Warren Dewey steps down at Golden State Theatre, Monterey Church steps in.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
The unexpected news this week that Warren Dewey is stepping down as proprietor of the Golden State Theatre and handing over the reins to the Monterey Church marked a sea change on the local entertainment scene.
When Dewey took over the storied venue in 1994, it marked an ambitious new era of programming and architectural restoration for the historic venue.
On its opening day, Aug. 6, 1926, it seated 1,600, making it the largest theater between San Francisco and Los Angeles. But time took its toll, and audiences drifted away after it was split into two theaters in 1976; it wasn’t until 1992, according to the museum’s website, www.goldenstatetheatre.com, that volunteers discovered the original organ console was still under the orchestra pit.
When Dewey arrived, he continued the restoration, to the delight of Monterey audiences and performers alike, and brought in memorable acts like Etta James, Weird Al Yankovich, Firesign Theatre and Willie Nelson, and events like Anime After Dark, Chinese Acrobats, the San Francisco Comedy Competition and countless film revivals.
But nothing lasts forever.
Last week, at a reception following the screening of the film Precious, Dewey paused from breaking down the stage after the Q&A with director Lee Daniels and actress Paula Patton, and talked about the change.
“I love the Golden State Theatre,” he said. “But I’m tired. It’s a lot of work to do this. The [Aug. 6] Lyle Lovett show was, I think, the first show where I sat in the audience and enjoyed it like everybody else.”
“IT’S AN IDEA I’VE BEEN THINKING ABOUT FOR A LONG TIME. OTHERS MADE OFFERS, BUT THEY WEREN’T SERIOUS – THE MONTEREY CHURCH OFFER WAS.”
He cites the round-the-clock work schedule, a complex and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to gain non-profit status, marginal profits – “We didn’t lose as much money on the Golden State Film Festival as I thought we would,” he said – and other recent developments that sapped him of the energy to continue. At the accumulation of those dynamics, the Monterey Church approached him with an offer.
“It’s an idea I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Others made offers, but they weren’t serious – the Monterey Church offer was. Plus, they have deeper pockets, and volunteers.” Dewey will officially hand over the reins to the church Nov. 1, at which time he will revert to the role of landlord to the church’s tenancy. He says he wants to take a break for a couple of months but remain close to the revival theater, and the hope is for the church’s booking team to maintain a near-seamless schedule of concerts and other shows. Dewey also adds that he would ultimately like to continue booking occasional shows of his choosing.
He also took pains to praise the long-standing staff at the theatre, including technical director Tim McKnew, graphic/website designer Al Mercado, operations manager Jared Pacheco and electrician George Brandt, who will be staying on as maintenance man.
Pastor Bryan James arrived in Monterey with his wife Elaine and four children (three girls, one boy) in 2005, and established the fledgling church shortly thereafter. The non-denominational Christian church has since grown to a congregation of more than 400, comprised of many young people, including students, military, families, locals and newcomers.
The church, which has offices downtown, holds morning services on Sunday at the Golden State Theatre – as it has for the last year.
“As the church grew in numbers,” says Events Manager Rebecca Halton, who arrived on the Peninsula less than a year ago to study International Policy and Spanish at Monterey Institute of International Studies, “it made sense to take on more of a role in the stewarding of the theater. The Golden State Theatre is still going to be the Golden State Theatre. We’re planning on preserving the historic beauty, making some technical upgrades and additional renovations, like the office spaces." She also says the church will put its name on the marquee.”
On whether they would book secular acts such as Willie Nelson, Rev. James said by e-mail: “I would be sitting the front row – I love Willie!”
Will the church book comedians who swear?
“We are, first and foremost, a church, so the selection of events at the theater will reflect our desire to support the community, strengthen and enrich it, [and create a place] where families can enjoy things together. We’ll have stuff that’s not religious-based. The UNA Film Festival seems like an event worth bringing back [in coming years].”
The current show line-up remains unchanged, including Joan Osborne, The Holmes Brothers and Paul Thorn on Oct. 18, Garrison Keillor (the last show Dewey will have booked under his reign) on Oct. 25, Zombie Voodoo Scream Party Oct. 27-31, and the 10th Annual United Nations Association International Film Festival Nov. 5-8.
The Monterey Church presents a show, Tenth Avenue North, a popular Christian rock band with hit songs in “Love is Here” and “By Your Side,” on Nov. 2 – one day after Dewey steps down. The church, whose website features photos of young, multi-racial people, sports the tagline “fresh – radical – timeless.”
This Friday, Oct. 16, at 6pm, they hold a “Sister Swap ‘n’ Meet,” a combination meet-n-greet/swap-meet/potluck during which women are invited to mingle and trade clothing and other items. “It’s at the church, on the third floor,” says Halton. By “church,” she means the Golden State Theatre.