THEATER REVIEW | Bedlam Theatre and Live Action Set’s “The Big Lowdown”: A scavenger hunt full of surprises through Lowertown St. Paul

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Here’s the lowdown on The Big Lowdown, a Bedlam Theatre and Live Action Set’s “roving Lowertown adventure”: Go! It’s high adventure, promenade style—unique, fulfilling, and runs only this weekend. “Fantastic! What an experience!” raved an audience member. “I’m glad I came.” You will be, too.

When were you last in St. Paul’s Lowertown? Farmer’s Market, Art Crawl? Not Uptown or Downtown, but Lower, site of the Lower Landing on the Mississippi River, beginning in the 1840’s. Isn’t it time to go again?! It’s also the location of Bedlam Theatre’s new St. Paul digs, under renovation, and, officially, an Historic District.

What exactly is The Big Lowdown? An evening of discovery, with a fresh surprise just around the corner as you meander a several block radius in Lowertown. I don’t want to dispel the mystery, but you might encounter breakdancing, street theater, shadow puppetry, a carnival, storytelling, a history rant, music, or mime, for instance, performed from an alley precipice, in Mears Park, the Union Depot, or the nether regions of an 1880s-era building. And you may be invited to participate—write a letter, dance, decorate a mailbox.

Directed by Noah Bremer, the performance begins in the waiting room of the newly renovated Union Depot, a sparkling 1923 architectural gem. The audience is divided into 12 groups, each to be led by a “roamer” with a lantern. Our group was instructed to go stand at a railing in the parking ramp and wait for our roamer, who, let’s just say, showed up theatrically—I mustn’t give it away (oh, but I want to).

Your curiosity aroused yet?

Then, an amazing experience unfolds as we visit seven sites, our anticipation mounting. Like trick-or-treating on Halloween, eager for the next treat.

And because we have no clue what’s happening next, our senses are awakened—we tune into everything happening around us, wondering if it’s going to be the next scene—the woman, coming around the corner—will she break into song? What about the man with the suitcase? We ponder, “What’s real?” Kind of like life. Even the landscape comes to life as we wander through the nooks and crannies and architectural treasures of Lowertown.

But there’s more–a welcome in the air, a generosity, as we are warmly engaged and guided to each experience, performed just for us. And a community spirit grows. One scene begins, “We are the story spirits,” and the storytelling is contagious in our group. I learned of the young couple’s recent trip to San Francisco and a woman’s theater blog, plus we interacted about the experience, as each scene was stimulating and evocative.

I learned later that building connections was a key component of this work from the very beginning. Bedlam and Live Action Set invited community organizers to be talent scouts and select local artists for the show. The artists, unknown to each other initially, were brought together, as a richly multi-cultural cadre, to share their work, ideas, inspiration, feedback and support.

Together they helped create the show, truly a massive collaboration, as well as a vibrant new network for themselves. Everything leads to something else—for the audience, it was a ripple effect, as the community building continued in our groups, and who knows where it will go from here. “You’re not alone,” declared a performer in clown garb.

As our group left the Union Depot, site of our last scene, someone commented, “Coming back to the Depot after all this, it felt weird—it looks so sterile now. I guess we see things differently now—it is we who have changed.” In the park we’d heard, “Once the old container shatters, it makes everything possible.”

We passed a waiting bus and a sign: “If you see something, say something. Report suspicious activity.” Hmmm. I have a suspicion this is one of most innovative productions you’ll ever see.

The many dimensions of The Big Lowdown all came together as the 12 groups made their way, glowing lanterns coming from all directions, toward a large, lighted plaza and the sound of drums.

We gathered together in awe, after an incredible evening, and were spellbound by The Next Generation Drum Line, leaping and beating with precision, vigor, intensity. It was primal. Dancing broke out. And a full moon, encircled by a halo, graced our party, with a river running silently nearby.

I came away exhilarated, with a warm feeling. “Hope is the key,” said one artist. And hope there was, in humanity, community, the vision of a shared, vibrant, future, along with many invitations throughout the evening: “Remember the stories.” “What would be possible if you easily accessed and trusted your inner wisdom?” “What could you achieve if you dared to share your gifts with the world?”

The Big Lowdown is sheer magic from start to finish. “Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better … !” exclaimed a young woman at the show’s mid-point. It is a marvel of theatrical innovation, and model of inclusivity, collaboration, process-sharing (they invited audience feedback early in August).

Not to be missed—and for $15! Go early, take in the context, and watch the logistical feat of shuffling 12 groups to seven locations on time. Amazing! Wear good walking shoes, bring water (there are a few watering holes along the way), dress for the weather, and trust the process. Oh, and enjoy!


Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Funders Collaborative.

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