Community notebook: Brave New Workshop opens

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November 21, 2011 // UPDATED 9:14 am - November 21, 2011
By: Jeremy Zoss
Jeremy Zoss
Brave New Workshop opens in grand style

HENNEPIN AVENUE — The Brave New Workshop celebrated the grand opening of its new location at 824 Hennepin Avenue on Nov. 4 with the debut of its annual holiday show and the ceremonial lighting of its energy-efficient marquee. The event was both a celebration of the future of the Brave New Workshop as well as recognition of the hard work involved in moving the theater from its familiar Uptown location.

“The goal for the last two years has been to find a new location and identify a motivated seller, secure financing and buy a building and take our brand to the next level,” said Brave New Workshop owner John Sweeney. “And that’s what tonight’s all about. Of course, the most important thing is whether the audience laughs.”

The opening night began with a ceremony featuring Brave New Workshop founder Dudley Riggs and Mayor R.T. Rybak, who read a proclamation declaraing Nov. 4, 2011 “Brave New Workshop Day.” The declaration was followed by the first lighting of the energy-efficient marquee and the debut of Brave New Workshop’s annual holiday show, this year titled “Miracle at 824 Hennepin Ave: Skyway to the Manger Zone.”

The new location features a lower floor space called the Experimental Thinking Center, which can be used for corporate events, webcasts and other projects. The second floor houses the main stage, and the Brave New Workshop’s popular classes will remain at the Uptown location. Previously, the Brave New Workshop’s scripted events, corporate events and improv classes shared the same stage, which often caused scheduling conflicts.

The new location should eliminate those conflicts, and also brings a welcome dose of sustainability to the Brave New Workshop. The marquee uses only 9 percent of the electricity of similar marquees thanks to LED lights. The same lighting technology reduces electricity use by 173,000 kilowatts compared to the space’s previous tenant, the Hennepin Stages.

Of course, the new space also brings the Brave New Workshop another major advantage, and that’s the downtown location. “We have such a larger audience potential that we can be exposed to now,” said Katy McEwen, Brave New Workshop’s co-artistic director. “There’s such a different energy downtown. It’s exciting to be near other theaters. The theater community down here has been so welcoming. Everyone’s excited to have something down here. It’s very much a community.”

New skyway link connects Accenture Tower to downtown core

SKYWAYS — Accenture Tower at 333 S. 7th St. is adding a third skyway link to connect the building with Ameriprise Financial center. The new skyway link will connect westward across 3rd Avenue South and make it easier for skyway users to access the building from the heart of downtown.

The newest skyway in the city should be open by the end of the year. It will be the 84th link in the skyway system and is projected to cost $3 million. The project is being paid for by the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, which owns Accenture Tower and will be responsible for the upkeep of the new skyway link.

The majority of the downtown skyway system is privately owned.

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Partners in Preservation 
awards historic preservation grants

Partners in Preservation, the joint effort of American Express and the National Trust for Historic places, has revealed the recipients of $900,000 in historic 
preservation grants.

Partners in Preservation earlier named the Basilica of Saint Mary as the winner of the popular vote in the contest that asked people to choose their favorite historic place in the Twin Cities.

Twenty-five sites competed for the funds, and 13 were chosen to receive a portion of the funds. Of those, four are located in Minneapolis. The Emerge Career and Technology Center at 1101 West Broadway Ave. N. will receive $110,000 to restore the interior of its library, built in 1893. The American Swedish Institute at 2600 Park Ave. will receive $90,000 to restore its kitchen. The Soap Factory at 520 2nd St. SE will receive $70,000 to repair its roof. Finally, the Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery at 2925 Cedar Ave will receive $20,000 for repairs of its historic fence.

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Trouble for
Loring Theater

NICOLLET — Loring Theater, the 1920s venue at 1407 Nicollet formerly known as the Music Box Theater, has slashed the majority of its scheduled shows after falling on tough financial times. While representatives of Loring Theater have stated that the venue has not closed, most scheduled events have been moved to other venues or cancelled outright.

Conceived as a “modern variety house,” Loring Theater scheduled a wide variety of events, including concerts, movies and “Haunted Theater: Fallout,” a haunted house/interactive theater experience inspired by the fallout shelter in the building’s basement.

Loring Theater did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this article.

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‘Minnesota Beatles Project’ raises money for arts education

For the third time, nonprofit organization Vega Productions has gathered an all-star lineup of Minnesota musicians for the “Minnesota Beatles Project,” which aims to raise money for arts and music education in Minnesota schools. The album, which features local 
musicians covering 15 Beatles tracks, will be 
available on CD, LP and digital download on Dec. 6, with all proceeds donated to music and arts programs in Minnesota public schools.

“Through music and art education, students learn the power of creativity, dedication and collaboration. Sadly, many Minnesota public schools are being forced to make difficult budgetary decisions, which often means opportunities in music and art are lost,” said Mark Gehring, 
executive director, Vega Productions, Inc. in a statement. “Minnesota Beatle Project Vol. 3 calls on the best of the Minnesota music industry to help not only preserve, but enhance music and arts education so students can continue to learn and develop their talents.”

The CD release show for “Minnesota Beatles Project Vol. 3” will be held at First Avenue on Tuesday, Dec. 6 in conjunction with Curtiss A’s annual tribute to John Lennon. Performers include White Light Riot, Dark Dark Dark and Her Choir and Me and My Arrow.

“Minnesota Beatles Project Vol. 3” will be 
available on Dec. 6 at Target stores, independent record shops and all major digital music services.

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City approves redesign plan for Peavey Plaza

NICOLLET MALL — Despite objections of preservationists, the 
Minneapolis City Council and Mayor R.T. Rybak approved the redesign plan for Peavey Plaza, which bring the space into compliance with the America Disabilities Act and create a space that is better suited to programming and events.

Preservationists argued that the new plan by landscape architecture firm oslund.and.associates retained too little of the plaza’s original design. A group calling itself the Supporters of Peavey Plaza also charged that the team selection and design process was not transparent enough.

Despite these objections, 
the City Council approved the plan on Nov. 4. “Today’s approval of the design marks the day to move forward with work focused on building this signature plaza,” said Council Member Lisa Goodman (Ward 7) in a statement. “Oslund’s design coupled with Minnesota Orchestra’s renovation will revitalize the entire block.”

The redesign plan is projected to cost $8–$10 million, the bulk of which will come from private contributions. The project has also secured $2 million in state bonding.

Groundbreaking is tentatively set for spring 2012, with a grand opening targeted for summer of 2013. The new design includes two shallow pools, flexible seating, restrooms, a concession area and a sound garden leading to the entrance of Orchestra Hall, among other features.

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Racquetball tournament to be held in Northeast and Downtown


The 22nd Annual Superstars of Raquetball tournament will be held Dec. 2–3 at the St. Anthony Athletic Club in Northeast Minneapolis and the Downtown YMCA.

The tournament is being organized by Dave Hart, who works as the racquetball pro at both health clubs. Hart is the former owner of the Northeast Racquetball Club and many-time State Singles and Doubles champion. The tournament was held at the Northeast Raquetball Club in past years, which Hart sold to a friend several years ago. That club is now closed, so Hart moved the tournament to its two current venues.

The tournament will include some professional players, but is more geared toward amateurs.

“We want to promote the sport,” said Hart. “We’re going to donate some of the proceeds back to the Minnesota Junior Racquetball program. Racquetball, as far as calories, you’re burning 600 to 800 an hour. It’s a full body workout that makes you use your brain.”

The tournament is open to the public, and Hart will teach a free racquetball clinic at the St. Anthony Athletic Club on Saturday, Dec. 3 at 11 a.m. Hart hopes that the public will turn out to watch the event and learn a little something about racquetball. “We say it’s fun, fast, furious fitness,” said Hart. “It’s just a great sport. You get a great workout and it’s easy to learn.”

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New film out about Holland park


HOLLAND — A new documentary about the transformation of Jackson Square Park has been released, and is available on the Minneapolis Television Network website.

The documentary, “A Backstop Named Innovation,” was made by John Akre, a production specialist at the public television station.

It runs for nearly 30 minutes and captures the transformation of the Holland neighborhood park from a derelict and oft-flooded public space into a cornerstone of the community with sculptures, a softball field used by students at Thomas Edison High School and a fire fighters memorial.

The project, which began in the summer of 2010, also included an overhaul of the softball field’s back stop. Built with rusted steel, it doubles as a work of public art and the centerpiece of the park.

Akre, who lives in Northeast Minneapolis, said he began documenting the transformation as part of an initiative to promote neighborhood revitalization efforts across the city.

The Jackson Square project caught his attention because it was at the heart of Northeast Minneapolis and marked something of a turning point in the community. The area was one of the worst parts of the neighborhood but has now become a central gathering space.

“If the Holland neighborhood is looking for a symbol, this is it,” said Akre, who described the overhaul as “monumental in a very modest way.”

City Council member Kevin Reich, whose district includes the Holland neighborhood, encouraged Akre to document the project, which was led by artist James Brenner and driven largely by neighborhood organizers.

 “I thought there was something there worth capturing, and he [Akre] captured it,” Reich said.

Reich said the Jackson Square transformation stood out in his mind because it was a grassroots effort to reclaim a public space and snowballed into something much larger than originally intended. An electronic billboard, built in the same rusted steel style as the backstop, is being built now.

“This is a place that could have been very utilitarian, but the community saw an opportunity, said they wanted to turn it into a public amenity and gave it a whole new life,” he said. “This was a forgotten corner, but the community dug in its heels, took a stand, and has gotten bolder and bolder ever since.”

Akre’s documentary is available online at mtn.org. A screening and panel session is also scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 17 at the Ritz Theatre, 345 13th Avenue NE.

Drew Kerr contributed 
to this report.