Continuing the Brave New Workshop’s long legacy

Brave New Workshop marqueeIn December 2021, Hennepin Theatre Trust purchased the assets of the Brave New Workshop (BNW) comedy theatre as well as the theatre space located at 824 Hennepin Avenue, in the heart of the Hennepin Theatre District in downtown Minneapolis. The Trust will carry on BNW’s long-standing legacy of world-class sketch comedy and improv.

The Trust’s CEO and president Mark Nerenhausen notes that BNW has been a local treasure, delighting and challenging brave audiences for more than 60 years since its founding in 1958 by Dudley Riggs. When co-owners John Sweeney and Jenni Lilledahl purchased BNW from Riggs in 1997, their goals were to ensure long-term sustainability, find a permanent home, and honor and elevate the unique history of the theatre. The duo say they are confident that the Trust can carry on BNW’s mission to serve the community in diverse and expanded ways.

Brave New Workshop opened at 824 Hennepin Avenue in the fall of 2011

The Brave New Workshop opened its doors for the first time at 824 Hennepin Avenue in the fall of 2011. Photo by Dani Werner

The Brave New Workshop has been in a constant state of reinventing itself since its beginnings in the 1950s. Sweeney looks forward to this next transition, likening it to a good improv scene that honors the past and embraces the future.

While Hennepin Theatre Trust takes on the role of steward and producer of BNW, Sweeney and Lilledahl will retain ownership of their corporate training company, renaming it the Brave New Outpost ( They will also continue to manage the Brave New Institute, a nonprofit launched in 1997, narrowing its outreach focus to helping individuals use the tools and mindset of improvisation to positively affect their everyday lives.

Artistic director Caleb McEwen, who has been with BNW for 26 years and part of more than 100 productions, will continue to serve as artistic director. The Trust is preparing to resume BNW productions in 2022.

This next chapter for BNW aligns with the Trust’s mission to drive cultural and economic vitality by providing yet another opportunity in downtown Minneapolis that offers opportunities for local arts and community organizations, high school theater programs, and visual artists.

About Brave New Workshop
The Brave New Workshop Comedy Theatre has been crafting audacious, hilarious, and thought-provoking original comedy, improv, and satire in Minneapolis since 1958, making it the longest running comedy theatre in the U.S. Founded by former circus performer Dudley Riggs and owned by husband and wife John Sweeney and Jenni Lilledahl since 1997, the BNW has amassed more than 60 years of sparking laughter and conversation in the brave audiences who have visited since its early days as a coffee shop on East Hennepin.

BNW’s original sketch comedy revues are written and performed by the cast in the BNW’s mainstage theatre on Hennepin Avenue in the Hennepin Theatre District. With an impressive list of alumni, including Al Franken, Tom Davis, Louie Anderson, Mo Collins, Carl Lumbly, Michael McManus, Melissa Peterman, Pat Proft, Stevie Ray, Rich Sommer, Nancy Steen, Susan Vass, Lizz Winstead, and Cedric Yarbrough, the Brave New Workshop Comedy Theatre is a true Minnesota institution.


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