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Hennepin Theatre Trust to carry on legacy of Brave New Workshop comedy theatre

December 3, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS (Dec. 3, 2021) — Hennepin Theatre Trust today announced that it has purchased the assets of the Brave New Workshop (BNW) comedy theatre as well as the building located at 824 Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis.

“We are thrilled that the Brave New Workshop comedy theatre will continue to be a producing company in the heart of the Hennepin Theatre District,” said Mark Nerenhausen, president and CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust. “This organization has been delighting and challenging brave audiences for more than 60 years and we are honored to carry on the creative legacy Dudley Riggs started in 1958 and John Sweeney and Jenni Lilledahl stewarded for the past 25 years.”

Nerenhausen noted that BNW aligns well with the Trust’s mission to drive cultural and economic vitality for the benefit of Minnesota. “In addition to showcasing BNW, we look forward to expanding performance and educational opportunities for students and local artists and arts organizations at 824 Hennepin.”

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 theater. “When we met those milestones a few years ago, we began talking about succession,” said Lilledahl. “We are confident that the Trust can carry on BNW’s mission to serve the community in diverse and expanded ways. Now is the right time in our lives for this transition.”

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. Productions are anticipated in 2022. “The most important thing to me is that the vision of our founder, Dudley Riggs, continues,” said McEwen. “I’m thrilled that this Minnesota institution will be able to continue the tradition of world-class sketch comedy and improv it has upheld for over six decades.”

Minneapolis City Council Member Lisa Goodman, who represents the ward in which the Theatre District is located, called the transition a “win-win” for downtown and Minnesota’s arts community. “By perpetuating the legacy of the Brave New Workshop, the Trust will continue to bring vitality to Hennepin Avenue and provide more space for local arts organizations,” said Goodman.

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 (BraveNewOutpost.com). They also plan to 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.

Sweeney noted that the Brave New Workshop has been in a constant state of reinventing itself since its beginnings in the 1950s. “Like a good improv scene, this latest reinvention honors the past and embraces the future,” he said. “We are grateful to the Trust for carrying on the legacy of Dudley Riggs and the theatre’s rich history. Long live the Brave New Workshop.”

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 The Hennepin event center at 900 Hennepin Avenue light up the District 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.

 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. 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.