Youth Performance Company empowers young adults with ‘Just Before Sleep’

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YPC offices return to Prospect Park neighborhood

Ask any elementary school teacher or parent: children and young adults contribute a great deal, but working with them on a daily basis — especially over many years — can be trying.

Almost 20 years after establishing the Youth Performance Company (YPC), there is no trace of burnout or cynicism in founder and acting Artistic Director Jacie Knight. A graduate of Augsburg College, Knight is an impassioned advocate for youth empowerment through artistic expression.

“We’re here to promote young artists in the community,” said Knight. “We want to listen to them, and what they feel is important.”

“Just Before Sleep”
Sept. 26–Oct. 14
10 a.m., 12:30 p.m. Wed.–Fri.; 7:30 p.m. Fri.–Sat.; 2 p.m. Sun.
Howard Conn Fine Arts Center
1900 Nicollet Ave.
Cost: $10–12
For more info: 612-623-9080
www.youthperformanceco.com

Founded in 1989, YPC is not simply a performance company that employs teenaged youth. It aims to offer a great deal of the opportunities — and subsequent responsibilities — to local youth interested in performing arts.

“[YPC] is a place where young artists can come and creatively work on projects, and this sets us apart [from other performance companies],” Knight said. “We aim to position opportunities for young artists, especially in the leadership vein.”

There are many ways that YPC aims to accomplish this. Classes are available for interested youth in all areas of performance, with unique themes catered to different age groups. They also offer in-school residencies to those interested in learning about performing arts.

In addition, YPC has promoted young adults into leadership positions, guiding and encouraging them to create original pieces about subject matters that are relevant to them. One of these, a play about sexuality and sexual education titled “The Talk,” won a Minnesota Ivey award and has been recognized across the country as a both entertaining and highly informative production. It is currently available on DVD and will soon be joined by two different shows specifically oriented by gender.

“We did not anticipate releasing shows on film when we first started, but we are responding to what the youth who participate in our program feel is important,” Knight said. “Today, film and video are very important to young people.”
With this awareness, Knight also recognizes that YPC is a service that extends beyond those who are pursuing a career in acting.

“We know that the majority of young people who come through our doors will not be a professional actor [in adulthood],” said Knight. “What we do know is that, whatever it is that they do, they will need to be people who are great at communicating and who have a sense of responsibility to the greater good of their community.”

“The teenage years are, for many, a time where one is the center of their own universe. We want to get young people to think about their neighbor,” Knight said. “Our Young Artist’s Council is required to participate in service projects and give back to the community.”

The first production that YPC mounted this season is in this same thematic spirit. Titled “Just Before Sleep,” the production is part of YPC’s “Community Connections” program, which partners its own productions with local nonprofit organizations — in this case, The Dignity Center, which provides services for people facing housing challenges. “Just Before Sleep” is about a family dealing with the difficulties of homelessness.

For Knight, “Just Before Sleep” is an especially important production.

“[This] is a show that affects all of our communities,” she said. “We want to get people to think about affordable housing and the growing void between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots.’”

“The first time I saw the story, it struck a chord with me. I could identify, as many of us are one paycheck away from facing these issues ourselves,” Knight said. “My hope and wish is that every young person and family in the metro area would see this show. They would learn so much.”
YPC reflects this spirit in its own community-mindedness. This summer, YPC returned to the building it began in, a warehouse on University Avenue in the Prospect Park/East River Road neighborhood. The space was entirely redone, with all materials and supplies donated. Occupying two floors, it is an inviting, colorful and modern artists’ space.

“It is important to us to maintain a space that feels fun and safe [to the youth],” Knight said.

This spring, YPC made another neighborhood connection, bringing former Marcy Open School teacher Jay Scoggin — now a YPC special projects director — back to his old school for a production of “Sky Blue Matters.” (See the story online at www. readthebridge.info/node/1207.)

“We’re very excited to be in this neighborhood again,” said Knight. “We are hoping to build relationships as we move forward, to work on things that will really benefit this neighborhood.”