Tyler Michaels (24) and Tod Petersen (54) have combined forces to bring Fringe Festival patrons “Once Upon a Chalkboard!” The adventure will be completely improvised where are all scenery, props and costumes will be drawn on chalkboards by audience members. Tyler, Tod and I sat down at Spyhouse coffee to chat about their concept and ideas surrounding this new piece.
Bartley Stratton: Did you find lots of chalkboards?
Tyler Michaels: A Lutheran Church in Eagan gave them to us. We have giant ones as well as handheld.
Tod Petersen: For free!
Bartley: So since it’s all done by the audience, I’d imagine that is difficult since you don’t know what is coming at you.
Tod: We’ve been told it’s more fun for the audience to watch us squirm.
Bartley: Is there any premise at all? Do you have an outline? Or is it just “go!”
Tyler: We are working in a fantasy genre so we hope to have a fairytale overlay to it.
Tod: There will be kings, queens, poor little village girls, magic apples, dragons and so forth.
Bartley: What inspired you to do this?
Tyler: It’s an idea I had a long time ago that went through many variations. It was called “Blackboard Billy” about a boy who would draw on chalkboards and it would come to life. The two of us have been working together since January bouncing ideas off of each other.
Tod: The history of us is interesting. We met at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre doing the show “Bye Bye Birdie” and we clicked right away. At one point, Tyler asked me if I did improv. I said no and thought it would be fun. Our comedy styles are similar. We are both physical, go big and are colorful. We did a night at Huge Theater which went well so we decided to do something more. It was never meant to be this but after a sort of tug of war, Tyler threw this idea out. It clicked and we haven’t looked back since.
Tyler: We were throwing around a lot of ideas for a while. At first there were many concepts and we honed it down to one thing. It went from a scripted show drawing on chalkboards to stripping it back to what it is now.
Bartley: So what do you wear?
Tyler & Tod: All black!
Bartley: What about chalk colors?
Tod: Probably all white, old school.
Tyler: Keep it simple because then there isn’t the descrepancy. If someone draws a carrot, the audience can imagine it being orange or whatever they want.
Bartley: You have a limited time to the show, correct?
Tyler: Fifty minutes, tops. We want them to play with us but they have to do it quickly.
Tod: There are many unknowns in this show. Everything will be new each time, we have audience participation and so there are many question marks.
Bartley: Have you workshopped this with friends or an audience yet?
Tod: It was chaos the first time and the rehearsal room was really loud. Immediately we knew it was fun and that it would work. It taps into that inner five year old.
Tyler: A deeper hope of the show is we want people to connect with their younger self.
Tod: The ideas are youthful. We are two five year old boys in the backyard playing as well as two five year old girls in the basement.
Bartley: I like that you add the ages of yourselves in the press release.
Tod: Everywhere along the line of life people get stuck. I like the story that the kid drags the “not kid” into the playground. It’s never too late to jump off the high board or tell a silly story.
Tyler: It’s kind of all backwards in a way. Many times the older person teaches the younger person. We are doing it the other way.
Tod: A big part of the story is the ages of life.
Have either of you been in a Fringe show before?
Tyler: Last year I Directed a show.
Tyler: In doing this there are potential for other opportunities.
Tod: It could be an education tool for classrooms, workshops and so much more. We need to have patience and start with this but really, there are lots of ideas surrounding the show and they could go many directions.
For all you creative cats out there, check out “Once Upon a Chalkboard!” by Tyler Michaels and Tod Petersen playing at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage during the Fringe Festival in August. Details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/670198366340025/?fref=ts