Bedlam Lowertown: Arrivals and Departures

Bedlam Theatre

Funding Received: 2013
St. Paul, MN
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
May 2, 2014

By Andi Cheney

We have a date scheduled for a grand opening!

May 31st will be a daylong community festival and party to celebrate three years of hard work to open a performance venue unlike any other. Until then we’re working around the clock, putting the final installation touches on the kitchen and bar and working with state health inspectors to get licenses finalized.

The last month has been a whirlwind of exhilarating activity. The city granted us a temporary occupancy permit so that we could begin to host events and bring people in to see what’s possible—prime time to experiment with what could be.

The first full-length piece to hit the Bedlam Lowertown stage was Morgan Thorson’s premiere new dance piece entitled“YOU.” When describing the inspiration for the piece, Thorson said she was “interested in how talking brings people together and the feeling [you have] when you really connect [with someone] and have a great conversation. I wanted to repeat that experience with movement . . . It’s very personal, but what if you start thinking performer to performer, performer to audience, rhythm to movement, all the different relationships involved in dance.”

The conversations continued the following week with Tou SaiKo Lee’sTribal Survival benefit concert and B-boy competition that packed the house along with our own premiere of community-devised short performances, “Holey Short Shorts;” a series of public trainings called “Technical Tools of the Trade” in our new lighting and sound systems; a public Q&A for Knight Foundation’s recently announced St. Paul Arts Challenge, and even a public dissertation defense entitled “Defeating the Culture Wars: What We Need to Know and How We Need to Know It.”

The buildup to even our current “soft open” status has highlighted so many challenges common (and uncommon) to new businesses and theatres, from licensing and health inspections, fundraising hurdles, and financing leaps of faith to staffing fluctuations and program strategizing. The groundwork we have laid for our grand opening really is being put to the test. We’re finding the shaky spots and reinforcing them, which are opening new avenues for staging options with every event. We’re also meeting new Lowertown friends on a daily basis. Most challenging at the moment is bringing new staff into an ever-shifting structure—both the time and effort required to get the right person on the board plus the care and attention needed to invest in a thriving staff to support a thriving system in a complex ecosystem.

Recent Wins
-- “YOU” was a smash. Dancers came out in droves, and we are hearing nothing but positivity and requests for more dance in Lowertown. What a treat for us at Bedlam to have this piece be the first full length performance in our new venue that we want so much to be a place that generates “the feeling when you really connect [with someone] and have a great conversation” from performer to performer, performer to audience, art to space, space to neighborhood, neighborhood with city.

-- We kicked off “Technical Tools of the Trade,” our first public series of trainings with the new Bedlam Lowertown lighting and sound equipment! Participants loved learning the ropes (and cables and consoles) and opportunity to gain skills in performance crafts.

-- AKA: Fathers/Sons: Plans are in the works to offer another round of performative conversations around sexuality and masculinity for men of color in the Twin Cities. We’re talking to partnering community organizations and planning some public activity at Bedlam Lowertown in July.

-- The Big Lowdown: We are so excited to be partnering with PlaceBase Productions to create the next iteration of The Big Lowdown roving adventure in August! With Community Director Irna Landrum also on board for another year, the alleyways and corners of Lowertown will again be filled with diverse surprises.

Bedlam Chief Artistic Officer John Bueche and Business Manager/Venue Director Lucas Koski had a wonderful time at the ArtPlace Grantee Summit in Los Angeles. Our biggest insight from the experience is that Minnesota project planner ought to get together more often to learn from each other and strengthen the cohort! With the McKnight Foundation graciously offering to host, we did indeed meet for our own mini-summit in mid-April. In addition to sharing our takeaways from the conference (for those who attended in person or electronically, as well as a couple of us who participated only vicariously through communications with participants), we talked about how we can collaborate as a cohort to help strengthen the field, bringing in more non-arts organization partners and community members. We all agreed that one of the most pressing issues in Minnesota is our equity problem. Our wage gap and achievement gap rate among the highest in the nation. As leaders in the field of creative placemaking, we are committed to using our unique skills to advance equity in our state. So, how do we do that? We plan to keep the conversation going with more mini-summits in the coming months.