No joke! Dudley Riggs gets an Ivey

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 22, 2009 - 12:02 AM

Twin Cities theater buffs handed the Brave New Workshop founder a lifetime achievement award for his improv comedy work.

Dudley Riggs, whose name has become synonymous with improv comedy, was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at Monday night's Ivey Awards in Minneapolis.

"When I left New York 50 years ago, my agent said, 'If you're not in New York, you don't count.' I never agreed with that because what counts is the work,'' said Riggs, a former aerialist with Ringling Bros., who moved to the Twin Cities in 1958 with his Instant Theatre Company.

The group was an improv troupe until 1961, when Riggs teamed with newspaper writers Dan Sullivan and Irv Letofsky to form the Brave New Workshop -- primarily as a way to promote his coffee shop.

Known to many simply as "Dudley Riggs," the workshop grew in notoriety for its satirical jabs at politics and social trends. In 1965, the Workshop moved to its present location at 2605 Hennepin Av. S. in Minneapolis. Riggs sold the business in 1997 to John Sweeney and Jenni Lilledahl, but he still attends opening nights.

Dozens of well-known performers and writers -- Al Franken, Louie Anderson, Pat Proft, Melissa Peterman, Peter Tolan and Cedric Yarborough -- cut their teeth during Riggs' tenure with the Workshop.

On Monday, three productions and eight theater artists also were honored during the Iveys show at the State Theatre. The annual event recognizes excellence in Twin Cities theater.

"Tyrone & Ralph," Jeffrey Hatcher's play about the two men who built the Guthrie Theater, won for its production at History Theatre in St. Paul. Youth Performance Company was recognized for its staging of the civil-rights drama "Little Rock, 1957." And Theatre Latté Da received notice for "Old Wicked Songs," a powerful psychological portrait of a German Jewish music teacher.

Five actors received Iveys: Greta Oglesby won for her portrayal of the title character in "Caroline, or Change," the Tony Kushner-Jeanine Tesoro musical staged at the Guthrie Theater; Luverne Seifert was recognized for playing science-fiction author Philip K. Dick in "The Transmigration of Philip Dick" by Victoria Stewart and produced by Workhaus Theatre Collective; Christina Baldwin and Jennifer Baldwin Peden were honored for "Sister Stories," a series of short musicals staged by Nautilus Music-Theater, and Sonja Parks received her Ivey for a solo role as a high-school teacher in Nilaja Sun's "No Child," which was produced at Pillsbury House Theatre.

Three other individual awards went to director Greg Banks for his "Romeo and Juliet" at Children's Theatre Company, sound designer Sean Healey for the Jungle Theater's production of "Shipwrecked," and puppet designer Chris Griffith for his work in "Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins" at Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company.

In addition to the Lifetime Achievement Award, the other standing category in the Iveys is Emerging Artist. Actor Emily Gunyou Halaas was honored Monday for her deeply dimensional portrayal of an activist in "My Name is Rachel Corrie" for Emigrant Theatre. Over the past several years, she has won acclaim with her performances at the Guthrie, Park Square, Latté Da and Theatre de la Jeune Lune.

Sixty-nine theater companies participate in the Iveys. Awards are based on evaluations by more than 100 people who attend Twin Cities theater during the year. The Lifetime Achievement and Emerging Artist honors are determined by the artistic directors of the participating theater companies. More than 2,000 people attended the ceremony Monday, hosted by actors Richard Ooms and Claudia Wilkens. This is the event's fifth year. Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299

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