Singing For Someone Else’s Supper
It’s just after 9 p.m. and the room is buzzing with energy at the burgeoning entertainment and event venue, The Space. The $5 shots are flowing and the Mondays Dark audience is psyched. There’s only one thing this moment needs:. More cowbell.
The privilege to play the coveted instrument on stage with the band (all professional musicians from the Las Vegas Strip) comes at a price tag of $100—a nudge toward a nightly goal of $10,000 for a charitable cause. Several hands raise $100 bills into the air. The more cowbell, the better.
Clever nuances, like the $100 Cowbell Jam, add spice to the overall flavor of Mondays Dark. The twice-monthly, cabaret-style show has been stirring up a jambalaya of talent from the Strip, Hollywood and Broadway, for almost four years. Singers, musical acts, athletes, celebrity chefs—all sharing a passion for philanthropy and performance—join together in Vegas on a night that’s traditionally dark in the theater world.
“Vegas is so different than L.A. or New York in that the entertainment community is so small,” says Mondays Dark creator Mark Shunock, a Broadway actor who moved to Las Vegas with his wife in 2013 to open “Rock of Ages” at the Venetian. Describing the city as red-carpet-happy, he explains, “We were always invited to openings and special events. I wanted to find a way to not just show up, but to make a difference.”
Thirty-plus shows later, Mondays Dark has raised upwards of $350,000 for local charities through its $20 ticket price, silent auctions and other creative fundraising activities. In January, the show departed Vinyl at the Hard Rock Hotel for its new, permanent home, The Space. The venue, located just west of The Strip, was opened by Shunock on January 5.
“Having a community center to operate out of allows us to be a little more creative,” explains Shunock. “We don’t have to wait for casino executives to tell us we can or can’t do anything. Most important … we can hold more people.”
Totaling 8,900 square feet, The Space includes 3,000 square feet of raw performance space, a piano bar and lobby area, unisex bathroom, rehearsal studios, a podcast studio and a black box theater. There’s plenty of places to park outside and a cool, comfortable vibe inside. Wall-to-wall bookshelves in one corner of the lobby showcase scripts that Shunock purchased in New York, books on acting and vinyl records. A grand piano in the same corner begs for a player.
“I built and designed The Space so everyone feels welcome; from the actors to the audience members,” says Shunock. “I want to feel like you can come here with your laptop, get on Wi-Fi, meet with your actor buddies or your artist friends and collaborate. By day, I want it to be a creative space … like a really cool, better Starbucks.”
On this particular night at Mondays Dark, the charity is “Send Me on Vacation,” an organization which raises funds to send breast cancer patients and survivors on a bucket list-level vacation. “It’s a way to make them laugh again, a way to rediscover their spark,” explains the non-profit’s founder Cathy Backus, adding that she’s delighted to be a part of Mondays Dark’s “unique model.”
Unique indeed. That’s clear at the top of the show when a display screen above the stage glitches for a giggle-worthy moment, freezing on a fuzzy, sexually-revealing image. The audience is loving every blurry moment of it.
“I have no idea whose laptop is operating things tonight,” Shunock jokes with the audience as he steps on stage, “but … porn … you know you’re in good hands. That’s worth $20!”
As it turns out, the theme for the night is “Best of Bond,” and the image is simply a nanosecond of a typical Bond love scene. Not porn, after all.
Explaining he is “a big Bond guy,” Shunock introduces Broadway belter Niki Scalera, in town to perform her one woman concert, “Bassey and Me,” at the Smith Center. “She’s good,” whispers audience member Donna Flanagan as Scalera steps on stage to cover the Bond tune, “Diamonds are Forever.”
Flanagan, a North Las Vegas resident, has been attending Mondays Dark since the beginning, and says she comes to every performance: “My friend took me once and I was hooked.”
One of her favorite performers is Vegas powerhouse Skye Dee Miles. “When she sings, your hair flies back!” Another particularly memorable performance was RJ columnist Robin Leach’s reading of the Missed Connections personal ads on Craigslist in his familiar, booming voice. “Mark has taken Mondays Dark to a whole new level. Everyone loves it,” she says.
Later, between acts, Shunock stands on the stage and encourages everyone in the audience to down the $5 shot of the month—for charity. Raising $400 with this first round of shots, he leads the room in a group toast before waxing poetic about Mondays Dark and his new community-driven, charity-based arts complex.
“We’re not lawyers, we’re not doctors. We’re entertainers,” Shunock tells the audience. And while Mondays Dark may be full of surprises, there are some things he says you can count on. You’re going to hear the F-word and “you know I’m going to make an ass of myself.” More importantly, he says, you know your money is going toward a good cause.
Mondays Dark is only one small piece of the greater programming at The Space. From modern-day one-man shows and readings to theatrical classics and intimate concerts, Shunock describes an eclectic lineup of events and activities, such as an audition-only summer workshop for kids, led by youth theater veteran Todd Hart. On March 31 and April 1, stage and screen actor Dean Cameron will star in “The Nigerian Spam Scam,” his humorous take on a popular e-mail con.
As for the space in The Space, it’s available to the general public, says Shunock, “for weddings, lectures, birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, you name it.” Charities who partner with The Space are encouraged to book the rooms and studios for meetings and events, at a very minimal cost if not free.
“It isn’t about making a profit, it’s about helping the charities,” says Shunock. “We’ve only been open a month and to see the level of action and interest we’ve already received is a really good sign.”
Another good sign is an upcoming performance by Tony winner Alice Ripley on April 14 and 15. “To have a Tony winner perform in The Space really legitimizes us on the east coast,” says Shunock. “It shows this place is legit. It’s game on.”
The Space is located at 3460 Cavaretta Court, near Polaris and Harmon avenues. For more information, visit thespacelv.com.