Early Stages of Life

September 2016
Written By: 
Denise Apple

Coastal Youth Theatre gives on-stage opportunities to kids

Forget High School Musical. The Coastal Youth Theatre Arts School (CYTAS) is a local program that offers the only full theatrical experience for kids ages 7–18 in Horry County. Classes are held year-round at the Theatre of the Republic in Conway (TOR), with spring, summer and fall sessions that provide coaching in acting, singing and dance. Students learn to focus and take direction, memorization techniques, stage confidence, teamwork and reading skills building. During the summer, camps allow a younger group of aspiring performers (ages 6–12) to participate in training and a short production, and, if interested, join the summer show.

Mary Mroz is on the board of directors at TOR and was an early advocate for a local children’s theatre. Her daughter, Breana, auditioned and landed a part in the 2011 Christmas show. She spent the holidays emerged in preparing for and performing in the show. When it was over, she wanted more. Mroz approached the TOR Artistic Director, Tim McGee, and pushed for more than one show a year for young actors. McGee agreed and started searching for the right person for the job.

In 2013, Lunda Cornelius was hired to create and run the children’s theatre program, now CYTAS. “I feel anytime you can help a young person—no matter what level of expertise—find an artistic outlet, it builds character, teamwork, dedication, discipline and self-worth,” she said. Cornelius has worked in children’s theater for 15-plus years and knew she wanted to offer a unique program that included productions with full lighting, sound, tech and costume crews so young performers would have a top-quality theatrical experience. The CYTAS program at TOR kicked off with Annie in July 2013.

Since Annie, CYTAS productions have included Christmas on Main, Aladdin JR, The Little Mermaid JR, Shrek the Musical JR, Babes in Toyland, Beauty and the Beast JR, The Christmas Story and James and the Giant Peach JR. This spring, the CYTAS will perform Disney’s The Lion King JR, the first time a group in Horry County obtained the rights to this popular show.

Many of these productions are Broadway Junior™ productions, developed to introduce performers to musical theatre and designed specifically for the talents and abilities of elementary and middle schoolers.

“We provide opportunities for young actors to expand their skills as performers and to build confidence,” said Cornelius. “Actors learn hands-on with each character and ensemble role they undertake. At the end of each session, students perform in a musical production complete with costumes and sets.”

Tanner Jemison, 9, has always loved to sing and dance. His mother, Jill Jemison, suggested he try out for Annie, but nerves got in the way. “I thought theatre would be a great way for Tanner to get more training in both singing and dancing with some new exposure to musical performances.” He returned for the next summer session and was hooked after taking classes and participating in The Little Mermaid JR.

“It’s really fun and you learn a lot about acting. I liked meeting new people, and a lot of times you see them again at the other productions so they become really good friends,” Tanner said. He has participated in classes and productions with CYTAS since 2013. He’s played Flounder from The Little Mermaid JR, Chip from Beauty and the Beast JR and Gingy from Shrek JR.

Scarlett Nash, 14 and a rising freshman at the Academy for Arts, Science and Technology, has been involved with CYTAS for four years, beginning with Annie. “I went to see two of my friends perform in a show and I knew it was something that I wanted to try. I decided to start with the summer session, since it was only three weeks. Even before we started to learn our parts, we learned how to audition, how to come up with a monologue, emotions in dialogue—really how to be a better actor.” Scarlett has since been in almost every CYTAS production, including Babes in Toyland as Mistress Mary, her first lead part.

When a young person’s part opens up in the Theatre’s regular productions, CYTAS students are cast. For example, Durham Cribb, a long-time CYTAS regular, was cast as Ralphie, the lead in the 2014 production of A Christmas Story.

With each production, more kids are coming out to audition and the level of talent is rising. As the program grows, the need for teachers and studio space also increases. Cornelius and McGee see the program growing to accommodate the needs of aspiring actors and also screenwriters, artists, choreographers and others who might benefit from participating in all aspects of theatre and musical productions. The performances themselves benefit from the professional (paid) staff at the TOR, including a costume designer, lighting and set professionals, a choreographer and many others. New video technology that reduces the need for elaborate sets was recently purchased with funds donated by the Waccamaw Community Foundation and IBM Corporation. CYTAS is currently looking for a program sponsor to cover rights fees for the Broadway Junior™ productions.

Upcoming 2016-2017 Season for TOR and CYTAS 

Theatre of the Republic

Hello, Dolly!

Wednesday, August 17, through Sunday, August 28


Friday, September 9, through Sunday, September 18

Ghost the Musical

Wednesday, October 19, through Sunday, October 30

Twelve Angry Men

Friday, November 4, through Sunday, November 13

Holiday on Main Street

Wednesday, December 7, through Sunday, December 18

The Normal Heart

Friday, January 6, through Sunday,

January 15

Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Wednesday, February 22, through Sunday, March 5

The Underpants

Friday, March 10, through Sunday,

March 26


Wednesday, May 3, through Sunday,

May 14

Clybourne Park

Friday, May 26, through Sunday, June 4

For more information on CYTAS classes or productions, call (843) 488-0821 or visit www.theatreoftherepublic.com/coastal-youth-theatre.html. For tickets to a show, you can also stop by the box office at 331 Main St., Conway.


Photographs by Robert Lukey