Interview: Mark Valdez of 12 X 12 at Mixed Blood Theatre

Community performances: March 18-August 18, 2023 Performance Festival: August 19-20, 2023

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Mixed Blood Theatre Artistic Director Mark Valdez

12×12 is a place-based project. We begin by acknowledging that we live and gather on the unceded land of the Dakota People.

Join us at the intersection of art and community as Mixed Blood partners with 12 artists-from ice skaters and poets to chefs and theater makers-working in and with 12 Twin Cities neighborhoods to create short performances that reflect each community. Partnering with individuals and organizations, the artistic reflections will highlight the stories and diversity of our communities. Each piece is performed twice: once in the community where it is created and again at Mixed Blood, when all twelve communities will come together in a performance festival.

Community performances: April 1-August 18, 2023
Performance Festival: August 19-20, 2023

We chatted with artistic director of Mixed Blood Theatre Mark Valdez about 12x12.

What inspired your idea for this project?

This is my first year as artistic director at Mixed Blood-I've only been on the job for nine months. It was important to me to enter the community with respect and humility. I felt that programming a "traditional" season of plays that I curated would just fall flat because I'm new here and I don't really know what people care about, what they want to discuss, what the issues are, etc. I wanted to find a way to make the listening and learning and hearing from people around the region the season, to make that process the art. So, I came up with this idea: commission local artists to work in and with local communities to create performances about those communities. This way I get to meet artists I might not otherwise have met, I get the opportunity to introduce myself and re-introduce Mixed Blood to the region, and I get to learn about different communities and what community members are thinking about, and we get to make unexpected performances that we can share with audiences.

How did you go about selecting the artists for this project?

Over the years, I've been able to travel a lot for work. Whenever I'm in a new city I like to ask locals for eating or activity recommendations. I took the same approach with 12x12. I asked a wide range of local folk, "Who are artists that excite you, that I should meet?" Typically, they'd give me a long list of artists, but then they'd focus on one or two. I took the names of those one to two artists, the ones that they were really excited about, and those artists became the ones I commissioned. All the commissioned artists were recommended to me by local folks, which explains why there's a wide range of disciplines and styles. It reflects the range of work people here are excited about.

Why is this approach and the stories you tell through this initiative important for the community?

Our mission demands that we bring about greater access, diversity, and justice. The project design for 12x12 centers people-a wide range of people-telling their stories, sharing what they care about, and making their concerns and joys known. This structure allows for these stories-for these people-to be seen to one another, within and between communities. Every city has a series of borders, or neighborhoods, right? This approach allows you to cross the borders, to meet to new people, get a new perspective on a place you thought you knew. It's an opportunity for the Twin Cities to meet themselves, which usually doesn't happen unless something like this comes along to make spaces for the venture.

What do you hope audience members take away from attending 12x12 events?

I have the gift of being an outsider. I come to the Twin Cities with minimal preconceived notions about a place or its people. I have the privilege of getting to know this place, of meeting new people, of learning new things, of making discoveries. My hope is to share that experience with the local community, creating opportunities for folks to see their communities and neighborhoods anew, to be reminded of its beautiful diversity, and to remember the wide range of places and stories that reside here. It's a kind of gift to the community from Mixed Blood.

What are your favorite local spots that you've been able to explore in the Twin Cities?

Oh, so many! Some faves: Maplewood Mall. While malls are shutting down, this one is becoming a community hub-no large anchor department stores, but a series of local, culturally specific, businesses. And there's a train, a carousel, and good food!

Northeast has great food, restaurants, galleries, old buildings. It's a great place to spend an afternoon.

The Center in Brooklyn Center is an amazing community space that offers lots of programs, they have a community kitchen-you walk in and you hear so many languages. It feels like a microcosm of the community.

And of course, our home of Cedar Riverside. It's so vibrant. Public murals are coming up, you have The Cedar where you can hear great music, and the Brian Coyle Center is this amazing community hub where you can play basketball or video games.

Thank you Mark for your time!

For more ticket and show information for 12 x 12, please click the ticket link button below.

Photo courtesy of Mark Valdez

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