Julie Condy is the Founder and Director of the Crescent City Lights Youth Theater, a non-profit organization that helps to bring the art of theater to New Orleans through providing quality preforming arts opportunities for young people, while also teaching them the life and job skills necessary for success in any field. The Crescent City Lights Youth Theater is a partner of the City of New Orleans Recreation Development Commission and was named the Downtown Development District’s 2012 Best Kept Secret. The theater is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and is performing two plays this summer: “A Pocket Full of Rhymes” in July and “Children’s Letters to God” in August.
Julie Condy is a 5th generation New Orleanian with a degree in Vocal Music Education from Loyola University. She spent several years in Europe training as an opera singer and has been a member of the New Orleans Opera Chorus since 1978. She is a board-member and the area chair for the American Guild of Musical Arts, which is the equivalent of a musicians’ union for singers. She also works as the listserv moderator of the Unified Non-Profits of Greater New Orleans. However, out of all of her activities, she most enjoys working with the Crescent City Youth Theater.
Twenty years ago, Condy came to the realization that there was very little theater for children in New Orleans, and so started a company to do contemporary musicals written to be performed by children. The program focuses on learning by doing. There are currently 14 children rehearsing for “A Pocket Full of Rhymes,” which will run Friday, July 12th through Sunday, July 21st. Seven college and high-school interns help to train the children and work on the more technical aspects of production. Condy said that while there are children that work on multiple plays in one season, most only work one at a time, since the plays require a large time commitment from both the children and the parents.
Condy said, “I think the most important thing the Crescent City Youth Theater provides kids with is the ability to learn theater in an affirming place that teaches them the job skills of the 21st century through performing arts training.” She added, “A lot of the kids who come to our theater come from families that are not artsy, so they’re looking for an opportunity for their kids because they recognize that their kids have some talent for acting. They come to us as a place to give their kids more exposure.” The Crescent City Youth Center also helps children to build their confidence on and off stage. Condy explained, “Through us, a lot of kids develop their self-confidence through the theater skills. They go out to do this in front of a hundred people. Then, being on the debate team or the speech team isn’t quite so scary. We’ve seen a lot of success at the middle and high school level with academic games, kids in speech tournaments, and debate tournaments.” Condy also mentioned, “The idea of fear in front of an audience is a fallacy that people put upon themselves. The audience pays to see a show; they want to see a good show…Once you’ve successfully gotten that through to a young person, they’re free. They’re free of their fear.”
The Crescent City Youth Theater does more than teach children the skills they need to act. Participation in the theater teaches children responsibility, organization, and drive. It teaches them confidence and also brings out their natural talents. Condy said that one of the most rewarding parts of her job is influencing families in a positive manner. She confided, “I’ve seen shy kids blossom. I’ve had parents cry on my shoulder on opening night, ‘I can’t believe you got my child to sing!’ Sometimes the parents will tell us, ‘You don’t know what you’ve done for my child’ or, even better, ‘You don’t know what you’ve done with my family.’ That’s an even bigger reward, because I’ve taught the family something about being confident, about appreciating the talents in your kids, that apparently they didn’t get anywhere else, and that’s a joy.”
Condy loves knowing that her efforts are having a positive impact on the lives of the children and parents she works with. She mentioned that as the Crescent City Youth Theater has grown, she’s had less and less time with the children because of all the business details her job entails. She said that “dealing with fourteen kids is the part I love best,” and that the most challenging part of her job is dealing with the adults. Still, Condy plans on expanding Crescent City Youth Theater by 2014 and revealed that a new space will be opening up for them next summer. She hopes to begin working with younger children on skill-building activities and games so that when they reach the fourth grade, they’ll be ready to begin participating in the theater.
Condy believes that any child that wants to act has the talent to do so. “If you really do want to do it,” she said, “There’s talent in there, and it’s the job of myself and my staff to bring that out in the kids. That proves true over and over and over.” When asked if she had any advice for parents and children interested in theater, she responded, “I’d tell them to look for whatever opportunities they could find. For kids who really want to do theater, learning how to act, sing, and dance is important. Crescent City Lights is a great place to get your start. For parents, if they have a child who displays that even at a young age, I’d encourage them to look into ways to let their child explore that talent.”