Brave New Workshop

Brave New Workshop

Noteworthy: Renowned improv theater that conducts corporate workshops and delivers keynote speeches

Founded: 1958

Headquarters: Minneapolis

Employees: 7-10

In 1997, John Sweeney and his wife, Jenni Lilledahl, bought improv theater Brave New Workshop from legendary founder Dudley Riggs. In 2020, the coronavirus forced the couple to shutter the theater at 824 Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis.

“In 62 years, we had never missed a weekend of shows,” Sweeney says. “Not when JFK got assassinated. We did a show every weekend of the Vietnam War. We did a show the night of 9/11.”

While it was heartbreaking to halt live stage shows, Sweeney has been laser-focused on virtual keynotes and corporate training sessions. Those business lines have produced about 70 percent of the company’s revenue over the past several years.

“Everyone thinks we’re a comedy theater, but 250 times a year we’re in front of a corporate audience somewhere across the globe,” Sweeney says. UnitedHealthcare, Microsoft, and Hilton are among Brave New Workshop’s repeat customers.

Many of the keynotes and training sessions address learning a mindset that enables innovation and excellence in leadership, sales, and customer service. (Sweeney’s team also produces customized videos.)

“My heart tells me that the ROI will come a lot faster [in businesses] if everyone is loving where they work and feels that they are being treated well,” he says. During the pandemic, he adds, “humanity is being considered more in the workplace.”

Sweeney recently spoke at large virtual events for Medtronic and Be the Match. “As a performer, you still really miss being in front of a crowd,” he says. “As far as the mission of our work, we are able to actually affect more people now.”

Key steps brave new workshop took to remain viable:

  • Adapted corporate training to recognize employees’ stress and anxiety caused by working from home during a pandemic.
  • Provided superior virtual programming for long-term corporate customers.
  • Created a virtual sales training program to help people sell via video calls through use of storytelling and improvisation.

2021 goals: Survive as a business and continue to use transformative laughter to help people find their best mindset.

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