“If you know what you want, you go and you find it and you get it.” – The Baker’s Wife, Into the Woods

What a timely quote! Yes, it’s a line from an incredibly popular Sondheim musical, but it’s also how most of the youth performers putting on Into the Woods, Jr. found their calling at Young Artists Initiative! Young Artists Initiative (YAI) is a Preferred Partner of Affinity Plus, and I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek behind the scenes of its upcoming summer show Tuesday evening.

Into the Woods is a hit musical – and recently a major motion picture! – based on the characters from classic Grimm fairytales. It’s a smart, whimsical and FUN show, and I could tell it was special from the moment I got to rehearsal. The space radiated with anticipation and energy, as intricate sets were being constructed, complex choreography was being perfected, and actors ran their lines with friends.

YAI is a performing arts 501c3 organization in St. Paul, MN that gives local youth access to high quality arts programs, and helps up and coming artists within the community get their feet wet directing, choreographing, and managing shows. Participants in the program are taught how to be on stage and behind the scenes, as they learn how to work lights and sounds during tech week, while being encouraged to take on stage roles that suit their comfort level. It was incredible to see the young actors who I had talked to before rehearsal began, some of whom were a little shy or reserved with me, come – BANG! – to life when in character, confidently singing and dancing across the stage!

I spoke with a few of the young cast members, and their enthusiasm for the show and for the program was intoxicating. Some had learned of YAI through friends who had participated, but many specifically sought out a place where they could be deeply involved in theater in an affordable way. They participated in show after show, year after year, making new friends across different communities and growing in confidence.

Barb Deming, a YAI board member whose children had originally introduced her to the program, let me know that many theater programs can be incredibly expensive to partake in, and that’s where YAI strives to be different. The six-week summer program, which practices five nights per week, is exceptionally inexpensive and offers scholarship opportunities to youths who need assistance, and its shows are reasonably priced and easy to attend!

This show and these kids are truly a can’t-miss, and YAI’s performances are a spectacle of the highest class. Can’t wait to see you there!

Performances of Into the Woods, Jr. will be held August 6th – August 9th at the Wellstone Center in St. Paul, and tickets can be purchased at the door or online at www.youngartistsmn.org.

YAI is also looking for volunteers to help transport some larger set pieces to the Wellstone Center this Saturday (8/1), an easy two-mile trip from the rehearsal space. To see how you can help, contact YAI Director Benjamin Lacina at Benjamin@youngartistsmn.org.