My CYT Story: Don’t Crack a Smile

The following story was submitted by Landon B.* from CYT Santa Cruz for our 2016 My CYT Story Contest.

My first real involvement with Christian Youth Theater was in 2013, when I took an acting/voice class centered on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s, Cinderella.  I came into this class with massive apprehensions. I had seen these “thespians” at different CYT events I had attended, such as improv shows and their “Hoedown Throwdown.” At all these events, I felt quite out of place and now going into this class every nerve and brain cell in my introverted self screamed, “RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY NOW! RUN AWAY FAST!” But, here I was, taking a class with people I perceived as being radically different than myself. Now, I have nothing against the teacher who taught that class, or against any of the students who were in it with me, but I’m going to be honest here; at that time and stage in my life, it drove me to tears. I was NOT ready to learn the songs, NOT ready to dance, and DEFINITELY NOT ready to be cast as one of the princes for the showcase! I buckled down and got through it, however, but afterwards I had no intention of EVER going back, EVER (But was that God’s plan?).

Cut to me sitting at a CYT improv comedy show with my family at some point in 2013. I came by choice; however, I was determined to have NO FUN, WHATSOEVER. At this point, I held the steadfast, unwavering opinion that I would not be involved with CYT forevermore. I sat through the first half of the show, trying my hardest to keep a straight, serious face. It worked, until the opening of the second half, when my good friend Reece H. cracked a hilarious joke. I tried to keep a poker face, I really did, but then the dam burst, and I laughed, continuing to do so throughout the rest of the show. I didn’t sense it, but something was changing.

The months passed; CYT was out of sight, out of mind. Then, in the spring of 2014, my mom told me they were offering an improv class that session. Reluctantly, I signed up. I showed up, on the first day of class, ready with my sullen face to deter any kind of contact from this jolly band of extroverts. Any guesses as to who had also signed up for improv? Yes, Reece. I was through the roof! Here was someone I knew. That day, I also met my fantastic friend and improv teacher, Sarah Preston, but at the time I was determined to avoid anyone I didn’t know, so she was grouped right in with them.

People started to break through the walls I had put up, though. Two who really stood out at this point were Stephen and Joseph P. Joe had been paired as my HYPE buddy; someone to welcome me into this crazy place. He was on the quiet side, which, from my narrow perspective, was quite odd. Up until this point I was picturing everyone at CYT essentially as rays of constant exuberance (today I know this is not the case and that everyone has their quiet days, as well as crazy ones). Stephen was also enrolled in improv, and I thank him for consistently including me in conversation. He always greeted me with a smile, and was insistent on the fact that I should audition for a production. When that improv class ended, I was unsure of my feelings for CYT. Yes, I had hoped to convince myself that any kind of theater was not for me, but I had just experienced a huge positive force through meeting new people in improv. I tried to be resolute in my dislike, but God was still working on my heart, and placing lots of people in my path, adults and students alike, who were encouraging me to do more with CYT.

Summer came and passed, and then the fall session opened up. What should be offered but improv! Soon enough, my name was on the roster for a second time. This time around, I was still really trying to hold onto my bad feelings for everything CYT-related, but then I found that Jacob K. was in my class. Jacob and I had known each other outside of CYT, and got along quite well. Being in improv class with him was another thing that had a significant impact on my heart. At the end of that session, an audition for the 2014-15 improv team was held. And that was when God gave the final push. I auditioned, made the team, and ended up with a group of people who are now some of my best friends. I started taking more classes (Shakespeare, Newsies Dance, Acting for the Camera) and broadening my involvement (working backstage, performing in a fundraiser, promoting events), and coming out of each experience I was blessed with dozens of amazing new friendships, and continued to grow in knowledge of the theater arts.

I now realize that every CYT experience I’ve had has been a truly beneficial part of my education and life. CYT has helped me grow in every aspect of my life, physically, mentally, and spiritually. I have made so many wonderful friendships that I am sure will continue, and I would like to give a big thank-you to anyone who has ever talked to me for any length of time at any CYT event; you are all so fantastic and awesome and you are all a part of the change that has been worked in my mind and heart. All this has finally lead to this moment, where (and I would have never dreamed this could happen (or would happen) I find myself performing in the role of Chef Louis in CYT Santa Cruz’s, The Little Mermaid. I am so thankful to continue to be a part of Christian Youth Theater, and hope that it continues to bless and change everyone who comes in contact with it, even those of us who take a while to warm up to it.

*Last names removed to protect identities of minors.

Do you have a CYT story to share? Submit it here!

*NOTE: DEADLINE for the 2016 My CYT Story Competition has passed. All submissions received after this point will be held for the 2017 My CYT Story Competition. 

DISCLAIMER: Though, all complete stories submitted will be forwarded to their respective area’s leadership for judging as part of the 2016 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. 

CYT Student Reflection: Nicole McCartney

Recently, CYT Founders, Sheryl & Paul Russell, shared the following letter they received from a grateful CYT Santa Cruz student named Nicole McCartney. Enjoy Nicole’s letter reprinted below.

Santa Cruz CYTer, Nicole McCartney enjoying the surf & the CYT spirit.

Santa Cruz CYTer, Nicole McCartney, enjoying the surf & the CYT spirit.

Dear Sheryl and Paul Russell,
My name is Nicole McCartney, and I am in eighth grade at Scotts Valley Middle School. I want to thank you and tell you how much CYT has greatly impacted my life.

I started CYT Santa Cruz about a year ago and was feeling a bit nervous. Within hours, I had already made so many friends that I still continue to laugh with today. The welcoming spirit at CYT has gotten me through so many rough times, and I appreciate how CYT has not just helped me grow in musical theatre, but taught me how to be a better leader and friend to others.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and I hope you understand how much CYT has changed many lives, including mine. I would love to hear back from you both to find out how CYT has inspired you the most. Once again, thank you so much for everything you have done at CYT and continue to inspire more lives every day.

Nicole McCartney

Thanks for your testimony, Nicole! Keep enjoying that awesome CYT spirit & inspiring others to do the same. 

Act, Sing, Dance, & Live!

It’s 2015! Can you believe it? One of my fave CYT mantras is “Act, Sing, Dance, Live!” I’m gonna try to do more of all of those things in 2015 and not just in the theatre! Maybe I’ll even get myself a little mug with that slogan on there as a reminder…


Should this be your 2015 resolution, too? Grab a mug for yourself here.


What a thrill to begin a new year full of possibility and so many opportunities to Act, Sing, Dance, & Live. One of the new opportunities I’ve been presented with, is communicating with you all here on this blog. My name is Summer Moshy, and I will be just one of the voices you will be hearing from this year on the CYT Blog (I’m also the Curriculum Developer at CYT, Inc.). Another contributing voice will be Renee Kauffman (our Creative Director at Inc.), as well as a host of other magically exciting individuals (because, honestly, Renee & I can only be captivating like once a month, at most, and since this is a weekly blog, well, you can do the math). Krista, our previous blog editor, did an amazing job in this capacity and we hope to continue spreading the light & joy as she did while at the helm of our blog.

Act, Sing, Dance, & Live! Phew, that’s a lot to do all at once. (Quiet down all of you triple-threats out there…sheesh.)

Maybe I’ll start with just the Act part, first…

Act, literally means, “to do something” (in fact, the word “drama” comes from the Ancient Greek word, “dran” meaning, “to do”).  One of the best things we can do, is let others know that we see them and what they are doing, and that what they are doing matters to us. Lonliness and invisibility hurts so deeply. So, let’s work together to let each other know, “Hey! I see you over there! And I like it!” If you feel so called, check out these CYT affiliates Facebook pages (linked below) and let them know you see them by “liking” their pages, or better, yet, go see one of their shows & like them in person!

CYT Atlanta

CYT Baton Rouge

CYT Denver

CYT Fredericksburg

CYT Houston

CYT Indianapolis

CYT Kansas City

CYT Lafayette

CYT Nashville

CYT New York City

CYT North Idaho

CYT Phoenix

CYT Portland

CYT Riverside

CYT Sacramento

CYT San Antonio

CYT San Diego

CYT Santa Cruz

CYT Spokane

CYT Tri-Valley

CYT Tucson

CYT Upstate

CYT Waco

CYT Wichita

If you’re curious about what CYT is and why we Act, Sing, Dance, & Live all the year through, check out our website or like us on Facebook.

We promise, we like you, too.

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.

CYT Santa Cruz proves it’s a family affair

Perhaps one of the best things about CYT is that it can involve the entire family. That is the case with the Hash family, and I recently got to speak with parents Phil & Cheryl about their involvement with CYT Santa Cruz and the positive impact it’s had on the lives of their daughters (Hi Caryn & Monika!) and on their family as a whole. Truly a remarkable family. Enjoy!

How did you and your family first get involved with CYT?
Cheryl: For about a year my friend Mary Jo Epperson kept telling me about a Christian-based theater group she was helping to get started in Santa Cruz. The day before the first CYT class/session, my daughter was begging to take dance classes (which didn’t appeal to me because of a previous negative experience with another dance studio). I remember saying to her, “Let’s go check out this theater group Mary Jo keeps telling us about. You prefer acting over dancing anyway. First classes are tomorrow. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to continue.” Well, as you can guess, we haven’t looked back.

Caryn as a Who Citizen and Monika as Thing 2 from Seussical

Caryn as a Who Citizen and Monika as Thing 2 from Seussical

Was this your first foray into theater?
Phil: No. We had been involved with another theater group when the kids were younger.  It was less than satisfying for many reasons.

Cheryl: As Phil mentioned, when our girls were younger, they danced and acted with another studio. Wasn’t entirely bad, but was not the greatest.

I’m told you both wear many hats in regards to helping out with CYT Santa Cruz productions. What have your various jobs been?
Phil: I’m head of the Set Committee (I organize and help build the sets; we have a set designer), I’ve ushered some of the shows, and ran a “follow spot” for a show.

Cheryl: Costume Designer and Costume Committee Chair. I also make cookies, brownies, etc. for refreshments, and manage our costume storage area.

Phil working on the set during Tech Week of Jungle Book

Phil working on the set during Tech Week of Jungle Book

What’s the most gratifying part of being involved together as a family?
Phil: When a show comes together we all take great pride in its success, even though we contributed in different ways. We can appreciate each other’s contributions, the kid’s performances, Cheryl’s costumes, and my sets.

Cheryl: The friendships we have gained as a family. Families that have the same values, interests (theater!), experiences, life stories. Yet we are all unique and bring many gifts to CYT. It’s been wonderful to see our girls grow in theater and to be a part of that growth. And as adults, I think both Phil and I have grown as well and have learned a lot about theater. It’s fun to be creative together! It has also been good for our girls to see that Phil and I are still learning and growing; it’s a life long journey.

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HYPE students are taking action this fall!

There are a million reasons to love HYPE. They’re CYT teens from around the country who are dedicated to pursuing excellence by taking on leadership roles and getting involved in the community around them. And now, their HYPE passion is about to explode all over the country this fall! Which give us all the more reason to love them to bits.

HYPE students from CYT Spokane

HYPE students from CYT Spokane

Following the 2014 CYT EXPO, the HYPE students have been proactive by following up with the ideas that they discussed in July. Students have been creating collaborative groups on Facebook for their different jobs, and have been sharing ideas with one another about what they are doing in their HYPE groups. They have been sharing pictures of their retreats and fall kick-offs, and have shown an overall enthusiasm for leading and growing in their specific areas.

CYT Santa Cruz

CYT Santa Cruz

A huge shout-out to Sean Grossnickle’s awesome idea of casts writing letters to one another – either to a cast in another area who’s doing the same show or a cast performing the same weekend. Although he encouraged HYPE groups to spearhead the letter writing, it’s open for any and every CYT area that wants to participate. 

CYT Houston

CYT Houston

It’s so cool that the students are being innovative and sparking movements among the CYT groups. This is exactly the vision that was set for them at the Expo, and it’s so encouraging to see it take form!

Find out more about HYPE and how you can get involved HERE

What has HYPE done for you?


HYPE, which stands for High School Youth Pursuing Excellence, is the leadership group at CYT designed to give high school students opportunities for service, mentorship, and leadership. Below, some students weigh in on what HYPE has meant to them and is a fantastic reminder of why CYT offers the HYPE program in the first place. Check in with your CYT affiliate to see if they have the HYPE program and get on board!

“…No matter where I go, I will always take a part of HYPE with me. I’ll take the skills that it taught me and the love and acceptance it gave me into every single situation I encounter because it is a part of who I am. And after all, once a CYTer, always a CYTer. Knighthood isn’t something that ever ends.”
~Emily Winter, HYPE Spokane alumni

HYPE Spokane alumni (L-R) Emily Winter, Brittany Castillo, and Nikki Ziegler

HYPE Spokane alumni (L-R) Emily Winter, Brittany Castillo, and Nikki Ziegler

“With HYPE I also got a whole other family. While I love everyone at CYT dearly, I have never really had friends like this group; it has been so amazing to have them to go to and be honest with. I just love these people so much.” ~Abbie Herberger, HYPE Spokane

“A few reasons why you should join HYPE: You get to learn how to be a leader while hanging out with some of the coolest people on the planet. You have to work hard organizing and planning but that’s OK because of dance parties. You get to show the light of Jesus to a ton of kids and be an example for them as they grow.” ~Stephen Pickens, HYPE Santa Cruz

“I also learned…that I have the power to make sure nobody feels alone again. God showed me through my experiences and struggles that nobody has to feel that alone; it just takes someone who cares. Through HYPE, God has shown me how to be compassionate and has given me a true purpose at CYT.” ~Madison Queen, HYPE Spokane

HYPE Santa Cruz students

HYPE Santa Cruz students

“Some reasons why I love HYPE and why you should consider joining: You connect with other CYTs. Team building exercises are the bomb. The hard work really pays off. You learn leadership in many different ways. You have lots of fun, but get things done. You do all this and much more with really awesome people who want to be young leaders as well!!” ~Tisha Hulter, HYPE Santa Cruz

“Before I joined HYPE, it seemed all the members spoke a strange language (involving words like “venue” and “expo”) that I didn’t really understand. After I joined, I realized that I was so blessed to be surrounded by such crazy and amazing kids. These young men and women who started out around the same time that I did have made a profound impact on me. I also sort of learned to speak the HYPE language, but I’m not fluent yet. Some of the HYPE members are natural leaders, and some of us are learning how to be. Either way, if you are old enough, you should take advantage of this and get an application.” ~Gwen Olson, HYPE Santa Cruz

HYPE Spokane students

HYPE Spokane students

“I want to tell you about this extraordinary program where you get to learn how to be a strong leader and build people up with your actions and words. This program also strengthens your communication skills, like how to be semi-social to strangers…in public. But you may be required to attend these really amazing retreats and productive yet hilarious meetings, and partake in plentiful heapings of food. I know it sounds really strenuous, but if I can do it, you can do it.” ~Shannon Sullivan, HYPE Santa Cruz

“Leadership Lesson #11: You cannot serve others until you take some of the food off your plate so it is manageable to carry…I found something to focus on: being the role model. I always looked up to the older girls, but I could never imagine people looking up to me. It seemed delusional. Yet there they were, watching my every move…As for my elves, I hope they caught this message: it feels better to do a good job and receive no recognition, than to do a poor job with lots of attention.” ~Layna Elder, HYPE Spokane

“HYPE introduced me to people, and helped me develop a closer relationship with them than I ever would on my own. After pulling someone through the snow on a towel sled, how can you NOT become closer? HYPE has opened my eyes for people, not only on my team but outside as well. HYPE affirmed my greater sense of purpose for CYT. To mentor, to serve, to learn. Theater is a passion of mine, but my passion for people and serving God’s kingdom runs greater. In the times where remembering that at CYT became almost impossible, HYPE was the guiding light through which God said, ‘No, my precious daughter. You have been called to a time such as this.’” ~Erin Creighton, HYPE Spokane

Find out more about HYPE program here.