Bryant-Lake Bowl & Theater (BLB) is a vaudeville-style cabaret theater where you can grab some snacks, a drink and some conversation, all while engaging in a show. Of course, the establishment’s 1950s-era bowling lanes, and restaurant and bar, make the 85-seat theater a haven amidst the bustling activity.

Located at the corner of Bryant and Lake Streets, the theater has hosted a wide array of performances since it opened in 1993. With everything from lectures, film programming, and drag, there’s something for everyone. Rachel Clark, the theater’s Publicist and Box Office Supervisor, talks about some of the greatest hits the venue has to offer.

What’s the longest running show at BLB?

We have several very special shows that have been performing here regularly for years, even decades. Those shows include:

Cinema Lounge is our longest running show – and it’s been here since the beginning, for more than 25 years.

“Cinema Lounge” is where independent filmmakers schmooze and make nice. Short Films. Indie Filmmakers. Hell, yes. Valerie Deus programs a line-up of 4 to 5 locally made video projects that are 20 minutes or less per screening, which includes anything and everything: narratives, documentaries, music videos, web shows, animation and experimental. After each film is screened, you meet the mind behind the film, as host Maret Polzine conducts a short Q-and-A session with the filmmakers. Following the show, filmmakers and audience members hang around to socialize and drink delicious beer. Oh, and the event is FREE!

9×22 Dance/Lab has been running every month for 16 years.

“9×22” has become known as a place where both seasoned and new choreographers can present their work and discuss it with an informed and engaged audience. A discussion moderated by choreographer/curator Laurie Van Wieren follows each dance work, giving audience and choreographer, alike, the opportunity to react and explore the work together. Each month, three choreographers show work of varying styles and experience.

Dykes Do Drag has been running for 20 years. But this is their last season with shows in September, November and February.

“Dykes Do Drag” are queers of all genders and orientations, celebrating an expanding continuum of gender expression and performance in the Upper Midwest for two decades. This edgy performance art cabaret features the Twin Cities’ best, as well as newcomers, in traditional drag, burlesque, live music, boi-lesque, modern dance, video and visual art, and lip synching in enticing and exciting hilarity. A few more bombastic terms to describe DDD include but are not limited to: sexy, radical, entertaining, titillating, kinky and weird.

Party in the Rec Room – Local author Lorna Landvik has been doing a one-woman improv show every January for 20 years. It’s a huge hit and sells out almost every weekend for a month.

There are plenty of novelists in America and plenty of one-woman shows, but few (if any) novelists perform an all-improvised one-woman show. Lorna Landvik’s “Party in the Rec Room” has regaled audiences who watch as their suggestions inspire the author to create a bevy of characters. It’s an evening full of laughs, with humor that ranges from pointed and topical to wry and wistful. Some lucky audience members even receive the margaritas Lorna blends on stage, while everyone walks away with a full measure of entertainment.

A Very Die Hard Christmas is a hilarious, over-the-top theatrical retelling of the original 1988 movie Die Hard.

“A Very Die Hard Christmas” is one of the most popular recurring shows at BLB and has kind of a cult following. This December will be their 8th year. They typically run for three weeks in December and sell out most of their shows, often weeks in advance.

“Yippee Ki Yay, Father Christmas!” Mainly Me Productions and Dana’s Boys offer a holiday treat with all the trimmings: singing, dancing, and bloodshed. This yuletide tradition combines the action and suspense of Die Hard with the sentiment of everyone’s favorite TV Christmas specials.

Here’s a great story from Josh Carson, one of “A Very Die Hard Christmas’” main producers and performers (and a frequent producer and performer of other shows at BLB, including a new regular sketch comedy show called “The Rinky Dink Show!” which debuted this month and will be returning in September):

“The running gag of the show is that the protagonist, John McClane, is gradually covered in more and more blood. I start off bleeding and end up like Carrie at the prom.

For the finale, Brad [another performer in the show] and I are literally standing out in the back parking lot of the theater, and he pours a bucket of blood on me and starts lathering me up to achieve maximum blood.

This is also December in Minnesota. So it’s freezing. The more I spin around, the quicker it dries. More or less. So, between the pouring, the lathering and the spin dry, fake blood is ALL OVER the parking lot.

The first year, there was a fresh snowfall, so the aftermath of our little blood gag looked like a horrific murder happened right by the dumpster.

So much so that when the cooks came to open the restaurant the next morning, the parking lot was taped off with crime-scene tape, and there were cops, CSI crew, all of them asking ‘What happened here last night?’

‘Dude, they’re doing a Die Hard play.’

That was year one. Now in year seven, we get requests from the bartenders and managers who open to really work up some imaginative bloody tableaus. We have a lot of fun with that.”

Has anyone ever used the bowling lanes as a stage or the stage as a bowling lane?

Not yet… But that’s a fantastic idea that actually crossed my mind a few months ago.

When did BLB open and what was in the building before?

The building that houses the BLB was built in 1926 when Lake Street was on the edge of town. It was originally a Ford garage and serviced Model T’s at the time, but it was converted to a bowling alley in 1936. In 1959, the building was bought by Minnesota Bowling Hall of Famer Bill Drouches, who installed the automatic pinsetters that we still use today. Bill sold the building to John Meldahl in 1978.

The Bryant-Lake Bowl as we know it today was opened by Kim Bartmann and Liz Dailey on Halloween of 1993. The BLB was restored as closely as possible to its original splendor, and the pool hall was turned into an 85-seat cabaret theater. The theater was the brainchild of Danny Schmidtz, who has since moved to LA. Kristin Van Loon took over as the Artistic Director of the theater in 1996, and the business was purchased by Erica Gilbert in 2018.

What do you love most about programming in the theater?

There are so many things that I love about the BLB theater. We strike a beautiful balance between taking chances on and nurturing new producers and performers, and being a home for established local and even national artists. We’re very supportive of unusual and experimental endeavors. We’re in a sweet spot size-wise: big enough that full houses buzz with energy and small enough that we can keep a personal touch and a supportive, friendly atmosphere. We also have wildly diverse programming that spans music, drag, burlesque, dance, theater, comedy, film, musical theater, puppetry, performance art, children’s shows, storytelling, science clubs and even church on Sundays.

My favorite part of the theater comes from our many regular shows, some of which occur monthly, every other month, a few times a year or annually. Our regulars bring together specific and unique communities of performers and audience members at each show. I recognize many returning audience members and have had the opportunity to watch performers grow and develop over the years. There’s not one “BLB community”; there are several. All of them are vibrant, alive, and continually created and re-created by the people who return to the space.

This piece is a part of the series, “See Art Here,” where you can find out about more activities and venues that are off the beaten path. Observe the Largest Juried Art Show in Minnesota, experience where Art and Nature Collide at Silverwood Park and revisit the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

Special Thanks: Rachel Clark, Kristin Van Loon, Laurie Van Wieren

Additional Media: Dick Dyver, Lauren Hughes, The Gentleman King, Sheila Rouse, Gina Wood, BLB & T Photo Archives
Minnesota Music: Cloud Cult
Production Team: Jack Davis, Anne Guttridge, Brittany Shrimpton, McGraw Jones, Slade Kemmet, Mike Phillips

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This story is made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.

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In Minnesota, we’re lucky to have twin theater towns that showcase a rich mix of performing arts. The following stories allow you to dive in a little deeper to the movers and shakers who bring memorable work to Twin Cities audiences:

Why Penumbra Theatre’s Sarah Bellamy Says ‘More Theater, Period.’

Sir Curtis Kirby III Helps Youth See a Future Through Theater

Long-Time Circus Performer Dudley Riggs Flies Without a Net

Get to Know Junauda Petrus and Erin Sharkey of Free Black Dirt