by Tyler Olsen, Saint Paul, Minnesota
Bloody horror productions. Parkour performance with refugee teenagers. Guerilla-style ice cream socials. Post offices for the dead. Since our inception in 2011, Dangerous Productions (DP) has been anything but predictable. Founded by Tyler Olsen (PTP class of 2000), in just three years we’ve produced over 17 original productions, not including a host of community events, parties, and workshops.
So, what do we do? It’s a terrific question, and one that we think about a lot, as we try to figure out how the hell to market a wildly diverse and divergent catalog of work.
Where we’re at:
We have 4 core artistic values: Imagination, Accountability, Fearlessness, and Engagement.
We have 3 primary focuses:
Horror Performance and exploration.
Saint Paul Community Engagement via ridiculous hijinks and civic pride initiatives.
Education through performance, particularly for teens.
We have a mission statement: “As a Saint Paul based arts organization, we create art that empowers all who participate to be innovative, questioning and adventurous citizens of the world. “ We don’t like this mission statement. Truly, what we try to do is: affect positive change through tomorrow’s art. We’ve also said: Do good with crazy.
I took a lot of things away from Dell’Arte, but when I try to explain it to people, I say that it’s where I learned to work with people, care about my community, and be crazy. The sense of anarchy and ferocity present in the Dell’Arte education is fundamental to the work we do, and it shows. Our last show, Happy Craziest New Year, which we described as half show, half olympics, half party, teetered on the edge of total anarchy, with a dance party button that anybody can press at any time, cabbage thrown by audience members at performers they didn’t like, and enough vodka to keep Russia happy for at least an hour.
And then, our next project is the broadway musical Spring Awakening, presented by a group of High Schoolers from around Minnesota, followed by a terrifying immersive version of Crime and Punishment (with Live Action Set, founded by Dell’Arte alumni Noah Bremer (‘02), followed by Jungle2Jungle, where we work with Karen refugees from Burma and Thailand to tell their stories via high octane performance games.
With a core group of a dozen artists (including alumni Robie Hayek (PTP ‘00) and Chris Rowe (PTP '11) , we’ve dashed from one project to the next in the deceptively quiet city of Saint Paul, which is one thing we think sets us apart from a lot of other companies here, most of which are Minneapolis-based. But Saint Paul was here first, and we like to think that our work fits more with the pioneering spirit of MN’s capital city. The Twin Cities claim to have 2nd highest rate of theater goers per capita, (second only to NYC), and the theater scene is booming with companies and work. State arts funding is plentiful, as is funding from foundations. Indeed, it’s a great place to be an artist.
It also has the highest achievement gap in the country, with racial inequality veiled beneath a heavy cloak of our famous “Minnesota Nice”. Indeed, there is something rotten in the Scandinavian center of the US.
Which brings us back to “what does Dangerous Productions do?”
Our horror shows are what we’re most known for in these here parts. They’re bloody, abstract, physical, experimental, and we’ve heard they’re scary as hell. From an artistic standpoint, I love the rule-less nature of horror, the imagination/creativity it allows, and the absolute buy in you get from the audience. I’ve seen audience members scream, faint, and even once, vomit. These are different reactions than laughing, which can happen for a variety of reasons- you think it’s funny, it’s clever, you know the person doing it… But fear response is real. It’s instinctual and I think people love it for that reason. Theater audiences often come to a show with the tacit agreement that you must behave a certain way. Especially in Minnesota, where we are nice. We are supportive. We like to see each other succeed.
But this culture of “nice” can be detrimental, especially as Minnesota continues to see its population become more and more diverse. The work we’ve done with refugees and taking them to shows has shed a lot of light on the fact that a lot of the theater available just doesn’t connect to a non-stereotypical “theater” audience. It might even be said that MN’s achievement gap isn’t just about test scores.
When you see something truly scary, audience members don’t have to “act”. They just “are”. Terror, fear- they let you just be your true self with a group of strangers for a little bit.
One of the review of our horror show HEAR NO EVIL (which featured 7 women and a 55 gallon tub of blood. There was a snorkel on the prop list) said of our work ““they represent a potential gateway for piquing the interests of people who think they don’t like live theater.”
That’s what we’re trying to do.