The Brave New Workshop has been performing original satirical sketch comedy and improvisation since 1958, longer than any other theatre in the United States. The Brave New Workshop began after Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus aerialist Dudley Riggs survived a near-fatal fall from a trapeze. He decided, for obvious reasons, to move to a less risky career and started his own "Instant Theatre Company" with a cast assembled from the circus and vaudeville circuits.
They 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.
The BNW SU has been around in some form since the early days of the theater, but it wasn't until John Sweeney and Jenni Lillledahl bought the BNW in 1997 that the BNW SU truly found its footing as a place to learn long-form improvisation. Growing from 7 students in 1997 to over 200 students, the BNW SU has expanded in every direction. By 2000, the BNW SU started both the youth and the community outreach programs. In 2004, the adult classes split into the Everyday Improv and the Performance Tracks, and the Graduate Series classes started in 2009. In 2011, the school took the official moniker of Brave New Workshop: Student Union.