Los Altos Youth Theatre undergoes management change

Courtesy of LAYT
Los Altos Youth Theatre, which produced “Alice in Wonderland” last summer, recently merged with Los Altos Stage Company.

Los Altos Youth Theatre is under new management through the city’s partnership with Los Altos Stage Company, but those involved with the program said not much has changed.

While LAYT will continue operations under the city of Los Altos’ Recreation and Community Services program, the only change is that LASC will become the primary management entity, according to Jaime Chew, recreation manager for Recreation and Community Services.

The recreation division – which ran the youth theater since 1990 – last fall agreed to allow LASC to take it over Jan. 1. Jillian Toby-Cummings, LASC education director, spearheaded the merger, which came about after LAYT artistic director Trish Files announced her retirement last year. That’s when LASC approached the city about filling the void.

“In regards to the transition, what I think puts us at ease is the person with the company who will be handling it – Jillian Toby-Cummings,” Chew said. “The fact that her company is able to put in their own resources to LAYT, combined with her experience … helps make the transition very smooth.”

Toby-Cummings said she “always wanted to make sure that the youth theater stays around.”

Surprising news

For some parents, last November’s announcement of the merger came as a surprise. Chew said an email about the change was sent to families involved in past productions, and a Facebook page for LAYT was set up to keep families apprised of the transition.

Los Altos resident Laura Orella, whose daughter has performed with LAYT for two years, said she and other families involved in the productions were unaware such a transition was even being discussed. The young actors found out at a meeting during a rehearsal of “Seussical” last fall, according to Orella.

Michelle Sturiale, whose daughter has participated in LAYT for approximately three years, shared Orella’s concerns about the merger process.

“(During) the previous play, we did not know what was going to happen,” Sturiale said. “Communication could have been better about plans for what was happening to the people involved with (LAYT).”

LASC and LAYT held a meet-and-greet Nov. 14 to address concerns about the merger. According to Toby-Cummings, approximately 25 parents, students and directors attended the event.

“Everyone didn’t know what was going on and whether or not the program was going to be going away,” she said. “Nothing is changing – the only thing changing is (Los Altos) Stage Company is taking over.”

While Orella did not oppose the merger, she wondered whether the joint productions would still have roles for elementary school-aged children. That is something she said drew her family to LAYT – the diversity in age groups and actors involved.

Toby-Cummings noted that the first production under LAYT, next month’s “The Phantom Tollbooth,” will primarily features actors ages 9-12.

“It is still going to be the same set up, always (ages) 8 to 18,” she said. “We deal as any company deals with it when it comes to auditions – it’s whoever wants to audition, and there’s no discrimination.”

Toby-Cummings has been on the other side of the auditions. She started performing in LAYT plays at age 10. She later served as a choreographer and director for the troupe. Her mother was co-artistic director for LAYT with Files for 12 years.

“(My mother) would direct shows and I would choreograph them,” Toby-Cummings said. “She passed away about five years ago, so the youth theater is a huge connection to my mom for me and is something that is important to me. I wanted to make sure LAYT was as great a place for any other kid as it was for me.”

The merger will not change the number of plays produced each year. Toby-Cummings said LAYT would continue to stage three plays, two of them musicals. “The Phantom Tollbooth” is scheduled to run March 16-25 at Bus Barn Theater, 97 Hillview Ave.

As for changes, LAYT will now offer several theatrical workshops led by a team of experienced artists and teachers. LASC’s marketing base will devote resources to posters and ads for LAYT as well as subscription tickets, according to Toby-Cummings and Chew.

“With sharing the same office building, both programs are getting as much benefit as possible,” Toby-Cummings said.

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