Bedlam's executive artistic director John Bueche talks about the closing

Categories: Music News
bedlam-theatre-staff.jpg
photo via Bedlam Theatre's Facebook page
Word came through yesterday that the Bedlam Theatre has received notice to vacate its current home on the West Bank due to long-planned development initiatives. The theatre has been operating under a month-to-month lease since moving into the building in 2006, a "calculated risk" that has paid its dividends with four years of bleeding-edge theater productions, the epically successful Bomp!, and innumerable concerts and events. We talked with the Bedlam's Executive Artistic Director John Bueche about how this came about, and their plans for the future.

I assume the last day or so has been pretty busy for you.

John Bueche: Well really it's kind of a relief to have it out there. The last two weeks have certainly been really busy for me.

That's my first question, how long have you known that the closing was imminent?

June 30. We talked to our landlords on and off for the past 5-6 months and knew this was a possibility, but up until June 30 it really seemed like there were some other solutions that would be able top be worked out.

Did you guys have any say in the matter?

No, not really. I mean, it's just wasn't our decision. I can say we're able to express our viewpoints, we certainly have room to express our viewpoints, but ultimately it wasn't our decision to make. We knew eventually we'd be moving for development, part of the calculated risk with taking this building on in the first place

On a month-by-month basis?

Right. But obviously there was a good positive risk, the last four years. Just that we knew the final decision to leave would be based on complicated neighborhood needs.

So why was it a month-to-month lease? Because they knew this construction was going to come up eventually?

Not even this, I mean they still have long-term development plans that'll be making that end of the neighborhood look a lot different, from the LRT station all the way down to Mixed Blood.

So they plan on redoing that whole area?

Yeah, exactly.

I was also wondering about the benefit that was thrown to raise money to fix the floor. What's going to happen with that money?

If I'm not articulate here, our website can maybe do a better job. But the deal is that Bedlam and volunteers did the demolition work on the floor, and there's still a little bit of money left from that. And then the work of putting the floor back together at some point in that first couple weeks of May, the landlord hired a contractor to fix it up, so that has not been anything that we've paid for at all. The contractors have taken care of it and done a great job. The fundraising has been important because of the indirect impact on us in terms of lost business and lost capacity -- that room just means that at all times there's less events and 50 less people at events. Our individual donors raised over $7,000 that was a big very important thing in minimizing the blow from the lost business.

And so, is that money going to be used to move, or reschedule vents, or rent spaces?

It's not as direct as that. Yes, it helps us be able to move, but like I say I know that the impact on lost capacity was way more than $7,000. You know, it's not like extra money. It just helps us still be able to pay our bills, payroll, etc.

Helps you not fall as hard I guess?

Yeah. To clarify, the biggest impact of having the money to move out gracefully is simply having people coming and keeping it busy for the next six weeks.

We average around $50,000 a month in earned revenue. With the Fringe in August, we had already thought that August might be as large as an $80,000 month. And if people's excitement about enjoying the last six weeks gets out there then maybe that could be a $90,000 or $100,000 month. That'll make a big difference in how we support the moving costs.

I think it was you who said it might take up to three years to relocate?

To open a permanent venue is what I'm saying might take one to three years.

So three years wasn't your low-end timetable.

It's just because of the specifics of what we want out of a permanent home. But that doesn't mean we would stop doing things by any means. We've got well over $100,000 in grant contracts for programming, so we know there'll be Bedlam activities and shows in the coming years. In terms of the business model, planning on what we do in the meantime while we're developing a permanent home, the two versions we're looking at are current vacant spaces with performance spaces and some bar/restaurant infrastructure ready to go or possibly investing in the infrastructure to do pop-up operations where we're basically like a licensed catering for food/drink and we'll re-emerge at various theatres and vacant spaces over the next couple of years.

For the stuff that's scheduled after the close, do you guys have any spaces that you're looking to relocate to?

Yeah for sure, we've been meeting with a lot of people and out looking already so we'll have another wave of that this weekend, so I think within the next couple weeks we'll be able to talk concrete estimates on where these next steps might happen.

I'd say we've got pretty good foundation to support our programming moving forward, and it's tricky about being to positive about that, unless we're really able to reopen the restaurant business, there's a large part of the staff we won't be able to support. We want to be sensitive to those employees. There's a chance that people will be out of a job if we can't get that figured out.


From the Bedlam's press release regarding the closing:

Bedlam is notifying and working to accommodate all of its community partners and fellow artists who have events or activities booked in the current space. The company is also working on its responsibility to all staff members who depend on Bedlam wages for their livelihood will be affected by the transition. "Bedlam has been successful in this location and we welcome the opportunities that a new, permanent location will afford us," says Bedlam's Board of Directors President Scott Pakudaitis. "Now we embark on a new theatrical adventure.

They have provided everyone a few ways to help them out during their transition:

  • Tell Mayor R.T. Rybak what Bedlam means to you. Many of you may have seen this on our facebook page. Take some time and write to the mayor by following this link. Tell your friends to do the same.
  • Post an excerpt of your letter or testimonial to the mayor on the Bedlam Theatre Facebook page
  • Stay posted for volunteer opportunities from the wemakeit account
  • [Today], Friday, we'll be having a public happy hour at Bedlam starting at 5:00PM where we'll start organizing and mobilizing for big volunteer tasks.  Please join us!
Stay tuned to the Bedlam's website for more information.

We also spoke with Bomp! host Jonathan Ackerman about the effect Bedlam's closing will have on one of the Cities' most-loved dance nights. You can read that here.
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