We had the good fortune of connecting with Patrick Mueller and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Patrick, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Taking risks is easy. Taking meaningful risks in a way that’s well set up to have meaningful outcomes is much harder. For me, meaningful risk puts something real on the line, but rarely puts everything on the line. If everything is a variable or a risk, it becomes really unlikely that an artistic process or project can take a journey that arrives at something new or innovative or unknown. If the risk is too large, or if it requires a very specific outcome to succeed, it can put the whole project or even the company in jeopardy in a way that is paralyzing instead of galvanizing. Strategic risk-taking has clear parallels with good empirical experiment design. In our work at Control Group, we aim to craft an artistic process and vision with clearly defined risks, experiments, and inquiries, and to choose directions of exploration that we are equipped to pursue. Through this, we build new skill sets, experiences, and expertise that open new channels to explore. A core element of risk that I think has come into stark focus recently is how much risk-taking can be an act of privilege. It’s much easier to embrace risk if you have a strong safety net, and if you have surplus to put on the line. There’s definitely several counterpoints to this – often people and organizations with more resources are more risk-averse because they have more to lose, and the only true risk is one that extends beyond the safety next – but in my experience in the arts and in my own work, I see poverty of resources inhibiting risk at least as often than it stimulates it.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I’m the founder and artistic director of Control Group Productions. We work at the intersection of immersive performance, site-specific installation, and social engagement, with a particular focus on sensory-rich, audience-mobile experiences. My artistic process comes in large part from dance-theatre pioneer Pina Bausch, whose famous quote is “I’m not interested in how people move, but in what moves them.” I’m excited to take that one step further, exploring how to get people moving themselves through a space and an experience. Once the audience has this agency, they can engage the work much more thoughtfully, on their own terms. Building Control Group remains incredibly challenging, demanding as much rigor and creativity as the art-making does. There isn’t really a workable business model for most arts organizations in this country, and I often feel torn in two by the demands of keeping a business afloat and scraping together livable wages for our artists.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Well, I’m a middle-aged dad of a 7-year-old, and a struggling, overworked artist, and a bit anti-social in general. I’ve long since lost track of what’s hip and exciting, and the pandemic has wrecked havoc on a lot of my favorite spots and how I think about social space. But to step outside of reality for a minute: We’d start with a Sunday morning soccer game at the British Bulldog, then take a bike ride out along the Platte north of town. Then back into RiNo for a stop for beers at Great Divide, a visit to Redline, dinner at the Populist (RIP), and a show at the Savoy Ballroom. The next day some hiking or cross-country skiing, a visit to MCA Denver, dinner at Sushi Den, maybe something that Off-Center at DCPA is producing, and a get-together at Invisible City (RIP until it rises again). But honestly, just as likely we’d hole up in my house in Lakewood, sit out on the patio, take a hike in the foothills, and spend all evening eating and solving the world’s problems through endless good conversation.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
So many people and organizations deserve shout-outs for the work they do and for the ways they’ve contributed to my journey and the richness of my community. I’ve learned huge amounts from artists I’ve worked for – Zach Morris at Third Rail Projects, Ben Riepe and Dawn Stoppiello and their companies – and equally huge amounts from the artists who’ve collaborated on work with me at Control Group Productions, particularly Bailey Harper, Nicholas Caputo, Hallie Bauernschmidt, Todd Bilsborough, and my wife Kristine Whittle, all of whom have helped form the vision of what Control Group is. And there are dozens of teachers, colleagues, and artists I’ve never met whose sharings have framed how I work and what I understand to be possible.
Aggregate Immateriality: Nicholas Caputo Fear & Prophets, Re-Creation: RJ Hooker Setting Fires: Amanda Tipton