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The Mill City Youth Players Give a Winning Debut Performance at the Guthrie

Article by Claudia Kittock, photos by Rick Kittock and Ryan Ojard 

Crystal shines in a scene depicting a scared young person on the outside of a forest of waving branches, only to discovered it's really a family of open arms waiting to accept her as a friend.  Photo by Ryan Ojard

Imagine a theater group of young people who have never acted and are strangers. Imagine bringing them together at the world-famous Guthrie theater, taught by a teaching artist from the Guthrie Theater, writing their own production, and performing it on the Dowling stage after 8 days of rehearsals. Sounds impossible? It was, and it happened, and the results were nothing short of magical.

The Friends of the Mill District charity went to the Guthrie with an idea to begin building community with the younger people in our neighborhood. The first contact there was Dr. Carra Martinez, Community Outreach Director. She was enthusiastic and wanted the next meeting to include Jason Brown, the Education Director.  Our idea was to start an acting group of people from YouthLink, the Mill District, and the Cedar Riverside communities. When asked to be part of this crazy idea, Carra and Jason said, "Yes! We can do that!” That was the beginning of this adventure.

We also knew that there may be barriers for some of the young people and we did our best to plan around those barriers. Each actor received a Go-To Card to help with transportation. We asked members of the community to provide food, and each rehearsal began with snacks and ended with a dinner contributed by neighbors. It was spectacular. Feeding 20 young actors after a 2-hour rehearsal was daunting, but the sense of community that comes from sharing food is priceless.

On August 14th we started rehearsals with 12 young actors, and by August 24, there were 22 performers.  Led by Jessica Finney with assistance by Arion Friday (AJ), the actors began to explore what it meant to act.  As Jessica wrote, “For the past week and a half, we have gathered together to create art. We have explored the basics of acting and theater production, but we have also explored our strengths, our weaknesses, and how to build community where everyone feels like they can be themselves, be seen, and belong. We have taken many risks, some of which we left in the rehearsal room downstairs, some of which the artists will share onstage tonight, but all of which we have done together. We live in a collaborative world where we need each other: to learn from each other, to laugh together, to comfort each other. As you watch the show this evening, I invite you to see the artists as they want to be seen and to help them feel welcome here tonight as well as wherever you may see them next.”

At the end of the show, Jessica Finney (middle) asked members to discuss their Mill City Youth Players experience. Left to right: Jasmine, Fartun, Jessica, Mahamed and Anthony. Photo: Rick Kittock

The evening of August 24th was extraordinary. Every word of the production, “Be You, Be Seen, Belong” was written and performed by these amazing young people.  It was a show of vignettes, ranging from the silly to the profound. Actors shared poems they had written during the rehearsals, sang songs, and entertained the audience with skits. What was undeniable was the energy, the talent, and the heart of these young actors.  The pictures tell more than 1000 words!

"Powerful, poised and proud! So many words I could use to describe Mr. Mahamed. Taught me more everyday over the last 8 years than I ever imparted to him." Video and quote by Coach Jennifer Wigchers Weber of the Cedar Riverside Community School.

The Game Show  Photo: Rick Kittock

"Be You, Be Seen, Belong" Mill City Youth PlayersJackie gives a gripping performance of Rihanna's "Diamonds"   Photo by Ryan Ojard

"Be You, Be Seen, Belong" Mill City Youth Players Rival basketball teams learn they have more in common than they could have imagined. Photo: Ryan Ojard

"Be You, Be Seen, Belong" Mill City Youth Players Elijah was one of the cast members to give a Spoken Word. Photo: Ryan Ojard

Dr. Heather Huseby, executive director of YouthLink wrote, “This is another innovative, caring and absolutely unequivocal way Mill City is demonstrating their call to action to make a difference in the lives of the young people we serve at YouthLink. Giving young people experiencing homelessness an opportunity to ignite the flame of talent and creativity within them, including being exposed to the Guthrie Theater will be life-changing... Thank you Mill City - your friendship and support is cherished.”

Andrew, who played the part of Lizzy Kissinger said, “It was a pleasure acting with you and thank you for showing me some new skills I can take with me forever."

"Be You, Be Seen, Belong" Mill City Youth PlayersAndrew as Lizzy Kissinger, Photo: Ryan Ojard

What happens next? At the after-party, the actors were clamoring to know when they could rehearse again, and where they could perform again. We want this to become a part of the fabric of our community. We want this class to continue to be offered year-round. The actors built a sense of community within that group and to help it spread to the rest of our neighborhood would be fabulous. We know we are stronger together.

Well deserved post-show celebration.  Photo: Rick Kittock

The Friends of the Mill District charity will make sure it continues, but we need the money to do that. Please consider contributing to this exciting and vibrant neighborhood initiative. There are two ways to help us:

- Send a check made out to “Friends of the Mill District” in care of Claudia Kittock, 212 10th Avenue S, Apt 102, Minneapolis, MN 55415.

- Go to GiveMN at All contributions are tax deductible as Friends of the Mill District is a 501©3 charity.

Click here for additional photos.

Claudia can be reached at

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Editors Note: We continue to be inspired and deeply thankful for the tireless work Claudia does to create community thru kindness and inclusion. She shows us time and again how the simple act of asking a question (and following up, which isn't quite as simple!) can lead to something wonderful.

"Be You, Be Seen, Belong" Mill City Youth Players Claudia gives an inspirational post-show speech.  Photo: Ryan Ojard

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