General 3-23-2004

Youth Performance Company: Growing like Crazy

The Twin Towns have some small companies that do what the Children’s Theater does. Stepping Stone in St. Paul and Stages in Hopkins have both carved out niches. But there's a shining example in central Minneapolis that's ambitious and successful.

Founded in 1989, Youth Performance Company is committed to serving young
artists, young audiences, and the community at large in a number of
thoughtful ways. They develop their efforts first by theatre performances, then arts education and diversified, responsive youth-centered programming. They teach quality production values, arts advocacy, self-determination and confidence, leadership, volunteerism and community service. They learn it from a growing, professionally staffed theatre arts office of four, augmented with 75 freelancers. The annual budget is about $ 350,000.

Press kudos are many; here’s one. “FAVORITE YOUTH THEATER COMPANY: YPC
presents several wonderful performances a year for audiences of all ages, and
in doing so, advance the role of young performance artists in the community and
develop the leadership skills of young people. YPC may not have the largest
budget or the most visibility among Twin Cities youth theaters, but it puts on
the best show in town.” (Minnesota Women’s Press).

The Company produces a 4-play main stage season. It has become strong by
choosing things that work for young audiences. They add socially provocative
material that is meaningful to diverse audiences and the community. They also
aim to promote literacy, integrate theatre arts into classroom learning, and
stimulate discussion on racism, discrimination, and intolerance.

They are holistic in their approach. They do what you’d expect; creating
a youth-centered venue for young artists, discovering and mentoring new
talents from throughout the metro region, and inspiring young audiences to grow in appreciation for the arts. But they also encourage all artists to take
leadership roles in the community through volunteerism and direct participation, demonstrating that the arts support community.


YPC succeeds with adaptations of classic stories, myths, legends, and
award-winning literature for young people. They have coupled this with
provocative original work that registers with the young community. “You can be
physically accessible and affordable, but if the stories aren’t meaningful to
audiences they may never come,” says Jacie Knight, YPC founder and artistic director.

Last year saw Main Stage season success in a number of shows. The Twits came from the crazy world of Roald Dahl. Narnia was their affordable holiday hit. But Freedom Riders won enormous critical and audience acclaim. Over 5,000 people, young and old, have seen the show with approximately 50% African American audiences. It created a historical awareness in the artists and audiences for those who paid the price for civil rights.

The Young Artists Councils (YAC) production of Bang, Bang You’re Dead was chosen early in 2003 as an strong choice for teens. YPC will be touring the productions to 45 communities–over 40 schools in outstate Minnesota. Students from grades 5-12 will be discussing how to promote non-violence and avoid the tragedy of a school shooting.

The PG13 Initiative was inaugurated in 2002 as a mechanism to allow teens
to develop work with a teen perspective. The first year had an all girl team
that took the subject of menstruation and a girl’s first period out of the
closet. The moving, funny, factual and original show dubbed Goddess Menses and the Menstrual Show got a phenomenal reaction, and the show is scheduled for the Fringe Festival 2004. The follow-up will be The Talk: An Intercourse of Coming of Age, set to perform the fall of 2004.

YPC reaches deep into he freelance community for teachers. They retained
over 75 paid artistic mentors, who brought their expertise in play writing,
directing, and composition, as well as set, costume, lighting and sound

Tickets are affordable: $10-adults, $8-youth under 14/seniors and
$5/6-groups 20 or more. At least 10% of YPC’s house will be given away
through social service organizations serving at-risk children and families (Over 60 groups are registered for this program.) They have a commitment to
affordable family theatre, which means ticket prices do not cover our programming costs. The support of foundations, corporations, and individuals makes up the difference.

YPC is committed to Minneapolis because of its central accessibility to
artists and audiences of a diverse racial, cultural and socioeconomic
composition. They moved into new digs at 28th and Lyndale (see the accompanying article) that puts them closer to Uptown and to their performance home at 1900 Nicollet. YPC’s performance space, the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center, is part of the Plymouth Congregational Church building. Easy to find, on a major bus route, it has free, well-lit, off-street parking. This 207-seat venue is cozy and unintimidating.

Over 750 kids took a YPC class last year. Saturday classes and summer
workshops target young artists from 6-21 years old. YPC Boot Camp, Hip-hop,
Taiko drumming, Stage Combat, or Acting for the Camera are some of the offerings. YPC’s brand of arts education is also available through school and community residencies. (Program revenue in Education/Outreach increased 700% this past year. )

They have the endorsement of some pretty tough cookies.
Playwright/Director Kim Hines raves about them. “When a company is made up of young adults,” she points out soberly, “expectations are small. I was WOWED! The level of professionalism in the aspects of acting, directing, music and technical for my show rivaled productions viewed at most Equity houses in the Twin Cities. Their training and nurturing of young artists should be viewed as an asset to both the theatre community and community of young people.”

The new season has a nice selection. It includes these performances:

Annie Jr. This charmer will offer an affordable holiday choice and one-third less reprises of “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow.”

View From Saturday Many people and things figure into this one: a powerhouse sixth-grade Academic Bowl team; the art of
calligraphy; and the power of tea parties.

MVP: The Jackie Robinson Story is compelling drama that celebrates a man of strong moral character who faced the adversity of all-white professional baseball.

An educational study guide for each production is available for
families, community leaders, and teachers. It offers suggestions for
activities and discussion as well as resource lists to learn more.

Past successes are gutsy, innovative works. In 2003, they did a
production of Little Rock, 1957, as the first in an original trilogy of YPC plays on the civil rights era, revived due to popular demand. The tensions of federally mandated integration were brought to life forcefully, and the work was applauded by educators as compelling, emotional and honest. Colorful Women of Invention also opened in 2003 as YPC’s first original musical tour. It focused on the accomplishments of women inventors and scientists of color. The tour targeted children of color to promote science and invention careers to groups under-represented in the field. Support for the project was provided by the 3M Award for Innovation in the Arts.

A handful of special programs demonstrates the depth of their ambition,
and that is a compliment:
-The Young Actors Studio provides young people the opportunity to
interact with panels of professionals from various arts institutions.
-LOOK2BOOKS, a theatrical touring literacy initiative uses professional
artists, music and puppetry to do stories like Where the Wild Things Are. The
interactive experiences excite many children and families who speak English as
their second language.
–Community Connection links the Company with non-profits such as
Children’s Home Society of Minnesota, that serve young people and/or mirrored the theme of the productions. This connects the artists and audiences with
non-profit organizations that address diverse issues which affect children and
families in the community: affordable housing, foster care, adoption for waiting children, immigrant and refugee needs, literacy and hunger. It also locates new audiences, many untouched by the performing arts.


More than 6,000 young artists have been involved in productions, classes
or programming. Classes and residencies target ages 6-21 in the seven-county
metropolitan area. 99% of YPC roles are cast with young artists. 35%
participation of young people of color. Free workshops like The Young Actors Studio attract more teen constituents. Over 22,000 young audience members and their families/schools attended a YPC show last year. Audiences and artists participate from urban, suburban and rural neighborhoods.

Saturday classes and summer workshops target young artists from 6-21
years old. Classes grew to 750 students this year. They include Intro to the
Stage, Hip-Hop, Make Your Own Movie, 2B or not 2B. YPC Boot Camp, Taiko
drumming, Stage Combat, Peace Project or Acting for the Camera. YPC’s arts
educational programming is also available through school and community residencies.

Program revenue in Education/Outreach increased 700% this past year.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what I call busy.

For show info: 612-623-9080 or
The Howard Conn Fine Arts Center is at 1900 Nicollet Avenue, Mpls.
Info: Catherine Conzet or Jacie Knight at 612-623-9180 or email us at