Journey Theater Arts Group celebrates 15 years of youth theater education

Michael McCormic, Jr.
Michael McCormic, Jr.

VANCOUVER — What began in 2002 as a theater arts education summer camp has grown into a renowned youth theater education program across the Portland/Vancouver area now known as Journey Theater Arts Group.

This past June, Journey Theater completed its 15th production year, reflecting on the experiences that have shaped the growing nonprofit. Kristi Foster, the executive director of Journey Theater since 2012, explains the way that the organization celebrated this important milestone.

“We knew that we wanted to hear testimonies from people throughout all the fifteen years, so we started a contest to submit videos and pictures and testimonies about their experience,” Foster explains.

In holding this contest, the Journey Theater administration realized that, while response from current students in the program was excellent, the organization had not heard from the program’s alumni to the level they had expected. As such, Journey Theater is exploring different avenues by which they can reconnect with graduated alumni from theater years past.

“I think because of our name change, our early alumni don’t really have a strong connection to what Journey is now,” says Foster. “Heading into our 16th year, we need to do a better job of reaching out to our alumni to let them know that what they started is still happening.”

Journey Theater Arts Group was founded in 2002 by Bethany Larsen, the organization’s current marketing director, under the name “Christian Youth Theater Vancouver.”  At the time, the organization was paying to use this name, as Christian Youth Theater, or CYT, is a nationwide nonprofit based in California.

In the early days of CYT Vancouver, the organization offered theater education classes one night per week, and did one musical production in the fall, winter, and spring of each year.

“We were just one area, and that was true until 2007,” Foster explains. “In 2007 we were having to cut 60 kids from shows, and realized it’s probably time to expand.”

Recognizing this need, the organization expanded simultaneously to two other locations: East Vancouver and Portland. The company soon became known as CYT VanPort following the expansion. Two years later in 2009, another expansion to Beaverton was also added. After a financial crisis resulted in a much-needed company restructuring, Foster was appointed as executive director in 2011.

Then, in 2012, CYT VanPort opted to not renew the contract to remain part of the national CYT organization, rebranding under the current name, Journey Theater Arts Group. Under the new brand, the mission remained the same.

“Our mission statement is ‘Guiding people towards Christ through through theater arts education,’ and our vision is to become the premier community theater company in our area, helping students and families grow in confidence, creativity, courage, and character,” Foster says.

To that end, Foster claims that Journey’s eyes are on furthering their mission in big ways throughout the next 15 years. While the previous business model under CYT was to expand to new locations, that is not the case for Journey Theater. Rather, Foster believes that the organization should grow its roots here in the Vancouver/Portland area, and one way she sees that happening is through acquiring a performing arts center for Journey’s use.

“One thing that we’re recognizing is that we need to have our own space; we need to have a theater arts academy and performing arts center,” Foster claims. “I don’t know how exactly that is going to happen, but it is becoming more and more evident.”

A new performing arts center for Journey Theater would bring many exciting changes to the organization. They would be able to consolidate their operation under one roof, and not need to worry about using other private venues, which come with their own set of scheduling challenges. While it is still just a vision for the future, Foster has faith that “The Lord will bring the right people and resources” to make Journey’s vision a reality.

Fall production season for Journey Theater Arts Group begins this September with weekly classes throughout the week and auditions for four musicals. For more information, visit their website at www.journeytheater.org.

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