“With a fully stocked all-you-can-eat buffet of emotions, we announce that Bedlam Lowertown will be closing on November 2,” write Bedlam Theatre artistic director Maren Ward and board president Dan Spock in a note posted yesterday to the company’s website.
“This was a highly ambitious project and there are many whys and why nots and coulda-shoulda-wouldas,” write Ward and Spock, citing insurmountable debts. “We welcome this conversation and aim to be as constructive as possible toward future efforts of this kind.”
The news is a blow not just to the 23-year-old company but to the city of St. Paul and the Lowertown neighborhood, which counted it as a coup to land Bedlam’s permanent (or so it was hoped) new performance space after the company lost its previous home in Minneapolis’s West Bank neighborhood. Mayor Chris Coleman advocated for Bedlam’s move to the Capital City, which supported the move with a $150,000 Cultural Star grant.
Bedlam Lowertown opened in the former Rumors & Innuendo nightclub space in May 2014, after a yearlong delay “due to construction and code issues including the need to overhaul the buildings heating and cooling system,” note Ward and Spock. Bedlam Lowertown helped to anchor the east end of the then-new Green Line, and was seen as a hopeful sign of activity in the perennially up-and-coming neighborhood.
Making the space work financially, however, proved to be a constant struggle. With its commitment to independent and community-spirited theater and music, Bedlam lacked a regular draw to keep a sizable audience coming.
The venue also functioned as a restaurant, which struggled in its own right, even after star restaurateur Kim Bartmann was brought in to consult on the menu last year. At the time, Bartmann — the impresario behind events like the Bastille Day Block Party — said she was planning to help Bedlam book higher-profile music acts, but those bookings remained few and far between.
The company was open about the fact that Bedlam Lowertown teetered on the edge of closure, mounting a temporarily successful “keep Bedlam alive” campaign in 2015. The company experimented with unusual fundraising strategies — for just $1,000, donors in 2014 were promised unlimited free beer at Bedlam’s bar until 2020.
The fate of Bedlam Theatre as a whole, write Ward and Spock, is now “unclear,” as is the future of the Lowertown space. “We hope that something equally if not more magical happens in this venue going forward.” Though rents are rising in the neighborhood, performing arts venues have struggled there: just down the street from Bedlam, signage continues to mark the condemned former home of the rock club Station 4.
In addition to Bedlam Lowertown, the company also maintains a storage and working space in Minneapolis’s Seward neighborhood. Bedlam started as a producing company, but its original output has fallen in recent years; the organization recently parted ways with co-founder John Bueche, enlisting company standby John Mac Cole to support Ward in programming the Lowertown space.
At Bedlam Lowertown, write Ward and Spock, “we served over 50k audience members and presented nearly 1,000 unique music, theater and community events.” Notable music performances at Bedlam included a genre-crossing “Landmark to Lowertown” series and the annual For the Love hip-hop festival. The venue has been particularly suitable for multimedia events like a Motion City Soundtrack film screening and a “shadow opera.”
“While we are sad to lose this venue that has become beloved to so many in Lowertown and beyond,” write Ward and Spock, “we want to spend our last few weeks in celebration of the vision that was tested and tried, the relationships made, and the community investment that allowed Bedlam Lowertown to exist for 2.5 years.”
Until its closing, the venue will continue to host daily events; one of the last scheduled events is an Oct. 31 Halloween party featuring music by timisarocker, the Confused Brothers Band, Jeffrey Kornfeld, and niiice. A community celebration of Dia de los Muertos will take place at Bedlam Lowertown on Nov. 1.