Happy Frogtown highlights the artistic heart of a historic neighborhood

Arts / Article

Happy Hot Chocolate. Photo via Dangerous Productions.

Standing outside a makeshift tent, two actors clad in blaze-orange jackets offer their parka-clad audience advice on planting a winter garden, scooping up handfuls of snow and sprinkling them across the ground as their seminar grows increasingly absurd. Several minutes in, a small boy springs up from the crowd and squeezes the bulb on a bicycle horn dangling over the crowd. The actors promptly stop their sketch, hop into a waiting plastic toboggan and speed off down the steep slope behind them.

Obviously performing outdoor theater in Saint Paul in February requires certain concessions to nature. Dangerous Productions’ Happy Hot Chocolate performance, the first installment in their Knight-funded Happy Frogtown series, leaned gleefully into the curve. Blessed with a reasonably warm Saturday, with temperatures hovering just above freezing, the theater company invited the public out to the new Frogtown Farm grounds for two afternoon shows of sketch comedy, marshmallow art, and of course, the titular beverage.

The crowd (roughly 100 people over both shows) was chilly but enthusiastic, generally giving the performers a fair chance to dig into their sketches before enacting the “Gong Show” style failsafe. Of course, this was also designed as a kid-friendly show, and for kids of a certain age there’s not much a theater company can do that tops forcing an adult to barrel down a frozen hill for the fourth time in ten minutes. The horn blasts came more quickly as the show moved along, with the performers gamely diving to their doom every time.

Dangerous Productions co-founder Tyler Olsen said that kind of spontaneous interactivity is what the endeavor is all about. “The whole point of the Happy Frogtown project is to show that things can happen where you don’t normally think they can happen, and in ways that you don’t normally think they can happen. We also wanted to maintain a flavor of Minnesota and of Frogtown. There are few places in the United States where people would be crazy enough or silly enough to not only do a show outside in the middle of winter, but also to know that people will come to a show in the middle of winter.”

Marshmallow Art. Photo via Dangerous Productions.

A production like Happy Hot Chocolate comes with some fairly specific venue requirements. Fortunately, the neighborhood provided the Dangerous team with an ideal staging area. “We knew we wanted to do something outside,” said Olsen, “and the Frogtown Farm is the only sledding hill in Frogtown. It’s a really cool spot. You get a view of the cathedral, and of downtown. It’s very picturesque.”

With the first – and hopefully chilliest – of their performances now under their belts, Dangerous Productions is looking ahead to an eventful year of making art all over Saint Paul’s historic Frogtown neighborhood. “This is the first of six events that we’re going to be having,” said Olsen. “The next one after this is a cabaret type of show, the Pi Day Cabaret.” That whirlwind event promises to push the spontaneity even further, calling on interested artists to assemble at noon on March 14, spend the day brainstorming and developing acts, and then put on a full-fledged performance at 8 p.m.

While the members of Dangerous Productions are based in all corners of the Twin Cities, the neighborhood-specific focus of this project has proven to be an expansive experience rather than a limiting one. “What we’re really looking forward to with Happy Frogtown is there’s a whole new community of artists here who we’re excited to make things happen with and to start playing with,” said Olsen. “We’ve already lined up some videographers and artists from the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent. They’re our partner for the Pi Day Cabaret. That’s the other big thrust of Happy Frogtown, pushing to connect with other communities of Saint Paul artists. It’s all about collaboration and working with new people and having fun.”

Dangerous Productions’ next Happy Frogtown event is the Pi Day Cabaret at the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent, March 14. For more information, visit http://www.dangerousproductions.org.