No joke! Brave New Workshop seeks to buy Hennepin Stages

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 11, 2011 - 8:33 PM

If Minneapolis City Council approves deal, the workshop would open a second space in theater that once hosted "Tony n' Tina's Wedding."


"Brett Favre Christmas" at Brave New Workshop

The Brave New Workshop wants to buy the Hennepin Stages property in downtown Minneapolis. If approved by the City Council, the sale could be consummated this spring and the comedy theater would keep them laughing downtown and Uptown.

John Sweeney, the workshop's owner, said Tuesday that the company would continue to operate at 2605 Hennepin Av. S., its Uptown headquarters since Dudley Riggs moved there in the mid-1960s. That location will be used primarily for improv work -- classes and shows. If the deal for the downtown building goes through, Sweeney said he envisions mainstage shows in the upstairs theater -- which seats about 230 people -- and multiple uses in the downstairs room. That space is attached to a catering kitchen, which would allow for banquets and special events.

The city bought and renovated the building in 1995, leasing it to producer Sandy Hey. She staged "Tony n' Tina's Wedding" there for several years but prematurely terminated her lease in 2004. For several years the Historic Theatre Group managed the space, renting it to individual companies and promoters. The Hennepin Theatre Trust -- which manages the city-owned Orpheum, State and Pantages -- has run the space for the past year. "Martini & Olive" and "Don't Hug Me, I'm Minnesotan" have been two of the more popular titles in the theater since 2004. The workshop responded to the city's request for proposals last summer.

Riggs founded the workshop, a Twin Cities entertainment landmark, in 1958. It has spawned dozens of actors and writers who have gone on to larger careers and continues to produce satirical revues every weekend of the year. Riggs sold to Sweeney and Jenni Lilledahl in 1997. They expanded the improvisational school and in the past few years they have developed a significant business in corporate and motivational training.

Sweeney has sought to expand the workshop's footprint since he and Lilledahl bought the company. Shows were moved to Calhoun Square for a couple of years around 2000; shortly after, a stage was established in St. Paul. Both locations were discontinued. However, Sweeney said, business has expanded rapidly since operations were consolidated in 2002 at 2605 Hennepin Av. S., and Sweeney said the organization is ready for the challenge of the downtown location.

Ann Calvert, a project manager for the city's Community Planning and Economic Development Department, said her agency will likely recommend the deal at the February City Council meeting. The sale would then close a few months later.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299

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