Scientifically supported fun

At the intersection of science, storytelling, theatre and comedy comes “El Neato!”

by Austen Macalus

Weather is no small talk for Dr. Kenneth Blumenfeld.
Even on vacation off the coast of Biloxi, Miss., Blumenfeld couldn’t help discussing the impacts of Hurricane Camille in 1969 and Katrina in 2005 with A&E. 
Revealing his vast knowledge about climate patterns, meteorology and natural phenomena, Blumenfeld is a man who loves all things weather.
Now, Blumenfeld is bringing that passion to the stage. This Thursday, “El Neato! Science and stories of climatological awesomeness,”  a show written, produced and hosted by Blumenfeld, will debut at Bryant Lake Bowl.
“It’s not exactly a traditional lecture or traditional theatre. It’s not exactly ‘The Moth’ storytelling, and it’s not exactly stand-up comedy either,” Blumenfeld said.
Combining multiple genres, “El Neato!” attempts to address important scientific topics in a way that makes it easier for people to understand, Blumenfeld said. 
“It definitely is scientifically valid, and it’s supposed to be interesting enough to hold your attention,” Blumenfeld said. “And [it] might make a few people laugh.”
A former instructor at the University of Minnesota, Blumenfeld currently works for the Minnesota State Climatology Office, a subsect of the DNR in charge of climate data and analysis.
Blumenfeld’s obsession with weather started at a young age.
“I was really fascinated by the tornado in the ‘Wizard of Oz,’ and then I had a tornado that passed within a half-mile of my house when I was a kid. … Once that happened, it pretty much sealed the deal, and I became fascinated by all storms,” Blumenfeld said.
Holding a master’s degree and Ph.D. in geography with an emphasis in climatology, Blumenfeld has worked to present scientific information in a variety of ways.
In 2014, he co-produced “The Story of Winter,” a feature documentary about Minnesota’s iconic season, and he currently maintains “Weather and BS!” a scientific storytelling blog.
“When I would teach, the students who seemed to like me would always tell me, ‘Hey, you tell a lot of stories and get so excited — you should really get up on stage sometime.’ After hearing it a few times I thought, ‘OK, I could do that,’ ” Blumenfeld said.
For the past few years, Blumenfeld has extended his message to include shows at local bars and smaller theatres.
Although “El Neato!” may not be his first weather-related performance, it will be his largest production so far, Blumenfeld said.
The show will include two sketches about El Niño, featuring local performers Melissa Roy, Guy Eggers and Conor Donnelly, as well as Blumenfeld’s two children.
Donnelly, a longtime friend of Blumenfeld, recognized how strange “El Neato!’ may seem.
“There is no one else doing this anywhere. People aren’t trying to deliver information about science and the weather in a way that is intended to be entertaining and accessible,” Donnelly said.
However, Donnelly explained Blumenfeld’s unusual approach is very effective. 
“It is in his passion. He delivers the material in a way that’s not drowning with academic context,” Donnelly said. “He speaks to the crowd more on their level.” 
This is a difficult task;  most of material covered by Blumenfeld can be incredibly challenging to understand.
In particular, this performance centers on El Niño, the weather phenomena caused by a warming of waters around the Pacific Ocean near the equator.
Although a seemingly subtle temperature change, El Niño can actually shift global circulation patterns for weather systems, Blumenfeld said. 
“We know in Minnesota, [El Niño] tends to mean a warm winter. But in the rest of the country, it can really make it wet in Southern California and stormy in the Southern [and] Eastern U.S. and cold sometimes in parts of Canada,” Blumenfeld said.
And this year, El Niño is predicted to be one of the strongest on record. 
“I thought there was going to be a lot of confusion of El Niño. People don’t really know what it is,” Blumenfeld said.
Even for the performers in the show, weather can be a tricky topic. 
“I even use weather terms without understanding what they mean. And I think that’s what a lot of people do,” Roy said. “I am learning it as well.”
With “El Neato!” Blumenfeld is hoping to solve some of that confusion.
“The idea is to make it more accessible and more engaging — to keep pushing this interaction between science and entertainment,” Blumenfeld said.
“El Neato!”  
Where Bryant Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis
When 7 p.m. Thursday
Cost $12, $10 in advance