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'Mondays Dark': A Las Vegas Show For And About The Local Community

A general view at the grand opening of The Space, the new home of Mondays Dark on Jan, 5, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Denise Truscello
A general view at the grand opening of The Space, the new home of Mondays Dark on Jan, 5, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

It's Monday night and performer Mark Shunock is where he comes alive — on stage.

"Hello, Mondays Dark!" he calls out to the audience of about 400 people. They cheer. "We have an amazing line up of talent that have given their time to be here tonight."

This is not your typical Las Vegas show. The audience is nearly all local and the proceeds from the night of entertainment go to Vegas area charities.

"Every other Monday, we partner with a different local charity. This December we will hit our 100th charity that we've partnered with and in 90 minutes we raise 10,000 bucks for that organization," Shunock said.

He started the variety show, Mondays Dark, almost six years ago with his wife, Cheryl Daro, also a performer. They'd just moved to the city from Los Angeles. He was starring as Lonny in the '80s revival musical Rock of Ages. He and Daro were searching for community.

"We wanted in our souls, Mark and I, to create a party where the community could also feel like they're part of the entertainment community," Daro said. "It's family. We're very family-oriented and that means anyone in our group we want them to feel very welcome. And so we developed this following of locals."

Every other Monday entertainers who typically perform multiple times a day for tourists in town to see a show, gamble or eat at opulent restaurants by celebrity chefs donate their time for their own city and their own community. Because Mondays are nights that have become for and about the people who live here.

Shunock started the show about six years ago and more recently opened a community center in a warehouse turned event space that is home of Mondays Dark now. It's unassuming, in the shadow of the dazzling strip and it's simply named The Space. He jokes about its location between a strip club and a cannabis store. But he's proud of its place in the city that's his adopted home. Like most people in Las Vegas, Shunock is a transplant originally from Canada. His wife is from the Bay area.

"I don't think I knew at the time the undertaking of opening a venue and creating a community center. I just thought 'Oh, let's just get a building and throw the parties there,' " he said.

"The Space is taking off and it's becoming its own thing apart from Mondays Dark, even though Mondays Dark is the hub to the venue. It's becoming a cool place for the city. People are using it for birthday parties and fashion shows. And the charities that we partner with get access to it throughout the year to use for next to nothing because if we call ourselves a community center and people can't afford to use it what's the point?"

Shunock and his wife put on the show here with other local performers who donate their time. And it's relatively cheap, just $20 compared to the average $80 one would spend for admission to shows on the Las Vegas Strip. Since its launch, Mondays Dark has raised nearly a million dollars for Las Vegas charities.

The lobby is red and black leather and glitz. There's a throne. A grand piano, a polar bear with a gold chain and a bar.

And sometimes, like this August night I attend, they take the show on location. Today it's at a local car dealership.

The money they make goes to an organization that serves veterans, Xtreme Couture G.I. Foundation, founded by retired Mixed Martial Artist and actor Randy Couture.

Shunock prepares the volunteers pre-show. They huddle.

"How many people have been to a Mondays Dark before?" He asks. A couple people raise their hands. "Remember this is not a charity event, this is a party."

A silent auction is set up and people start to stream in. The head of security greets the regulars at the door and people chat, drink and peruse the auction before the show starts.

Claudia Newbury is here with a few girlfriends.

"It's just so much fun. The music is really great," she said.

Newbury's lived in Las Vegas for 30 years. She's retired now but when she was working it had nothing to do with entertainment. She managed the science program for the Yucca Mountain Project. And she's been to Mondays Dark more than 20 times.

"I think it talks a lot about our community and what kind of community we are, that it's very supportive of each other," she said. "People who come to visit the Strip, they see the Strip, they don't see us."

Each night of Mondays Dark has a different theme. Tonight is Beatles night. When Shunock asks the audience if it's anyone's first time just a few people raise their hand. Most have been before.

Now the performers aren't typically the headliners on the Strip like Gwen Stefani or Barry Manilow, but the stars of the local musicals, the lounge singers or the experimental vocalist from Cirque du Soleil you never get to see.

On this night Grammy-nominated Clint Holmes, a Las Vegas entertainer and singer-songwriter is on the roster. He usually performs at the off-Strip performing arts center, the Smith Center, also for largely local audiences. He says Mondays Dark is different than most other performances.

"It's an energy on a night that there isn't a lot, some of the shows are closed in town, so you can get a lot of entertainers who are working on the strip," he said.

And it's one of a few places around town that showcases and gives back to his city — a city he said most visitors don't think of as anything beyond that 4-mile strip of glittering hotels and casinos.

"When I first came here people would say, 'Well, what hotel do you live in?' " Holmes said. "I would say 'no, no I have a house.' " Holmes laughs and goes on "and there's a store and a church."

His move to Las Vegas was supposed to be temporary.

"People used to be very transient who came here," he said. "They came here as long as they had a job and they left. I'm one of those people. When I came here 20 years ago, I kind of came here thinking, 'well, I have a show, it's going to run for a couple years, so I'll come.' Well, now my kids live here. My grandkids live here. We all live here and probably will forever."

Holmes takes the stage in a gray blazer and jeans and the audience welcomes him with applause. He starts to sing "All the Lonely People."

There are a few hundred people watching, an intimate performance, and the audience and entertainers are familiar with each other. Between performances, Shunock jokes on stage with the band, the backup singers and the audience.

That's the atmosphere that he and Daro wanted for Mondays Dark. It was a way to root themselves.

"It was always aimed for locals," Daro said "Because we were really interested in coming together."

Almost six years later this night is for and about the people that live here, the people that call this city home.

"We wanted to really see if we could create something that's grounded here. Born out of Vegas," she said.

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Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.