by Mike Corrigan

CenterStage has been typecast as a supper club, a theater and jazz venue -- in essence, a nightspot for sophisti-cats. Make no such mistake. With their elegant use of the former Odd Girls Hall on West First, featuring a sprawling theater space, a pool hall, and dining room with its own gourmet-on-a-budget dinner menu, Artistic Director Tim Behrens and Musical Director Leslie Ann Groves are demonstrating their dedication to the local arts community. Yet as Chef Kile Tansy insists, it could be, should be -- and soon will be -- so much more.

This Friday night, Tansy and a group of local artists, musicians and DJs are throwing open the doors of CenterStage for a party. They're calling it "A New Horizon: What's Next in Nightlife, Art, Culture, Dining and Dancing." It's a multicultural, multimedia, all-ages music and art happening that will unfold simultaneously on three levels of the CenterStage building. All for a measly five bucks.

"What we're trying to do is include a demographic that is not 45 on up, which is what we have now with our dinner theater. Not only to introduce them to the space, but show younger people that there is something for them here. And if it works, even modestly, it's something that we can bring back on a regular basis."

While live jazz and traditional theater are already well established at CenterStage, Tansy says he wants to develop different kinds of performance and visual arts in the expansive space.

"We've invited in some street-level artists, people that may be going from tagging to doing graffiti on canvas, along with sculptors and watercolorists. With that we have three different DJs with distinctly different styles -- hip-hop and techno through acid jazz and the underground rare groove stuff that Grand Groove does."

But Tansy says it's not just about providing something new and exciting for younger nightlifers.

"We also want to show people in the upper age groups that there are valid art forms here," says Tansy.

The expansive ballroom downstairs, with its blonde hardwood floors, will feature local art on display along with artists working in various mediums. They will be displaying their art, but they will also be creating art works on the spot. Also on hand will be a DJ (Davies Locker) and performances by Portland break-dancing crews Nomasterbacks, Floor Fanatics and The Hulkamaniacs.

In the theater on the second level, you'll find two DJs -- Brainchild and Grand Groove -- filling the space with underground funk, jazz and soul.

"It's the stuff that gets sampled in hip hop -- Parliament, James Brown, that sort of thing," says Tansy. "But they're playing it in more of a straight-ahead fashion, kind of showing the background of where these riffs get lifted from."

On the third level, in the supper club, the top-shelf Brent Edstrom Trio will be exchanging their usual repertoire of jazz standards for something a little more funked-up.

"We'd like to have people mingle through the space. Shoot a game of pool, go out and dance in the main room, maybe check out the gallery space downstairs. We've opened up all three of our spaces. And we'll have full food and beverage service on the two upper levels."

The goal is to change the perception of CenterStage as a jazz/symphony/theater crowd-only hangout.

"The aesthetic here so far hasn't been inviting to a younger audience," Tansy says. "Also, people who come only to the dinner theater take the elevator or take the stairs up and think that's all that this is. We've got a lot of potential in this building. And in reaching out to a younger demographic, I'm trying to prove to the directors here that this is something we should do. If we're truly about supporting the arts here, we have to recognize that there are some valid things going on. Street art may not become validated for another ten years. Andy Warhol was a pop artist and dismissed by the art elite, and now he's respected and highly collectible. And as much as we want to promote performers and live music, we need to realize that the DJ aspect is here to stay. In fact, it's expanding to where they collaborate now with live players. It's evolving."

To secure a future as a vibrant, arts-supportive venue or gallery, you have to spend at least a portion of your time out on the edge, seeking out and showcasing performers and artists who just now are bubbling up from the underground.

Tansy says that holds true "even if it's not your cup of tea. And there's a lot of stuff out there I don't care for. But the more you get exposed to things, you find out that people put a lot of work into it and do it well. That's when you get your eyes opened."

Publication date: 08/14/03

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