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Mill City Youth Players Knock it out of the Park with "The M.A.S.K. Project" Performances

Article by Claudia Kittock; Photos and video by Ryan Ojard

What happens when you bring together young people from YouthLink and the Cedar Riverside community to create theater? Pure magic! If you were lucky enough to be in the Guthrie audience on January 25th or 26th, you saw that magic. Young actors with incredible talent and energy, brought their best to The M.A.S.K. Project, a production they wrote, produced, and performed. 

The Friends of the Mill District, a local charity, created the idea of an acting experience for young people from our community. In partnership with the Guthrie Theater, the Mill City Youth Players were formed in August of 2016. After the first production, each and every actor united in their determination to keep the Mill City Youth Players together. The Friends of the Mill District agreed and sought donors to help make it a reality.

While we all know that it takes a village to raise a child, we aren’t trying to raise children, but we are working to provide experiences for neighborhood youth that may not be available to them without some assistance. Thanks to the generosity and heart of this community, the Mill City Youth Players is now a vibrant program, located at the Guthrie.

Friends of the Mill District provide Metro Transit Go-To Cards to assist with transportation back and forth to rehearsals. We also asked for help from the community in providing food both before and after each rehearsal. The response was incredible, with over 25 people providing dinners and snacks. Each person who brought food soon discovered the magic of these young people as they chatted during dinner.

The actors mounted 2 performances with large crowds at each. We were treated to hilarity, ad-libs, audience participation, and poignant moments of poetry and music. Several actors read poems about ripping off our masks, about the ‘bluebird in my heart,’ about feeling invisible, and even a poem written and performed by Mahamed Salad about identity. Jackie Santrelle closed each performance with an incredible song about feeling not seen. The sheer talent level on that stage was staggering.

Friends of the Mill District is already planning for the next session. We are committed to this project and the people in our community who have become involved are also united in their support. After the last performance, I asked the actors if they wanted the Mill City Youth Players to continue. There was a unanimous roar of “YES!”

Here's what some of the performers had to say about their experience with this program:

Community can be built through art. Be it singing or acting, we discover our commonalities and are able to celebrate our differences when we unite to create art. The very work of creating art requires us to see each other, to know that no matter our differences we can only succeed if we all succeed. That is the essence of this work. We ARE stronger together. The work goes on.

How can you help?
• Be part of the army of neighbors who assist us with every session. 
• Send us your ideas and your thoughts about this project going forward.
• Contribute financially to the Friends of the Mill District.
• Contact Claudia Kittock at for any and all questions.

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About Claudia Kittock

Claudia is a resident of the Mill District. In addition to writing for Mill City Times, she is a founding Board Member of Friends of the Mill District. Claudia is the author of Health Through Chaos, mentors young adults at YouthLink, and has served on the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association (DMNA).


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