{UPDATED} Monkey Wrench Collective: The Show Will Go On

A blow to Monkey Wrench
A blow to Monkey Wrench
Melita Ann Sagar

The Monkey Wrench Theater Collective's debut--originally planned for this weekend--will still happen but where and when is yet to be decided. Monkey Wrench Artistic Director (and Weekly contributor) Dave Barton posted on his Facebook page yesterday that officials from the city of Fullerton inspected his theater's site earlier in the day and told him that the space wasn't ready for a public opening (the company did stage two previews of its first show, pool (no water) for friends and family last weekend).

The Collective's four board members had spent $15,000 dollars--and lots of time--getting the space, a former hair salon on Harbor Boulevard in downtown Fullerton, in compliance for a public opening. Two weeks ago, when I visited the theater while working on a piece about the company, it was still definitely under construction, and Barton and cohorts knew it wouldn't be 100-percent ready by its projected opening date. They were banking that the city would grant it a conditional-use permit to allow it to open--and to begin recouping some of its construction costs--while it was in its finishing construction phase.

In an effort to make that conditional use permit happen, Monkey Wrench invited city building officials to inspect the property Tuesday morning However, city building inspectors said that without a fully compliant restroom for disabled patrons, and without proper firewalls, no CUP would be granted. (A blog post on the Orange County Register's website gave the city's perspective).

The time and cost involved with finishing both construction projects would prove too much to have the building ready by this Friday, forcing Barton and the rest of his board to find a temporary space as soon as possible.

"The city didn't technically shut us down because we weren't technically open," Barton said by phone. "We weren't adequately prepared and we knew that, but we were hoping that by inviting the city to come down to see if we were safe enough to open that we could avoid being shut down after opening, which would have been far more harmful to us.

The Monkey Wrench will decide by Friday where to open both (pool) no water and The Revenger's Tragedy, a 20-person show scheduled to open March 11. At the moment, the most realistic possibility is one of Fullerton College's performing spaces.

The company will also decide by Friday whether it's even feasible to continue building in its Harbor Boulevard space. The main issue seems to be the space's brick buildings. The brick aesthetics are a big reason why the company chose that space, and having to hang drywall over that brick to accommodate the city's firewall regulation would be tantamount to "mutilating the building and that's something we just aren't prepared to do," Barton said.

The Collective will speak to its landlord Friday to determine the feasibility of continuing to build in the space. Whatever happens with that space and these two shows--the casts of each are committed through April 11--Barton said the Monkey Wrench collective will continue. "Whether we open in Fullerton at that space any time in the future or cut our losses and flush that $15,000 down the toilet we'll know by Friday," Barton said. "But even if we walk away from that space, we will continue as a gypsy theater that rents out spaces."

"We'll open next weekend by hook or crook," Barton continued, but admits that opening in a different space will greatly compromise both shows. "We spent a lot of time on both these shows because we wanted to open with a big bang. By opening in another space, we'll have do so with a much smaller explosion."

[UPDATED FRIDAY 2:55 P.M] The Monkey Wrenchers were given two potentially promising pieces of news today: The landlord of the Harbor Boulevard space in Fullerton told them he will cover the approximately $20,000 in construction costs in order to get the space into compliance with the city's regulations; and it may have found a temporary space to house its two shows.

"It was a meeting of dreams, I suppose, since we really expected him to say 'It's been nice boys, but I'm just going to turn the space back into retail,'" said Bryan Jennings, a Monkey Wrench board member, of the Friday meeting with the building's landlord.  "But he really wants us to succeed and be in Fullerton, and he's prepared to front the money for the changes since he's already seen the $15,000 we've spent."

Because Monkey Wrench plans to perform in the space, it falls under a different part of the city's building code, one that requires far more fire protection than a normal retail space. Most of the fireproofing involves the ceiling, meaning the brick walls that enticed the company into the space in the first place will remain untouched.

Other changes involve finishing a disabled-accessible bathroom and recessing its Harbor Boulevard door three feet so that it doesn't impede foot traffic on the sidewalk when opened.

Jennings is hopeful that, with the landlord's financial generosity, and barring any further surprises from the city, the theater will be fully compliant within 30 days.

"We're going to town right away," he said. "A lot can happen in 30 days if you have the right people."

The long-term future of the Monkey Wrench in Fullerton seems set, and the short-term future of its two shows also looks good. Board member Dave Barton said he's in serious negotiations with an Orange County theater to book both shows for a joint three-week run.

"We haven't signed anything yet, so I don't want to say anything official until the paperwork is done," Barton said. "But I'm hopeful we'll be in a space and have both shows running by early April at the latest." 

[UPDATED FRIDAY 5:40 p.m.] Monkey Wrench announced today (March 12) that one of its shows, the 17th Century morbid Jacobean comedy The Revenger's Tragedy will open Saturday, March 20, a the Ice House, a stately building constructed in 1910 that has served as a venue for churches, live music and, yes, even an ice factory..

The Ice House is located at 110 E. Walnut S., next door to the Maverick Theatre. All tickets will be a "recession-friendly" $10.

The troupe plans to open Mark Ravenhill's (pool) No Water in late April at its 204 N. Harbor Blvd., space, which is currently being modified to fit the city of Fullerton's building requirements.

For more information, visit monkeywrenchcollective.com..


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