Hennepin Theatre Trust renames theatre on Hennepin Avenue as the Dudley Riggs Theatre, carrying on legacy of the Brave New Workshop comedy theatre’s founder

November 10, 2022

The Dudley Riggs Theatre is home to the Brave New Workshop, the nation’s oldest sketch comedy troupe

MINNEAPOLIS (Nov. 10, 2022) — Hennepin Theatre Trust today announced that it has renamed the theatre located at 824 Hennepin Ave. as the Dudley Riggs Theatre. The name honors Dudley Riggs, the founder of satirical improvisational theater and founder of the Brave New Workshop, the nation’s oldest sketch comedy troupe. The Dudley Riggs Theatre is home to the Brave New Workshop comedy theatre, as well as community event, education and entertainment spaces. Hennepin Theatre Trust purchased the theatre and the assets of the Brave New Workshop in December 2021.

“Dudley Riggs is an institution in the history of comedy in our nation, and Hennepin Theatre Trust is honored to play a role in continuing his legacy,” said Mark Nerenhausen, President and CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust. “The Dudley Riggs Theatre will continue to be the home of Riggs’ Brave New Workshop comedy theatre, but it will also be a home for the next generation of trailblazers and entertainers—whether they be drag queens, trapeze artists or anything in between.”

“I am absolutely delighted to hear that the building at 824 Hennepin Ave., where the Brave New Workshop continues to make us laugh, will now be named the Dudley Riggs Theatre. My deepest thanks to Hennepin Theatre Trust for this magnificent tribute to my late husband, Dudley Riggs, who brought Instant Theater to Minneapolis in 1958, beginning what became the Brave New Workshop and a thriving theater community here in the Twin Cities today,” said Dr. Pauline Boss, University of Minnesota professor emeritus and widow of Dudley Riggs. “Knowing Dudley, he would have been humbled by this honor and amused that his name will remain on Hennepin Avenue, where it all began.”

“Dudley was a true pioneer in improvisational comedy, bringing it to Minneapolis and providing me and Tom Davis, along with so many others, our starts,” said Al Franken, former United States Senator and Brave New Workshop alumnus. “On top of that, a magnificent man and a true friend. Oh, and funny!”

“Hennepin Theatre Trust continues to put Minneapolis on the map and increase the vibrancy of our city,” said Melvin Tennant, president and CEO of Meet Minneapolis and member of Hennepin Theatre Trust’s Board of Directors. “The naming of Dudley Riggs Theatre further establishes the Hennepin Theatre District as the heart of entertainment in our region and honors our city’s rich history in comedy.”

Hennepin Theatre Trust owns the Orpheum, State, Pantages and Dudley Riggs theatres in the historic Hennepin Theatre District. Last month, Hennepin Theatre Trust announced that it redeemed the bonds issued by the City of Minneapolis for the historic Orpheum, State and Pantages theatres along Hennepin Avenue. As a result of completing the lease, Hennepin Theatre Trust can accelerate its work to rejuvenate the District due to increased ability to better integrate the operations of all of the Trust’s venues, coordinate programs, activate the Hennepin Theatre District and provide a consistent visitor experience.

The Brave New Workshop is now in its 64th year of crafting audacious and original satirical sketch comedy and improvisation. Founded in 1958, the Brave New Workshop is the longest running comedy theatre in the United States. Dudley Riggs, a fifth-generation circus aerialist who performed all over the globe, originally founded BNW as the “Instant Theatre Company.”  Riggs assembled and led a talented group of writers and performers intending to make people think by first making them laugh. The company opened off-Broadway with a show consisting of vaudeville-style sketches, burlesque blackouts and something completely new:  the use of audience input in the creation of “instant theatre.” This “theatre without a net” would be the beginning of comedic improvisation as it is widely known today.

After touring nationally, Dudley and his “Instant Theatre Company” found a permanent home in the Twin Cities in 1958, and the name Brave New Workshop was added in 1961. In 2021, Hennepin Theatre Trust purchased the Brave New Workshop and the downtown facility (824 Hennepin) from John Sweeney and Jenni Lilledahl to steward the theatres’ rich world-class sketch comedy and improv tradition.

Since its beginning, the Brave New Workshop has made its home on Hennepin Avenue – first in the original East Hennepin location, then in uptown from 1961-2010. Their mainstage theatre home is now in the heart of Minneapolis’ theater district. In the more than 60 years since its founding, Brave New Workshop has produced more than 400 original productions and exposed over four million people to the theatre’s unapologetic and unwavering brand of sketch comedy and improvisation. With an impressive list of alumni, including Louie Anderson, Lizz Winstead, Stevie Ray, Al Franken, Melissa Peterman, Tom Davis, Mo Collins and Cedric Yarbrough, the Brave New Workshop is a true Minnesota institution.

Hennepin Theatre Trust drives cultural and economic vitality in Minnesota through leadership of the dynamic Hennepin Theatre District in downtown Minneapolis and educational programming that reaches every area of the state. Its historic theatres — Orpheum, State and Pantages — and event center at 900 Hennepin Avenue light up Hennepin Avenue with top-tier entertainment, including the best of Broadway and a wide variety of arts programming. Hennepin Theatre Trust is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. Learn more at HennepinTheatreTrust.org.

Heart of Hennepin – celebrating 100 years of the Hennepin Theatre District
To honor the centennial, Hennepin Theatre Trust is kicking off a yearlong celebration for the Orpheum, State and Pantages theatres, along with The Hennepin event center and 824 Hennepin, home to the Brave New Workshop comedy theatre. This year-long centennial celebration honors the history of the Hennepin Theatre District and looks ahead to what the future holds for the arts, the Trust and downtown neighbors. HennepinTheatreTrust.org/centennial.

The Brave New Workshop (BNW) 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. In 2021, Hennepin Theatre Trust purchased the assets of BNW. BNW’s original sketch comedy revues are written and performed by the cast in the BNW’s mainstage theatre on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis’ theater 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.

This activity is made possible by voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.