By Rebecca Putterman Reprinted from the July 7 2012 News & Observer

 CLAYTON – Five years ago, Nikki Dyke saw the need for a youth theater program in Clayton.

With plans to put on “Little Shop of Horrors” as the Clayton Youth Theater’s first show, only seven or eight kids showed up to audition.

Five years later, auditions for this July’s production of “Hairspray” brought out 70 kids hoping to play a part in the popular Broadway musical.

It’s clear the theater’s impact in the community has grown, and the Johnston County Community Foundation recognized that impact when they chose Dyke as the 2012 recipient for the Frances Finch Hobart Award for Voluntary Community Service.

Heidi Stump, executive director of the Clayton Center, nominated Dyke for the award, which is given each year to a Johnston County resident who has demonstrated a commitment to voluntary community service.

“Nikki is a candle and the mirror that shines a light on others around her. She recognized a need and the positive impact the theatre can have on young people and she made it happen. She created the Clayton Youth Theatre in every sense of the word,” said John Hobart, who established the award in honor of his wife Frances.

“As an unpaid volunteer, Nikki handles nearly every aspect of the CYT productions.”

A former English and drama teacher, Dyke said she recognized that arts programs were inconsistent from school to school. Depending on where a child went to high school, they might get less exposure to the arts. After teaching at Clayton High School for one semester, Dyke decided that Johnston County youth could benefit from an extracurricular theater program.

“There was the need for something consistent that people in the community could participate in,” Dyke said.

The youth theater puts on about two shows per year, one in the summer and one in the fall or winter. The shows give students an opportunity to explore their talents, Dyke explained.

“I definitely think we’re building confidence – we’re building self-esteem through the arts,” Dyke said. “I’ve seen kids that have wonderful talent but maybe aren’t that confident in their ability. We work to cultivate that and bring it out.”

But what Dyke is teaching isn’t just relevant for theater. She knows that most of her students aren’t Broadway-bound, but the skills they learn at Clayton Youth Theater will carry them through the rest of their lives.

Being a part of the shows requires an enormous amount of commitment and responsibility. Students are expected to spend 12 hours a week in rehearsal for two months.

“We’re making more well-rounded individuals. We’re introducing them to things they may not have had experience with,” Dyke said. “We’re obviously trying to build character and responsibility through our program.”

Responding to a need

Aside from growing participation in the actual productions, Dyke also responded to an interest from parents of younger children to get their kids involved in Clayton Youth Theater.

This year, first- through sixth-grade students were given the opportunity to participate in a one-week camp behind the scenes of “Hairspray,” learning about the technical aspects of the production and rehearsing their own versions of scenes from the show.

“It’s exciting to see that growth when you know where we’ve come,” Dyke said.

“The longer we’re around, the more people in the community are noticing us.”

As part of the award, Dyke received $750 to present to a non-profit organization of her choosing. Giving back to arts programs in the schools only made sense, so Dyke gave her check to Clayton High School Performing Arts Boosters.

She says that the theater program has improved at Clayton High School with the advent of an active parent booster organization, but that its programs could always use more funding.

“A lot of the kids that I work with through Clayton Youth Theater attend Clayton High School and they’re participating in those programs, and I want them to have an opportunity there,” Dyke said.

For more information about the Hobart Award, contact Northern Piedmont Regional Associate Jeanne Lawson at 919-256-6914.

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