In a world where Saturday Night Live cast members are born from improv theaters and improv star Ben Schwartz is charging $50 a ticket at the Orpheum Theater, the fact that Southwest Minneapolis is home to a vibrant improv theater is pretty cool.

That theater, a mainstay in South Uptown for 15 years, is in some financial trouble. When HUGE Improv Theater bought the Art Materials building at 2728 Lyndale Ave. S., its directors and lenders were ready for unexpected costs. Art Materials, now HUGE Improv Theater’s tenant, announced last month it was moving its business to Detroit Lakes.

“We built a financial cushion into our loan to account for that,”  HUGE Managing Director Sean Dillon said in an interview with Southwest Voices this week.

What caught the theater off guard were other things out of its control –a City construction permitting delay that lost the theater three months of income and an opening season moved to the Center for Performing Arts.  The theater depleted $200,000 from its savings after an unexpected City-mandated expense of moving the HVAC system to the roof.

“We’re starting with far less than we anticipated, to absorb our planned short-term losses,” Dillon said. “That’s why we find ourselves at this bottleneck.”

The lobby of HUGE Improv Theater at 2728 Lyndale Ave. S. Photo courtesy of Shelter Architecture

According to the City of Minneapolis, the building has a “barrel style” roof which required HUGE Theater to  install access platforms in order to meet the building code. “This may have impacted costs, however it did not delay the Certificate of Occupancy,” City of Minneapolis Communications Director Greta Bergstrom said.

City permits for HUGE Theater were issued between May and September 2023 and the full Certificate of Occupancy was issued on Nov. 3, 2023, much later than HUGE Theater directors were expecting. Their contractor estimated they could move in by September 2023.

HUGE Theater’s Springtacular fundraiser

HUGE Theater is asking the community for help to stay open in light of these unexpected delays and costs. Last summer, the community helped raise enough money to buy the building that HUGE is in now. But Dillon is aware that HUGE has asked a lot of its community lately.

“As a community-serving non-profit, we will always need support from the public and our community to keep the art we serve vital and affordable,” Dillon said. “But we look forward to the time soon, when each ask isn’t do-or-die.”

HUGE Theater’s Springtacular fundraiser, which runs now through May 19, asks donors to join Team Pancake or Team Waffle in a light-hearted competition to raise money through Donors can sign up with a group of people, as an individual, or select “DONATE” to make a one-time donation.

HUGE Theater also has improv shows Wednesday through Sunday starting at $15 which is also a way to support the theater.  

Why did HUGE Theater buy its own building?

HUGE Theater held improv classes, weekly performances, and national improv festivals for 13 years at its former 3037 Lyndale Ave. location. The theater kept it quiet at the time, but when its directors discovered their landlord was Julius De Roma, who received local press for donating to the KKK, they wanted out.

While maintaining its fall through spring schedule of classes, and surviving the COVID pandemic, the theater raised enough money and secured additional financing to move out of De Roma’s building and buy the Art Materials building at 2728 Lyndale Ave. S.

Inside the new HUGE Improv Theater, which includes a roomier tech booth and more seating than the theater’s previous location. Photo courtesy of Shelter Architecture

“This has been a dream for us since at least 2019, and in some senses a lot longer,” Dillon told Southwest Voices back in September 2023. “This can truly be a ‘forever home’ for a diverse community of thousands of improv artists, students, and enthusiasts.”