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Common Room returns with a walking tour where the host might get lost

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What would happen if you moved away from the Twin Cities, to return 10 years later- could you find your way around? That’s kind of the concept for the next installment of Common Room a program of the Soap Factory hosted by Andy Sturdevant and Sergio Vucci, called “The Repatriation Tour”. They’ve asked artist Jonathan Gabel, who lived in the Twin Cities nearly 10 years ago and hasn’t been back since, to come back and lead a tour of the neighborhood surrounding the Soap Factory, which has changed drastically since his time as a volunteer there. 

The Common Room got started in a refurbished office space inside the Soap Factory in 2011, Later, the interactive program went mobile, taking place outside of the four walls of the building. Each Common Room event has a different theme, but the nature of the tours has changed a lot over the years, says Sturdevant. Besides walking tours, they’ve done bus tours as well. Coming up, tours will take place at the State Fair and starting at Calhoun Village Shopping Center. This weekend, “Common Room: The Repatriation Tour” starts out at the Soap Factory, with a prodigal Minnesotan returning to lead the way. “It’s a high concept idea- we’ll find out if it works or not,” Sturdevant says.

Sturdevant says he got the idea for the “Repatriation Tour” a couple of months ago, when he was talking to someone about their experience visiting their home town, which they hadn’t visited in 15-20 years. Their parents had moved, so they didn’t have a reason to be back. Sturdevant was fascinated with the person’s described experience of trying to rediscover what they remembered, and how their memories or perception had changed. “I thought it was a really cool idea,” Sturdevant says. “So I wanted recreate something like that.”

So they put out a call out for anybody that knew someone who had spent a little time in the Twin Cities but had moved away and hadn’t been back in about a decade. That’s how they found Jonathan Gabel, who they arranged to fly into the Twin Cities to lead a tour around the neighborhood surrounding the Soap Factory. “We’re letting him lead the way,” says Sturdevant, “and seeing how his memories of that specific space align with the present reality.” What makes it especially fun is that the neighborhood has changed unrecognizably in just the past few years with development. “I didn’t tell him that, though,” Sturdevant says.” Gabel has promised not to do any research about how things have changed. “We were joiking that we were going to drive him to the Soap Factory with a bag over his head.”

Before he arrives, Gabel will be working on a map of the city, created only from memory. “He moved before Google Maps was a thing people used all the time,” Sturdevant says. “His memory of the city is not tied to Google Maps in any way- that’s amazing to think, since that’s the default way people navigate the city.”

Common Room: The Repatriation Tour takes place 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Soap Factory