This local youth theater company inspires children to be their best — both on and off the stage.
“Winds in the east, there’s a mist coming in, like something is brewing, about to begin.” —Bert/Mr. Dawes, Sr., “Mary Poppins”
When Cyndy Ford’s father became seriously ill with Parkinson’s, she left her family and performing arts school behind in New York and headed to the Lowcountry to care for him for a “few weeks.” A year later, the school was closed, everything except her piano and a few other instruments were in storage, and her husband Greg and youngest daughter Jennifer joined Cyndy in Bluffton.
Miraculously, her father managed to live another two years, and now Cyndy is a full-time caregiver for her mother, as well as her sister with special needs, in addition to running the nonprofit Bluffton Youth Theatre, serving as the Children’s Director at church, tutoring children with special needs and actively supporting the Special Olympics.
A 40-year theater veteran who once worked at Main Street Youth Theatre on Hilton Head Island, Cyndy soon realized there was nothing similar in Bluffton and rushed to fill the void.
“I basically did rehearsals in my home because it was kind of difficult to find places to rehearse,” she recalled. “I have written several musicals, so I decided to just use one of those, which was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It was very successful. We had about 15 kids try out for that.”
That show was followed by Pilgrim’s Pride, another musical written by Cyndy, then Annie, Beauty and the Beast and a one-night Mystery Dinner Theater held at Sigler’s Rotisserie & Seafood this past January. On March 15-17, nearly 40 kids will perform in the Bluffton Youth Theatre’s production of Mary Poppins, Jr. at Main Street Youth Theatre.
“I want to have an all-youth theater here in Bluffton,” said Cyndy. “I believe we need it. I’m primarily an education center—I want to teach youth up to age 18 all aspects of the theater. They do everything. I’m teaching them about the lighting, the sound and acting.”
Cyndy is dedicated to ensuring that children of all ages and abilities enjoy access to theatrical productions in Bluffton.
“We use all youth,” she continued. “We are also all-inclusive, meaning that we have kids with special needs who are incorporated into our shows. Every kid that auditions, we give a part to. We don’t turn away any kids.”
To challenge each child and provide growth opportunities, shows usually have two casts that alternate during performances. If a kid is cast in a leading role in the first cast, he or she may serve in the ensemble in the second.
“These kids have to learn two parts, which is huge training for them. It challenges them a lot,” Cyndy noted. “I’ve been doing this for years, and I know kids can do a lot. And if you’re a lead in our play, you’re a leader. You encourage the other kids.”
While directing dozens of children ages 5 to 18 can be demanding, the biggest challenge facing the Bluffton Youth Theatre is the lack of affordable places to rehearse and to stage performances.
Rehearsals currently take place on Fridays and Saturdays at Kids College preschool on Goethe Road.
The group has staged past shows in a variety of venues, from Hilton Head Island to Sun City. The theater is working closely with Freedom Life Church to secure a building in Bluffton, and perhaps someday to have their own permanent stage.
“We’re hoping to buy our own building and make a state-of-the-art theater here in Bluffton,” Cyndy noted. “Obviously, we need sponsors and donors to help us in this endeavor because one show may cost us $10,000. We’re looking to expand, but our major push is to get some kind of building here in Bluffton. We get the youth involved in all aspects.”
Cyndy and the dedicated board members at Bluffton Youth Theatre stay true to the mission of “inspiring children to be their best—both on and off the stage.”
“I can teach any kid!” declared Cyndy. “I’m a teacher by trade. I have my master’s degree and I can teach any kid, as long as they want to learn and they are willing to learn. That’s my goal.”
For more information about the Bluffton Youth Theatre, call (843) 422-9660 or visit blufftonyouththeatre.org.