The Brave New Workshop Comedy Theater (BNW), is a sketch and improvisational comedy theater based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The artists of the BNW have been writing, performing and producing live sketch comedy and improvisation performances for 55 years – longer than any other theater in the nation.
The BNW, founded as the Instant Theater Company in New York City, was established in Minneapolis in 1958 by Dudley Riggs, with improvised help from Dick Guindon, Irv Letofsky, and Dan Sullivan. (Riggs's parents were circus and vaudeville performers, and he regularly joked that he ran away from the circus to find a home.) The BNW was named in honor of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, and bills itself as the oldest ongoing satirical comedy theater in the nation. Nearly 400 original productions have been mounted on Brave New Workshop stages for more than three million people. Improv and sketch comedy shows can be seen on its stage nearly every weekend of the year.
The original location Riggs selected for his theater was 207 East Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis. In 1961, Riggs moved the company to its historic location at 2605 Hennepin Avenue South, where it remained until 1998, when the BNW moved four blocks south to Calhoun Square in Uptown Minneapolis. Finding the location a financial burden, the company returned to 2605 Hennepin in 2002. BNW also operated a satellite location in neighboring Saint Paul, Minnesota, for five years before closing in 2006. Earlier, in 1971, a satellite theater and cafe, the "ETC" ("Experimental Theatre Company," not to be confused with BNW's current "Experimental Thinking Centre"), opened in the Southern Theatre at Seven Corners in the Cedar Riverside area of Minneapolis' West Bank. In 2010, Sweeney and Lilledahl purchased the Hennepin Stages Theater at 824 Hennepin Avenue (the longtime home to productions such as Tony n' Tina's Wedding) in downtown Minneapolis. This location is the main venue for the Brave New Workshop, housing the theater where the main stage sketch comedy shows are performed, as well as an event space and administrative offices. In August 2014, the company announced that the historic Uptown location at 2605 Hennepin Avenue had been sold, and that it had purchased a building located at 727 Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. This building is now the home of the Brave New Workshop Student Union, which runs improv and comedy writing classes, as well as occasional improv performances.
Recent hit shows at the BNW have included How to Make Love Like a Minnesotan, Fifty Shades of White: A Minnesota XXXmas, Babe Lincoln and the Vajazzled Badge of Courage, and Lance Armstrong's Steroid-Pumped Comedy Revue: A Cheater's Guide to Winning.
Notable alumni of the BNW include Louie Anderson, Mo Collins, Tom Davis, Al Franken, Penn Jillette, Carl Lumbly, Paul Menzel, Pat Proft, Annie Reirson, Taylor Nikolai, Nancy Steen, Peter Tolan, Linda Wallem, Lizz Winstead, Peter MacNicol, Melissa Peterman, and Cedric Yarbrough.
In March 1997, Riggs sold the theater to new owners John Sweeney, Jenni Lilledahl, and Mark Bergren (Bergren left the BNW in 1999 to pursue other interests). The name of the theater changed slightly to "The Brave New Workshop, founded by Dudley Riggs in 1958." The new owners continue to produce all-original sketch comedy and improvisation revues on a year-round basis. They also oversee the Brave New Institute (the BNW’s training center for improvisation), located at the Student Union location. The school claims to have the most broad-based improv curriculum of any training center in the country, with more than 300 students and specific programming for performers, non-performers, youth, seniors, and corporations.
The BNW was the featured entertainment for Disney Cruise Lines for several years, and the resident comedy-writing team for NPR's "All Things Considered." BNW actors have worked with MPR’s comedy show Wits, hosted by John Moe.
The theater's corporate services division is called Creative Outreach, a range of services built on the belief that corporate and office settings can improve their creativity and employee cultures by applying the principles of improvisational comedy. These services include keynote speeches, customized entertainment, and team-building workshops. In 2006, Sweeney and the BNW performed over 200 keynote speeches, training workshops, and custom entertainment productions for Fortune 500 clients.
The Brave New Workshop has implemented a social and environmental program called the Brave New Citizens Initiative. The mission statement of the initiative is "Think Globally. Act Locally." Through this program the theater has replaced all theater and house lights with LED lights, started composting as well as recycling, and encouraged the use of public transportation by patrons. The Brave New Workshop helped to form the Twin Cities Sustainable Theaters, a forum for local theaters to explore and exchange sustainable practices.
- "Brave New Workshop - Dudley Riggs". Archived from the original on 2013-09-17. Retrieved 2013-04-11.
- Rohan Preston (August 18, 2014). "Brave New Workshop to expand in downtown Minneapolis". StarTribune.
- Marsh, Steve (September 2008), "Just Asking... Lizz Winstead", Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, archived from the original on 2009-01-06
- Marianne Combs (February 26, 2008). "50 years of social satire at Brave New Workshop". Minnesota Public Radio News.
- Hubbard, Rob. Brave New Workshop : Promiscuous Hostility and Laughs in the Land of Loons. History Press, South Carolina, 2015. ISBN 9781626196865
- Riggs, Dudley. Flying Funny: My Life Without a Net. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2017. ISBN 9781517901677