Young actors shine at Crescent City Lights

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Children with the Crescent City Youth Theater's rehearse 'A Pocketful of Rhymes' with director Julie Condy, center, for the upcoming summer season in Gallier Hall in New Orleans. Listening are Eli Zitler, left, and Alexis Alexis, who has the same first and last name.
Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Children with the Crescent City Youth Theater's rehearse 'A Pocketful of Rhymes' with director Julie Condy, center, for the upcoming summer season in Gallier Hall in New Orleans. Listening are Eli Zitler, left, and Alexis Alexis, who has the same first and last name.

After two years with the Crescent City Lights Youth Theater’s summer program, Michael Brown Jr. has learned a thing or two about discipline, commitment and the performing arts.

“My first year, I was scared, nervous and unsure of myself,” said Michael, an eighth-grade student at Ben Franklin Elementary School in New Orleans. “But being around other kids who had the same interests as I did and also professionals in theater who were there to guide and help us, I started to feel comfortable enough to be myself.”

Michael, 13, is one of 32 youngsters in fourth grade through high school freshmen from throughout the New Orleans area who are participating in the 20th annual summer productions of CCLYT, a nonprofit organization.

Two productions are scheduled: “A Pocketful of Rhymes” beginning Friday and continuing until July 21, and “Children’s Letters to God” from Aug. 16 to Aug. 25.

Both shows, which are directed and choreographed by Kim Barnard, the choreographer for the television show “The Imagination Movers,” will take place at the NORD Ty Tracy Theatre at Gallier Hall, 545 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans.

Julie Condy is the founder and executive director of CCLYT.

“We are in rehearsals five days a week for about six weeks prior to the productions,” Condy said. “Every day even before we even start to rehearse, we do physical warms-ups, speech exercises and vocal warm-ups. The schedule we keep is very demanding, but one of the goals is to teach the students what to expect if they were in a professional situation as actors, singers or dancers.

“This organization was founded on the belief that every child should have a creative outlet. I really believe that being part of a theatrical group teaches responsibility and also builds discipline and self-confidence. Theater can also be a great self-motivator.”

Condy is a graduate of Archbishop Chapelle High School in Metairie. She received her degree in music education in 1980 from Loyola University. A soprano in the New Orleans Opera Chorus since 1978, Condy lived in Salsburg, Austria, for three years, studying music and voice privately while working as a nanny.

“I developed a real love for kids when I worked as a nanny in Austria,” said Condy, who lives in Metairie. “So when I came back home, I knew I wanted to continue to work with children, and using my music background just made sense.

“My goal with this program is to teach more than performance skills. I want to bring out the best in each student no matter what his or her strengths or weaknesses may be. And I want them to learn how to work as a team, how to communicate with others and to provide each student with an opportunity to grow beyond what they thought they could ever do.”

Sherrise Lewis said her son Michael’s participation in CCLYT has “opened him up to be himself.”

“Someone noticed that Michael liked to entertain and suggested I look into enrolling him in this program,” Lewis said. “After his first year, I could see a change in him. And today, Michael has gained self-esteem, interacts well with others and has really grown as a person.”

“I feel needed and comfortable being part of this group,” Michael said. “I’ve learned a lot from professionals who work in theater. If there is someone around my age who wants to entertain and wants to be seen, I would tell them to go for it. And Crescent City Lights is the place where you can really shine.”

Performance times for both productions are 7:30 p.m. Fridays, 1 p.m. Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $15 per person or online at www.crescentcitylights.org.

For more information and tickets, call (504) 598-3800.