Since 2004, Cavod Performing Arts has been giving young folks a place to go to express their talents and learn more about themselves. The 501c3, Christian-based organization offers a variety of performance art classes that include dance, acting, music and acrobatics, and it gives its students the chance to explore their creativity and passions while developing skills like self-discipline, teamwork, perseverance and patience. Cavod’s mission is to create a godly environment that promotes excellence in the arts, builds community and makes a positive difference in the lives of those who interact with the organization.
The intention behind Cavod has always been to provide a safe, wholesome outlet for children who have talents and interests that are not strictly academic in nature. In a time when schools are slashing arts-centric classes and clubs and the dance scene is filled with its own problems — like inappropriate music and costumes for children, and beauty standards that have produced heartbreakingly high numbers of anorexic teens in the more rigorous ballet programs — Cavod is a haven for many in the Lancaster area and beyond. What started 18 years ago as a program for about 25 students now has around 900 students enrolled.
The organization has grown so large and reputable that it has drawn in professionals from all over as teachers and as members of its productions. Now through Sunday, October 23, Cavod Theatre is presenting “A Tale of Two Cities,” the Broadway version of Charles Dickens’ classic tale of redemption set during the French Revolution. The musical is directed by Jordan Scott Gilbert, a Broadway actor and producer, who is also playing one of the main characters. Another lead character is played by Broadway actor Walter Winston O’Neil, who performed in “Wicked.” Both Gilbert and O’Neil were involved in the original Broadway run of “A Tale of Two Cities” in 2008. Cavod’s show is choreographed by Stephanie Brooks Martin, an actress and dancer who was part of the national tours of “White Christmas,” “Mamma Mia!” and “42nd Street.”
Tickets are available both online at cavod.org/events/tale-of-two-cities and at the door. Due to the story’s mature themes, parents of young or sensitive children are encouraged to use discretion — but for those who can handle the story, committing to seeing a Cavod production is well worth it. The quality is a “step up from community theater,” said Connie Dienner, the executive director and founder of Cavod Performing Arts. “It’s really cool to have these professional actors mixed with our local actors and the kids to do a show,” she told The Lancaster Patriot.
Ticket sales are a boon to the nonprofit organization, but Cavod also relies on broader community support to ensure that kids can learn, be inspired and grow in confidence in a nurturing environment. The Stan Deen Scholarship Fund gives people the chance to adopt students who cannot afford tuition for the classes that help them live out their passion for the performing arts, and Cavod’s doors are kept open through more general donations and the work of volunteers.
In previous years, the organization had been blessed with the donations brought in each November by the ExtraGive — but this year, after the ExtraGive chose to update its participation criteria to require organizations to disclose their nondiscrimination policies, Cavod has chosen to opt out and hold its own private fundraiser. Dienner issued a statement on Cavod’s website to explain the decision: “This issue has created much disunity in our community. We feel that focusing on this requirement is a distraction to our vision and mission. Cavod is here to inspire our students to ‘Create with Purpose.’ We offer a Godly environment that inspires excellence in the arts to build community and impact lives. Therefore we have made a decision as a board to refrain from participating in the ExtraGive this year.” This choice was met with support and approval from Cavod’s mostly conservative base, who viewed the ExtraGive’s change in policy as caving to political pressure rather than an earnest effort to improve people’s lives.
Dienner told The Lancaster Patriot that she did not view her decision as taking a stand, as some people had described it. “The board really felt that it’s a win-win either way,” she explained. “Whatever we do in faith and decide, God will take this and bless.” The decision reflects Cavod’s desire to welcome everyone, regardless of who they are or what they believe, and to provide them a place to come, to learn, and to see the love of God in action. These values are reflected in the organization’s very name: “Cavod” means “the glory of God” in Hebrew. The family-centered organization is committed to keeping its doors open to all who love the arts and wish to grow in their God-given talents, but Cavod also wishes to stay out of unnecessary conflicts that might turn people away.
Instead of fundraising through the ExtraGive, the nonprofit will hold Cavod’s Day of ThanksGIVING on Friday, November 18 from 12:01 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. Donations can be made through cavod.org, and the goal for the day is $80,000. During the fundraiser, a celebration will be hosted at Cavod Theatre from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. with free pizza, snacks and drinks, as well as prizes, performances, and a dance party with a DJ. Everyone in the community is invited to drop by and enjoy the event.
The money raised will do more than just keep the dance studio and theater operational. Cavod has several “branch” ministries that serve locally and abroad. One local outreach is through Citylight Dance Theatre, a dance team of teens and young adults who use contemporary dance to express the grace and hope of Christ. The team performs at community events like parades and festivals, and they also take their art to churches, homeless shelters, retirement communities and the streets to share the gospel. In a similar vein, Ornate Dance Theatre, Cavod’s pre-professional training program, shines the light of Christ through dance performances and outreach. The young adult team has the opportunity to travel overseas to host dance and theater camps for underprivileged children around the world.
In Lancaster, Cavod has established a home away from home for students to learn, but also for friendships to be formed. Many students like to hang out at the Cavod facilities, since they have found somewhere that they can be themselves and be surrounded by people with similar creative inclinations. Even parents have forged friendships with one another through Cavod.
Cavod Performing Arts has academies in New Holland and Manheim, as well as a theater a few doors down from the New Holland location. The organization offers a wide range of programs, including summer camps, productions and classes for beginner, intermediate and advanced learners ages 3 to adult. To find out more, visit cavod.org, follow Cavod on social media, or subscribe to the organization’s email newsletter, which includes Coffee with Connie, an update from Dienner every other week.