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Director talks about county Youth Theater

CCYT at the Chatham Fairgrounds during the summer workshop. Photo contributed

HUDSON – The Columbia County Youth Theater (CCYT) provides several opportunities for participation, and many participants have called it an enriching experience, founder and Executive Director Edgar Acevedo said in a conversation January 20.

The CCYT runs a summer musical theater workshop for ages 3 through 18, a touring performance company, pop-up classes and workshops, a summer internship program, and a school’s drama club. In addition, Mr. Acevedo said, it loans costumes and props to schools throughout Columbia County for performances.

Of the children who audition for its programs, “we don’t turn anyone down,” said Mr. Acevedo. In fact, he said, the CCYT puts its cast together before deciding what plays to put on.

The CCYT’s mission, according to a presentation given in Hudson in January, “is to empower the youth of Columbia” and neighboring counties “with the skills, training, and experience to engage in creative collaboration; thus nurturing their ability to succeed in their desired discipline…to further [their] career goals, and to engage and serve diverse communities….”

The Summer Musical Theater Workshop takes place at the Columbia County Fairgrounds in Chatham. Last year 68 students participated. The program assigns each participant into one of five groups, based on age. The four older groups cap off the season with a performance on the Chatham High School stage.

Most Summer Musical Theater participants live in Columbia County, though some do so only in summer, Mr. Acevedo said. The year round residents come from just about every school district in the county. Last year the Hudson City School District (HCSD) sponsored 16 students so they would not have to pay to participate.

CCYT’s summer staff consists of about 15 instructors (including directors and choreographers) plus three paid interns. Last summer’s interns were college students from Columbia County, Mr. Acevedo said. Two worked with teachers and one ran the lights and sound.

The touring company performs during the year throughout Columbia County. Recently it has had 8 to 10 students, ages 10 through high school. It tries to get students from every school district. Examples of where it performs include book fairs, local schools, and community gatherings.

Auditions for a new touring team are coming. They will meet twice a week after school.

“It has to be a priority for” the members, Mr. Acevedo said. Yes, it “requires a lot of time energy and expense. That’s what sets these kids apart.”

This year’s pop-up classes and workshops include Reader’s Theater, Creating Theater, Costume Design, and a mini music festival, according to CCYT’s website.

The CCYT also runs the drama club at the Montgomery C. Smith Elementary School (MCS) in Hudson, which this year has about 60 student participants. Mr. Avecedo founded it in 2012, when he was teaching in the district. Danielle Scirico, who runs it now, attended HCSD schools as a child, interned with the CCYT at age 14 and now is teaching music at the MCS, Mr. Acevedo said. With a grant from the NY State Council for the Arts, the CCYT plans to start drama clubs in Hudson’s junior and senior high schools.

Most of the county’s school districts run their own drama clubs, CCYT Production Coordinator Cassidy Flanagan said on January 30. In Chatham, where she teaches first grade, the elementary, middle, and high school each have a drama club. Chatham High School even has a theater production and marketing class, which works with the drama club.

CCYT would “absolutely love to expand our program and partner with other schools,” though as a partner and not as a takeover boss, Ms. Flanagan said.

Ms. Flanagan works with Chatham’s Mary E. Dardess (MED) Elementary School’s drama club but considers her involvement with that club and her involvement with CCYT as “wearing two different hats.”

CCYT selects plays that “reflect life” and can be done by a variety of ages, said Mr Acevedo. “Life has a variety of ages, and it’s good to have older kids work with younger kids.”

Shows the CCYT has put on recently include “Tall Tales and Heroes,” which encourages children to believe in themselves; “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “Jungle Book Kids,” “Flat Stanley Junior,” and “Frozen Junior.” The Hudson drama club is working on putting on “Rats,”a twist on the classic story of the Pied Piper.

Mr. Acevedo said he attended acting school, worked as an actor until his late 20s, then he taught fourth and fifth grades in the HCSD, and retired in 2016. Meanwhile, since 1983 he has been working in youth theaters. He started the CCYT in 2007 and made it official in 2012. Mr. Acevedo lives in Chatham.

Some CCYT team members, Mr. Acevedo reported, started young. Devin Overington, IT and technical director, started on the technical end at 14. Olivia Allen has been with CCYT since age 10 and just got a degree in education.

Ms. Flanagan said she was born and raised in Ghent. In third grade she got involved in the CCYT and “loved it so much” she never left. She co-founded the touring group.

“Being with CCYT has been one of the highlights of my life,” she said. “It has enriched” it and “given me skills and friendships I would would not have had otherwise.”

“The team makes the program,” said Mr. Acevedo. “It’s like a family. It’s great.”

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