A 10-minute play festival would’ve been easier

A few weeks after I sent my ideas to the Knight Foundation Arts Challenge, I got a call from someone with the foundation. Which of the ideas that I submitted did I like better, the 10-minute play festival or a snowblower ballet?

My immediate thoughts were the 10-minute play festival would be easier. I’ve written 10-minute plays. I knew we could attract interesting submissions from playwrights of all types. Ten-minute plays typically feature small casts and minimal staging. Even if we couldn’t get permission to stage the plays on Green Line light rail platforms in the 10-minute wait between trains as I proposed, we could stage them in a venue like a bar.

A snowblower ballet, though, needs a sizeable outdoor venue, snowblowers, dancers, music, a sound system. It needs snow, which can never be guaranteed.  It would be more expensive and harder to pull off. But my gut told me it would be a really fun and different event, one that could have a bigger impact. So that’s part of the reason why we’re here.

The St. Paul Snowblower Ballet: The origin story

So where did the idea of creating a public art performance involving a dance with snowblowers and snow shovels come from?

It started with a move and some downsizing of myself and a parent. In the end, I had two extra snow blowers, but I no longer had a driveway that I needed to shovel.

I could have sold  the snowblowers, but something made me wonder what would it be like to run both snowblowers at the same time with another person, a sort of pas de deux with two-stroke engines.

And when I heard that the James S. and John S. Knight Foundation Arts Challenge was looking for arts projects to support in St. Paul, I thought, “Why not?”

I knew the Knight Foundation has funded some offbeat ideas like the Floating Library.

And I was a guest curator at another Knight Foundation-funded project, the Smallest Museum in St. Paul, a micro-museum in a former fire hose cabinet at Workhorse Coffee Bar.

So last spring I submitted a handful of ideas: a contest to compose a new song about St. Paul, community singalongs, a 10-minute play festival to be staged on Green Line train platforms.

And I suggested this:

“The beauty of falling snow has inspired artists ranging from poet Robert Frost to painter Pieter Bruegel.
But what about the aesthetic value in getting rid of the stuff?
Plowing, shoveling and blowing snow is a winter nuisance for St. Paul. We’d like to give folks here a new perspective by getting them to see the beauty in the task.
Imagine a snow-covered parking lot in a St. Paul park. Ballet music begins, punctuated by the sound of engines being started.
The dancers, recruited from the community, move onto the venue, pushing snowblowers in precise formations, pivoting and wheeling, describing symmetrical patterns in the snow, the white powder being thrown into the air in coordinated arcs. Shovelers, pitching the snow in time with the music join the performance, watched by a live audience and filmed from above by drones, creating a viral video scene.”

Then I waited to see what the folks in Miami, the home of the Knight Foundation, would think about the idea of Minnesotans dancing with snow.