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Help keep Bedlam Lowertown alive 3,000 beers at a time

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Bedlam Lowertown needs your help. That requires simply showing up tonight to have a drink (or two... or three or...).

Tonight's "3,000 Drinks to Keep the Bedlam's Doors Open!" event is “as simple as it sounds,” says Maren Ward, who is the co-founder, master of ceremonies, and performing artistic director of the organization.

Despite the incredible amount of success the Lowertown location has experienced lately in terms of events and artist accolades, the venue is struggling with the challenge of paying down its construction debt. “We are 3,000 beers short of what we need in order to make our mid-monthly payroll and vendor expenses,” Ward explains.

Doors open today at 3 p.m. There will be specialty cocktails at the event, and the 3 to 7 p.m. happy hour includes $3 tap beers, $4 house wine, and plenty of cheap snacks. Event organizers are currently working on gathering a special lineup of DJs (including King Otto, Brian Engel of Worldwide Discotheque and Hipshaker, and Miguel Vargas of KFAI's Radio Pocho), and possibly a few live bands.

Bedlam member Ben Marcy has already promised on the Facebook event page to show up and purchase 30 beers... but you've got to do something special to earn one:

"Anyone can come up to me throughout the afternoon/evening and do something to earn one of those beers," Marcy posted yesterday. "Perform, create, profess, or whatever you can come up with... It's my call whether or not it's good enough, so you have to wow me. First wows are first served."

Bedlam started as a radical theater company in the early '90s. In 1996, Bedlam Studio was established in the West Bank neighborhood, and around the time that Bedlam artist Jon Mac Cole became involved.

“We did that for about 10 years, and it became very popular," says Cole. "We became kind of a hub for underground art in this town.”

Shortly after, it also became the home of the Grease Pit Bicycle Shop, precursor to the Hub Bike Co-op. Bedlam members provided after-school and summer-school programming for kids in the neighborhood, teaching improv and spoken-word classes.

This location was unique in that it provided a place for not only theater productions but also dance performances, puppet shows, parties, and social justice group gatherings. Then in 2007, Bedlam Studio moved two blocks over and became the Bedlam Social, making the informal hub of the Bedlam Studio official and adding a restaurant and bar.

“We tripled in size every year,” Cole says. “It was gangbusters.” Many recall how the darkened buildings right next to the Cedar-Riverside lightrail station suddenly came alive, playing host to tons of theatrical events and parties, like BOMP!, that drew crowds so large there were lines of people up the block just waiting to cram themselves inside.

Sadly, in the fall of 2010 Bedlam Social lost its lease and the company was “kicked out with less than six weeks' notice,” continues Cole. “The developers went public with it first, and there was a misunderstanding that it was a culture clash between us and the Muslims, which it wasn't. The Muslims loved us because of what we did for their kids.” Much public media drama ensued, and efforts to move to a new location within Minneapolis were continuously thwarted by the risks of short-term lease offers and gentrification efforts.

In the end, the Bedlam found a new home in St. Paul. In collaboration with funders like ArtPlace and Minnesota Philanthropy Partners, Bedlam Lowertown opened for trial events in the fall of 2012 in order to finalize plans for renovation. During the Northern Spark Festival of 2013 it was open for one night, and on May 31, 2014, Bedlam Lowertown was officially opened for business. Now it plays host to an eclectic variety of music, cabaret, theatrical production, info-tainment, and more.

Unfortunately the demolition and renovation process was extremely expensive, especially for a DIY arts and theater company.

“We can't operate if we can't pay our bills, hence the dramatic title of the event,” Ward says. In no way is the venue itself struggling for business; actually, it's doing better than ever. It's the crushing amount of debt that is holding the Bedlam Lowertown back from living a stress-free existence. “We are trying to make a bar, restaurant, arts, and community space sustainable through earned income,” Ward continues. “While grants and donations are also essential to our full operations, we are seeking to cover as many basic expenses as we can through earned revenue.”

The board of directors is continuing to work on a longer term strategy to stabilize the Bedlam Lowertown space, but tonight is crucial in keeping this one-of-a-kind collective alive. “We offer something that nobody else offers,” says Cole. 

"I'm really moved by the response the event has gotten," Ward says. After just creating the event page yesterday, it's already up to over 400 RSVPs, promising to be one hell of a party. Also, it's the perfect opportunity to go for a ride on the Green Line, which has its Union Depot stop right out front."

If you can't make it to the event tonight but still want to offer support to this thriving arts community, you can donate here.

Though this particular night is a special event devoted to meeting the 3,000-drink goal, Bedlam also invites you to show up any other day this week to contribute. There are plenty of other awesome events going on there, which can be found here.

Hope to see you there this evening!