The Hennepin Theatre Trust recently expanded its small empire of downtown Minneapolis theaters with the addition of the New Century Theater, a “flexible use performance space” that resembles the feel of a comedy club or community theater. And last night, the theater launched its first-ever music series, Acoustic Century, with an event that featured Gabe Douglas (The 4onthefloor) and Danny O’Brien (The Farewell Circuit) trading songs and stories in the small space.
The New Century Theater is housed within the City Center in an old retail space, so the walk into the venue is fairly unglamourous and mall-like. But once inside, the space feels warm and intimate, with seating set up in a cabaret/seminar layout, and the audience was close enough to the performers that they were able to ask questions between songs without microphones.
The concept of the Acoustic Century show is to engage the audience in a back-and-forth with the performers and open the door for longer stories between songs, repurposing the idea of a round-robin folk hootenanny for a more formal setting. This mostly worked to great effect for Douglas and O’Brien, though they seemed a bit hesitant toward the beginning of the night and could have used a host or emcee to get the ball rolling. But once they each played a song or two things loosened up, and by the fourth song audience members were openly commenting on the tunes and asking the performers to explain their songwriting process.
“I don’t think you guys realize just how terrifying it is when Gabe screams,” O’Brien joked at one point, comparing Douglas’s hearty bellowing to the wrath of Thor.
“We should have special Thor seats up here on stage,” Douglas cracked.
Though the turnout was modest, the concept seemed promising and I’m curious who they will book for future Acoustic Century events. The Hennepin Theatre Trust (which also oversees the State, Orpheum, and Pantages) does such a slick job of managing larger plays and concerts that it’s cool to see them experimenting with something smaller and more affordable. But the eternal question remains: does the Twin Cities really need yet another small-capacity venue?