Children's Theater Group Has Talent, Values

Article excerpt

Byline: Erica Meltzer Daily Herald Correspondent

When Christian Youth Theater's original production of "The Little Mermaid" opens Friday at the Prairie Lakes Community Center in Des Plaines, audiences will see talented area children and teenagers in a colorful musical with high production values.

"The costumes and the sets are very colorful," head director Jeanna Daebelliehn said. "The cast members are very talented. It's a family experience."

What audiences may not notice are the values that guide the performances.

"We're not a typical youth theater company," said Justin Parks, co-founder and artistic director of Christian Youth Theater/Christian Community Theater in Illinois. "We do typical youth theater shows, but we try hard to model Judeo-Christian values."

A teacher who loved drama but didn't want to take his children to the shows being performed in local theaters founded CYT 25 years ago in San Diego. Parks started as a student in the program's drama classes when he was 12 years old and eventually became a teacher. He founded the first Illinois CYT program in McHenry County six years ago with a family he had known in San Diego. CYT of Northwest Cook County, which is staging the show in Des Plaines, had its first show in fall 2001.

The classes now serve between 700 and 800 children per 10-week session in the five collar counties. Children ages 6 to 18 can take classes, and children 8 and older can audition for shows.

"They have to audition," CYT/CCT marketing director Diane Henson said. "They have to earn these roles."

CYT teaches its students that their talents are God-given and urges them to strive for excellence in life and on the stage.

"People are surprised by the quality of the production," Parks said. "We don't set the standard by children's theater. We set the standard by professional quality. We want people to say, 'Wow! I can't believe these are kids.'"

"The Little Mermaid," adapted from a Hans Christian Andersen story, tells the story of the mermaid Ariel, daughter of King Neptune, who travels to the surface of the sea and falls in love with a human. …