Statewide civic-improv comedy tour looks to bridge divides in Minnesota communities

Three people doing improv comedy on a stage
The Sketches of Minnesota tour is intended to use improv comedy to help create civic conversations in Minnesota communities.
Courtesy Danger Boat Productions

The Minnesota Humanities Center is partnering with a local improv production company to host a civic-improv comedy tour.

In each city or town, Danger Boat Productions will produce a unique event that brings residents together for meaningful conversation about their hometown.

It encourages participants to reflect thoughts and feelings through improvisational comedy to promote dialogue, bridge divides and work across differences.

Applications are open through Friday for Minnesota communities to apply. Trygve Throntveit with the Minnesota Humanities Center and Tane Danger with Danger Boat Productions joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer to talk about the Sketches of Minnesota tour.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Perhaps you've heard of the Theater of Public Policy. It's a Twin Cities troupe that uses improv comedy to get people talking about big ideas and thorny public policy issues. Who knew laughing about tax increment financing could be so fun? Danger Boat Productions is behind that effort and a new one called The Sketches of Minnesota-- Civic Improv Comedy Tour. It's a partnership with the Minnesota Humanities Center. The goal, to promote dialogue, bridge divides, and work across differences.

If your community should be a stop on this tour, the sign-up deadline is Friday. Joining us right now with more is Tane Danger with Danger Boat Productions and Trygve Throntveit with the Minnesota Humanities Center. Trygve and Tane, welcome. How are you both?

TANE DANGER: Hello, thank you.

TRYGVE THRONTVEIT: I'm well, Cathy. Thanks very much. And many points for the pronunciation of my name.

CATHY WURZER: I'm trying hard here, Trygve.


CATHY WURZER: Tryg, I understand that I can call you Tryg. Is that right?


CATHY WURZER: OK. OK, thank you. Tell us about this project. How in the heck did you or Tane or both of you come to an agreement that this is a project that should be around the state of Minnesota?

TRYGVE THRONTVEIT: Yeah, thank you. Well, it's been our privilege to work with Tane on other projects with the Westminster Town Hall Forum and to get to know him in those capacities. And Tane shared with we want day over coffee that he had this dream of doing a tour around Minnesota, where a troupe listened to people having serious conversations and kind of played back what they heard and allowed people to laugh and bond over their shared and diverse stories about their community.

And that sounded like something that was right up the Humanities Center's alley. Our mission is to bring people together with high-quality humanities experiences, by which we just mean ways to tell and share stories about ourselves in the world. And we thought it would be fun to try doing that through humor. So we thought maybe the Humanities Center could bring its expertise and facilitating conversations that are serious and meaningful but depolarizing. And we could merge that with Tane and his friends' many talents. I am not an improv comedy artist. So we certainly needed to outsource that work. And that's how the idea came about.

CATHY WURZER: Say Tane, how different is this with what you're doing-- have done for years with the Theater of Public Policy?

TANE DANGER: Right. So I'm very excited about this project. So as you noted, the Theater of Public Policy is a show we've done for more than a decade, where we usually have an expert up on stage that I will interview about a particular topic. And then we bring that to life through improv comedy. Now the big difference with this project is instead of having one expert up on stage, we are democratizing the whole thing.

Everything that our cast of improv comedy performers are going to do is inspired and informed by real conversations by people in each of the towns that we will visit. So everything that they do through their comedy and their performance will be things that they heard individual or small groups of people talking about in what matters to them about their community, what they think the future of that place might be, what they think that are misconceptions about it. So it has similar ideas, but I love it because it's a true democratization of a performance and an art form.

CATHY WURZER: OK. Now Tane, I love your work but give me an example of how this might sound in real life. So perhaps you're in Fergus Falls, OK? And you've got a bunch of people gathered in Fergus. And I have no idea what issue might be hot in Fergus. Pick one. How would you play that out?

TANE DANGER: So here's-- I mean, and it's totally fair what you're saying in that we don't know what the specific issues are going to be. We're getting that from the people in the community. And so we're going to go in and with the Humanities Center help, we're going to facilitate a conversation. And we're going to ask people exactly those things. Like, what is really important and you love about your community? What are the things people get wrong about it? What are the ways that you imagine its future are going to be?

So you can imagine-- I mean, you could imagine somebody saying like, I'm really excited about the burgeoning and growing art scene here in Fergus Falls. And our team taking pieces of that and hearing the story of the brand new art gallery that opened or the new community center and doing a set of scenes, a bit of theater, around what that experience has been like, what the interactions with people have been like.

You can also imagine people saying things that are really hard, like, talking about worries that they have that people are moving away from a community, or the population isn't growing the way that it used to be. And you can do some things with humor in that in sort of maybe taking that to a certain place and having a little fun with that. But at the end of the day, what you're doing is you're reflecting back, as Tryg was talking about, a real story, like something people are really thinking about and concerned about in their community and giving them a chance to engage with it in this whole other kind of way, where they're, hopefully, processing and laughing and listening with each other.


TRYGVE THRONTVEIT: And this is where the-- oh go ahead.

CATHY WURZER: I was actually going to say--

TRYGVE THRONTVEIT: I was just going to say, this is where the--

CATHY WURZER: --where do you think--


Why do you think something like this is needed at this moment?

TRYGVE THRONTVEIT: Well, thank you. I think for exactly the reason that Tane mentioned at the beginning, we need to, I think, democratize some of our democracy work or bring back to the people some of our civic work. Rather than the Humanities Center and Danger Boat Productions coming into a town and saying, these are the issues need to care about, and we're going to walk you through how to solve them, I think we need to come in and say, We care about your community building its own capacity to think, learn, and work together across differences.

So we're going to come in, set up a dinner with some general questions that get at, What do you care about, and what concerns you about your town? We're going to listen to those, have them played back by these talented comedians. And then the Minnesota Humanities Center is going to facilitate a talkback, where people can say, you know what? That really landed. That was great. Or they can say, you know, that one bit isn't exactly the story I would tell about my town.

I think people need to feel that they are the agents of the work that so many nonprofit organizations are committed to doing and advancing. And that they have the ability to directly shape the work of depolarizing our society and building good things in their communities. I could probably talk forever about why I think that's necessary these days. But I think, hopefully, many of your listeners will kind of resonate with what I'm saying.

CATHY WURZER: You mentioned depolarization. How will you gauge the success of this effort just using that as a metric perhaps? Any thoughts on that?

TRYGVE THRONTVEIT: The complete end of all polarization. Now--


TRYGVE THRONTVEIT: --I think if we can get several communities to turn out, and we can document some stories of people truly listening to one another, learning things from people not only that they consider to be very different from themselves, but even people that they assumed kind of agreed with them on most things. We're not going to change the world with this show. But I think social change has to happen organically.

And I think this is a way if we can document that this kind of work does help individuals, families, friend groups, and communities make some progress toward listening to and working with one another across differences. That's my modest aim for the program.

TANE DANGER: And I got to just say, I think that there's a huge piece of this that I'm excited about. We also need to make that work fun. Like, it shouldn't be drudgery to come together as a community. And in terms of that depolarization, I always come back to this quote from Stephen Colbert that I love very much and I repeat which is, it's really difficult to laugh and be afraid at the same time, because if you're laughing, you can't be afraid.

And I am really hopeful that-- not that we're going to shy away-- we're actually going to lean into hard stuff. But if we can do it in a way where you can get a group of people together and they are laughing together in a community, that they are going to see the humanity in one another. And that is going to take us a long way to that depolarization.

CATHY WURZER: Say, Tane, I can see where you'd go around the state and have some really great conversations. Is there an event planned where maybe you take everything all together and have, I don't know, like a final showcase or something like that?

TANE DANGER: That is such a good question, Cathy. That absolutely so, this is the second beat of this whole project. So we're going to go around to between 5 and 10 different communities this summer. And those applications are open now. And we're going to do one of these shows in each of these places. And we are going to bring along a sketch writer, somebody who's an a scriptwriter who's going to be collecting stories in each place.

So then the goal is at the end of the summer, we're going to weave together little pieces that we heard in every single place that we visited into one final scripted show that will be something of a tour or a snapshot of Minnesota in 2024. And you'll get to hear little pieces of each of the communities through a theater performance in say 60 minutes or less.

And yeah, so the goal is absolutely in addition to reflecting back within these communities, there's going to be a big piece at the end that we'll invite everybody to that you can see a little bit of what all these different communities had to say and how they were similar, maybe how they were different. And hopefully, again, this is my optimistic part, like, how we all are Minnesotans together.

CATHY WURZER: Quick, quick, Trygve. If a person is listening in Fergus Falls, how do they apply for the program?

TRYGVE THRONTVEIT: Thank you very much. They can go to the Minnesota Humanities Center website. It's mnhun-- I'm sorry, and find the tab that brings them to the Sketches of Minnesota site. And hopefully, we can put it on your website too. It's a very simple application that just asks, Why do you want to do this? And who do you want to partner with? And where would you do it? And when do you think you could do it? And applications are open through Friday.


TRYGVE THRONTVEIT: Hope to see more come in.

CATHY WURZER: We will see what we can do for you both. Thank you for your time. We appreciate it. Nice talking to you.

TANE DANGER: Thank you, Cathy.

TRYGVE THRONTVEIT: Thank you very much, Cathy.

CATHY WURZER: Bye-bye. Trygve Throntveit is with the Minnesota Humanities Center. Tane Danger is with Danger Boat Productions. That link will be at

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