Remember back when you were young -- fitting in anywhere was a challenge, and once you started to know who you were and what you wanted, dynamics changed and you had to start all over again, feeling like you didn't fit in anywhere?

Yeah ... this is the story for so many youths today, and it's the hardest on those who have a flair for the artistic -- not sports, not academics, not science -- the arts.

National and regional budget cuts aside, take a look at most any public or private school and you will find less support for less participation, and a higher degree of intolerance for kids who want to act, dance and/or sing. The talented youth today who flourish in the spotlight -- on a stage -- they're "different."

You're right to say those kids are different because the passion they feel in their souls to strive to be center stage is not something they learned, it's something they've had since they were born. It's a drive to be strong, to be seen and to make a difference in the lives of others through performance.

I had a woman say to me the other day, "Your son is a 'theater kid?,'" as if this were some stigma I should be hiding in a closet. My reply was quick and simple. "He IS! Isn't that awesome? As a matter of fact, come this November, he'll be playing a leading role in a theater that was founded by Louisa May Alcott! I'm so proud I could bust!"

Her response, "Who's Louisa May Alcott?" (I was not surprised she did not know.


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Theater arts do involve some degree of talent, obviously ... just as with sports or academics. That's not, however, where the importance lies -- not with the talent. It lies with the tolerance. It lies in knowing that a group of kids is far less likely to make another feel less than important, less than worthy or less than acceptable.

Fill a room with theater kids and you'll have more communication, more fun and much more caring and support because they all get it.

"Get what?" you may ask. They get the feeling of knowing what it's like not to be tolerated or accepted ... and they don't permit it.

There's a theater troupe in Concord that totally gets it -- Concord Youth Theater (CYT). Suffice it to say, a youth theater institution that has been around since 1976 can pretty much be classified as strong. A youth theater troupe that has been forced to continue nomadically in more homes and locations during those years and STILL thrives can be considered success.

But it's not the business side of CYT that makes them successful. It's the people.

In 1976, a woman named Kay DeFord founded Concord Youth Theater (then called Act/Tunes) and began offering workshops, holding rehearsals and mounting productions. Over time, hundreds of children came and went, and grew up on the CYT stage.

DeFord's successor and current maven of the organization, Lisa Evans, along with office manager Corinne Kinsman, have also seen a plethora of children come into CYT and grow to adulthood during their time in the organization.

These women are the heart of CYT, and they ALL stand firm on the belief that theater arts is not a place where kids go and learn to be "Annie." They learn an appreciation for the arts, and for other children. They learn teamwork, dedication, loyalty, responsibility and acceptance.

They learn first-hand to be confident, to stand tall and to present themselves as best they can before others. And may I close this paragraph with how theater arts (as well as music, dance and visual) reinforce and ENHANCE academic learning, good discipline and public speaking skills? Yes, thank you, I may.

CYT has many success stories in its history, including Alexandra Socha, who starred in "Spring Awakening" on Broadway, but most in the public eye, Marvel's Captain America, Chris Evans, who just happens to be Lisa Evans' son. Says Evans, "I grew up in CYT, and I am thankful that I had such a supportive place to explore and learn as the years went by. I didn't start out saying, 'Someday I'm going to be a movie star.' That wasn't what it was about. It was me looking forward to going to rehearsals, to seeing my friends and hang out with the people I loved the most. It was the friends I made at CYT that I credit the most for my successes today ... well, them and my Mom. She is the soul and strength behind the CYT you see today."

During the recent construction of CYT's new performance space at 358 Baker Avenue in Concord, it was a more than turbulent time with many unexpected surprises, upturns and downturns. Ultimately, a far greater investment was required than originally budgeted. Still, Lisa Evans kept a focus on the project and a faith in the reasoning WHY it was all worth it.

"This blackbox is perfect to learn in," she said, "because when a child is learning in a smaller space, they don't have to rely on set pieces and big effects. They have to rely on acting and each other. With this space, we're starting a new chapter here in this building -- a new story. We're very lucky. For all the bad stuff that's happened, we're still here ... and we plan to stay."

As a parent, I am so thankful to have places like Concord Youth Theater, and people like Kay DeFord, Lisa Evans, Corinne Kinsmen and the many teachers and volunteers that support our children in a nurturing and needed way. It's not about the talent. It's not about future fame. CYT takes kids as they are today and helps them to help themselves be the best they can be as people, not actors.

For my son, now 12, and a performer since the age of 4, CYT has already been life-changing. I see it every time he's center stage, backstage or fearlessly having a conversation with a senator, a librarian, his teachers, or the homeless person at the bus stop. He's confident, he's eloquent and he's proud to be who he is -- and happy to accept everyone as they are without judgment.

He gets it ... and though I would like to take some credit for this, I know my efforts were more than reinforced by the friends and family we have at CYT, our theatrical home away from home for, hopefully, many years to come.

On Oct. 5, Concord Youth Theater will be fully welcoming the opening of its new theater at 358 Baker Ave. with a celebratory ribbon-cutting, a host of historical tales, tasty treats, a sneak preview from its upcoming "Clue, the Musical," and a wealth of good fun and spirit.

The event, from 5:30-7 p.m., is free and all are invited. CYT members, teachers, parents and community supporters will be there to discuss classes, plays and other theatrical opportunities.

If you have one of those kids, or if you are blessed with any child, please come by.

Because whatever kind of person you are, or your child is, all are welcome at CYT, and will always feel that way.

For information about Concord Youth Theater and its upcoming open house/ribbon-cutting, visit www.concordyouththeatre.org, or visit them on Facebook.

JULIEANN GOVANG

Ayer