Valley Youth Theatre is replacing its annual fundraising gala with an eight-hour virtual telethon.
Like all other arts organizations, VYT has been severely impacted by COVID-19. Cancellations included the last two shows of the 31st season and first two shows of the 32nd season — so far. In-person performing arts camps and classes were replaced with significantly smaller online versions. The 26th annual fundraising gala, VYTal Affair, also had to be cancelled to accommodate social distancing and gathering-size limitations.
Now the always-resourceful and creative minds behind this nonprofit performing arts organization dedicated to “building leaders, first,” have set an ambitious goal of raising $250,000 to ensure continued digital programming for young performers throughout the current crisis, and reopen when it is safe to do so with its fee-free acting structure and low-cost ticket pricing.
The reimagined VYTal Affair will be an eight-hour Jerry-Lewis-style telethon featuring live and recorded performances by VYTKids from around the world.
Two Second Media, owned by VYT parents Chris and Candace Weir, is producing the virtual telethon at no charge.
“I believe VYT has always been at the right place at the right time and that we can always find the silver lining in anything that might come our way, including this pandemic,” VYT Producing Artistic Directory, Bobb Cooper, said in a statement. “Because of the kindness, goodness and wholesomeness of what we do, wonderful opportunities seem to present themselves to us. Because we were able to positively impact the life of their child, these wonderful people offered to give us something we never dreamed of.”
To accommodate social distancing, most of the telethon will have been pre-recorded. It will also include live Zoom interviews with alumni, original songs written specifically for the event, virtual cast reunions, multi-track numbers and a few surprise guests. Each hour will be virtually hosted by a local Phoenix celebrity. CBS 5 morning anchor Yetta Gibson; former TV reporter/host Gina Salazar Hook, who now owns a communications consulting business, and her husband, Fox 10 news anchor John Hook; Fox 10 weatherman Cory McClosky and AZTV Channel 7’s “Arizona Daily Mix” host Brad Perry.
This year’s virtual format has the potential to reach a global audience, creating a first-time opportunity for young performers to receive exposure outside of Phoenix.
“For the first time ever, we will be able to showcase the incredible talent Phoenix has to offer, to people around the world,” said Cooper. “We have performers from the age of 9 to seasoned professionals who were in our shows in 1989. They include attorneys, police officers, professional cheerleaders and drag queens, Broadway performers, TV stars and even Academy Award winners. I’m really looking forward to the applause we won’t hear, but will be able to read in the comments.”
Working with former cast members has been an emotional experience for Cooper. “I’ve shed so many tears of joy,” he said. “Although I try to keep in contact, it’s been great reconnecting with folks from the past few decades. This has brought many of them back to our theater — and back to Phoenix.”
The alumni were sent surveys asking them what VYT has meant in their lives and what it helped them learn, enjoy or overcome. “The responses have literally overwhelmed us,” Cooper said. “To hear the ways our theater impacted their lives has been extraordinary. It’s the fuel that gets me through every day and why we’re going above and beyond to create something this town has never seen.”
The event will include interviews with alumni, memories from staff, a cast reunion from VYT’s production of “Hairspray,” original numbers created just for this event, recordings from around the world and special surprise guests.
Some of the “sneak peek” hints that have been appearing in social media include performances from VYT alumni including:
- Nick Cartell, who performed as Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables” on Broadway
- Krystina Alabado, who performed as Gretchen Wieners in “Mean Girls” on Broadway
- Chelsea Kane, who performed as Stella Malone in the Disney Channel sitcom television series “Jonas” and Riley Perrin in the Freeform sitcom “Baby Daddy”
There is no cost to enjoy watching the event. Contribute by participating in silent auctions for prizes — including a coaching and Q&A session with Broadway’s George Vdorsky, a Phat scooter, and a one-hour acting lesson with Evan Hansen, himself, Sam Primack. And of course donations of any amount are welcome at vytfundraiser2020.com/donate/
Signature VYT programs funded by donations include:
- Sponsor-a-Seat, which brings disadvantaged children from dozens of local social service organizations to attend a free VYT performance at the Herberger Theater Center.
- Literacy and the Arts, which gives students from Title 1 schools a page-to-stage experience combining in-school learning with a live theatre experience.
- HopeKids, which brings children with life-threatening illnesses and their families to a free performance.
- Military Night, which offers complimentary tickets for select performances to families of the armed forces and first responders.
- Reduced ticket prices for school field trip visits to VYT performances.