Large casts and extravagant productions have become trademarks of Lexington Youth Theatre over the years. A non-profit community organization dedicated to the presentation of live theater performances by and for Davidson County’s young people, the group is unique in choosing a cast made up entirely of students from kindergarten through 12th grade for each of its performances. Not only the cast, but also backstage crews and technical assistants are school age children.
With an attitude of keeping the focus on children uppermost in its organizers’ minds, Lexington Youth Theatre undertook its first production in the spring of 1985. “On the Tip of My Tongue”, a Tom Sawyer-Huck Finn story, was a play written for a cast of approximately 20 characters. “When 80 children turned up at auditions, we knew we were really on to something,” says LYT founding member Evelyn Harris.
Throughout its twenty-year history, Lexington Youth Theatre’s primary goal has been to offer a positive experience for each participant within a creative learning environment. In addition to learning lines, music and stage movements, LYT actors must keep up with schoolwork and other commitments. For this reason, rehearsals are generally scheduled for weekday afternoons between 4 and 6 pm. Study areas are provided for students while they wait for their scenes or musical numbers to be rehearsed.
From an educational standpoint, Lexington Youth Theatre provides an avenue for exploration of many art forms including literature, music, dance and visual design. For more technically-minded students, the inner workings of the theater itself provide a specialized environment for mechanical and electronic exploration through stagecraft, special effects, lighting and sound design.
“Yes, our goal is to educate young people about theater,” says Harris, “but more realistically it’s to teach kids that they can do something like this that’s really hard work, but also fun. In a sense it’s a microcosm of life — attack with energy, don’t give up, see it through to completion — no matter how small or large your part. Sometimes the most captivating performer never says a word.”
Of course, the children cannot do it on their own. Lexington Youth Theatre depends heavily on parents and other grownups. “Certainly, parents support us financially and especially with their time. We also receive financial contributions from our many community businesses and individual supporters,” says Harris.
Since there is no monetary investment required for a child to participate, contributions from the community are accepted at the beginning of every season. Donors can participate at various levels. Corporate contributions are also encouraged and have increased over the past several years.
As for the next twenty years, Harris laughs. “I remember so well when we first began Lexington Youth Theatre. A Shakespeare Festival executive said to me, ‘I’ve never seen any group start a youth theater that did not within a few years become a stage for adults as well. This will never last.’ But here we are 20 years later, stronger than ever. And every production is more ambitious each year. We are determined to continue giving children a chance to learn about theater, so they can appreciate it their whole lives.”