By Tricia Witkower
Nonprofit children’s theater company, Youtheatre Players started out in 1995 with a different name (Children’s Playtime Productions) but the same commitment to the healthy development and growth of children in our community. Since its inception, it’s grown to reach over 10,000 children and adults each year with its programs and services. Directors Chuck Balgenorth and Richard De Haven call it, “the best-kept secret in the Valley.”
“Thousands of kids have come to our spring show at the McCallum Theater, but a lot of them don’t know our name. We’re trying to become the worst-kept secret in the Valley!” says Balgenorth. This nonprofit organization almost had to shutter its doors during the pandemic, but through the hard work and determined spirit of its volunteers has hung on. They opened a theater space in their new location at the Westfield Mall on March 14, only to close a day later. They are triumphantly returning, complete with classes, workshops, shows, and much more.
“We are re-envisioning ourselves,” De Haven says. “Youtheatre Players is our stage name associated with the space at the mall. We want to make sure that any child who wants to perform can never say they don’t have a place to do it.” They have a grand offering of services: classes, monthly productions for October, November, and December, and even karaoke (every Sunday). With its mission “to provide quality theatrical and educational programs that enhance the development of the community and our youth”, YP achieves that in spades through a number of classes that enable kids to discover their creativity, self-expression, and self-esteem.
For the fall, they will have a monthly production. In October, you can see the Zombie Classified Files from 10/22 to 10/31 at various times (please see website for times and tickets), November’s production All Together Now, features 15 powerful and entertaining Broadway songs. It’s two different showings, A and B, showcases two different sets of Broadway songs and is a global event that has a lot of great singing parts for people of all ages. For December, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer will be the month’s production. All of these performances are accepting auditions for actors and singers of all ages!
other cool program they launched a few months ago is Youth Take the Stage. This performance-oriented program allows any youth in the valley with something to perform to do so on the second Tuesday of every month. “What’s really cool about it is that it’s any youth that has something ready – magic, dance, music – we give them the stage if they’re ready to perform. It’s not limited to people involved in our programs. It’s a little like an open mic talent show, but they need to submit to see if they’re ready. If they’re not, we can provide them with resources. We just want to give them the opportunity to get up there and perform.” said Balgenorth.
Youtheatre Players has many wonderful, outside-the-box classes and programs. “We have an Under 6 Club where kids 3-6 can have fun and do theater games without any goal in mind. We just want to get them comfortable and explore their creativity. The great thing is they’ll have skills through this that develop naturally.” De Haven said.
Below is a list of some of the classes they offer, with descriptions.
This class is open to ages 7-18 (with some exceptions possible on either end based on approval and space) where participants will learn skills related to musical theatre and dramatic acting (acting, singing, light choreography, and staging) through instruction, theatre games, exercises and activities designed to teach while having fun. This class is held on Wednesdays from 4:30 to 6 pm and costs $60/month.
Perfect for beginners, this class explores all aspects of dancing. Participants will understand basic techniques common to all dance genres (keeping timing, rhythm, counting, breathing) as well as introduction to different dance genres (such as hip-hop, jazz, contemporary, ballet, and on and on). Tuesdays from 4:30 to 6 pm, $60/month.
This club explores the technical rules of improv in a hands-on manner, and lets you use improvisation games to better understand and develop your acting skills (character development, projection, timing, focus, storytelling, and so much more). Fun club that meets on Wednesdays from 6 to 7:30 pm.
Social Media Club
Explore all aspects of being a content creator and developing an effective social media presence on multiple internet platforms – in a safe, instructive way. Instagram, Facebook, Tik-Tok, SnapChat, YouTube, and more! Mondays from 6 to 7:30 pm.
Moving to Broadway
This class is for the fun of it! Sometimes called Zumba for Broadway, each week students learn a short choreography, and it gets them moving for an hour and a half! This class is held Tuesdays from 6 to 7:30 pm.
Visit Youtheatre Players at their new space at the Westfield Mall. “We are pretty proud of the space!” Balgenorth and De Haven tell me. “We are completely nonprofit. Covid did hurt us tremendously, but we kept pushing through to keep it open. We do need the community’s help. It’s not just enrolling in classes, but also with donations. We’re charging $60 a month for classes, but we have kids who want to do it and can’t afford it. We try to find someone to sponsor them. We do need the community’s help to remain open and fully functioning. We’ve now lost 2 years of McCallum shows, which was the vehicle that drove the most donations plus the revenue from the show. We have another show next May, which brings about 6,000 kids into the theater. Hoping kids will be able to do field trips by then. For those who want to donate, click on the link for donations on youtheatreplayers.com. There are lots of ways for people to donate: tuition assistance, sponsorships for the McCallum production, and general donations, being just a few. Another way to help is through volunteering. Says De Haven, “People can volunteer. Our organization is mostly volunteer based and volunteers have been our saving grace.”
You can find them at youtheatreplayers.com or visit them on Facebook at facebook.com/ChildrensPlaytimeProductions or Instagram at @cppontheweb.