The Youth Performance Company (YPC) recently named Maya Washington as its new artistic director. Founded in 1989 by Jacie Knight and based in St. Paul with performances in Minneapolis, YPC allows youth to create and express artistic excellence.
“At that time, there weren’t a lot of women leaders in American Theatre, and in general, a lot of opportunities,” Washington explained. “And so out of necessity, she [Jacie Knight] really engaged youth in being part of the process of creating new works, designing what the sets would look like, directing, and giving their input. Because she had to in order to make things work. She had to invite that kind of collaboration.”
Washington now carries this mission forward in a steady yet innovative way.
A Youth Performance Company alumni herself, Washington has spent the majority of her career as a successful multimedia artist. “I would say for the past 10 years my career in film and television directing has given me opportunities to work on everything from web series, to corporate work, to commercials, to TV,” she said.
Perhaps one of Washington’s most notable works is “Through the Banks of the Red Cedar.” “I released a feature film about my father and his teammates at Michigan State, who were members of the first fully integrated football team in America. It found its debut on the BIG 10 Network and is currently on PBS platforms.”
Earlier this year “Through the Banks of the Red Cedar” was also released in book format as a memoir “Through the Banks of the Red Cedar My Father and the Team That Changed the Game.”
Following Knight’s remarkable legacy, Washington is passionate about cultivating a new generation of talent that will continue to drive positive impact. “This is the future of being a performer. It’s not going away. We have so many interesting ways that—if youth choose a career in the arts, it can go from live theatre to television, to film to social media. How you tell stories is at the core of that and gives youth a variety of tools to sort of choose their own adventure,” she shared.
Currently playing at YPC
Lexi Neumann is a rising star who plays the character Clarisse La Rue in the Youth Performance Company’s production of “The Lightning Thief the Percy Jackson Musical” showing October 14 through October 30.
Based on Greek mythology, Neumann shared what it has been like bringing such a dynamic character to life. “It’s one of those characters that’s just really fun because you can feel like just so much rage within her, which is really nice. And honestly, it’s probably been one of the most vocally challenging roles I’ve ever had to play,” she shared.
Growing up in St. Francis, Minnesota, and participating largely in suburban productions, Neumann, 18, has noted a colossal difference in her experience while working with YPC, particularly under Washington’s leadership. “One of the reasons why I went to YPC was because I saw that they were so diverse in their casting, and it was more colorful there, I guess you could say. I live 30 minutes away from YPC.
“But still, I would rather make the drive there, where I can feel more included and feel like I’m a part of something, than just in my own backyard where I’m not going to feel like that.”
Neumann continued, sharing a conversation that she had with a fellow Black castmate named Nyla: “The other night, we were talking about how it can be really hard when you’re the only person of color in a cast because it feels like you’re going to be cast a certain way. And we talked about how when we came to YPC, this was like one of the first times when we didn’t feel like we were cast based off our looks, or racial preference.”
As Clarrise, Neumann’s radical prowess comes to life. “Her solo number is pretty ridiculous in the best way. There is stage combat; as the daughter of Aries, she wields weapons. It is so fun to watch her perform,” Washington exclaimed.
In her new role, Washington is energized to continue to equip and empower a new generation of diverse talent, poised to make great change, even beyond the stage.
“The assignment is that you keep the door open for others. And where that door could have been wider for you to walk through—when you had to push through, you don’t forget that. And you make sure that the next person behind you doesn’t have to struggle as much as you had to.” said Washington.
Learn more about Youth Performance Company and “The Lightning Thief the Percy Jackson Musical” at www.youthperformanceco.org.