Bedlam Lowertown: Arrivals and Departures

Bedlam Theatre

Funding Received: 2013
St. Paul, MN
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
August 22, 2014

By Alana Horton

It’s hard to believe how much has happened since April. Bedlam Lowertown, our new performance club space is NOW OPEN 11am-2am, 7 days a week. We blasted through our Grand Opening on May 31st, and the last three months have seen a steady stream of people, programming, food, and drink intersecting in our space. Ultimately we’ll have programming happening seven days a week; at this point, three to four nights a week are filled, with everything from a hip hop festival (For The Love), to a physical theatre piece (The Beast), to live-programmed electronic music (Kindholm), to ideathons for this year’s Big Lowdown and new-work development program Short Town.

What’s been really fun is seeing how all these diverse kinds of programming intersect and interact in the space. This last weekend, we had three shows with radically different themes scheduled back to back on a Friday night; a show of 5-minute new pieces followed a show about race, sexuality, and fatherhood, and a traveling clown show about technology and aging closed out the night. Because all our shows are pay-what-you-can, and we never turn anyone away, we had a constant tapestry of audience members, restaurant patrons, and regulars weaving in and out of the space until late into the night. Many people who came for one show ended up staying for them all, making a donation at the end of the night for the art they’d maybe inadvertently stumbled upon.

The Beast at Bedlam Lowertown - Photo by Farrington Starnes The Beast at Bedlam Lowertown - Photo by Farrington Starnes[/caption]

The thing we’ve been dealing with is that when people come into the space, they usually have a lot of questions: What is this? Is this a bar? Is this a theatre? Where’s the stage? It takes some time and a little bit of explaining to get people used to how we use the space, and that yes, we are all those things, and yes, we do lunch as well, and yes, you can make art here! Don’t get us wrong; we’re thrilled to have this challenge, because it means we’re doing just what we set out to do in the space; leave it open enough to be whatever it needs to be!

We also have added 24 new staff members in the last 3 months to staff the venue, 20 of whom live within 3 blocks of Bedlam Lowertown. For many of them, this is their first experience with Bedlam, so we’ve been training everyone in on how they can tell the Bedlam story, especially because many of the venue staff are the main contacts for public interaction.

Finally, we have the challenge of how to integrate radical welcoming in the space. What we want is for each person that walks through our doors to feel as though this is a space for them. We’re still working out the best way to greet people.

Recent Wins
• We’re open! Open. OPEN.
• We have a new set of stages that are on wheels and can lock together in any combination we might need, making it possible to make different stages wherever and whenever we want.
• We recently started the second year of our outdoor concert series Collective Noise, which is curated by local college students, and takes place outside on the East Plaza of our neighbor the Union Depot. 180 people showed up to the first show, which then transitioned back into our space later in the night.
• We continue to build partnerships with neighborhood organizations, like Saint Paul Neighborhood Network, the local public access station that is working with us to create a documentary around our upcoming show The Big Lowdown.
• Neighborhood residents love the fact that we’re a late night food spot; our kitchen is open until midnight every night, making us one of the only places to get food past 9PM in Lowertown.

DJ Steppa Du Jour Djing at The Perfect Spot - Photo by Farrington Starnes[/caption]

Radically Inclusive Employment/Art-Making/Social Activity - Bedlam thrives as an organization in part because it was founded on principles of the radical cooperative movement. What continues to set us apart from other organizations is our holistic approach to inclusivity - Bedlam is a place where you can bring your whole self, whether as a bartender, a performer, or an audience member. This inclusivity must lie at the heart of creative placemaking, because it is the people who make the place.