Ryan High School alumnus Cody Vann and his cast and crew on Sunday wrapped up their undertaking of the Denton Community Theater’s summer camp production of Disney’s The Lion King Jr., selling out tickets on the last day of the performance. More than 800 tickets were sold for the weekend showings from Friday to Sunday.
Soon Vann will embark on a journey to the West Coast to pursue an acting career in Los Angeles, California. But not until directing the same summer program which first nurtured his love of theater.
The five-week DCTedu youth summer camp, which began in June, had 22 campers, with 18 taking on roles as actors and four as theater technicians. Rehearsals took place from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Vann, 22, said his youngest camper was 7 years old and his oldest 15 or 16. He said it was his first time directing a full-length production, which was an experience that came with its own struggles and triumphs.
The play is cast for about 18 roles plus the ensemble, which made for a creative casting on the production team's part. Campers doubled roles and were switched between parts to make for an exciting learning experience for everyone involved with the camp.
"It was challenging but ultimately it did give kids more stage time, which is great," Vann said. "They had to learn more choreography and more songs, so I think it did push some of the kids a little but further."
As a kid, Vann said he developed his passion for theater on the same stage he now directed. Before acting in his first performance at DCTedu, Vann said he was shy and reserved. Being able to perform brought out a new confidence in him, something he wouldn't have had without the help of the theater.
"I watched a lot of kids really grow into [themselves]," he said. "They really kind of found their group. It's nice to see kids learning, and I think they really did learn."
For many campers, it was their first time to see the stage and its bright lights, which is an experience all too familiar to Vann.
"There were some kids that did remind me of myself," he said. "I saw myself in several of the kids."
Tony Rose, a parent and artist at DCT whose daughter played Rafiki in the weekend’s performances, sees the community theater as a welcoming place where young performers can establish a love for art at a young age.
“Our younger kids, the ones that aren’t necessarily in a formal theater program yet like in middle school or high school, they have this great opportunity to come here and learn the arts of theater in this facility,” Rose said, who worked during the camp as the scenic and make-up artist. “I can tell they really enjoy it. You can see it in their faces.”
Mike Barrow is a director in his 10th year at the community theater and said spoke highly of Vann.
“Everybody was excited when we heard Cody was going to come back for the summer,” Barrow said.
Barrow said what he loves most about being involved at DCT is having the opportunity to watch young people grow and develop a passion for theater and art. Not everyone will hold onto the theater as long as others, he said, but to watch a creative art fascinate someone at a young age is something he likes remembering.
He said he’s watched performers and lovers of theater alike move from the DCT stage to professional acting careers and is excited to see another take up the same path.
“I think Cody knew when he stepped on stage for the first time that this was probably going to be his career path,” he said. “You just kind of get a feeling early on about somebody like that that he’s going to make it.”
KYLE MARTIN can be reached at 940-566-6897 or via Twitter at @Kyle_Martin35.
FEATURE PHOTO: Cody Vann, 22, is the director of the Denton Community Theatre's summer youth production of "The Lion King Jr." Vann is moving to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of being an actor. Jake King/DRC