Patrick’s Cabaret, the Minneapolis arts venue that has been a font of theatrical experimentation and derring-do for three decades, will celebrate its 30th anniversary in the next month — and then promptly close for at least a few months.
On May 31 the cabaret must vacate the converted firehouse on Minnehaha Avenue near Lake Street that has been its home since May 1999. The building is being sold by its owner, who has charged Patrick’s just $1 a month for rent.
The news shocked some of the thousands of performers who’ve danced on its sprung floor or poured their souls into its open microphones.
“It feels like losing a lover or a mentor,” said April Sellers, a dancer, choreographer and company founder who made her professional debut at Patrick’s in 1999. “It’s been a great personal foundation. I hope it will continue so that it can be that for many other artists.”
Executive director Scott Artley said that the organization, which has a $425,000 annual budget and draws about 6,000 audience members a season, will take the summer off.
“The landscape has changed dramatically from when we started 30 years ago,” said Artley, who has been at the organization for about two years, starting as performing arts curator. “There were few places for open mics then. We’ll be back sometime in the fall. We’re leaning toward a more itinerant lifestyle.”
Patrick’s was started by teacher and performance artist Patrick Scully in the gym of St. Stephen’s School. From the outset, it has been a place for artists on the margins, including gays, lesbians, feminists and artists of color.
Its most famous engagement was Ron Athey’s “Four Scenes in a Harsh Life” in 1994, a Walker Art Center-sponsored show that included bloodstained paper towels. The performance helped fuel the so-called “culture wars” of the 1990s as Sen. Jesse Helms and others took aim at public arts funding (the show was indirectly supported by $150 in federal funds).
“In the artistic ecology, we’re the dirt and the earthworms,” said Scully, who stepped away from the cabaret in 2008 to pursue his own art. “We’re only as healthy as the soil that helps the rest of the ecosystem grow and flourish.”
While the Twin Cities is home to a plethora of performing arts spaces, Patrick’s stands out because of its low barrier for artistic entry.
“Patrick’s was — is — so special because it is so open and so welcoming,” said performing artist Kenna-Camara Cottman, a company founder.
Perhaps no artist better illustrates that than the former Kats D Fukasawa. Once a respected dancer with Ragamala Dance Company, he left the world of Indian dance several years ago to become a butoh dancer, and changed his name to Gadu.
“Patrick’s is where I started experimenting and where I found my new self,” Gadu said. “Art, like anything, can get stagnant. It’s good to have fresh air coming in. So, too, with Patrick’s.”
The 1,825-square-foot space also has been a crossroads for wildly disparate types of people to mingle. Cottman said that Patrick’s helps break down barriers.
“A lot of the people I work with come from the hip-hop community and African dance,” she said. “With Patrick’s being an LBGTQ safe space, that mix is something that has made all of us better.”