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Circle of theater: Ryan High grad gives back to Denton theater community

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Kyle Martin, Staff Writer

Cody Vann dreams of bright lights, a grand marquee and a chance to become something he's always wanted to be. 

Vann, 22, a recent graduate of the University of Evansville in Indiana with a degree in theater performance, is back in Denton as director of the Denton Community Theatre youth summer production of The Lion King Jr., scheduled for July 28-30 at the Campus Theatre.

He was in every play put on during his four years at Ryan High School, where he graduated in 2013. He also attended DCT summer camps since he was in middle school. Now he’s investing his time back into the programs that gave him his passion to perform.

“I used to be very shy. I was the kid that used to stay by his mom and not really talk,” Vann said. “Theater was really an outlet for me, and I was able to grow into myself.”

Theater was where he learned to be confident in who he was and to take risks, he said. Before getting into theater, he was introverted. He became comfortable onstage and in front of people. So comfortable, in fact, he decided that was where he wanted to be for years to come. 

In the coming months, Vann will have to get comfortable with Los Angeles, where he makes his move to the West Coast in August. Having recently signed a lease on a house with some friends, he’s hoping to plant seeds of his own in the performing community halfway across the country. But in Hollywood, where many try and fail in showbiz, there’s skepticism, and success is never a guarantee.

“I always have a fear of disappointing people,” Vann said.

But confidence is key in being a performer, he said, despite his shyness.

“He served as a role model and leader in our department,” said Jeannene Abney, one of Vann’s theater directors at Ryan High. “He’s found his ability to do instead of question what he’s doing.”

Vann said from Abney, he learned “life is a constant battle of learning.” 

A sense of tight community involvement is a major part of DCT summer programs, named DCTedu, and it was from this bond Vann said he developed his love for performance. Students, friends and family in the Denton performing arts community take part in creating memorable shows and events for the sake of performing arts and education. Vann likely will oversee dozens of young performers and theater technicians, ranging from ages 11 to 18.

Aiding in shaping Vann into a confident college-educated actor was Michael Thompson, another theater instructor at Ryan High. At DCT, Thompson says its programs give hopeful students like Vann a chance to instill confidence in themselves.

“[DCTedu gives] them an outlet to express themselves,” Thompson said. “They are shaping future actors.”

Thompson remembers when Vann performed as the Bullfrog in the DCTedu’s 2007 production of Honk!, Jr., a musical adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's The Ugly Duckling. Vann was only a sixth-grader at the time, bashful and “not one to be onstage, but willing.”

Vann said he was hoping for a minor role, maybe in the ensemble or something else with little time upfront, but instead found himself petrified at the audition results. Thompson assigned Vann the role of Bullfrog, which included many lines and a solo song. It was from this role, and the many following, when Vann said he started to break out of his shell.  

Thompson, recalling the timid sixth-grader, said to see his former student giving back to the programs that shaped him means the Denton community is “very, very fortunate” to have had students like Vann willing to mentor upcoming performers.

“He’s just such a good person, and he’s willing to come back and give back,” Thompson said. "Cody's earned this. He's done so much."

FEATURED PHOTO: Cody Vann sits on stage Tuesday at the Campus Theatre in Denton, where he will direct the Denton Community Theatre production of "The Lion King Jr." Vann is a 2013 graduate of Ryan High School and graduated this past spring from the University of Evansville in Indiana with a degree in theater performance.
Jeff Woo/DRC