‘Ej Blot Til Lyst’: Not for fun only

Dania Hall was the center of West Bank society from 1866 until 2000, when it was destroyed by fire.

Photo by John Harvey

Free Bedlam walkabout performance will explore Dania Hall's history on April 25

Ej Blot Til Lyst (Danish for “not for fun only”) was painted across the main curtain of the stage in Dania Hall. Built in 1886, Dania Hall was a cultural center for the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood’s then-dominant population of Scandinavians. It soon became the birthplace of Scandinavian-language vaudeville and teater, visafton och bal, — TVB for short — which means theater, song-evening and dancing.

More than 120 years later, a new vaudeville play is in the works: In the Spirit of Dania, a collaboration between Bedlam Theatre, University of Minnesota students and West Bank residents exploring the dramatic history of Dania Hall and the current debate about its future. The one-time performance, free and open to the public, takes begins at 7 p.m. on April 25, beginning at either the University of Minnesota Rarig Center, 320 21st Ave. S, or at Bedlam’s new space at 1501 S. Sixth St, near the Cedar-Riverside light rail station. The roving performance will move through the neighborhood to the Dania site and eventually to a post-performance reception. (Call Bedlam at 612-341-1038 for more information.)

Throughout its existence, Dania Hall was a center for the West Bank community, hosting activities such as vaudeville and TVB, banquets, weddings, anti-war activist meetings, psychedelic lightshows, community health services and much more. After falling into a state of decay, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Buildings, and renovations were underway when the hall was destroyed by a massive fire in 2000.

Maren Ward, co-artistic director of Bedlam, said the site retains a “potency” for the West Bank community, and that its future remains a huge question — “a divisive issue that we seem to need some healing around,” she said.

In the Spirit of Dania is an extension of Bedlam’s play West Bank Story, performed in 2006. Ward’s inspiration came from “how the history of Dania Hall mirrors the history of the neighborhood — as an immigrant landing pad and cultural center, and later a home to the counter-culture,” she said.

For the project, Ward brought together her U of M Creative Collaboration class with art, landscape architecture, theater and geography students to gather oral histories. The groups conducted interviews and gathered stories via story circles with neighborhood residents. Students also wrote and performed material for the performance.

The process is a mixture of group creation and community engagement that Ward hopes will contribute positively to the dialogue around Dania and the West Bank, and one that will plant seeds for future Cedar-Riverside projects.

“I hope Bedlam can always be a resource to the community, and a place for neighborhood residents to tell their stories and hear their stories told,” she said. She hopes residents can “use the tools of theatre to work out some of the tensions that come from years of history and ever-changing circles of residents.”

Included in that circle are students. Ward feels it is important for students to integrate into the community and “see themselves as part of this neighborhood, however temporary that may be.

“[The] students… made the connection between themselves and the early immigrants passing through,” she said.

If you are interested in participating in the story circles or would like to share stories or receive more information, go to info@bedlamtheatre.org or call Ward at 612-341-1038.

last revised: April 23, 2007