Osseo, MN-based Yellow Tree Theatre has appointed Austene Van as its next Producing Artistic Director. Van will succeed founders Jason Peterson and Jessica Lind Peterson, who formed the regional theatre powerhouse in 2008.
Austene Van is a multi-talented theatre professional with more than three decades’ experience in the performing arts as social justice-based director, performer, choreographer, administrator, and educator. Her many theatre credits include productions at the Guthrie, Penumbra, Children’s Theatre Company, Ten Thousand Things, and Mixed Blood, among others. She was also 2013-2014 McKnight Theatre Fellow, a Woodie Award nominee, and an Ivey Award recipient. She was the Associate Artistic Director of the History Theatre from 2011-2013, where she curated new work for Raw Stages Play Festivals, and is the founding Artistic Director of the Twin Cities-based New Dawn Theatre Company.
Van’s Yellow Tree credits include her critically acclaimed staging of The Royale by Marco Ramirez in 2018 (named a Top Ten Production of the Year by Minneapolis Star Tribune), and her 2020 staging and co-production of Skeleton Crew by Dominique Morisseau – the last fully-staged production seen at Yellow Tree before the pandemic hit.
In its 12 years of existence, the award-winning Yellow Tree has made a huge splash in the Twin Cities’ theater scene and attracted national attention. Its lauds include a National Theatre Company Grant from the American Theatre Wing, two Ivey Awards, the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council Arts Achievement Award, and financial support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the McKnight Foundation, and Minnesota State Arts Board. Numerous Yellow Tree productions have sold out houses and drawn artists from prominent Twin Cities stages. Its pandemic programming has included a series of outdoor and virtual programming created by local artists.
Yellow Tree founders Jason and Jessica Lind Peterson will not be resting on their own laurels, instead pursuing new opportunities in Duluth. Jessica Peterson reflected on the transition, stating, “As we contemplated stepping away from Yellow Tree, Austene Van was always in our minds as someone who we knew would be an extraordinary successor. As a director and co-producer, she has brought some of YTT’s most beautiful and impactful plays to life on our stage. Our patrons already know Austene and her work, she is deeply rooted in and cares for this community, and we feel a kindred spirit with her that is a little bit magical. She is passionate about caring for artists, passionate about opening YTT’s doors wider to be more inclusive, and as an artist and educator she has a legacy in the Twin Cities that is truly unparalleled.”
The national search that ultimately hired Austene Van took several months. “Jason and I are over the moon that Austene rose to the top,” said Jessica Peterson. “Austene is one of the bravest, most versatile, most compelling theater makers in the Twin Cities. With her at the helm, Yellow Tree will be in very capable hands.”
Austene Van waxed eloquently about the Petersons’ legacy. “This beautiful and brilliant couple have founded and established something so special, nothing short of extraordinary,” she said. “And I am overjoyed to carry on Yellow Tree’s bright torch and expand upon their rich legacy.”
“I am deeply rooted and dedicated to touching diverse communities with excellent art which peaks awareness, transforms and empowers by way of giving vision to those that may feel unseen and voice to those that may feel unheard through powerful, relatable and often joyful stories of our shared human experiences,” said Ms. Van. “Which is why assuming the role of Yellow Tree’s Producing Artistic Director is a perfect fit for me. Plainly put, what Jason and Jessica have built with Yellow Tree – their mission, commitment to community, diversity, inclusion and dynamic programming is the blood that runs through my marrow, aligning with who I have been and have become as an artist, educator, administrator and theater maker. Because of the Petersons’ work, Yellow Tree audiences are already primed for stellar, cutting-edge content, diverse casting, new work and classic plays with relevant twists.”
Van’s appointment at Yellow Tree Theatre does not mean the end of New Dawn Theatre Company, which will continue to operate (including its A Breath for George piece responding to the events of May 2020). New Dawn plans to mount one play per year as a co-production with Yellow Tree.
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