Every piece of art fits in a genre. These range from broad academic terms like modernism/classical and include more specific categories like buddy cop movie or new-wave smooth jazz. Everything from television, to music, and sculpture can fit into these groupings. When we created the Theater of Public Policy, it was because we noticed the theater scene lacked live political comedy. The beauty of our show though, is that it can occupy all of those micro-areas of public policy. Much like how a sports-movie-underdog-story can be about basketball, golf, or curling, our show can be about any area of public policy.
That’s the itch we’ve been able to scratch. There is very little representation of most of these issues in the arts. You can see a case for clean drinking water in a movie like Erin Brockovich or the play Urinetown, but it’s still a niche subject. Even then, there’s still not a local version. How many times have you seen a community production about the Farm Bill or saw an interpretive dance about long term healthcare?
With our show, we’re able to weave between those multiple niche genres. We can do one show that speaks to Minnesota’s thousands of educators while another topic explores the role of electrical workers. This is why we’ve felt that people have really identified with the show. We’ve been able to show any group, that we’re able to explore their passion and turn it into a piece of entertainment that does it justice and makes them laugh.
Many improviser troupes experiment with genres and different gimmicks. Some of them range from the broad like “Action Movie” or go narrower like “Star Trek: The Next Improvisation.” I feel that many of these shows have been successful, because of the reasons that I outlined above. You’re bringing theater to audiences that have normally been marginalized by the theater community. When was the last time the Guthrie or the Minnesota Orchestra did a performance about Dungeons and Dragons? It’s a case of offering something that no one else can or does.
However, there is a danger of becoming too formulaic. Audiences appreciate nuances and feeling “in” on the joke. You do run the risk of shutting out people who aren’t in on in it if you rely too much on jargon or inside information. While that can keep lay people out, it can also turn away those in the know. If you become predictable, you’re now boring and are no longer provocative. Part of it is knowing that you need to leave people wanting more and when it’s time to stop. With our show, we keep it fresh by exploring an unlimited amount of sub-genres. We’ve recently branched out into art itself at the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts. In fact, you could probably say that we’ve gone up a genre and could now categorize ourselves as an interview-based improv comedy show. There’s an untold amount of subjects and people to talk with. Hopefully, we can continue to keep innovating for years to come.