The owners of the Living Room like to say they are providing provocative theater and comfortable chairs to Kansas City’s theater scene. But the building near 18th and McGee streets has also become a go-to music venue.
Last weekend, the theater hosted two stages for the Crossroads Music Fest. This weekend, music again will fill the building.
Friday night, singer/songwriter Jessica Paige is throwing an album-release party that will include live-music performances on two stages. Sunday, the Living Room is throwing its second annual gala/fundraiser, which will also feature plenty of live music.
Rusty Sneary, who opened the venue in spring 2010 with his partner, Shawnna Journagan, said that from the outset they wanted the space to be more than just a theater.
“We called it the Living Room and not a theater because we were careful not to place a label on ourselves,” he said. “We knew how incredible a space we had lucked into. And as we re-entered this community, we had so many peers who were actors, directors and playwrights but also musicians and visual artists, a goal for us was to cross-pollinate and do projects and events that crossed disciplines.”
The Living Room has presented several rock-themed musicals, including “A Tribute to Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ ” in 2011. It has also hosted album-release parties and live music events. Victor and Penny have performed at the space several times, including two sold-out album-release shows and recording a live album.
“We worked closely with the Living Room on our ‘Live at the Living Room’ recording sessions,” said Erin McGrane, who is Penny to Jeff Freling’s Victor. “We created a recording studio with an audience. … We were able to have theater, lighting, a customized set, four-camera videotaping plus a live (Internet) feed during the recording session/concert. The event was tremendously successful.”
Sneary said he hopes to do more music events in 2016, and now that the Living Room has set its 2015-16 season, he knows when the downstairs room will be dark. That means the upstairs room will be available for other events, like live music.
“As big as the space is, we can’t book events simultaneously,” he said. “It took me awhile to set our main production schedule because I was doing a lot of reconfiguration to make sure the schedule would be open for other events.”
The downstairs room will be dedicated to theater events, he said, which will allow the staff to keep the upstairs ready for other events, with the windows uncovered and the room light-, stage- and sound-ready.
Live music will be a big part of Sunday’s Whiskey Smash fundraising gala. Performers at the downstairs acoustic stage will include Barclay Martin, Mark Lowrey and Blaze & Eric. Blaze & Eric is a jazz/soul duo from Anchorage, Alaska, comprising Eric Redding — who wrote the music for “Chainsaw: The Musical,” to be produced at the Living Room — and singer Blaze Bell.
The upstairs stage will feature rock and funk bands: the Philistines, David George & a Crooked Mile and the Phantastics.
Sneary said he and performers have been pleasantly surprised by the acoustics in both rooms.
“Upstairs, the brick, the drop ceiling and curved walls bounce sound around in the right ways,” he said. “It also helps to have great sound engineers.”
McGrane said she and Freling appreciated the venue’s versatility, highlighted in Victor and Penny’s live-album release show in January.
“We were able to evoke a beautiful setting with lighting and leave room for dancing with an in-the-round stage placed in the center of the room,” she said. “Because Jeff and I come from theatrical backgrounds, we love the drama of the ever-changing spaces and the endless possibilities that their unique set-up provides.”
Music at the Living Room
7 p.m. Friday: Jessica Paige will celebrate the release of her album “Sweet Nothings.” Also performing: Lauren Anderson, Luke Sheafer and Calvin Arsenia.
6 to 10 p.m. Sunday: The Whiskey Smash, a fundraiser for the Living Room, will feature performances by the Philistines, the Phantastics, David George & a Crooked Mile, Barclay Martin, Mark Lowrey and others.
Oct. 7-31: The Living Room presents “Chainsaw: The Musical,” a comedy inspired by the film “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”