Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - March 9, 2012

Kids on stage

Peninsula Youth Theatre marks two decades of fostering creativity in local youth

by Nick Veronin

Some of Amanda Cobb's earliest memories are of the stage. The 15-year-old Mountain View teenager began learning the basics of acting when she was just a toddler, and by the time she finished elementary school she had already been in more plays than some adults ever see.

"I always enjoyed acting," Amanda said, recalling how she would play out entire scenes in her head in the middle of Cuesta Park, while her mother and father looked on. According to her, they recognized their daughter's affinity for the art long before she could pronounce the word "thespian."

So, they signed their daughter up for classes with the Mountain View-based Peninsula Youth Theatre, which is currently celebrating its 20th season.

To mark two decades of performance, the Peninsula Youth Theatre has planned an "exciting mix of shows," which were picked to celebrate "where we've been and where we're going," according to Karen Simpson, PYT's executive director.

The company kicked off its 20th season on March 3, with Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical rendition of the classic fairy tale "Cinderella," which plays through this weekend. Next up is "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" followed by "A Year with Frog and Toad" and "Hairspray."

PYT was founded in 1992 by a group of parents who wanted to give their children — and others — an opportunity to perform on stage, no matter what their skill level. "We provide a safe environment for kids who want to try performing," Simpson said. "Every child that wants to perform has the opportunity has the opportunity to do that."

The company offers classes for children as young as 3 years old, and kids can begin acting in productions at age 8. PYT stages performances at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, where it is a home company, as well as at other venues throughout Mountain View and the greater Peninsula.

In addition, PYT's School Play in a Box — which sends acting instructors out to schools — has been integrated into Mountain View schools, as well as public and private schools in surrounding cities.

Last year, PYT reached more than 1,800 children and teens, Simpson said. More than 26,000 attended plays and other events to watch those children and teens perform, she said.

PYT has the potential to be an incredible force for good in a child's life, Simpson said, noting that theater is a great extracurricular alternative for kids who aren't interested in sports. Both performing and athletics "teach you how to work as a team," she said. "They teach you how to be responsible for what you need to do. You're part of something bigger than yourself."

In addition to learning teamwork, kids involved with the theater may also gain confidence. It certainly has helped Amanda feel more sure of herself. "It's easier to stand up in front of the class when you have that background," she said.

Perhaps most important, though, is the avenue PYT provides for children to express their creativity — which Simpson believes is the driving force behind the success of Silicon Valley.

"Every child needs an outlet for creativity," Simpson said. "They need an opportunity to thrive, and sometimes they just need an opportunity to be silly."

Info: For more about Peninsula Youth Theatre and its upcoming productions, go to http://pytnet.org .

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