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By Dolores Abbott

The History of the Trumbull Youth Association


It was no accident that West Side Story was the very first TYA summer musical. The late 1960s were difficult years to be a teen. Political assassinations, race riots, and street demonstrations were unraveling the social fabric. War in Vietnam daily claimed young American lives, while a full-blown counterculture of drugs was seeping into suburban neighborhoods.


This troubled atmosphere prompted town resident Mary Keane in 1968 to try to find something positive for Trumbull teens to do during summer break. After researching youth activities in neighboring towns, she invited to her living room a handful of interested youth leaders to talk about launching a teen theater program the following summer.


“It was a trip of faith,” says Keane of those early days when the tiny budget was more than balanced by enormous enthusiasm. “We hired the best director, music director and choreographer and set off to produce a play.”


Parents’ closets were rummaged for costumes, volunteers from the Trumbull Women’s Club hosted cast parties, and church halls were opened for rehearsals and planning sessions. The Pinewood Lake Association’s theater loaned flats, stage sets and lights from its collection, while local newspapers gave print space to generate enthusiasm. Civic groups, businesses and political organizations opened their hearts and their pockets; and the show happened.


It was hot and humid that August evening when the curtains rose on West Side Story. But, as Keane recalls, when the final scene was played, “the audience leapt to its feet in a spontaneous standing ovation, and we knew we had created something fantastic!”


Forty-one TYA summer musicals have been staged since 1969, and participants across all four decades echo similar praises. “It was a wonderful way to spend a summer,” says Nancy Drake Busch, who played Maria in that first production, “People were amazed at what was accomplished.”  “I made friends with kids from all over Trumbull and all different ages,” says Patti Pancoast Early, who began her TYA career in the 1973 Guys and Dolls, continued with Oklahoma, and came back as costume director for On the Town, “It made me feel more comfortable going into high school.” For Jeff Wright II, who acted in Once Upon a Mattress, Me and My Girl, and Babes in Arms (1999 to 2001) and returned as associate producer of the 2003 revival of Hello Dolly, “TYA gave me an opportunity to explore and develop my singing and acting skills as well as my leadership and organizational abilities.” Like many TYA graduates, Jeff and his brother Michael are now musical theater professionals.


The same desire to support local teens that inspired Mary Keane moved MaryJoan Wright and Merial Cornell to step forward as today’s TYA producers. Long-time TYA parents and behind-the-scene volunteers, Wright and Cornell believe in the importance of TYA. “Everyone who has worked on the shows knows the enormous teaching opportunities they present,” says Wright, “essential life skills—teamwork, presence, appreciation for the creative process—and learning how to ‘build the magic’ of a show from the bottom up.”


1969 West Side Story

1970 Brigadoon

1971 Carousel

1972 Babes in Arms

1973 Guys and Dolls

1974 Oklahoma

1975 Pajama Game

1976 On the Town

1977 Music Man

1978 Fiddler on the Roof

1979 My Fair Lady

1980 Pippin

1981 Anything Goes

1982 The Wiz

1983 Showstoppers!

1984 Barnum

1985 Grease

1986 Annie

1987 Mack and Mabel

1988 Dames at Sea

1989 Singin’ in the Rain

1990 Damn Yankees

1991 Carousel

1992 Hello Dolly

1993 West Side Story

1994 Anything Goes
1995 Merrily We Roll Along
1996 Crazy for You
1997 Mame
1998 Grease
1999 Once Upon a Mattress
2000 Me and My Girl
2001 Babes in Arms
2002 Footloose
2003 Hello Dolly
2004 Guys and Dolls
2005 The Secret Garden
2006 West Side Story
2007 Bye Bye Birdie
2008 A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
2009 Seussical the Musical!

2010 Grease

2011 Anything Goes

2012 Footloose

2013 Thoroughly Modern Millie

2014 Children of Eden

2015 Marry Poppins


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