Workshop method

Hennepin Theater Trust purchases iconic Brave New Workshop

The Brave New Workshop only has its third owner in over 70 years. John Sweeney and Jennie Lilledahl, who bought the iconic comedy venue from founder Dudley Riggs in 1997, sold it and its intellectual property to the Hennepin Theater Trust. Both parties to the deal say preserving the Atelier’s legacy as a satirical comedy powerhouse is paramount.

Speaking on MPR in 1986, Riggs revealed the secrets he and the Brave New Workshop used to entice audiences to come to political theater.

“Opposition loyal to both parties: hostility of promiscuity, positive neutrality,” he declared. the other guy.

Traffic in the Theater District was light as the marquee post above Brave New Workshop on Hennepin Avenue offered a bit of humor in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

David Joles | Star Tribune via AP 2020

Riggs passed away last year, but his name is constantly referred to when those involved in the affair talk about the importance of the workshop sale. Jenni Lilledahl is co-owner of the venue, although she’s not entirely comfortable with her title.

“I’ve always felt like no one really owns the Brave New Workshop,” she said. “It’s that artistic vision that Dudley had and we all took care of it and developed it. Kind of like a good improv scene. Someone has an idea when it comes to improvisation and your job is to say “Yes and” and go from there. ”

Lilledahl says the idea was always to hand over the workshop when the time came. She and her husband, co-owner John Sweeney, decided the time was right, so Sweeney approached the President and CEO of the Hennepin Theater Trust, Mark Nerenhausen.

The trust is a very different theatrical animal, but Sweeney liked the way it worked. It has the State, Pantages, and Orpheum theaters, large venues featuring Broadway shows, internationally touring musicians, and huge comedy stars. Before the pandemic, theaters attracted half a million people a year. But Nerenhausen says part of their mission is preservation, and that’s what the Trust is going to do.

“It was important for us to preserve and carry on the legacy not only of a significant organization in Minnesota, but also of an organization that has had a profound impact on theater nationwide,” he said. he declares.

After all, this is where several young comedians learned the trade before making it onto the national stage, including an Al Franken.

The pandemic has closed the workshop, but Nerenhausen says he expects regulars won’t notice much of a difference when it reopens, which is expected to take place next year, as they plan to bring the equipment back to the cutting edge of technology.

To that end, longtime artistic director Caleb McEwen retains his post. He says there are a lot of details to work out, but he’s excited about the resources and opportunities the trust will bring to the workshop. Like Lilledahl, he says, while the Brave New Workshop’s mission has remained fixed, its story has always been about flexibility and adaptability.

“I’m excited about the things that are going to stay the same. And I’m excited about the possibilities of things that could change too,” he said.

McEwen says they look at the situation from the perspective of the next 60 years, not the next 60 days. He’s also looking forward to making smart, cutting-edge comedy. And once again the name of Riggs is invoked.

“Dudley used to say he wanted people to laugh at the theater and fight in the car on the way home. And that’s something we’ve always tried to do,” McEwen said.

With less than a year of mid-terms, the catharsis of political satire may be well needed.

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