"Imagine C-Span being swarmed by the cast of SNL and you've got the Theater of Public Policy." That’s how the Star Tribune once described the Twin Cities-based theater group and its comedic approach to hardline issues. That happens to be exactly what showrunners Tane Danger and Brandon Boat were going for when they launched their improvisational theater in 2011.
"We take hard, thinky things and turn them into improv comedy and use that to educate and entertain at the same time," Danger tells us. "We talk to experts on stage about really big issues and ideas — everything from health care to tax policy to education to economic development — and then we have a team of improv comedy performers who take everything we've talked about and bring it to life on stage."
The reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, but the show's premise was put to the test a year or so ago when it took on a topic we may not think of as particularly funny: planning for the end of one's life. "We did the show with two women, Brenda Hartman and Dr. Ann McIntosh, who both work in end-of-life care," Danger says. "I worried nobody was going to come because end-of-life care is a big, heavy issue, and I can totally understand people saying, 'You're going to do improv comedy about that?'" Instead, the show was a hit. "We sold out way ahead of time and had lots of folks telling us, 'I know this is an issue I should care about, but I've been nervous about talking about it, and this show was a good entry way into having that discussion.'"
That's how Amy Stelpflug hopes things will play out when Danger, Boat and company bring their "End of Life, Live and Unscripted" comedy-show-slash-discussion to the Rochester Civic Theatre for two free shows next month. Stelpflug, volunteer coordinator of Mayo Clinic's Hospice program in Rochester, tells us the timing is no accident. November is Hospice and Palliative Care Month. "Talking about what we want the end of our lives to look like isn't easy," she tells us. But having an open conversation "about what we'd want done, and not done, if we were ever unable to make decisions about our health care for ourselves" is important. As is putting it in writing "and placed into our medical record in the form of an advance health care directive."
And what better way to learn more about that than by laughing through the uncomfortableness of it all? "Before people see the show, they worry, 'Are you making fun of people dying?' And the answer is obviously no," Danger says. "The comedy and the humor we use comes from the awkwardness, the trepidation and the nervousness we all feel about dying. There’s a good line I like to borrow from Stephen Colbert, who said, ‘It’s very hard to laugh and be scared at the same time.’ We really believe that, and so by reflecting back at the audience that ‘Yes, everybody is nervous about end of life and everybody has trepidation and fear about it,’ it says, ‘That’s OK. We’re all in that same boat.'"
Sponsored by Mayo Clinic Hospice and Palliative Care and made free by a generous benefactor grant, the show will be performed on Thursday, Nov. 14, at 2 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. For more information or to reserve your (free) tickets to either show, visit rochestercivictheater.org. Then leave a comment below before using the handy social media tools to share this story with others.