Bobb Cooper celebrated 22 years as the Artistic Director of the Valley Youth Theatre on March 20, 2018. When Bobb first joined VYT as Producing Artistic Director in 1996, it was a fledgling theater company based out of the basement of the Tower Plaza Mall. Back then it had very small budget, and the space in the basement of the mall was hardly suited for hosting proper theatrical productions. Then as now, families and friends of the cast volunteered to assist with everything from box office and concession sales to sewing costumes and building sets.
After converting an old car dealership into a 202-seat theater, VYT launched its 1999-2000 Season and won the 1999 DREAMR Award (Downtown Revitalization Effort Awards of Merit and Recognition) for turning the property into a “vital cultural attraction.”
In this downtown Phoenix space, VYT attracted its largest audiences ever with award-winning productions featuring an ethnically-diverse cast who were attracted by open auditions, fee-free participation and a learning environment with no racial or social barriers. And, VYT recently celebrated its 40th show in 20 years at the Herberger, offering two productions at this venue each year.
VYT exists today so that it can offer kids a place to grow and learn in a safe and healthy environment. Perhaps the biggest testament to that is the fact that VYT doesn’t charge any fees for any of the children that are involved in its theatrical productions.
When kids come into the VYT facilities to participate in theater, and to learn and grow as young people, they leave behind any socioeconomic or cultural barriers and they learn to respect themselves and respect each other as human beings first and foremost.
VYT’s primary goal is to help youth develop personal skills such as self-respect, accountability, time management, and self-control as well as help them to grow as artists. The list of VYT alumni who have gone on to do great things grows with each passing year. At one point, there were six VYT alumni simultaneously cast in different Broadway shows. The highest paid actress in the world is Emma Stone, is an alumna of VYT, where she appeared in 16 productions before moving to Hollywood at the age of 14.
While there are no fees for children to participate in theatrical productions with VYT throughout the year, VYT hosts a series of summer camps and other classes where parents pay for programs. During the summer of 2017, though, there was a child in the theater company who could not afford any of the summer camps or other peripheral activities. This child’s life was very difficult. It was likely that some of the brightest moments in this child’s life occurred when he was at the theater, where he was able to live carefree and enjoy life like all the other kids.
The Board of Directors agreed to provide a scholarship, providing a safe place to learn and grow in the summer months while he was not in school. That child’s name was Nigel Ross.
Unfortunately, only a few months later, Nigel was tragically murdered by his own father along with his 10 month-old sister and his mom on Christmas day of 2017.
The heartbreak of losing Nigel at such a young age, in such a tragic way, is something that cannot be quickly healed. To memorialize Nigel’s passion for life and love for participating in theater activities with VYT, Bobb and the board of directors created a scholarship in Nigel’s memory so that one child each year can participate in VYT’s summer camps free of charge.
VYT contributes not only to the education and social good of Greater Phoenix, but contributes economically. More than 40,000 people attend performances and while they do, they support retail and restaurants in the downtown area.
Valley Youth Theatre is a gem that is totally unique to the city of Phoenix, located in a fully-restored historic building downtown and providing a place where all children are welcome.