Kids in the Spring Valley-based theater organization enrolled in grades one through seven (that's YAT's Junior Division; grades eight through college constitute the Senior Division) bring their parents with them when they get involved in one of the company's productions. Each parent of each child at the younger level must volunteer 20 hours of service time to Young Actors Theatre, time that can be spent sewing costumes, working on sets and more. Parents who might be tempted to act like stage mothers or stage fathers learn the same lesson that the kids themselves learn.
“There are no big parts or little parts,” explained Micki Hurst, YAT's vice president of operations. “You're part of a team here.”
Not every child or young adult who becomes involved in one of Young Actors' Theatre's half-dozen productions a year or attends its classes or summer camps has the makings of stardom. But that's not what the nonprofit, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, is all about.
“You can't replace the kind of self-esteem they acquire for the rest of their lives,” said Hurst, whose two sons each participated in YAT productions and are now professional actors.
Working in the world of theater—from behind the scenes to participating in performances— builds character and confidence in the young, as well.
“When I was a child,” said YAT Executive Director Jean Isaac, “I was very shy, awkward, uncomfortable in my own skin. Then I found theater, where I was 100-percent accepted and I blossomed into a very independent and confident adult. I've witnessed it time and again for multiples of my students here. I can see what it does to their personal psyches.”
Besides Isaac and Hurst, the small YAT team includes music director/conductor John Nettles, who serves as the company's interim artistic director and runs YAT's educational outreach program. Largely a volunteer organization, YAT has one paid employee—a part-time receptionist.
Student actors learn everything from the acting craft itself to choreography, costuming and set design and building.
The Junior Division recently staged a production of Schoolhouse Rock Live, and next up is Oliver! The Musical. The older students' material is more sophisticated. The Senior Division has produced shows like Ragtime, Footloose, Hairspray and even Jonathan Larson's Rent, which Hurst called the most successful show yet staged by the Seniors.
For now, YAT operates out of a well-wobuilding on Campo Road that once housed the Miracle of Love Center charismatic church. There's no curtain or proscenium, but there is an upstairs costume and sewing shop, and the theater will seat 180 for performances.
Young Actors' Theatre is a pay-for-play theater (the production fee is $195; class tuition runs $125 and seasonal camps bring in as much as $295 per person). But without grants, and dependent as it is upon ticket proceeds and donations, YAT barely gets by. Hurst, though, is optimistic about the future.
“I think we've got the seeds,” she said. “Now we just have to grow the tree.”
Poetry in motion: Homer's immortal Odyssey is re-imagined by writer Todd Almond and director Lear deBessonet in a 75th-anniversary production at the Old Globe Theatre. Runs Sept. 30 through Oct. 2. $15. oldglobe.org
Call waiting: Technology and mortality intersect in this new comedy by MacArthur “Genius” Grant recipient Sarah Ruhl. Delicia turner Sonnenberg directs Dead Man's Cell Phone for Moxie Theatre. Runs Oct. 6 through Nov. 6. $27-$27. moxietheater.com
No place like home: Former Lamb's Players Theatre staff member David McFadzean (who went on to create Home Improvement) returns to Coronado with a new Italian-flavored musical comedy, Servant of Two Masters. Runs Oct. 7 through Nov. 20. $14-$60. lambsplayers.org
Highly breakable: Family, dreams and love are fragile things in Tennessee Williams' classic The Glass Menagerie. Cygnet Theatre presents the heartfelt drama Oct. 19 through Nov. 13 at its Old Town Theatre. $24-$49. cygnettheatre.com
The George and Lennie show: You probably read John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men in a lit class. Now you can see it on stage at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. Runs Oct. 26 through Nov. 20. $22-$38. newvillagearts.org
Ain't that America?: What do spray cheese, road kill, strippers and disco have in common? They're all part of The Great American Trailer Park Musical, the story of mobile-home denizens Norbert and Jeannie. Runs Nov. 5 through Dec. 4 on the San Diego Repertory Theatre's Lyceum stage. $33-$57. sdrep.org
Eye on Ol' Blue Eyes: The music of Frank Sinatra meets the choreography of Twyla Tharp in Come Fly with Me, which will feature 15 dancers and a 14-piece big band. The Broadway / San Diego show runs Nov. 8 through 13. $17.50-$73.50. broadwaysd.com
Rock opera resurrected: If you never got around to seeing Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar, your chance awaits. Des McAnuff directs the Stratford Shakespeare Festival production of the rock opera at La Jolla Playhouse. Runs Nov. 18 through Dec. 31. $64 and up. lajollaplayhouse.org