A few minutes before the curtain would rise for the Christian Youth Theater’s performance of “A Little Princess,” many of the cast, crew and orchestra formed a circle, held hands and prayed.
“We prayed for encouragement, and it was really helpful and brought us all together,” said Alyssa Rainey, 14, who played the lead role of Sara Crewe, a young girl facing adversity in a drab, Victorian-era London boarding school while her British military father is exploring mysterious regions of Africa.
“It’s really good. Prayer helps us get rid of our nerves,” added Evan Chesney, 16, who played Sara’s father, Captain Crewe, in the four performances staged last weekend at the Baton Rouge Community College’s Magnolia Theater.
The ambitious play of two acts and 16 scenes required a cast of almost 90 children and teenagers, a large supporting crew of mothers and fathers and a 16-member orchestra. It was the second play performed this year by a local chapter of Christian Youth Theater, a nationwide, educational organization which reflects Judeo-Christian values, according to the group.
“We’re Christian in the way we treat people,” said Tonja Rainey, who brought the CYT program to Baton Rouge last year and is the group’s artistic director. “We’re Christian in what we believe and in the way we manage our cast and our crew — we encourage them to love the Lord and to know the Lord.”
Rainey said the group believes in family values and high standards and morals.
“We start every class and every rehearsal with a short devotional and prayer, and we sing praise and worship songs,” she said. “I believe we should always start with what is most important — and that, to us, is most important.”
The plays, “The Legend of Pocahontas” performed last fall and “A Little Princess” last weekend, are the fruition of three 10-week, after-school sessions held throughout the school year. The students learn drama, voice, dance and a broad variety of theatrical skills at weekly two-hour classes. Most of the student-actors are home-schooled or attend private, Christian academies, she said.
Shauna Vosberg, a mother of four young actors, teaches voice lessons. Her husband is the Rev. Joseph Vosberg and their church, Bethel Temple Assembly of God at 12124 Airline Highway, hosts the classes and will host two summer CYT camps — “Off to Neverland” is for youngsters ages 6-11 and will be June 23-27; and “Broadway Here and Now” is for ages 12-18 and is scheduled July 21-25.
“For me it is about building relationships with the students and encouraging them to use the gifts and talents they have,” Shauna Vosberg said. The pre-show prayer circles were especially inspirational, she added.
“The older ones took turns praying and would say things like, ‘it doesn’t matter if we mess up or not because we want to communicate to people that just like Captain Crewe loves his daughter there is a God in heaven who is a father who loves his children and wants to be united with them,’ ” Vosberg said. “It is a genuine desire in these kids to communicate that.”
Patrick Barraco is one of the fathers who worked behind the curtain moving the scenery while his wife, Allison, managed the costuming. Their 14-year-old son, Grayson, played three parts and daughter Gabrielle, 17, played two parts.
“I work a lot and this helps me spend more time with not only my family but with all the families here,” Patrick Barraco said. “It’s wonderful.”
Christian Youth Theater does not own any facilities so the organization works through the local community, utilizing classrooms and stages in churches, schools and local theaters, according to the group. It is not affiliated with a particular church or denomination and people of all faiths are welcome.
The group’s mission statement says “CYT is dedicated to developing character in children and adults through training and in the arts by producing wholesome family entertainment, all of which reflects Judeo-Christian values.”
Art Director Rainey said that’s why she is involved with them.
“CYT believes we use theater to build up kids — not kids to build up theater, so what matters more are the kids,” Rainey said. “What they’re going through, when they are feeling anxious about something, we go to the Lord and pray together and strengthen and encourage each other.”
Chesney, the play’s Captain Crewe, said he liked the CYT program because it is something to do with his family outside of home. His father was on the stage crew, his mother helped with make-up and his sister, Kaylan, 12, played a school girl.
But, Chesney added, the troupe has a higher purpose than putting on a good show.
“All the productions that we do are for the glory of God,” Chesney said. “It’s not for us, for our glory. We’re doing this to please God first.”