He’s Putting the Patrick Back in Patrick’s Cabaret

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There’s one thing you gotta say about Nicollet Island resident Patrick Scully: The guy’s always on the move. Having just last year returned to the United States from a few years spent living abroad in Europe and South America, he spent a few months curating performances at The Varsity Theater, and is now moving back to the cabaret he founded more than a dozen years ago, Patrick’s Cabaret on E. Lake Street.

It all started in the gym of St. Stephen’s School in South Minneapolis, where Scully was teaching creative movement and writing, among other subjects. “I was using the gym for rehearsal with other dancers and musicians,” recalls Scully, “and I got to the point where I had some stuff to show people, but I didn’t want to do a whole evening.” And then, he says, “I suddenly thought, ‘Why don’t I just share the evening?’ So I called some artist friends and put on a show.” Scully says about 50–60 people showed up that first night in the gym, and right away he started getting comments like, “This is great—when’s the next one?” and “How does a person get to perform here?”

So Scully started Patrick’s Cabaret. At first, he says, he only had “one or two shows every month or two.” But after about three years’ performing in the gym, he started to get restless. “There was often a conflict with other stuff going on at the gym,” says Scully, “and so many people wanted to be in the show that I needed to have it happen twice a month. I also wanted to find a space that was more intimate.”

And what could be more intimate than his own living room? At the time, Scully was living at Fifth Avenue and 24th Street and, for the next seven years, Scully presented the work of all sorts of performance artists—dancers, comics, artists, singers, musicians, poets—from the storefront space.

But then, “the city discovered we existed,” says Scully, who ironically was the one who tipped the city off. “I called the city to complain about a restaurant using a bike lane for valet parking.” Scully says a city employee then called him and got the answering machine, the message on which directed him to the Cabaret. “He sent the fire department out next morning,” says Scully, “and closed us down.” (The building was zoned residential and not licensed for a theater.)

But by then, Scully was thinking about moving on, anyway. “We could only seat 50 people for each show,” he says, “and we typically had about 80 at the door.” Besides, now that the city was involved, Scully would have to buy the building, address the zoning issues and invest in significant renovations. “We did some fundraising and actually raised enough to take out a mortgage on the space,” says Scully, “but then we realized we wouldn’t have enough money to make the repairs.” Also about that time, the owner of the building decided he didn’t want to sell it.

(In a strange twist of fate, another theatre company—Open Eye Figure Theatre Company—is now planning to buy and renovate Scully’s former space. According to Susan Haas, producing director of Open Eye, the Theatre has signed a purchase agreement for the space and is waiting for zoning approval, which it anticipates receiving in mid-September.)

So Scully started looking at other space. That’s when he was approached by someone he will only describe as a “fairy godmother” who came forward after one evening’s performance and said, “Do you still want to move? I can make that happen.”

The fairy godmother promised to buy the Cabaret some space and after some searching, Scully found the old firehouse at 31st Street and Minnehaha Avenue. The Cabaret has been there since 1999. But not Scully, who left about four years ago for performances both at home and abroad.

Then about a year ago, he says, he approached the Cabaret and asked if they’d be interested in his return to the venue that bears his name. His first day back at the Cabaret was July 20, 2005. “It’s exciting,” he says “It’s both familiar and sort of new. I was gone for three and a half years, and that absence gave me a chance to go and do other things. Now I get to take those experiences to the Cabaret.”

One experience Scully plans for the Cabaret is “a facelift. I want to redo the theatre space so that the entrances, the lobby, everything makes it a space that people feel enchanted by.”

Part of this comes from Scully’s experiences in Germany where there are “lots of great spaces.” But some of it he also credits to his recent collaboration with Jason McLean at the Varsity Theatre. “Jason really knows how to make spaces that are enchanting,” says Scully. “I am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to work at the Varsity.” Scully says his relationship with McLean is “amicable. We both have strong ideas and strong visions. I was happy to get [the Varsity] off the ground.”

One performer who has been with Scully through practically all of his various moves is April Sellers, founder of the April Sellers Dance Collective. Sellers has performed at the Fifth and 24th space, the firehouse space and, mostly recently, at the Varsity. She’s also performed in other spaces, but says the firehouse location is her favorite. Although the firehouse “has a great floor,” that’s not the only reason she wants to work where Scully is working. “Patrick has always been a supporter and an advocate of the arts,” she says. “He embodies the deepest respect toward artists.”

Scully has not yet stepped back onto the stage at the Cabaret. That will happen, he says, on Oct. 7, when he is planning his return show, “Incite Hope.” “I don’t typically have a theme for a show,” he says, “but in these challenging times, how do we continue to find sustenance and hope?”

Meanwhile, Scully is planning “A New Face,” a benefit for the Cabaret to be held on Sept. 23. Although Scully promises there will be food, he says, “Bring a crowbar and a hammer. We’re going to start working on the space.”

But Scully isn’t just involved in the Cabaret. He maintains a busy schedule performing his own work, he’s a well-known advocate for gay rights, and he’s recently been involved in the debate surrounding the DeLaSalle athletic field.

He also does something he calls “eco-graffiti.” “I like to find big expanses of tall grass,” he says, “so that I could do a peace sign.” Using hillside spaces around town, Scully originally created his “graffiti” with a pair of hand clippers, but now he has a battery-charged weed whacker. Scully thinks that freeway hillsides would be ideal for this type of expression. “People should always feel free,” he says, “to spread the message of peace.”

For more information about Patrick’s Cabaret, visit www.patrickscabaret.org or call 721-3595.

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