Bedlam Theatre may not be long for St. Paul

bedlam theatre lowertown
Bedlam Theatre, a 20-year-old company that opened a new space in Lowertown last year (pictured here), may close.
Courtesy Bedlam Theatre

Amidst all the new developments in downtown St. Paul, there has been at least one setback. Bedlam Theatre, a 20-year-old company that opened a new space in Lowertown last year, may close.

Just a year after opening in Lowertown, Bedlam Theatre says it needs to raise $400,000 by the end of December to stay in business.

Bedlam staff members trace the trouble to the space the theater leases. Bedlam had planned to open earlier, but problems with bringing the space up to code, and then fixing its heating and cooling system, caused substantial and costly delays. So while Bedlam has been open a year, it was working on the space for close to three years before that — a period when the building was generating no revenue.

Bedlam cofounder Maren Ward said if she had it to do over again, she would not have signed an "as-is" lease.

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Over the past four years the city has provided Bedlam with approximately $500,000 in grant money and other help. Part of the reasoning was that Bedlam is a Twin Cities arts institution known for building community and offering all sorts of different performances — theater, music, dance, spoken word, etc. — as well as being a place where people can just hang out and eat. Bringing it to Lowertown was intended to create an anchor venue for local artists that also helped build a neighborhood identity.

And it has made strides in that direction. For example, this weekend Bedlam is putting on its annual "Big Lowdown," in which people are treated to vignettes of performance both inside Bedlam and in the surrounding streets and alleyways.

The theater has hosted more than 350 events in its first year. But people have been a little slow to get comfortable with the idea that they might be having dinner while actors are rehearsing a play at the next table. And the company's last venue was in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, so Bedlam is rebuilding its customer base pretty much from scratch.

Meanwhile, staff haven't been paid in several weeks. Some have quit. And the company is behind on rent. It says it needs to raise $75,000 by Sept. 15 to keep the doors open, on its way to the $400,000 it needs by the end of the year.