Alumni Using Improv to Engage Citizens

Posted on December 16th, 2011 by

Improvisational theater is in the blood of Gustavus Adolphus College alumnus Tane Danger ’07. Danger founded the College’s LineUs Improv Comedy Troupe when he was a first-year student in 2003. In November 2010, Danger and several fellow Gustavus alumni started the Walrus Improv Comedy Troupe in the Twin Cities. And now Danger is involved in a new improv venture—one that is aimed not only at entertaining audiences, but also at increasing civic engagement and encouraging people to think about bigger issues.

“My passion has always been improv, politics, and public policy,” Danger said. “I always wanted to see if there was a way to do improv about big and important things.”

Danger and Brandon Boat ’08 started bouncing ideas off each other about how they could formulate a show that would be funny and tackle big issues at the same time. After reaching out to the Citizens League of Minnesota, the Bush Foundation, and a community based initiative called InCommons, Danger said the idea came together quite quickly.

It’s called The Theater of Public Policy, and Danger and his group recently finished a successful two-month run at HUGE Theater in Minneapolis.

This is how it works: The show starts with Danger interviewing an expert guest for 10-15 minutes about current issues facing our society today. Then improvisers, who were on stage taking notes, create scenes based on the ideas, debates, questions, and anecdotes that emerge from the interview. After 15-20 minutes of scenes, the guest comes back on stage for a question and answer session with the audience. The improvisers then conclude the 70-minute performance with another set of scenes based on the Q & A session.

Front row: Maggie Sotos '09, Terry Morrow, Brandon Boat '08; Back row: Tane Danger '07, Logan Martin '06, former Gustavus and current St. Catherine University professor Jim Robinson.

Guests have included Gustavus professor and state legislator Terry Morrow, former Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Peter Hutchinson, Minnesota Public Radio Chief Economics Correspondent Chris Farrell, University of Minnesota professor Rolf Westgard, and Metropolitan Council member Jon Commers.

 

Issues tackled included healthcare, the costs of higher education, renewable energy sources, transportation, and the struggling U.S. economy.

“I wasn’t 100 percent sure it was going to work, but we are thrilled with how it is turning out,” Danger said. “The audiences really respond to it, as do the expert guests. People leave the shows saying ‘wow, I never thought about it that way before,’ which is exactly what we want to happen.”

Besides Danger and Boat, alumnus Logan Martin ’06 is also a regular contributor to the show, and Maggie Sotos ’09 has served as a substitute. The show will be back at HUGE Theater starting in February for another two-month run of weekly shows. Danger helped bring the show beyond the Twin Cities once already with a special performance at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. The troupe is currently exploring opportunities to bring the show to other venues across the state.

While The Theater of Public Policy is still in its infancy, Danger believes that the idea has strong momentum going forward.

“There’s something really powerful about this idea of the audience being able to engage with politicians and public policy leaders,” he said. “We think what we’re doing is one way to improve the political dialogue in our community.”

For more information about The Theater of Public Policy, go online to incommons.org/t2p2 or follow the group on Facebook at facebook.com/TheTheaterofPublicPolicy.

 

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