Bedlam Lowertown: Arrivals and Departures

Bedlam Theatre

Funding Received: 2013
St. Paul, MN
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
September 1, 2013

The Big Lowdown: Roving through Mears Park; photo by Michal Daniel

“I know it will be a long time before I’m walking those familiar streets thoughtlessly again, without imagining these stories in their shadowed corners,” Susannah Schouweiler, Knight Foundation, on The Big Lowdown.

Supported by an exchange grant from the Network of Ensemble Theatres and the Minnesota State Arts Board, Bedlam Theatre and Live Action Set joined forces to create a performative exploration through the architecture and hidden treasures of Lowertown neighborhood in August. “The Big Lowdown” performance began in the bustling hall of the historic and newly renovated St. Paul Union Depot where audience members sorted into groups and set out on a guided adventure through activated landscapes. Directed by Live Action Set Artistic Director Noah Bremer, “The Big Lowdown” began as a riff on Bedlam’s signature ten-minute play festival, but this time it had a Lowertown twist—we worked with community director Irna Landrum and four local talent scouts (Barry Madore, Tyler Olsen, Kathy Mouacheupau, and Becky Dale) to attract a diverse group of local performers, many of whom were new to Bedlam and new to each other, but familiar with Lowertown from work and home.

Encountering short performance pieces set against concrete walls, along green parks, smooshed in alleyways, stairwells, elevators, skyways, huddled below underpasses, and ending with The Next Generation Drum Corps on the East Plaza of Union Depot, The Big Lowdown featured 11 different short performances. Breakdance, modern dance, storytelling, live music, silent drama, and interactive community mailboxes featured a cast of 40 in what Scott Pakudaitis, one of the most prolific theatre-goers in town as well as Bedlam’s Board President, called the most diversely attended production he had ever seen in terms of age, race, class, and artistic experience. A significant portion of the audience were local passersby who joined in the adventure by attaching to a “roaming group” midshow. Each group was led by a tour guide, at least one of whom was dressed like a giant dog and introduced himself as Rover, who pointed out historical points of interest (some fictional, some not) and kept the logistics of the tightly timed performances on track.

Ben Krywosz, Artistic Director of Nautilus Music Theater said of the night “What a great experience, a major asset to the community, you guys really pulled it off. As a resident in Lowertown for 26 years, it was thrilling.”

Recent Wins
-- The Big Lowdown received many positive reviews and support from local blogs and newspapers, including the St. Paul Neighborhood News, Pioneer Press, TC Daily Planet, MPR, ArtHounds, City Pages, Secrets of the City, and social media (more photos here). And we’ve been hearing from people who missed out on the adventure already asking what weekend we plan to do it again next year.
-- Our pals at the Saint Paul Almanac have just released the 2014 edition of their literary and travel guide book featuring stories and poems by more than 100 area writers from the area. The book launched last week with a celebration party in Lowertown featuring refreshments, live music, and an art gallery with photos from our performance at Union Depot last December.
-- All this creative-placemaking has led us to a significant organizational insight . . .

One exuberant father attending The Big Lowdown exclaimed to the Roamer, “This is so much fun; I can’t believe something like this can happen! I want to quit my job and become an artist!” That statement triggered a moment of clarity for Bedlam Lowertown Venue Director Lucas Koski, leading to a breakthrough in our organizational goals under a three-point strategy “Engage, Occupy, Enliven.”

Bedlam Engages: We deny isolation, bringing the community and context into the creative process and bringing creative processes into the community. To do this effectively, and to make resonant work, we have found it essential to provide a welcoming social framework with hospitality and a vibrant atmosphere. Once you are engaged in Bedlam, you are supported to grow creatively as an artist and a community leader.

Bedlam Occupies: Within our venues and mobile events, we occupy spaces for new work development that encourage risk-taking through engagement. We’re testing models for hybrid theatre venues based on sustainable revenue sources, and we want those models to spread. But occupy is also the root of occupation, latin for “to seize, to fill, or to keep active.” While Bedlam activities and venues fills and enlivens a space, working as an artist fills and enlivens a person. At Bedlam, we want everyone to feel empowered to become an artist, because we see artistry as an occupation, not a job. To the father who attended The Big Lowdown, if you’re out there, give us a call and we’ll see what we can do together.

Bedlam Enlivens: Through presentations of guest productions, cabarets, and events, through productions of original work engaging community members, through building partnerships and community programming, and through fostering new works and new artists, Bedlam enhances opportunity for involvement in all of our activities. Our impact ripples through communities with more occupations, more engagement, and more spin-off enterprises. The impact of having humans interacting in creative and vibrant social atmosphere is beneficial for individuals, communities, and neighborhoods—the foundation of creative placemaking.