Park Avenue Youth Theater, better known as, encourages children and teens to leverage the power of theater to learn more about the world around them, and perhaps learn more about themselves along the way. 

PAYT taps the power of New York City’s artistic community, and the local talent and generosity of professional directors. The directors and students work together through rehearsals, improvisation and creative challenges to produce live theater. The projects often explore current global affairs and societal issues to further help its young talent process the news around them. 

In addition to teaching them acting chops, PAYT’s goal is to help foster the confidence and self-esteem of its young cast members. Directors work from “a trauma-informed lens” to encourage empathy and problem-solving skills in ways traditional classroom education cannot. 

Bronx-born Liz Sweeney fused all her experiences as a director, actor–as well as her role as a mother, and educator–to launch PAYT. She is a lifelong student and teacher of the arts, as well as a dedicated contributor to the community. She runs PAYT with fellow actor and director Nicole Serra–who has worked with Creative Arts Team, Two River Theatre, New York City Children's Theatre–in order to bring PAYT to life. Nora Fritsch, meanwhile, is the technical and administrative brains behind the operation. The former Bronx Arts Ensemble intern also provides a ton of creative support.

The team hosts weekly learning sessions, some in-person and some online, combining activities focused on building theatrical and collaborative skills. The directors are charged with dreaming up new ideas into an original play that is performed before a live audience at the end of each semester. 

While PAYT focuses on helping the NYC youth, it very much serves creatives of all ages. It runs a Bridges program, which is a multi-generational virtual theater project. The latest Bridges project was held last Fall, giving elderly members the opportunity to engage with others virtually, after months of quarantining on and off due to the pandemic. 

The Bridges project is a fun reminder that, at the end of the day, theater is supposed to bring joy to people of all backgrounds and ages.