Arts & Culture

They’re sprucing up the old Grange Hall

If you ask Steve McAndrew, it’s getting harder to be a performing artist on the Central Coast. Ticket sales are slumping. School music and theater programs are being cut. And performing arts venues are being forced to shut their doors.

“We’re losing performing venues with the economy the way it’s been going,” said McAndrew, an actor and singer whose stage credits include “Carousel,” “Oklahoma!” and “Guys and Dolls.” “That’s been more problematic for professionals who used to work here regularly.”

The San Luis Obispo Theater Arts Guild hopes to change that.

The newly formed group envisions creating a performing arts venue where community members could see plays, cabaret and musical theater productions, as well as classical music concerts and modern dance shows. Organizers will offer a showcase Sunday at the San Luis Obispo Grange Hall.

“Ticket prices are out of reach for a lot of folks,” McAndrew said, adding that there’s also a dearth of cheaper venues for local performers to rent. “We’re trying to make it affordable for more people and bring access to the arts.”

According to McAndrew, inspiration for the San Luis Obispo Theater Arts Guild came two and a half years ago, when a gig at the Carlton Hotel in Atascadero turned into a drop-in jam session.

“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it wonderful if we had a crossroads, a place where we could bring different musicians together?” McAndrew said.

He started searching for a place to perform. When McAndrew and his fellow

organizers discovered the San Luis Obispo Grange Hall, he said, “Our jaws kind of dropped.”

With its proscenium stage, full-size kitchen and 100-space parking lot, the 250-seat venue was a perfect fit, he said.

Before the group can stage full-scale shows there, however, McAndrew said the 50-year-old building needs a paint job, electrical work and heating and air-conditioning repairs, as well as new lighting and a new roof.

“We want to beautiful her a little bit and bring her up to date,” he said

The group is seeking $15,000 in initial funding.

Bill Moneymaker, head of the San Luis Obispo Grange, said he’s eager to work with the San Luis Obispo Theater Arts Guild.

“These people are nice people,” he said. “They’ve got professional backgrounds. They’re good, talented people and they have the right attitude.”

According to Moneymaker, one of the Grange’s biggest successes in recent years has been a series of monthly stand-up comedy shows, now eight or nine years in the running.

“We started with three people in the audience and now we’re back up against the wall when we have a show,” Moneymaker said, adding that the Grange also hosts concerts and swing dance sessions.

Sunday’s showcase will serve as a sampler of the types of acts Mc- Andrew hopes to bring to Central Coast audiences.

Hosted by emcee Chad Stevens, the afternoon event will feature performances by stand-up comedian Mark Wiberg, dancer-choreographer Michael Mailloux, vocal jazz group Counterpoint, jazz fusion band Human Nation, and Franks and Deans, described as “a musical tribute to the ‘Kings of Cool,’ Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.”

Audiences will also get a sneak peak at “The Rhythm Thing,” Mailloux and Moneymaker’s original musical about homeless musicians and other artists living in New York City’s Central Park. It’s currently in the works.

“What we’re looking to do is bring good professional performing arts to the community,” McAndrew said.

In addition to a full entertainment schedule, he also hopes to offer acting, music and stage workshops for children and adults during the summer months.

“To be able to keep our culture alive in terms of the performing arts — that is all this boils down to in a nutshell,” McAndrew said.

Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune