Lisa Khang and Niha Vang perform "Love+"
Photo by Michal Daniel
I'll admit to a little trepidation Friday night as I left the Union Depot in St. Paul, following a set of well-written instructions down into the parking garage and then toward an overpass to meet my "ragtime roamer" at the The Big Lowdown.
Was this some sort of elaborate plot to mug a dozen or so theatergoers? Were we going to spend all of our time listening to traffic overhead?
That faded away as our excitable tour guide met us: dressed as a dog.
I guess that shouldn't have been much of a surprise, considering the piece is the brainchild of innovative, and more than a little eccentric, companies Live Action Set and Bedlam Theatre. Over the next two hours, we were guided along a tour of the darkened streets of Lowertown, stopping every so often to take in a short bit of theater.
It was fun, thrilling, and more than a little exhausting. The work, built by nine different performing teams, featured a mixture of dance, drama, storytelling, and song.
It was the kind of event where you could head down a dark alley and find Bedlam's John Francis Bueche and Open Eye Figure Theatre's Michael Sommers perched on a crumbling concrete loading dock, talking about the ghosts that haunt the neighborhood (complete with a ghost puppet swooping overhead).
Whether it was in an alley, the Union Depot's massive, echo-laded atrium, or in the basement of a nearby artist co-op, the work lived as much on its sheer energy than any unifying narrative. Sure, there was a common story among all of the work, about a box of letters inspiring the next generation, but that was just a springboard.
The ultimate goal was to bridge the vibrant arts community to the very streets of Lowertown. While those streets were largely empty Friday evening (we can blame the State Fair for that), there were a few folks wandering around with puzzled looks on their faces. Some of them even stopped to take in a show or even wandered with the group for a while before drifting away.
While The Big Lowdown was sadly only on for one weekend, it won't be the last time Bedlam will be in the area. Their new St. Paul space is smack dab in the middle of the neighborhood, and hopefully there will be action like this for years to come.
For information on Bedlam Theatre's new space, visit online.