Going green by giving green

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Bedlam Theatre gives patrons cash for using environmentally friendly modes of transportation

While many businesses shy away from environmentally friendly initiatives that aren’t quite as friendly to their bottom line, Minneapolis’ Bedlam Theatre is literally giving away money in an effort to promote greener forms of transportation.

Bedlam Theatre, 1501 S. 6th St., started a program in January titled “How did you get HERE?” that gives a $2 bill to every patron who arrives via mass transit, biking or walking. The patron must buy or have prepurchased a ticket with a value of $10 or more to receive the reward.

At an Aug. 5 performance at the theater, 26 of the 110 guests were rewarded for their mode of transportation.

“It’s just nice to get the positive reinforcement,” said Ann Gerber, one of the guests who received a $2 bill. “I’m already pretty green friendly, but it’s nice to get a pat on the back.”

There isn’t any plan to stop the program “as long as we have a large parking lot,” said John Bueche, the artistic director at Bedlam.

“It’s not a direct affront to car usage, but with parking so easy at our new location, we wanted to add some incentive to walk or bicycle,” Bueche said.

The program has been a hit, with around 200 of the $2 bills handed out so far. The program recently received a monetary boost from the city, when Bedlam Theatre was chosen as one of 20 organizations that were each awarded a $1,000 grant as part of the “Mobilizing Citizens for Grassroots Climate Change” program. Each organization received the award for their plans to encourage residents to reduce energy use.

Most Bedlam customers who get to the theatre by foot, bike or train are pleasantly surprised when they receive reimbursement.

“It gets your attention when they’re pulling out the money,” Gerber said. “I think I’ll save my bill for my light-rail-riding fund.”

Jim Bueche, who manages the theatre’s eatery and is John’s brother, thought up the program at Bedlam. Many employees at Bedlam are avid bicyclists themselves, so being partial to biking is only natural. The theatre even has a do-it-yourself bike shop connected to the building called The Grease Pit, a place where neighborhood people come and work on their bikes.

Part of the close relationship between Bedlam and biking is the pride that Bedlam employees have in their bicycles and biking in general. Bedlam employee Telsche Thiessen said she would rather ride her blue Raleigh Reliant than drive.

“The people (at Bedlam) love their bikes but don’t spend a lot of money on them,” Thiessen said. “I spent $20 on my bike, but I take good care of it.”

Thiessen, a Whittier resident, will ride her bike to both Bedlam and to her serving job at the Craftsman on Lake Street. Both rides are about 15 to 20 minutes long. She said she would ride her bike until late in the fall or “until it snows.”

Back when Bedlam moved into the neighborhood in 1994, John Bueche said he knew the names of the “five or six guys who biked around all winter.” Now that Minneapolis is among the top cities in the nation in number of bicycle commuters, Bedlam is hoping to encourage the trend of using bicycles to commute through “How did you get HERE?” In the early days of the program, Bedlam chose certain shows during which to award the rebate, but now the program has gotten “more solid,” Bueche said. Every show that is $10 or more is eligible for the $2 rebate.

Bedlam started up the program long before the city grant was available. Now that the theatre has received the government funding, it is more heavily involved with the Minnesota Energy Challenge (MEC).

Bedlam will use about $600 of the $1,000 grant on $2 bills, while the remaining $400 will go toward making signage advertising the MEC. A sign to be attached to an artsy-like outdoor bicycle rack is currently being constructed, John Bueche said.

Bedlam Theater’s contributing partners include nearby businesses Peace Coffee shop and The Hub Bike Co-op.

Peace Coffee donates water bottles that patrons can choose in place of the $2 bills, Jim Bueche said.

He said the initiative is about giving back to the community.

“Our theatre is about building culture,” Bueche said. “We’re trying to be part of the whole citywide move to make the city more pedestrian friendly. We want to contribute to a broader, better cultural place to live.”