to coming on at CYT?

Locally, I was a director for high schools and other independent groups. I also worked for a company where I traveled the country auditioning and developing talented actors, models, singers, and dancers that have a desire to perform for God. It kept me pretty busy, and to be honest…I was on a plane every weekend going to a new city. I actually still do it every now and again, just not as much.

Tyler with the CYT Indy Tour Group singing the national anthem at an Indiana Fever Basketball

Tyler with the CYT Indy Tour Group singing the national anthem at an Indiana Fever Basketball

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We’re taking “Awkwardly Closer Than Family” to an entirely new level

It’s November! The time of year for yummy seasonal drinks at Starbucks, layering up in warm clothes, and starting your Christmas shopping. And we’re about to help you with two of those three (sorry, Starbucks).

We proudly introduce to you: The CYT Store.

Before you dive in to all that it offers, we have some important things to point out.

1. You’ll see that (among oodles of other goodies), there are products that feature “Awkwardly Closer Than Family”. If you’ve been around CYT awhile, you know that this is a common term of endearment. Originally coined by former CYT Santa Cruz student Jensen Kirkendall, he used the phrase while talking to a potential donor after a performance of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and it stuck. National phrase craze.

Jensen and his dad, Tom Kirkendall, who is now a CYT Inc. Board Member.

Jensen and his dad, Tom Kirkendall, who is now a CYT Inc. Board Member

2. We’re so excited about the Awkward gear that we’re offering a limited time 15% off coupon code for the zip-up hoodie sweatshirt that has the phrase right there on it (and which comes in an array of child and adult sizes). Upon checkout, enter the code awkward2014 and your discount will be applied. It’s true!

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The invaluable learning opportunity of live theater

A recent study by the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville showed major benefits for students who attend live theater. Below is an article from Science Daily that gives an overview of the study and its findings, but you can read the study in its entirety HERE.

[Note: This obviously excites us as it validates our love of theater and our mission of bringing it to the masses. Yay!]

Students watched a TheatreSquared performance of either Hamlet, above, or A Christmas Carol as part of a research project at the University of Arkansas. (Credit: Photo Courtesy of TheatreSquared)

Students watched a TheatreSquared performance of either Hamlet, above, or A Christmas Carol as part of the research project. (Credit: Photo Courtesy of TheatreSquared)

Major benefits for students who attend live theater, study finds

Field trips to live theater enhance literary knowledge, tolerance and empathy among students, according to a study published this week by researchers in the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform.

The research published in Education Next examines the impact on students of attending high-quality theater productions of either Hamlet or A Christmas Carol. The researchers found that viewing the productions leads to enhanced knowledge of the plot, increased vocabulary, greater tolerance and improved ability to read the emotions of others.

“What we determined from this research is that seeing live theater produced positive effects that reading a play or watching a movie of the play does not produce,” said Jay Greene, professor of education reform. “Plays are meant to be seen performed live. You can’t always take your kids to a play but if you can, you should. The story can be conveyed in a movie, but it doesn’t engage the viewer in the same way.”

Greene’s department has conducted several studies about the effect of culturally enriching activities on students. Two years ago, researchers found significant benefits in the form of knowledge, future cultural consumption, tolerance, historical empathy and critical thinking for students assigned by lottery to visit Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.

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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.

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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.

Save the date for CYT EXPO 2015!

CYT Santa Cruz student Tisha Hulter made this video about her experience at CYT EXPO 2014. We’re going to go ahead and use this as a Save the Date reminder for the next EXPO: June 22-24, 2015. Mark your calendars!

This video can also be found on YouTube HERE.

Paul Russell: Practical uses for CYT’s Values & Objectives

CYT co-founder Dr. Paul Russell wrote the below blog post, and it sort of makes me want to go back to college…well, maybe just one semester so I could take his Musical Theater class. Enjoy (and see you on the first day)!


As I am teaching four new Musical Theater students in the Micah program at San Diego Christian College, I once again get to review with the kids the uniqueness of CYT. It all starts with our Mission Statement and Values and Objectives.

The four new college students have found them helpful as they are all assisting in the direction of CYT shows this Fall. Here’s a great review of how the ideals can be used in practical, everyday interaction with our CYT students.

CYT’s Values and Objectives

Placing the maximum worth on people and treating each individual with respect and significance.

It is important that people are always placed at a higher value than product or production. Therefore we will work tirelessly to insure that people are our first priority. We require all staff, directors, teachers, volunteers and students to show respect to each other and do all we can to build up and encourage each other realizing that each person is a special creation of God, each having unique skills, talents and gifts.

Developing character values in individuals including commitment, discipline, self-esteem, confidence and integrity.

Developing character traits in individuals can all be learned in the environment of the theater. Some of the most important character traits that we hope to instill in participants are the following:

Commitment: The character quality that says, “My word means something. If I said I will do something, you can count on me.” In making a commitment to a theatrical production, you learn to follow through, not give up, finish a job, and do it well. It is important for students to learn the importance of both promptness and regular attendance. If they say they will be there (via their audition form), they need to follow through with their commitment. Consistent class attendance is also to be expected.

Discipline: The important character trait of discipline is taught through a multitude of skills that are used in theater arts training. Such discipline of memorizing lines, learning dance steps, consistent blocking on stage, and faithfulness to a production are all great means of building discipline.

Self-esteem (belief in oneself–self-respect) and confidence (belief in one’s own abilities): Artistic teams have the opportunity to help students discover how God has uniquely gifted them, and thus build their confidence and self-esteem in the process. It is not about “how wonderful I am”, it is about “how wonderful God is.” In the teaching process, it is important to encourage and lift students up even during instruction.

Integrity (the quality or state of being of sound moral principle; uprightness, honesty, and sincerity): CYT desires students to be the cream of the crop at school, church, and in the community. Integrity is when no one has anything to hold against you. This is perhaps the most difficult trait to attain. It involves being beyond reproof, as the Bible describes it. The best way to develop integrity in students is to be a leader with integrity. The old saying: “Monkey see, monkey do” is appropriate, especially with children. Students will model what they see. Be an Artistic Team of integrity and your students will follow you!

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