I have the title Artistic Director of the Mixed Blood Theatre. I admittedly often feel like an imposter having that title. This picture embodies my sentiments about visiting an art museum, which I only consider my own deficiency.

But there is an art style to which I am drawn: pointillism. Like pointillism, I create art that connects social, political, cultural, racial, environmental, and other dots into one seamless vision.

Let me tell you about disparate experiences that led me to create the dots that are the “brushstrokes” of our upcoming extravaganza, AUTONOMY.

Each June the Minnesota Street Rod Association hosts “Back to the 50’s” at the State Fair Grounds. 10,000 cars from before 1964 gather at that site, but between days they cruise on Snelling and University Avenues. Tens of thousands of people bring lawn chairs and just watch these moving works of art come to them and by them, conjuring a myriad emotional reactions. I have always believed that we in the performing arts could learn from this phenomenon.

A dozen years ago I went to a Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, TX and saw the “drive-through life of Jesus.” At the curbcut a parishioner would ask “CD or cassette?” in reference to your car’s sound system. The driver would then drive a ¾ mile course, passing installation after installation, each with scores of “actors” embodying the life of Christ, underscored on your own car’s sound system! While in December, this wasn’t a Nativity, but rather a lifescape, from manger to crucifix.

For 14 years I drove in the Demolition Derby at the State Fair. (I am the “voice of demo derby” on the State Fair’s walking tour!”) Each Saturday in the summer I go to the car races at a small dirt track: Viking Speedway. I go to car shows and, as middle age set in, I get whiplash from quickly turning while driving to look at an awesome car.

From all of this comes AUTONOMY. The dots we connect are climate change, autonomous vehicles, and immigration. The art forms we merge are auto design, movies, and live theater. The delivery system is reminiscent of a Disney ride or miniature golf course. The cast has 26 actors and over 40 remarkable cars. The stage size is 70,000 square feet.

Please come be driven through your art via the Drive Through Theatre experience of AUTONOMY May 9-12 at RiverCentre in St. Paul. Here are a few of the cast members:

In the movie Scarface, Al Pacino’s Tony Montana memorably says, “Say hello to my little friends!” Well, I want you to say hello to a few of my big friends who dot the cast of our upcoming production of AUTONOMY. They, too, are beautiful, powerful pieces of metal that are instrumental in telling an altogether different tale in an altogether different way.

How can climate change, autonomous vehicles, and immigration be married in a theatrical event that stars 20 actors and 40 cars plus a Hollywood-made movie on a 70,000 square foot stage…with moving seats?! We at Mixed Blood have been working since 2017 to bring this to life: drive-through theater.

In the subcultures of car collectors, climate change activists, immigration policy champions, and scientists and engineers readying us for the greatest transportation revolution since cars replaced horses – autonomous vehicles – live a wealth of information and passion punctuated by an unparalleled generosity. 40 cars worth five million dollars or more have come to us gratis. From 3M engineers to a patriarch of AV (former GM Google VP) to locksmiths to robotics CEO’s to sign collectors to TV anchors to driverless cab companies to immigration attorneys to NHL hockey employees to philanthropic foundations, and so many more, AUTONOMY lives on the shoulders of disparate people who have believed in a vision to invent a new kind of theater, one that spurs awareness, but with a call to action.

As a director I am blessed to be surrounded by uber-talented friends who are willing to take a chance and perform, Groundhog Day-like, the same scene dozens of times to bring AUTONOMY to life. Ansa Akyea has been in at least one Mixed Blood show per year since 2005. Jamie Denton, who came from Desperate Housewives to Twin Cities theater and befriended me upon his arrival. Harry Waters, Jr., who was in the original Back To The Future, shares the limelight again with a DeLorean Time Machine in AUTONOMY. Fellow artistic director Randy Reyes, former child prodigy Nathan Barlow, my beloved daughter Taj, Mixed Blood stalwart Raul Ramos, Mermaid Hour’s Malachi Caballero, and newcomers Rainbow Dickerson, Isabella LaBlanc, and Kiko Laureano are but a portion of the cast members hoping to wow audiences traveling past them in/on electric vehicles.

No one will end up face down in a mountain of cocaine like Tony Montana, but AUTONOMY will be a celebration of play-making unlike anything we at Mixed Blood have tried before. Come join us!

My family has lived in Twin Cities since the 1880’s.

For decades I have worked on a block of 5,000 people of which the majority of people have lived in the Twin Cities (and the U.S.) for 5-10 years. On this block, I am able to bear witness to injustice on a global, national, regional, statewide, city, and community level as well as joy, love, and prosperity. I simultaneously love these cities and endeavor to make them better, seeking equity and quality of life for all.

Minneapolis City leaders in the 19th Century committed to a quality of life, hired a Park Superintendent (Theodore Wirth) who created a plan to make the park system a shining jewel, allowing businesses and government to attract – and retain – the best of the best. In the 1920’s and 30’s there was a second concerted effort to bridge the summers with virtuosic arts complementing natural beauty and creating an even greater quality of life. Multinational corporations sprouted and boasted of their corporate citizenship by almost competing philanthropically to support the arts, social services, education, and so much more. The Five Percent Club bragged about charitably distributing 5% of their pre-tax profits. The gauntlet was thrown and many publicly held and privately owned companies took the challenge.

A mentor of mine – himself a program officer for a major corporation at the time – warned me to never confuse corporate grantmaking with philanthropy. There was a myth that when fundraisers die and go to heaven, they land in Minnesota. Our progressive politics, generous philanthropy, abundance of multi-national corporate headquarters, and adventurous audiences allowed invention that often revealed the best of the best. After 43 years of leading a nonprofit corporation, corporate grantmaking has virtually disappeared as a gesture of munificence. It is now supply chain investment disguised as philanthropy.

As I look at a playbill from a 1995 Mixed Blood production, I see a corporate donor list that includes General Mills, Pillsbury, Honeywell, Ceridian, Cray, Control Data, Imation, Jostens, Land O’Lakes, Toro, International Multifoods, Valspar, Ameriprise, Ecolab, StarTribune, Cargill, Best Buy, Carlson Companies, Lamaur Industries, Fingerhut, Dayton Hudson, 3M, Medtronic, Northwest Banks, St. Paul Companies, First Banks, Twin Cities Federal, Dorsey Whitney, and more. Even after an unprecedented tax break, that list is down to a half dozen and the sizes of those gifts are dwarfed by their former amounts. Some moved, some merged, some were acquired, some folded. Ownership and leadership are not local and/or homegrown. Mixed Blood’s five biggest institutional givers are now not from Minnesota. The majority of philanthropic dollars come from outside Minnesota. Individuals who live here never cease to amaze me with their willingness to give not from abundance but from a desire to make a difference. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

The quality of life remains, to me, unparalleled, but the equation changes. The Legacy Amendment of 2008 was a game changer, pumping life, dollars, vision, and hope into the nonprofit arts sector. Art as a thing of beauty and catalyst of change has never been better in the Twin Cities, but the horizon is blurry and insidious. I urge you to find and appreciate the arts organizations that move your pleasure centers and your moral compass.

For more than four decades, Mixed Blood has sustained itself by folks like you giving to support our work. We’re a movement built by, with, and for all: join the movement.

Give now.

If the seats are full, the audience smiling, and the politicians are quiet, we are doing something wrong. As we close ROE, our quasi-objective theatrical portrait of the misunderstood Norma McCorvey (the eponymous Roe of Roe v Wade), its response was reflective of its impact. It was sold out the vast majority of its performances. We partnered with ACLU of Minnesota, Planned Parenthood Minnesota Advocate, NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota, and the Minnesota Historical Society. Participants in Continuing Legal Education on the Elimination of Bias attended as part of their accredited session.

There was adoration, pushback, and scorn. One person withdrew his support because Mixed Blood didn’t align with his Christian values. I invited that individual to attend and see if that point of view persisted after the curtain call. Another challenged the director who was quoted as saying that Norma wasn’t a good spokesperson for either side when she had been a crusader for the pro-life movement for 22 years.

As they exited the theater some people praised the work and some cursed at the theater. Mixed Blood’s Vision Statement reads, “As a beacon for the global village and beyond, Mixed Blood will champion equity and animate social change through exceptional artistry, catalytic relationships, and universal access.” Coming to a show at Mixed Blood has three components to be successful: the community through which one travels (Cedar Riverside embodies our model of pluralism), the people with whom you sit, and the work on stage. ROE brought together people with difference – racial, cultural, gender, class, and world view – and that is the purpose of this particular non-profit.

Thanks to the more than 3,100 folks who experienced the theatrical production of ROE and who felt a call to action – whatever that action may be – after the curtain call was over. It is you who animate our mission.

For more than four decades, Mixed Blood has sustained itself by folks like you giving to support our work. We’re a movement built by, with, and for all: join the movement.

Give now.