[The following was contributed by Sharon Kleinschmidt, CYT Inc. Board Member]
An ice cream sundae without a cherry? Autumn without football? The Fourth of July without fireworks? Unthinkable! In the same way, CYT without generosity, is just youth theater.
Last weekend, I attended the CYT Kansas City performance of Shrek the Musical with friends and family. As I looked around the theater, I was struck by the thought that CYT is synonymous with generosity. It encourages and develops generosity and it succeeds, in large part, because of it.
I don’t think that generosity comes “naturally” in the theater world. We know that theater is often competitive, perhaps cut-throat, with only a few people succeeding. Leading roles are scarce and one person’s success diminishes everyone else’s opportunities. But CYT allows students and families, though the theater arts, to experience generosity and grow in their own generosity.
Take casting, for example. I remember clearly when a young teenager came onto the stage as her number was called. She gave her name but when the music started, she could only stand there, mute. The audience of other potential cast members – her “competitors” – waited patiently, silently encouraging her. Knees shaking, she continued to stand on the stage, unwilling to give up but unable to sing. Finally after the third or fourth time her music played, she began to sing and made it through the 60-second audition song. The room erupted in sincere, raucous applause, celebrating her success. I can’t recall if she was cast in that show, but I do know that she auditioned again, and I saw her confidence on stage.
In CYT, this is not the rare exception. From Portland to Baton Rouge, if you attend auditions, you will see the same miracle: students rooting for each other, freely giving their support and affirmation. You will see older students mentoring young students. And you will see children with special needs learning alongside their typical peers. Generosity is the evidence of our values, in action.
CYT may provide theater arts training and performance opportunities for children ages 4 to 18 but CYT is really a family affair. Each CYT depends on the generosity of its parents. Parents work hours sewing costumes, building sets, selling program ads, and tackling the 1,001 tasks it takes to present a fully staged musical. They give generously of their talents and their precious time, and without their commitment, CYTs could not exist. Ask any CYT leader and she can share with you the story of a family member who gave more than anyone could have expected — more than was reasonable — because he or she saw the impact that CYT was having on CYT families.
Beyond their own community and organization, the 22 CYT affiliates generously share their expertise and assets with each other, giving the fledging organizations assistance that can make the difference between success and failure. Kansas City loaned costumes and sets to Wichita, just like Chicago had done for KC many years before. Lafayette is supporting Baton Rouge, Richmond birthed Fredericksburg, Atlanta has provided expertise to NYC, and on and on. The Artistic Director in Coeur D’Alene knows she can call on a colleague in San Diego, or a Board member in San Antonio can reach out to a Board member in Houston. In structured meetings or across Starbucks tables, you will find CYT huddles — leaders working together, brainstorming, seeking solutions to common problems, and sharing successes. Advice and counsel are given freely, allowing each affiliate to be stronger together, than we would be separately.
I guess it should come as no surprise that generosity is woven into the fabric of CYT because CYT would not have spread across the U.S. without the generous spirits of the Russell family and their San Diego leadership. It was not their intention to lead a national organization, but when families across the country clamored for an affiliate in their city, they did not fail to respond. Now, CYT, Inc. is committed to finding a way to answer the call for CYT in Japan, South Korea, Africa, and China.
CYTs across the nation are a bit like cousins in a large family — we share a “family” history and values and what we have in common is much greater than our differences. CYTs are generous because we recognize the many blessings we have received and we know that “to whom much is given, much is expected.” Generosity is part of our heritage and it will be part of our future.
“… I give best when I give from that deeper place, when I give simply, freely, and generously, and sometimes for no particular reason. I give from my heart.”