Our Beginnings

The BNW has been entertaining and educating through the art form of improvisation and comedy satire since 1958 (founded by Dudley Riggs…see below). The BNW SU school has roots as early as the 1960s, when performers began experimenting with the art form of improvisation to write theatre, and also expand their innovation and creativity skills. The BNW took those learnings to the classroom and general public in the 1970s. This idea of ‘learning improv for the sake of improv’ has been around in some form since the early days of the theatre. The BNW SU found its long-term footing in 1997 when John Sweeney and Jenni Lilledahl bought the BNW and established a separate non-profit organization focused on the study of scenic improvisation and bringing those skills to life (at that time called The Brave New Institute).

Brave New Workshop Student Union Minneapolis History dudley riggs

Growing from a handful of regular students in 1997 to more 200 students by 1999, the BNW SU has expanded in every direction since. Considered a global leader in study of improvisation, the BNW SU hosts classes for adults, youth, teens and seniors, and partners with community, health and education organizations statewide to share the tools of improvisation to thousands each year. In 2011, the school took the official moniker of Brave New Workshop Student Union (BNW SU). Learn more about the BNW SU’s Brave New Mission.

Brave New Workshop Student Union Minneapolis History dudley riggs

Dudley’s Instant Theatre Company

Dudley Riggs opened off-Broadway with a show consisting of vaudeville-style sketches, burlesque blackouts, and something completely new: the use of audience input in the creation of “instant theatre.” That was the beginning of comedic improvisation, as it’s widely known today. After touring nationally, Dudley and his “Instant Theatre Company” found a permanent home in the Twin Cities in 1958, and the name, Brave New Workshop, was added in 1961. In the more than 50 years since its founding, the Brave New Workshop has put on more than 250 original productions and exposed over 3 million people to the theatre’s unapologetic and unwavering, brand of comedy and improvisation.

Want to learn more about the BNW history?

Brave New Workshop Student Union Minneapolis