CH@T: At Pittsboro’s community theater, children and adults shine on stage

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Pittsboro Youth Theater's Parker Harris directs the cast during a rehearsal of 'Young Aladdin.'
Pittsboro Youth Theater's Parker Harris directs the cast during a rehearsal of 'Young Aladdin.'
Courtesy of PYT
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An approaching summer means live performances at Pittsboro Youth Theater, a vibrant, professional-level community theater organization which teaches theater arts to and produces family plays for, with and by area children and adults.

Artistic Director Tammy Matthews and Technical Director Craig Witter founded the youth theater in 2012. Since then, more than 150 local children have participated in casts of 25 plays, 60+ performances, with audiences totaling more than 3,000. In 2017 Matthews and Witter founded the Center for the Arts and Sweet Bee Theater, the only public theater in Pittsboro.

This week, we speak with Witter and PYT’s new marketing director, Parker Harris, about the upcoming summer plans for the organization.

Pittsboro Youth Theater is in the middle of three sets of spring season shows. Let’s start with “The Outsiders.” What’s the age group involved in the cast, and what can you tell us about the shows?

“The Outsiders” features one of our most experienced casts, ages 10-18. It’s a high energy stage version of the widely-loved and increasingly-banned book of the same name by S.E. Hinton.

The show is rated PG because of gang violence and death on stage. A teenage narrator tells the story of two adolescent groups at odds in a small town. Tensions escalate on stage between the Soc’s (Socials) and the downtrodden Greasers. Many touching moments show that everyone, even tough kids, experience the beauty of life.

There will be a total of six performances of “The Outsiders” live on stage in Sweet Bee Theater Saturday, April 30, and Sunday, May 1st. More information and tickets to “The Outsiders” are at www.PittsboroYouthTheater.com.

You’ll feature two different sets of performances for “Disney’s Aladdin Jr” musical. Why two different casts, and what are the challenges in dealing with and instructing so many performers?

When we picked this season’s shows, we couldn’t resist bringing Agrabah (a fictional Arabic country) in all its glory to our stage in Pittsboro. The fun, colorful, and upbeat musical Aladdin, one of Disney’s finest, is pushing the envelope in Sweet Bee Theater.

For us to do the grand story justice, we needed to go whole hog on sets; Sweet Bee Theater will be decked out with a real flying carpet in a starlit desert sky, fantastic costumes, Genies, magic lamps, a palace, marketplace and treasure-filled Cave of Secrets.

Doing Aladdin with both age groups just made sense. In addition to the sets, the show has the technical depth to push our older cast in all aspects of theater: music, dance, and acting. At the same time, our youngest musical cast members get a fine introduction to real musical theater with a Disney story they all know and love.

Two different casts mean two different sets of costumes, different choreography, different blocking, etc. It has been a little difficult to keep up with the various moving pieces and how they vary across each show but that’s nothing that our team and our outstanding casts can’t handle. It’s a stretch for all of us but that’s nothing new at Pittsboro Youth Theater.

There will be 10 great performances of Disney’s Aladdin Jr. on Saturdays and Sundays in Sweet Bee Theater from May 14 to 22.

More information and tickets to “Aladdin Jr.” are available at our website.

Live performances in the age of COVID — what’s your plan there?

We are delighted to be back performing inside Sweet Bee Theater again.

For most of 2020 we did almost all our rehearsals and performances online. Then in 2021, we all started to be more knowledgeable and comfortable living with COVID. PYT started rehearsing outside and having performances outside on the Green in Southern Village and at Forest Theater at UNC-Chapel Hill.

We’ve been back rehearsing and performing in Sweet Bee Theater in the Center for the Arts Pittsboro full-time since January. The facility has improved its ventilation systems and cleaning protocols. As the risk of COVID has eased with Omicron, and we’ve all become more familiar with how and when to protect ourselves, we’ve discontinued our vaccination requirement and made masks optional for cast members and staff.

During shows with a good number of guests in the theater, audience members are required to wear masks, but cast members on stage have the option to remove their masks for greater expression and to improve the quality of their voices.

What’s in store for those interested in your summer camps?

Theater Summer Camp at Pittsboro Youth Theater is an awesome experience. It gets more popular every year. This summer we have nine weeks of programming June through mid-August. All our theater summer camps are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays except holidays.

Every summer camp ends with campers performing a live show on stage in Sweet Bee Theater. One-week camps have a showcase for friends and family on Friday afternoons. Our intensive, multi-week musical camps have fully-produced stage musicals that are open to the public weekends after their camps.

One-week theater summer camps for 6-12 year olds include “Alice In Wonderland,” “Cinderella” and “Treasure Island.” We’ve also got a one-week Acting/Improv camp for ages 8-14. Our final 2022 summer camp offerings are musical intensives: the 2-week “Annie Kids” for ages 6-12, and 3-week “Matilda Jr.” for ages 10-18 both with multiple public performances in Sweet Bee Theater in Pittsboro. 

Theater summer camps are filling up fast. We’ve already added a second “Annie Kids” musical camp cast. “Annie Kids” and other camps with lots of campers will be divided and rehearse half the time at the nearby Kiwanis clubhouse.

Every year we beef up our professional staff of theater and music directors with a few mature, trust-worthy veteran actors of Pittsboro Youth Theater plays. This year, to staff our additional facility at Kiwanis, we’re recruiting college-age camp counselors to help our existing summer crew.

Register for Pittsboro Youth Theater’s summer camps by visiting our website.

Your operation also includes the Pittsboro Center for the Arts, which focuses on music lessons. What’s new there?

The Music School in the Center for Arts Pittsboro has added two new professional music teachers. Almost all of our music lessons are in-person on-campus now. We still provide online music lessons for those who prefer them.

We’re currently teaching private in-person lessons in piano, guitar, bass guitar, mandolin, ukulele and singing voice.

Our Center for the Arts Pittsboro campus is now completely focused on performance arts. COVID killed our coffee shop. Although paintings, sculptures and glass works by local artists are still on display, our art gallery is now open limited hours, mostly during theater activities and by appointment.

Is there anything else people should know about Pittsboro Youth Theater?

Most recently, we created an Elite Ensemble which is our most prestigious program for highly-committed and talented cast members. PYT’s Elite Ensemble provides advanced training in theater’s “Big 3” (singing, dancing and acting) and competes yearly at the Junior Theater Festival (JTF) in Atlanta.

We are super excited about returning to JTF Atlanta in January 2023 and look forward to again representing Pittsboro on youth musical theater’s largest international stage!

Our Elite JTF Ensemble formed and has been rehearsing weekly since March. Every rehearsal includes higher-level instruction by a professional dancer/choreographer, advanced acting skills training, and theater signing voice instruction.

Auditions for additional Elite Ensemble members is by appointment only. Please contact us to schedule an audition. 

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