Saturday, November 2, 2013
Quite a production was taking place behind the paper-covered windows on Walla Walla’s new performing arts venue on a late October morning: Two workers whirred up a small debris sandstorm as they restored moulding; a designer with a can of spray paint was transforming light fixtures into chrome-colored works; and a fire suppression inspector was wending his way through the cavernous property that’s been painted in a dark blue/charcoal color.
Many of the features from the most recent use of the historic Dacres Hotel building — a pair of restaurants over the last decade — have been stripped away. There’s no more 44-foot server station. Even the former entrance at 207 W. Main St. is gone, which means the private room off the entrance has been torn down, too.
Promoter Alisa Gilbert, one of several partners in Main Street Studios, said the minimalist design will allow for a constantly changing venue to accommodate performances.
For example, when Michael Kaeshammer opens Nov. 9 at Main Street Studios, he’ll stand on a stage set up in the middle of what had previously been a dining room.
“It will be like being in the round,” Gilbert explained. “It will be set up like a studio. Intimate. You’re part of the production.”
A week later, a more traditional stage will be set up for Walla Wallan Campbell Davis, who just recorded his first CD and will celebrate with a launch party at Main Street Studios.
The operation is coming together through a cooperative that includes Gilbert, lead engineer Mike Simon, certified wedding planner Rachael Buroker and technical director Nate Redford.
With a capacity of 450 the venue is expected to further enhance the community’s artistic offerings.
Gilbert, who came to the community about three years ago with a deep background in nonprofit leadership and promotions, has brought a number of big-name acts into Walla Walla.
Most recently she coordinated the performance of Grammy- and Academy Award-winning artist Ryan Bingham for a private Figgins family wine party. Since she’s been in town, she’s also landed the likes of Ziggy Marley, Peter Frampton and John Rich.
Artists, she said, are willing to come to Walla Walla. But the trick is finding a space that’s available. Although a number of venues already exist — from Whitman College’s Cordiner Hall to the Gesa Power House Theatre — managers need to know availability almost immediately, Gilbert explained.
“If you can’t answer that question, it’s goodbye,” she said. “They’re moving on to the next venue.”
A facility dedicated to those performances and operated, in part, by the person booking them makes it possible to have them more frequently.
“I’m not trying to compete,” she said. “I want to be another venue that’s doing something just to the right of what’s already being done.”
She estimates at least 30 percent of the ticket-holders at the events have been visitors from other communities. That tells her there’s an opportunity to not only entertain local residents, but also build tourism through the venue.
Described online as a place for art, music and culture, Main Street Studios will alternate as a gallery for exhibits, stage for performers and a recording studio. Event rentals are also in the offing.
The team behind Main Street LLC, which is the rental group working together on the space, has brought in designer Kevin Davis to help with the renovations at the property. Thus far, the group has privately funded the work. With no employees, the group is working to keep the overhead as low as possible.
But where no expense will be spared, Gilbert said, is in the sound system.
“When’s the last time you were just blown away?” she said. “We want to offer experiences that strike a chord.”
Over the hum of the electric sanders, Gilbert said the former lounge area at what was CrossRoads Steakhouse and before that, 26brix, will continue to serve as lounge space with a mobile bar on casters.
The kitchen area will be left open. Although it has no equipment other than a hood, the equipment can be added for on-site catered events.
Operators also plan to launch a nonprofit organization, which would enable them to apply for grants and special programs to enhance the artistic offerings.
“There’s still lots to do. This is Chapter One,” Gilbert said, during the peek inside.
If there’s a more perfect location in town for the vision Gilbert can’t imagine it. The acoustics in the building are a dream, she said.
The key to longevity, she believes, will be keeping a finger on the pulse of the community.
“Right now we need to be in harmony with what’s happening in Walla Walla,” she said. “Listening to what Walla Walla wants, having an ear to the ground. I want to keep the entertainment moving through here.”
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321 or firstname.lastname@example.org.