Bedlam Theatre becomes Fringe Central


This year, Bedlam Theatre has been transformed into the social hub sitting at center stage of all things Fringe. From Fringe tickets to grab-and-go lunches, it’s all at Bedlam, this year’s Fringe Central. “It will be theater-goers going to a theater that isn’t being a theater,” says John Buecke, one of Bedlam’s artistic directors. “It pushes the boundaries of what theater-going is.”

Bedlam Theatre is located at 1501 S. 6th St., Minneapolis. For information about the Minnesota Fringe—and a complete schedule—see Follow the Fringe with the Daily Planet’s five Fringe bloggers at our Fringe blogs page.

“One of our goals for Fringe Fest is to show there are five rooms here,” says John’s brother, chef Jim Buecke. “There can be five groups of 20 if you’d like, or 100. There will be different crowds and moods.” He anticipates that anywhere from 25-2,000 people will be in attendance at any given time.

The fireplace room, featuring a music stage that fills on Wednesdays for Dreamland Faces performances, holds a large tent with grab ‘n’ go meals and late night snacks. The large theater room has been transformed into a beer garden replete with a giant tent, Christmas lights, and a half-dozen large umbrellas. Upstairs, on the way to the patio, is a living room with cards and board games. The patio itself, lush with plants, has a sweeping view of the Minneapolis skyline.

“We were inspired by the success of the Nightcap Series over the past couple years,” says John. “To us, the lobby is as important as the theatre at the community level. The Fringe Fest has 150 shows. We are one central lobby celebrating theatre-going people.”

As Fringe Central, the very large Bedlam will be a big improvement over bar-roving. “We have a bigger capacity than the other nightcaps,” continues John. Jim notes an advantage about Bedlam’s location: people are able to easily bike to Fringe performances from Bedlam. “There’s no other theater in town that gives you $2 to bike to a show and that has a bike shop with wi-fi,” said Jim.

Jim is adapting the usual Bedlam menus for the Fringe. Under the big tent in the fireplace room will be grab-and-go sack lunches featuring sandwiches made from St. Agnes bread and meat from Everett’s, homemade cookies, and bottles of carbonated water. St. Agnes is a Polish bakery. “Their bread reminds me of what my Grandma would make,” said Jim Buecke. There will be late night snacks such as hot dog baskets (made with all-natural beef from a local supplier) and Fringe fries (sweet potato fries). Sit-down dinners will include Jim’s signature pierogis and kielbasa sausage, country-style ribs, BBQ pulled pork and BBQ tempeh sandwiches, roast chicken, fresh veggie (vegan) pasta, pizza, and slippery noodles.

The bar boasts a selection of beer, wine, and a supply of signature drink “The West Bank.” (Cold press coffee with Black Label beer: better than it sounds.) Fringe Central sponsor Summit Brewing Company is providing umbrellas, pint glasses, and 1,600 biodegradable corn cups. Six Summit beers will be on tap. John Buecke noted that their sample cups will be turned into “Flights of Summit.” Four kinds of Etica Fair Trade wines will also be served.

This week I followed Bedlam Theatre staff as they turned the the venue into Fringe Central: from painting yellow parking lot lines to making 1,000 pierogies to creating a street fair, all involved say the process was hectic yet fun.

Walking in last Monday, I saw furniture turned upside down on bars and tables and stacked in corners to the rafters. Summit umbrellas were strewn about. Piles of Etica fliers sat on a table. The central stage held a table for two and a lamp, and the bleachers were disassembled, exposing the hardwood gymnasium floor I recalled from the earliest days of Bedlam renovations. Jim Buecke was on the phone talking about getting supplies, and John Buecke greeted me as he hoisted an umbrella into its base. John offered me one of Jim’s new ice cream sandwiches. Getting off the phone, Jim exclaimed, “That’s supposed to go in a Fringe fries bag for full effect!”

Designer Brad Dahlgaard swung by to show his new Fringe Central poster to Jim for approval (yes!), then Jim offered us Surly beers. (Cynic goes well with a ice cream and chocolate cookie sandwich!) Upstairs, “Let’s Get Physical” was being sung in full camp for an audition, while several listeners below silently giggled.

Earlier that day, Jim and four cooks had tag-teamed for over 2 1/2 hours making 500 of his fantastic homemade pierogis with sweet potato/cheese and sauerkraut filling. “Now that that’s done, I feel ready for Fringe Central,” said Jim. “I can breathe now.” Only a few of about seven Twin Cities restaurants offering pierogies make their own, he said. His sister is coming to town from Michigan and will help make the final 500 pierogis Monday. “She is the one in our family who made the pierogis. I just took them to the commercial level.” They’re also making 500 ice cream sandwiches.

As Jim spoke, Scotty Reynolds, Bedlam patio gardener (and Interact Theatre director/playwright/actor) killed the Summit keg, with foam flying everywhere. Jim: “You’re the winner! You keep the tap handle.” After a brief celebration, while Scotty watered the patio plants, he talked about his involvement with Bedlam’s outdoor Shakespeare for the Fringe last year. “Other Fringe Fests are more like the State Fair—people hop from one [venue] to the other. Because Bedlam hosts so many shows, there seems to be more socializing here. Maybe as a hub, there will be more hanging out and socializing [here] during this year’s Fringe.”

Back downstairs, I caught Maren Ward, in a red dress, dashing out to pick up the big tent from Jim’s. “We’re going for an outdoors feel, indoors,” she said. “At first we wanted to be a theatre venue. Now we’re excited to be the social center. It’s fun thinking about the different crowds at different times of day.” She notes Bedlam is performing their musical You’re No Fun, by Susannah Reich, for the Fringe, though not in Bedlam Theatre—at the University of Minnesota’s Rarig Thrust Theatre instead. With their home space now serving Fringe Central, “we need to find a different place to practice our Fringe theatre piece!” laughed Ward.

Over the weekend, while moving the Fringe Fest office to Bedlam for handling all ticket sales, John Buecke and others had suddenly realized that Bedlam’s networking capabilities weren’t up to speed—and there will be Fringe bloggers and reviewers posting from Fringe Central! Disaster was averted in the nick of time as Bedlam actor and Technical Liason Jon Mac Cole called James Matheson of Network Medics. Within two days, Matheson had Bedlam set up with new routers, DSL, and secure lines “tripling our Internet capacity, when [previously] we could barely run our own in the office,” said John. “Now we’re a wi-fi café!”

“Hashing out the vision for this with the Fringe staff and Bedlam staff has been like producing a play,” says John Buecke. “It’s a very creative process. We’re making sure theater going is fun, regardless of whether you like theater or not, or the play you’re seeing. We thought if we had something to bring to the Fringe, it would be augmenting the theatre atmosphere.”

Cyn Collins is a Twin Cities freelance arts and culture writer. She is the author of West Bank Boogie, a substitute programmer at KFAI, and an assistant producer of Write On Radio.