A local institution, Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix boasts a surprising number of stars among its alumni, from Hollywood’s Emma Stone to Kimiko Glenn of TV’s “Orange is the New Black” and Broadway’s Nick Cartell. As VYT celebrates its 30th season, Bobb Cooper, its producing artistic director for the past 22 years, shares insights about the 2018-19 shows and why theater is a great activity for any kid:
As a parent, it can be a little terrifying if your child says he/she wants to be an actor! Why is theater a good activity for kids? Performing arts is a crucial element to any well-rounded child’s development. Whether performing onstage or working in production, students of the arts use and explore the more creative, imaginative sides of their brains. It’s through artistic discovery that we learn how to express ourselves in a more meaningful way, how to communicate with peers, how to receive critical feedback and how to find our own voices.
For those who perform, we also learn the art of public speaking. We learn how to tap into our emotions. We expand our knowledge of the written word. In all forms of art, we learn how to better comprehend our world and build self-confidence through our most unique and immeasurable abilities.
What are the highlights of the 30th anniversary season for you? I’m really excited about introducing five new productions to the Valley. With four Arizona premieres [“Newsies” (youth premiere), “Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical,” “Tuck Everlasting” and “Disney’s Freaky Friday”] we are going to be able to show people something they’ve never seen before and give local performers the opportunity to be part of some really exciting shows. I’m also proud to be carrying on our holiday tradition of presenting “A Winnie-The-Pooh Christmas Tail” for the 23rd year! We now have parents who loved the program growing up bringing their children to see it every year.
What’s one of the biggest challenges for VYT? One of the biggest challenges — which we are beginning to overcome — is convincing patrons, donors, business partners and the media that just because our performers are all under 20 years of age it doesn’t mean you aren’t going to get a completely professional performance and high-quality production. The time and dedication these young people put in to every production, and the talent that they bring with them, is equal to that of any adult … if not greater than many of the adults I’ve seen. Just because these are “youth theater” productions, no one should ever expect a VYT show to be any less than what they would see on a professional stage, anywhere in the world.
You’ve helped mentor a surprising number of stars and were famously mentioned in Emma Stone’s Oscar speech. Are you always traveling to red-carpet events? I wish I could jet set as often as I’d like! I actually have attended opening nights, been invited to private screenings and visited a few sets. One of my favorite things to do is getting together with VYT alumni whenever I’m in New York. The funny thing is that they want to talk more about their experiences at VYT than all of the exciting things they’re doing now! Our theater created a bond they all share, and that is what keeps them motivated and moving forward. That’s one of the highlights for me.
You were on your own as a very young teen in Michigan. Is that why you’re passionate about working with and celebrating kids? Yes, it is. I often tell the story about how mesmerized I was by “The Wizard of Oz” as a child. I recently told some people who were down on their luck the lesson I learned from that movie: We all have a little Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man in us. We just have to remember that we have the courage, brains and heart to overcome anything that gets in our way. You just have to dig deep and put the skills you were born with to use. That’s what I’ve done all my life. What I was afraid to do, I did anyway. What I didn’t know how to do, I learned, and what I didn’t think I deserved, I went after.
As Valley Youth Theatre celebrates its 30th anniversary season, what are you most proud of? Every day, we seek to inspire young people to be the best they can be. Through VYT’s process of creating a production, young people overcome challenges, build self-esteem and learn the importance of both accountability and responsibility. They also learn to manage their time and the value of teamwork. However, we also see them becoming more collaborative team players, more thoughtful communicators, more dedicated performers and more gracious individuals. I am equally as proud of our alumni [who] put their lives on the line as civil servants as I am for those who bow on Broadway every night. I’m most proud of the fact that, for the past 29 years, we have been able to play a role in the lives of successful doctors, lawyers, business leaders, politicians, office workers, volunteers and parents.
In addition to producing shows and offering classes, Valley Youth Theatre gives back to the community with these programs. Visit vyt.com to learn more.
Sponsor-a-Seat. More than 1,500 disadvantaged children from dozens of social service organizations attend free performances at the Herberger Theater Center and eat lunch with the cast and crew.
Literacy and the Arts. Students from Title I schools get a page-to-stage experience with books and study guides related to the production followed by a live performance.
HopeKids. Children with life-threatening illnesses and their families see a free performance preceding opening night.
Military Night. VYT offers performances with complimentary seats to service men and women and their families to create positive lifelong memories.
The Nigel Ross Scholarship Fund commemorates the talents and unique spirit of this VYT kid who was the victim of domestic violence. The scholarship helps young performers attend theater camp.
Valley Youth Theatre’s 30th anniverary season
Aug. 10-26: “Disney’s Newsies,” at the Herberger Theater Center. Set in turn-of-the century New York City, “Newsies” is the tale of Jack Kelly, a charismatic newsboy and leader of a band of other teenage “newsies.” When titans of publishing raise distribution prices at the newsboys’ expense, Jack rallies newsies from across the city to strike.
Oct. 12-28: “Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical” at VYT. Lily Polkadot has just moved to a “Squares Only” small town. From daily bullying to segregated drinking fountains, polka-dotted Lily’s quest for acceptance seems hopeless, until she meets Sky. Inspired by Civil Rights pioneers Ruby Bridges and The Little Rock Nine, Polkadot is a colorful history lesson meant to remind kids (and parents) that our differences make us awesome, not outcasts.
Nov. 30-Dec. 23: “A Winnie-The-Pooh Christmas Tail” at VYT. It’s the 23rd anniversary of VYT’s Christmas tradition! Christopher Robin, Tigger, Piglet, Rabbit, Owl, Kanga, Baby Roo and Winnie-the-Pooh organize a search party throughout the snow-covered Hundred Acre Woods to help Eeyore find his lost tail.
Feb. 8-24: “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane” at VYT. Kate DiCamillo’s tale of the vain and selfish china rabbit named Edward Tulane and his adoring owner Abilene. One day, he is lost at sea and begins his long journey of self-discovery. The play is written by Childplay’s Dwayne Hartford.
April 5-19: “Tuck Everlasting” at VYT. Valley Youth Theatre stages the classic tale based on the novel by Natalie Babbitt. Winnie Foster discovers an amazing, life-changing secret and must decide what to do about it.
June 14-30: “Freaky Friday” at Herberger Theater Center. Based on the novel by Mary Rodgers and the Disney film. Find out what happens when a teenage girl and her mom switch bodies!
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