The show must go on? TYA supporters question why program left out of budget

Composer Stephen Schwartz and Broadway actress Kelli Rabke visit Trumbull Youth Association’s summer cast.
Composer Stephen Schwartz and Broadway actress Kelli Rabke visited Trumbull Youth Association’s summer cast last year.

For supporters of the Trumbull Youth Association, there appears to be a big, glaring omission in the town’s proposed budget next year.

A $50,000 line item for the TYA, a youth program that puts on theater workshops, open mic nights and a summer musical, was not included for the 2015-16 year.

A Facebook group “Keep TYA in Town” at facebook.com/KeepTYAinTown was started Feb. 15 by supporters and had 512 likes by Wednesday morning. The page has been advocating for getting TYA back in the budget and urging letters to be sent to officials.

The page has also become a place for many to reflect on TYA’s history in town, which began in 1969.

First Selectman Tim Herbst said Tuesday that TYA will still be overseen by the town and, he believes, with roughly $69,000 in revenue, the program can be fully operational without a line item in the budget.

“I want this program to continue but I want it to becoming self-sustaining,” Herbst said.

The cast of Trumbull Youth Association's Thoroughly Modern Millie rehearse last week. — Kate Czaplinski photo
In 2013, the Trumbull Youth Association produced Thoroughly Modern Millie.

Herbst recently met with TYA directors Merial Cornell and Mary Joan Wright, putting information from the meeting into a memo sent to the town’s director of finance, director of labor relations and also shared with The Times.

Ticket sales bring in about $23,700, according to a memo. TYA participation fees, fundraising, state grants, concession sales and sponsorships bring in additional money, totaling $69,470 of overall revenue, according to Herbst’s memo. With $50,000 from the town, the total TYA budget would be about $119,000, in comparison to the total recreation budget of about $439,573, Herbst said.

TYA Past President and college student Larissa Mark is a big part of the push to get TYA back in the budget. Mark was also a leader of the successful 2013 effort to save the Trumbull High production of RENT, after it was initially canceled by the principal.

Mark says ticket sales are a major revenue for TYA, but sales are never consistent.

“One of my greatest fears here is that his idea of a self-sustaining program will be completely different than the one we currently have,” Mark wrote in an email. “The program brings in a professional production team to work with the cast and crew, which is an invaluable experience for anyone interested in the arts. Without funding this might not be possible, or else the cost of the program (an affordable $100) might be raised to be comparable with other private programs that can cost between $500-$1,000, and inhibit many people from participating.”

TYA holds many workshops throughout the year and hires professionals to teach those workshops. TYA has over 100 youths ages 13-21 and over 50 members in the junior division, according to Mark. The program produces a summer musical, as well as holds other town events including the fifth grade meet-and-greet, town movie nights, a fundraiser for the Trumbull Food Pantry, and many others.

Herbst said the revenues of the program had not been reflected in the TYA budget in the past. He also felt there is no direct oversight of the program by the recreation department, which he would like to see change.

“Last year, Finance Chair Elaine Hammers raised concerns with the number of special agency accounts and we really wanted to nail down these revenues,” Herbst said. “A lot of other towns have recreation budgets that reflect expenditures and revenues. What you bring in helps offset the cost of delivering services.”

Herbst said he was also concerned that the directors, who started as volunteers and are now paid town employees, have used their costume company as the contractor for the productions.

“I don’t want to eliminate this program; I think it provides a valuable service,” Herbst said. “I think the revenues are more than enough to implement a fully sustainable program.”

Larissa Mark worries that the program will dwindle with less funding, and with a lower-quality program, ticket sales will drop. She said that the directors were not directly informed of the reduction to the line item in the budget, which she finds “disturbing” and “disrespectful” to their hard work.

“TYA is currently known as an incredible summer program that puts on quality performances each year,” she said. “I hate to see a program that Trumbull should be proud of being given a death sentence for unknown reasons.”