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Youth Performance Company alumna is now theater's top leader

Growing up, Maya Washington acted in YPC plays, sometimes landing the lead. Now she's leading the theater's work behind the scenes.

MINNEAPOLIS — For 33 years, Youth Performance Company has provided musicals and plays largely centered around inclusivity and social change. Now the founder and artistic director, Jacie Knight, is passing the baton to a woman of color – Maya Washington. While Washington is new to the role, she isn't new to the company.

"Pretty much my junior and senior year in high school, I lived at Youth Performance Company," Washington said jokingly.

Washington remembers the various roles she played in YPC shows. The themes ranged from the historical Civil Rights Movement to fictional literature. 

"My first show was 'Freedom Riders' and it was about the Freedom Summer of 1964 – about young people who traveled inner-state to challenge segregation laws on buses – and that opportunity as a teenager was so moving," Washington said. "I [also] played the role of Nancy Drew and so that tells you a lot about Youth Performance Company, right?"

Credit: Youth Performance Company
Maya Washington (front left) performs with the cast of "Freedom Riders."

Washington went on to become a professional performer, acting for prestigious Minnesota theaters including Penumbra, the Guthrie and History Theatre. She's also a filmmaker with a documentary currently on PBS called "Through the Banks of the Red Cedar." Her extensive resume also includes directing episodes of "The Killer Next Door" on Fox Nation and "I was there" on the History Channel.

Credit: Maya Washington
Maya Washington's professional headshot

But she never forgot where it all began.

"Throughout my professional career, I've found time to come back and be part of shows and productions and teach," Washington said of her ongoing involvement at YPC.

When Knight retired this summer, Washington applied for the job. She says she wants to uplift young artists similar to the way Knight mentored her over the years while also adding her perspective as a woman of color.

Credit: Maya Washington
Former and current artistic directors Jacie Knight and Maya Washington take a selfie.

"That to me is so exciting, that the work that Jacie cultivated years ago in making me feel like there was a place for me in the Twin Cities," Washington said. "I want to make sure that other people from all backgrounds feel like Youth Performance Company is a place where they belong."

Before Knight retired, she selected each of the shows running this season, including "The Lightning Thief – The Percy Jackson Musical," which runs Oct. 14-30 at the Conn Theatre in Minneapolis. Tickets are available online.

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