Chepstow Musical Youth Theatre was started in 2001 by former professional opera singer Craig Downes, who remains patron of the company. Craig's intention was (and is) to provide a means of teaching practical musical theatre skills through performance-driven teaching. CMYT was quite small at inception, but has grown stronger each year. Today there are more than 80 students in four groups aged between 6 and 19 (Year 2 and up).
“CMYT is for every child in the Chepstow area who wants to be exceptional, and to pursue excellence in performing,” says Craig. “Not everyone can sing or dance well, but there are always parts for non-singers in shows. We also teach stage management, lighting and sound. It is a very enviable position to be in, to choose your pupils, and we attract more young performers each year.”
CMYT normally puts on two musicals and an annual review each year in Chepstow and other local towns: venues have included the Drill Hall and Chepstow School, local churches and Lydney Town Hall. The shows always attract a large and enthusiastic audience - local fans of theatre and musicals, as well as friends and family of the casts.
The company also takes part in concerts and carol singing at Christmas, and runs week-long courses through the school summer holidays. Recent summer schools have included 'Glee', 'Hairspray from scratch' and 'Swinging Shakespeare.’
Highlights from previous years' shows include a production of 'Camelot' in Chepstow Castle in 2006. “The setting had a very authentic feel to it,” says Craig. “The production was also very strongly cast.”
In 2008 we performed a very successful 'West Side Story' in Cormeilles in Normandy - Chepstow's twin town.
“Musical theatre is an art form that uses all the various artistic disciplines, and can be done to a lesser or greater degree successfully at any age,” says Craig. “The huge range of requirements gives every youngster a sense of inclusion whatever their gifts. Music frees them up to express themselves in a way that straight drama invariably fails to.”
CMYT has advantages over school productions. “We get to choose from the best talent in the area,” says Craig. “I always double cast and have understudies in the leading roles as well. It doubles the number of opportunities to perform, and to shine. Healthy rivalry is good for the development of skills, and develops character and determination, the result of which is confidence and success in whatever the children go on to do in later life.”