Mixed Precipitation’s Pickup Truck Opera is hitting the road and bringing an epic tale to neighborhoods, parks and beaches around Minnesota

The production is anything but your typical opera, equipped with puppets, Dolly Parton tunes and a pickup truck stage.

The+Pickup+Truck+Opera+cast+workshopping+the+show+back+in+2020.+Courtesy+of+Scotty+Reynolds.

The Pickup Truck Opera cast workshopping the show back in 2020. Courtesy of Scotty Reynolds.

Macy Harder

Take everything you know about opera and spin it on its head. Instead of historic opera houses where folks perform, what if it’s a 2011 Ford Ranger pickup truck? Instead of an expansive orchestra, it’s a couple banjos. And instead of classical arias, it’s Dolly Parton’s discography. This isn’t your average opera, this is Pickup Truck Opera.

The Twin Cities theater company Mixed Precipitation is hitting the road this summer — literally. The Pickup Truck Opera puts a fun, country spin on Homer’s “Odyssey.” The epic is brought to life on the back of an old pickup truck, serving as a mobile stage that can reach new audiences across the state.

The opera will be making its way around the state for 16 full epic performances, consisting of three 25-minute episodes. The truck will be stopping in Minneapolis on Sunday, Aug. 29 for a performance at Cedar Lake East Beach.

The show combines Baroque opera music from composer Claudio Monteverdi with Dolly Parton tunes, adding a country carnival flare to the traditional tale of Ulysses and his family. But that’s not all — the fun continues with the production’s assortment of puppets, live instruments and tasty treats for audience members.

On summer evenings, neighborhoods can host pop-up performances of singular episodes in their streets and alleyways, where the pickup functions like a “theatrical ice cream truck.”

After studying theater at the University of Minnesota, Scotty Reynolds went on to become Mixed Precipitation’s founder and producing artistic director.

Reynolds said the outdoor theater company’s mission is “to create festive, theatrical events that inspire social engagement.” Their shows are more than just the average theater production, as they combine music, dance, food and storytelling to foster unique, multi-sensory audience experiences.

Mixed Precipitation’s summer tradition is a Picnic Operetta production, which typically draws a sizable audience in a garden, park or other green space. Reynolds said that due to pandemic concerns, they wanted to move away from a large gathering structure and focus more on neighborhood-specific events, which could also allow them to connect with new audiences.

Transforming a Ford Ranger into a mobile stage makes this possible. “Wherever it parks, we can put on a show,” said Pickup Truck Opera performer and University of Minnesota alum, Joni Griffith. “The truck is the main architectural anchor point of the show, but it’s also a sailboat, a musical stage, a cave, a lounging spot for sea sirens, a hiding spot for actors and so much more.”

Momoko Tanno earned her Master of Music in Vocal Performance degree from the University of Minnesota. She’s taken on many roles during her time as an opera singer and performer, including Penelope and Minerva in the Pickup Truck Opera.

Tanno said she appreciates Mixed Precipitation’s focus on giving performers an experience that allows them to showcase multiple skills. “For so long, I was taught that I needed to focus on one thing forever … My teachers would not allow me to do anything but classical singing,” she said, “And I felt very restricted by that.”

Taking theater outside of its traditional box is nothing new at Mixed Precipitation. In fact, William Beeman, who teaches performance theory and anthropology courses at the University of Minnesota and serves on Mixed Precipitation’s advisory panel, said it’s been their “whole principle of operation” to do so.

“Almost every director and theater company wants to bring something new and fresh to their audiences … and I think that’s been the experience with Mixed Precipitation,” Beeman said.

Ultimately, Reynolds hopes the Pickup Truck Opera brings people together to relish a unique experience with one another.

“I think it’s an approach to classical music that prioritizes having a good time,” Reynolds said.