Previously in this series:
Hyperreal Film Club
We sometimes run interviews with local creatives and event producers. For October’s issue, we spoke with Dana Bauerle-McKnight, a.k.a. Oakda, creator of the fantasy roleplaying tavern Tiny Minotaur.
Lite + Brite: Can you give us a brief intro to what Tiny Minotaur is?
Dana/Oakda, creator of Tiny Minotaur: The Tiny Minotaur Tavern is a weird, artist-created mix of art installation, small and intimate immersive theater (six audience members max per booking), and live-action D&D that ran out of an alley hovel on the East Side of Austin. The “back-story” claims that an Orc mercenary of ill-repute fled her homeworld through a portal and ended up in apocket dimension called The Rift. There she opened a Tavern (the TinyMinotaur) that over time became a hideaway for other magical persons (also of ill-repute), and she’s basically looking for help from Adventurers from your world to solve Quests.
Overall, there’s a lot of world-building, a home-grown combat system with agiant bowling ball-sized D20 (20-sided dice), and usually every party that comes through has to battle an NPC in order to save someone in the bar, themselves or that world. Our overall mission statement was “Adult Play in aPlague World” and we worked really hard to bring folks into a better mental space through our sessions (which are extremely darkly comedic).
L+B: So that alley hovel was where Tiny Minotaur started. And now you’re getting your own, permanent space! What can you tell us about it?
TM: The new space will be on Cesar Chavez (still on the East Side) because we’re determined to still have the same energy from the original space that allowed us to traverse neighborhoods and friendly-collab with local businesses in walking distance.
The biggest difference is we will be a private club that does Quests but also serves as a sweet private neighborhood bar with costume-mandatory weekends, really high-quality beverages, and a lot of educational workshops (costume-making, dungeon-mastering, herbalism, leather-working, etc) for members and the public.
Another big change is that we will actually have SPACE that is both indoors and outdoors and the ability to really go balls to the wall on buildout. That O.G popup space was literally TINY (a 3ft x 8ft shack with a 20 ft privacy yard attached to it).
L+B: What’s the most memorable or unexpected thing that’s happened during a Tiny Minotaur quest?
TM: Oh, man. There’s A LOT of memorable instances. Immersive theater kind of gives everyone in the audience the ability to perform, and the amount of parties that have come through that were absolutely hilarious (despite having no idea what they were walking into or having no background in fantasy/D&D) is pretty unreal.
In one quest, our resident Gnome Rogue, Avon (whose backstory includes being a former Kings-guard whose Gnome King was assassinated on her watch and now spends her time guiltily drinking herself into a stupor at the Tavern) is looking to finish her job application to the Rogues’ Guild but it requires her to do some super unsavory stuff. The party, after hearing her story and tales of the shady guild, decides that this is a horrible job for Avon. So they put together an elaborate FAKE SHARK TANK PANEL (complete with re-arranging the furniture in the space to give themselves a panel table with candles) to get her confidence up in an attempt to dissuade her into finding another job. The party decided this on the fly in the middle of the session—and myself and the actor were like—oh this is genius, let’s see how this plays out.
Avon ended up trying to kill them anyway to get into the Rogues’ Guild, but it was still super innovative.
L+B: What makes for a good/successful adventuring party?
TM: Willingness to play! We have a thing called the Cape Test—which is, when you are booking a session at the Tiny Minotaur and deciding who to bring with you, the big question is: if you walk up to your friend and put a cape on them and tell them you are going on an Adventure, what is their honest reaction? Are they like, no this is weird? Do their eyes light up? Do they give a resounding or even a slightly intrigued yes? Then they will do very well at the Tiny Minotaur. We found the Cape Test stands the test of time, regardless of age, race, economic standing, gender, or subculture. A great deal of folks who have never played D&D or are ambivalent towards Fantasy end up having a blast.
L+B: What do you think is the most important element to an immersive experience? Is it the decoration, the actors, the costuming, the narrative? Where do you like to focus your energy?
TM: This is a great question. It’s a mix of all of those things. The purpose of immersability is to be completely placed outside of your world. This can happen with extraordinary decor/setting, but really it’s all about the world-building and backstory and those who can convey it with detail. Only two of our ten actors come from a technical acting background (Oakda doesn’t!) but most act with GUSTO. If the actors are cared for, their ability to do that kind of incredible emotional labor is a lot easier and it translates back to the audience, who then feels safe to deep dive in. But also, the actors have an extraordinary freedom to make the Quest their own—they have an outline of what to do but they re-translate it and add onto it with their own energy in an organic collaborative way. It’s pretty incredible to see.
For Tiny Minotaur specifically, I think coming in with a DIY approach from amultitude of different backgrounds and access points for ALL of it really helps. Not to be cheesy, but it really is a project of love. If you’re trying to create an immersive space to get rich—you’re going to lose the best parts.
L+B: How can people support the build-out of the new tavern?
TM: We’re a 501(c)7 and a 501(c)3 simultaneously, so we’re not able to get access to capital investment or even traditional bank money. So we’re relying on monetary and item donation as well as private lenders. If you like what we are doing and want to give us a private loan or even a private donation—we will happily accept that! Just reach out to us via firstname.lastname@example.org.
L+B: What are some of your favorite Austin events or experiences that you don’t produce, and/or who are some local event producers or venues that you admire?
TM: There’s a a loooot. I really love Hyperreal Film Society and everything that happens at the Museum of Human Achievement. Also any spaces that are making events that are communal and cozy for folks in these really rancid political times.