Is that my mobile billboard guitar?” Mark Shunock asks as two strangers carry a plastic-wrapped, 10-foot-tall guitar sign out of the drizzling rain into the main room of the Space. “Awesome! Bring it in. I don’t know what the hell we’re going to do with it. Maybe I’ll put it off the front of the building like the Hard Rock.”
It makes perfect sense that someone at Caesars Entertainment decided to send the guitar—ripped from a mobile billboard advertising the now-closed Rock of Ages show in which Shunock starred—to the Space, because lots of people have sent things. That’s how the warehouse just west of the Strip transformed into what it is now, “a true community center,” in Shunock’s words.
He took control of the building in August and built out the main showroom—“a raw space where everything is movable”—along with a box office lobby/piano bar, dressing rooms, gender-neutral restrooms and a trailer that serves as green room. The northern wing is still under construction but contains two studio spaces—a podcast and recording room and a smaller black box theater—that will be available for rent for classes or rehearsals. One of them has a window, so parents will be able to watch their kids once the Space launches its youth program in the spring, with classes Shunock expects to be taught by Strip performers.
The key to the project: creative safety. “You have to feel comfortable as an artist whatever you do. Whether it’s a podcast or teaching a dance class or putting on a play or a concert, you have to feel comfortable in your surroundings, so you can be the best you can be,” Shunock says. “If I open a place that isn’t safe, your work is gonna suck. That was priority one in building out everything. Is this a cool, safe environment? We can make anything cool, but do you feel like you can let your guard down and really go to work as an artist? I think the answer is yes, and that’s what I’m most proud of.”
An actor and producer who came to Las Vegas some four years ago for a role in hair-metal musical Rock of Ages, Shunock harnessed the growing power of his charitable Mondays Dark shows to develop the Space. Mondays Dark was running monthly inside Vinyl at the Hard Rock Hotel, raising money for a variety of local organizations, with entertainment from a rotating cast of Vegas performers.
“All of the people who come to Mondays Dark feel like they have a piece of it, which is nice because they helped fund-raise to make it happen,” Shunock says.
In the Space, Mondays Dark will happen every other week, serving 22 charities this year, up from 11. December has traditionally been reserved for a big year-end show.
“It’s ambitious, but we put a lot of the responsibility on the charity to make sure they’re doing as much as they can to push it, and that’s how Mondays Dark has grown,” Shunock says. “Changing charities changes the fan base. I probably have 150-200 core supporters, but the charity brings 100 new people for every event.” Now that Shunock controls every aspect of the venue, he can raise additional money to support operations—he gets to keep the bar profits, for example—and, ideally, keep costs low for those who use the Space.
And there’s a lot going on here. The second Mondays Dark at the Space—a Michael Jackson-themed show that generated $10,000 for Carestream, which provided haircuts and toiletries for the homeless—was held January 23. Mondays Dark regular Jassen Allen presents his tribute to Luther Vandross January 27, and local entertainment power couples like Penn and Emily Jillette and Clint and Kelly Clinton Holmes will feature in the Pulitzer Prize-winning A.R. Gurney play Love Letters February 10-14. Smash Magazine has booked rock bands for the Space in February and March.
Shunock even hints at his own return to the stage this year, if he finds the right role in the right show allowing him time to work on the Space. “Right now the blinders are on,” he says.