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The iconic sketch comedy theater Brave New Workshop will continue its decades-long legacy under new ownership. 

Hennepin Theatre Trust has purchased Brave New Workshop's (BNW) assets and its building at 824 Hennepin Ave. in downtown Minneapolis, according to a news release.

The comedy troupe is the longest-running satirical comedy theater in the United States. Its alumni include former Sen. Al Franken, Louis Anderson, Lizz Winstead, Mo Collins, Pat Proft and more. 

“We are thrilled that the Brave New Workshop comedy theatre will continue to be a producing company in the heart of the Hennepin Theatre District,” Mark Nerenhausen, president and CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust, said in a news release. “This organization has been delighting and challenging brave audiences for more than 60 years and we are honored to carry on the creative legacy Dudley Riggs started in 1958 and John Sweeney and Jenni Lilledahl stewarded for the past 25 years.”

Hennepin Theatre Trust marks the third owner in Brave New Workshop's 63-year history. Riggs, a former circus performer, started Brave New Workshop in 1958 and then sold it to Sweeney and Lilledahl in 1997. At that point, their goals were to ensure the troupe's long-term sustainability, find it a permanent home and elevate the theater's unique history. 

“When we met those milestones a few years ago, we began talking about succession,” Lilledahl said in a statement. “We are confident that the Trust can carry on BNW’s mission to serve the community in diverse and expanded ways. Now is the right time in our lives for this transition.”

Brave New Workshop aligns with Hennepin Theatre Trust's mission to "drive cultural and economic vitality for the benefit of Minnesota," Nerenhausen said in the release. The Trust will showcase BNW and expand performance and educational opportunities for students, local artists and arts organizations at the 824 Hennepin Ave. building. (Hennepin Theatre Trust owns and operates three other theaters on Hennepin Avenue: Orpheum, State and Pantages.)

“Like a good improv scene, this latest reinvention honors the past and embraces the future,” Sweeney said in a statement. “We are grateful to the Trust for carrying on the legacy of Dudley Riggs and the theatre’s rich history. Long live the Brave New Workshop.”

Longtime BNW artistic director Caleb McEwen will continue to serve in that role, with productions anticipated in 2022. Brave New Workshop shut down in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic but hadn't returned nor announced any plans until now.

“The most important thing to me is that the vision of our founder, Dudley Riggs, continues,” McEwen, who has been with the Workshop for 26 years, said in a statement. “I’m thrilled that this Minnesota institution will be able to continue the tradition of world-class sketch comedy and improv it has upheld for over six decades.”

McEwen told the Star Tribune people who have seen Brave New Workshop's shows in the past will "not see a difference," noting Hennepin Theatre Trust will support the troupe's creative independence and brand of sketch comedy that later became popularized by Saturday Night Live on NBC and Chicago's The Second City. 

Brave New Workshop's satirical sketch comedy shows have included Fifty Shades of White: A Minnesota XXXmas, Babe Lincoln and the Vajazzled Badge of Courage and A Snowplow Named Desire: Love in Minnesota, among countless others.

Terms of the Brave New Workshop deal were not disclosed. Hennepin Theatre Trust will be the steward and producer of Brave New Workshop but Sweeney and Lilledahl will continue to own their corporate training company, which has been renamed the Brave New Outpost

Sweeney and Lilledahl also plan to continue managing the Brave New Institute, a nonprofit they launched in 1997 to help people use the tools and mindset of improvisation to affect their everyday lives in a positive way.

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