Croydon Youth Theatre Organisation
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|Founded||Thornton Heath, London, (1965) Current location, South Norwood, Croydon, (1984-)|
|Founder||Marjorie Taylor, R Willis Hole|
CYTO was founded in 1965, following a visit by Marjorie Taylor, a Youth Service officer for Croydon Council, to the Youth Theatre at Southbourne in Dorset. Having gained the approval of her bosses at the Council, Taylor approached a local amateur dramatics group, the Croydon Histrionic Society, a leading member of which, R Willis Hole, chaired a working party to set the project up. The organisation was launched in the Croydon Advertiser of 10 September 1965, with opening night on 21 September.
CYTO began in Council premises in Winterbourne Road, Thornton Heath, with sister projects in Coulsdon and Upper Norwood. Productions of all three were directed by Carol King and presented at Croydon College. CYTO was consolidated at Winterbourne Road in 1973, moving to Sydenham Road then to Boston Road, where the 'Shoestring Theatre' was born. In 1984, with the help of Councillor Keith Wells and then-director, Harry MacDonald, CYTO moved to its current base, at that time alongside the South Norwood Adult Education Centre in Oakley Road. The former school gym provided an ideal space for a small studio theatre with 78 seats and two former science classrooms became a space for rehearsals, workshops, socials, meetings (The Green Room) and a dance studio (in 2000) Theatre Workshop Coulsdon carried on the work in the south of the Borough. (In 2015 Oasis Academy Ryelands replaced CALAT.) In 2005, CYTO celebrated its 40th birthday with a production of Ruby, a specially written play by Richard Vincent, himself a former director of CYTO with his wife, Kathryn.
In 2008 CYTO commissioned the show Shank from Richard Vincent. CYTO took Shank to the annual Big Youth Theatre Festival and performed it at Tate Britain on 27 September 2008. In 2009, CYTO succeeded in attracting funding to perform Shank at various schools and colleges around Croydon and the surrounding area. The production was, finally, invited to the National Youth Theatre Festival in Fife, Scotland in July 2010.
When, in 2011, the Council's 'restructuring' of its services threatened the future of the organization - removing the staff and the budgets to support visiting directors and professional dancers, actors, musicians, designers etc., – expressions of support, and money, were received from hundreds of wellwishers – former and current members, parents and carers who valued what CYTO offered to their young people.
CYTO performed its last production under the direction of Viv Berry and choreographer Delores Kumah in July 2011, with 5 performances of the Madness musical, Our House.
CYTO's has not had an artistic director since the departure of Viv Berry in July 2011 following those major changes in the Council's youth service. It has been managed by a group of volunteers with the occasional luxury of some part-time administrative and fundraising support. CYTO has continued to work closely with a team of volunteers and professionals, and Croydon Council, to provide sessions on acting, dance, technical production and direction for young people aged 13–21. The Shoestring Theatre has a theatre space with seating for 76, a dance studio and rehearsal space.
CYTO has been the springboard for stars such as Russell Floyd, who starred in EastEnders and The Bill, Paul Bazely (Pirates of the Caribbean, Benidorm and many radio plays), Craig Stevenson, who has enjoyed a 30-year career as a professional actor, appearing in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves and Highlander, because of the training and inspiration he received at CTYO, and Clare Holman, familiar to Inspector Morse and Lewis fans.
In subsequent years CYTO has continued to create productions with a variety of directors.
A spokesman said: “CYTO has seen a multitude of young talent pour through its doors and has had a lasting impact on thousands of people creating everything from stuntmen to actors, careers in stage management to singers in Singapore.”
In 2014, Richard Vincent returned to write and direct an adaptation of Cinderella entitled 'Sparkling Ashes', and in December of last year a performance to celebrate CYTO's 50th saw Vincent and Viv Berry make a return. The performance again was written by Richard and co directed by Berry. This was Viv's last appearance since 2011. This performance attracted the likes of TV presenter Matthew Wright and actor Paul Bazely who attended as members of the organisation, to watch and support the show. Matthew spoke highly of the youth theatre on the night of the celebrations and the following morning on his own show.