Exiled from the Las Vegas Strip, performers find a new Space

Mark Shunock says it’s time to quit talking about how many shows closed last year: “I don’t think there’s anything unnerving about it. I think that’s our business. Shows close. Big deal.”

Bill Fayne just staged a revue in honor of all the shows that closed last year. He called it “Las Vegas Showstoppers,” and “it was a tribute to all the shows that Vegas has stopped,” he says with a laugh. “There were so many last year, I just thought it was a cute idea.”

Beyond that, these guys have a lot in common.

They both have many friends in show business.

And they are putting them onstage.

They don’t have much time, or reason, to worry about what’s happening on the Strip.

Both are busy matching Las Vegas-based performers — many of whom have seen work dry up on the Strip — with eager audiences of locals.

Think of it as what people in Las Vegas would be doing if they lived in a “normal” city. Only it’s uniquely Las Vegas, because it couldn’t have happened without the Strip.

SPACE TO OWN

Shunock is the former “Rock of Ages” actor who started Mondays Dark, which pulls performers together for charity performances on its namesake day (the traditional day off for Broadway shows). The nonprofit has a new home of its own, an 8,900-square-foot space called The Space.

“We did a fundraiser and raised $250,000 in 100 days,” Shunock says of the former boxing gym that now sports a grand piano in its stylish lobby. There are two performance areas and, coming soon, a recording/podcast studio.

It’s all much prettier inside than its surrounding industrial neighborhood, near Procyon Street and Harmon Avenue. With a dead end on the north, it’s not a location you just happen upon. But The Space opened its doors to “a built-in audience,” Shunock says, thanks to three years of Mondays Dark at the Hard Rock Hotel.

“I don’t sell tickets to tourists. Mondays Dark attracts locals because all of the money stays in the community,” he says. The program guarantees $10,000 to a different charity each time. The charities in turn work to deliver an audience, which is entertained by performers who are, or used to be, in Las Vegas shows.

“I’ve had over 200 performers from the Strip take the Mondays Dark stage,” Shunock says. “When I first started, I had to call my friends and explain to them what I wanted to do, and now it’s the reverse.”

Mondays Dark has expanded to twice a month. This Monday’s theme will be family bands — from the Andrews Sisters to Kings of Leon — to raise money for Foster Kinship.

Last week, Shunock staged readings of “Love Letters” by different celebrity couples to expose The Space to an even wider range of people. And he booked two touring acts — Broadway singer Alice Ripley (April 14 and 15) and Dean Cameron’s “The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam” (March 31 and April 1) — to cement the idea of “a professional off-Broadway experience here.”

“Alice Ripley should be playing a venue on the Strip, or The Smith Center. But instead we’re bringing her to The Space,” he says. “The building represents something the city just doesn’t have. We’re the cool new kid on the block, I think.”

EAGER AUDIENCES

“Cool” may not be the right word for two retirement-community auditoriums. But the Starbright Theater in Sun City Summerlin and Freedom Hall in Sun City Anthem are both filled by eager seniors.

Fayne’s “Showstoppers”? “The show sold out within a few hours, so we had to do a second show in each theater,” he says. “We ended up selling out four shows,” for about 1,200 people.

The single-named producer Mistinguett books at least one show a month into the venues. Fayne, a veteran musical director, oversees about half of them. Other acts are self-contained groups, such as this weekend’s vocal quartet, These Guys Worldwide.

“A lot of my old friends just weren’t working,” Mistinguett says. “It started out being, ‘Hey, what are you doing this weekend? Want to make a quick hundred bucks?”

Now, her story echoes Shunock’s: “People are calling me: ‘Please bring me into that room,’ ” she says. “All this talent that just got let go from the Strip that’s just sitting around going, ‘Now what are we going to do?’ I’m just like taking advantage of that. ‘Who else can we grab?’ ”

Limited seating means each show can only clear about $3,000 in profit. The 27 people in “Showstoppers” had to slice that pie thin, but everyone walked away with $400 by doing it four times. “They always get paid and they’re always ready to do it again,” she says.

Whatever you call this niche, “it’s filling a void,” Shunock says. “A room that uses professional actors and brings in professional tours and shows.”

And the difference between “community theater” and “professional”? That’s easy, Fayne explains. “In professional, you get paid.”

Read more from Mike Weatherford at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com and follow @Mikeweatherford on Twitter.

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