A funny twist on the mayoral forum

By Laura Marrinan
Murphy News Service

The Theater of Public Policy hosted an improv mayoral forum to help unpack some of the issues in the marathon campaign for Minneapolis mayor Wednesday night at Bryant Lake Bowl. The forum bounced between the candidates discussing some of the issues and improv actors break down the material through unscripted comedic sketches.

“The idea in general was, can you make public policy and politics fun and civil without necessarily losing the value of the conversation that you’re trying to have,” said Tane Danger, co-founder, director and host of The Theater of Public Policy.

From Superman costumes to a proposed wall around the city, the mayoral candidates tried their best to get laughs of their own, but the theater’s actors earned the big laughs from the packed house.

“[Humor] helps break down the roles we put ourselves in,” Danger said. “It’s not to poke fun or belittle anybody.”

Former City Council President Jackie Cherryhomes, city Audit Committee Vice Chair Stephanie Woodruff, attorney Cam Winton, Park Board Commissioner Bob Fine and City Council members Betsy Hodges and Don Samuels all took the stage, but Independent candidate Dan Cohen missed due to illness. An invitation was also extended to former Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Andrew.

Orchestra Hall, public transportation, homelessness, public subsidies and the mayor’s involvement in education were all on the table for debate. In a free-for-all format, candidates were able to jump in whenever they wanted without set time limits.

As the emcee and moderator of the discussion, Danger was able to dig deeper into the candidates’ responses and make the issues understandable for a broader audience.

When asked for a proposed solution for Orchestra Hall, most candidates explained he or she have everyone involved sit down together and hash it out. Danger was quick to try and dig deeper.

“I’m sure somebody else was like ‘Oh, we should have everybody come together’ and either they don’t come together or they come together and it doesn’t work,” Danger said. “Help us get beyond that.”

When asked how each candidate has arrived at the forum, Fine received the biggest laugh when he stripped down on-stage to reveal a Superman onesie.

“I certainly didn’t come here by streetcar, it’s a luxury we can’t afford,” Fine said in reference to the proposed Nicollet-Central streetcar line.

When the candidates were asked to discuss subsidies, Cherryhomes mentioned the positive outcome of investing in downtown Target and acknowledged the mistake in investing in Block E, which brought an audible “Whoops!” from the crowd.

“In retrospect, it wasn’t a good decision,” she said. “I own it. You learn from it. You move on.”

Winton commended her for taking responsibility and the improv actors took over and quickly pulled together a sketch on the Block E that received roars of laughter.

All the cast members have been working together in improv for over a year, Danger said. For this particular debate they had done some research on the candidates’ policies, but the topics that were discussed on-stage were where the cast drew material.

“This is probably one of the biggest decisions Minneapolis voters are going to make this year,” Danger said, “and we really want to sort of help contribute to that conversation.” 

Laura Marrinan is studying journalism at the University of Minnesota

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