When Patrick's Cabaret first began, says Patrick Scully, "my intention wasn't as big as what it grew into. My intention was just to have a venue where I could show some work that I was working on, but I didn't want to produce a whole evening of my work. I thought, well, I know lots of other artists. Why don't I just go through my Rolodex and see who's got something that they want to do?"
Patrick's Cabaret began 30 years ago as an informal series of shows that led Scully to convert his own home into a theater (the south Minneapolis space that's now Open Eye Figure Theatre). The cabaret is celebrating its pearl anniversary this weekend with a pair of shows that will also be the final performances in its current home: a former firehouse near the corner of Minnehaha Avenue and Lake Street, instantly recognizable for its proudly waving rainbow flag.
That flag "announced to the world, 'We're here, we're queer, get used to us, we're not going away,'" says Scully, who says that many visitors were moved and gratified to see a flag symbolizing GLBT pride flying next door to a police station. "It's possibly the most recognizable rainbow flag in Minnesota."
The organization is being forced to vacate the firehouse — for which it has paid rent of only one dollar per month, thanks to an owner Scully has described as a "fairy godmother" — because the building has been sold. The cabaret has to be out by summertime, and executive artistic director Scott Artley says that the immediate plan is to find a combination of storage space and office space, presenting work at other venues while longer-term plans take shape.
"I'm resisting the impulse to immediately jump in and find a new space," says Artley. "Desperation does not lead to the best decisions." Artley also hopes that bringing performances to new spaces will help to "refresh the community around the cabaret" with new artists and audiences. "An advisor once told me never to let a good crisis go to waste."
Over the years, the cabaret has helped to foster a queer performance art scene in the Twin Cities, and to elevate intersectional inclusivity as a value to be embraced. Having an established, highly visible institution such as Patrick's has also made radical performance work more accessible to a general audience.
Scully says that when the organization lost its previous space, he and his colleagues decided it was important to make the jump to a larger platform. "Having that kind of visibility and that kind of prominence — not being a sort of underground organization anymore, but being above-ground and visible at a major intersection in the city — brought a kind of significance."
"This is also my 30th year as a person on this planet," notes Artley. "As a queer performer myself, the fact that there's 30 years of history of people doing radical work like this has set the stage for me to be able to do the work I'm doing today."
Scully stepped away from an active role in the organization several years ago, and describes his role today as an "artist emeritus." He's returning to emcee the 30th anniversary celebration and to perform an original piece reflecting on the cabaret's history.
Rather than curate a sort of greatest-hits show, Artley is inviting theater students from the University of Minnesota to create performances inspired by and reflecting on the cabaret's archives, which the organization has donated to the university's Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies.
In other words, the celebration will showcase young performers building on the organization's past — which is consistent with Artley's goals for the soon-to-be-itinerant cabaret.
"In 1986," Artley observes, "the theater landscape looked really different. There were not as many opportunities to perform, especially if you were an artist that did radical work or came from a marginalized background. Now, there are so many open mics and places where emerging artists are supported."
Artley says he wants to stay "true to the cabaret as a model of what a radically inclusive creative community can look like" while recognizing that the landscape has evolved. "I've been thinking about looking at artist services and training as a way to support the artists we work with. There are so many more institutions to navigate now. Before, it was, 'How can I get onstage?' Now, it's 'How can I make a life as an artist on the edge of culture?'"
"The cabaret really pushed boundaries of inclusiveness," says Scully, "at a time when the world was interested in dealing with issues of diversity when it meant racial inclusiveness and ethnicity, but it was still edgy to insist that gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender issues be part of what was on the table as well. I think Patrick's Cabaret and this community really led the way in allowing for a kind of inclusiveness that embraced that as well and challenged others to do the same."