For one day, a city becomes a comedy improv stage

Communities / Article

Photos courtesy of Theater of Public Policy.

In an instant-messaging age, when even email is dismissed as an outmoded form of communication, the notion of sending in-person, door-to-door greetings is downright antique. That isn’t keeping one Twin Cities comedy company from resurrecting the format with a contemporary spin. Theater of Public Policy has built a reputation for whip-smart, issues-oriented comedy, but the company’s Knight-funded All St. Paul’s a Stage project is an apolitical undertaking. “It’s a kind of twist on the singing telegram,” said Theater of Public Policy co-founder Brandon Boat. “Instead of a singing performance, it’s a comedy performance.”

The troupe is soliciting ideas from people around St. Paul who want to send an “improvgram” message to friends or co-workers. “It’s a co-creation process. We’re looking for ideas and feedback from people who want to connect with people in their city,” said Boat. “We’ll send a team of performers to that location, where they’ll create improv comedy completely based off of whatever suggestion we’re given.”

Theater of Public Policy has pulled together a group of 54 improv performers for the day-long event. The improvisers will be split up into three-person teams and dispatched to various regions of St. Paul, with each team responsible for a specific zone. Improv is by definition a one-time-only event, which makes each of these performances all the more special. It’s both an extremely limited-engagement arts event and the rare gift that can be described as truly unique.

Part of the inspiration for All St. Paul’s a Stage is right there in the name. “Anywhere should be a spot for performance, or a place to think creatively, even if it doesn’t have red curtains or a space downtown,” said Boat. Pretty much anyplace where people come together is in play here, from office buildings to public parks to private residences.

“So far the orders we’ve received have been either people who want to send a positive message to their co-workers, to congratulate the team on a milestone or give them a morale boost. We kind of joked that people could send to their friends or enemies, but nobody here’s been sending to their enemies.” While the orders have thus far been trickling in, Boat and co-founder Tane Danger expect a larger swell of requests as the word of mouth spreads. “It’s one of those things where people go, ‘Yeah, that’s great! I’ll do it in a little bit!’ or just keep putting it off. We’re expecting kind of a huge rush toward the middle of the opening and then toward the end, before we close it.”

It makes sense that a massive improv production is traveling in largely unscripted territory. Boat said there simply isn’t much of a road map for putting on an event of this scale. “We’re kind of taking a leap of faith that this is something that people will find exciting and interesting, doing lots and lots of theater performances in offices and parks and coffee shops, et cetera. It’ll be interesting to see how people respond to that, whether it’s well received or people think, ‘Wow, that was weird. I’ve never had a performance like that in my workspace.’”

Boat and Danger hope that their stage will eventually expand past its already broad borders. “We want to do a minimum of 300 performances [in August], and do it throughout the city of Saint Paul,” said Boat. “We also see it as something that has room to reach beyond Saint Paul. We’re hoping we can take from this experience and build a model that we could use in Minneapolis, or Washington, D.C., or Austin, or Portland, or Butte, Montana. We have the knowledge and experience to be able to drop it in and work with local talent there and local partnerships and people and do it all over again.”

If audiences take away one thing from All St. Paul’s a Stage, Boat hopes it’s their own role in making the project a success. “This is a big co-creation. We’re improvisers, so we need suggestions from residents of Saint Paul and beyond for this to happen. What we’re doing is not anything we could create ourselves. We’re relying on ideas, suggestions from everywhere else. I think it’s a really cool art project in that sense. It’s collaborative on such a huge level that I don’t think has ever been attempted before.”

All St. Paul’s a Stage takes place Friday, Aug. 19 at multiple locations around St. Paul. For more information, or to schedule an improvgram, visit http://dangerboat.net/improvgram