The Old Stone Church has been many things over the years; at times, it was actually a church. But for the most part, Bendites know it as a concert venue, stand-up comedy spot, film shoot location and just about any other type of event you can imagine. Recently it has become the Old Stone Performing Arts Center, hosting several concerts and a theatrical production. Now comes a new test: a live comedy series.
High Desert Hijinks is being billed as an evening of music, mirth and mayhem. Producers Dan Cohen and Howard Schor have a very specific vision in mind. "We're delivering a whole different format," says Cohen, who is also master of ceremonies for the event. "What usually happens is they'll put two comics and an MC out and a bunch of canned music and that's the show. I think we need more than that. We'll have some video segments with man on the street stuff. We'll have live music and a musical segment and we'll anchor our show with two national touring comedians. We're really lucky this time because we picked a couple of them that will definitely represent a wide range of comedy."
While some of the hijinks are being saved as a surprise for the performances, both national comedians are excellent choices. Sharon Lacey was a middle school teacher for decades before becoming a comedian. She is the right choice for the inaugural show since her style is so broad that she can basically tailor it to any audience. The other headliner, Randy Mendez, combines smart-assed sarcasm with wide-eyed optimism, making him one of Portland's best comics.
Bringing in local talent will also be a large part of High Desert Hijinks' mission. Cohen says, "We'll supplement the stars with local people so that the show will be a mixture of very good national acts and the very good local talent that we have here in town."
Local actor/singer John Kish has been brought in to run the musical aspect of the show. His vision for how to combine the music with the comedians and themes of the night is a strong one. "For me, it's finding the heart in comedy," says Kish. "So, making it funny, yes, but also putting some emotional heart in the skits to help vary the show emotionally. Sometimes humor can be found in sadness. Also finding talent who can hold a crowd on their own for 10 minutes and sing confidently is important."
Cohen is a recent transplant to Bend from Los Angeles, where we was a writer and a filmmaker. He was shocked when he saw the depth and breadth of talent Central Oregon had to offer. Cohen says, "I started looking at talent back in May and I thought, 'My God, there are so many people that are good, but they're working karaoke or haven't quite found an audience.' There are local comics that are up and coming that could use a 10-minute spot."
Central Oregon has had variety shows going in the past with Tin Pan Theater's "Night Light Show" being the most recent example, but something that combines local and national talent is more rare. This could be a platform for comedians, musicians, vocalists and artists who haven't found the right venue for their work.
"There's a lot of great talent in Bend and there are good comics, but they needed bigger venues,"says Cohen. "So what we want to do, what's really important, is—instead of them having small groups of people they play to, we want to try and expand to the whole community, just as we want to draw from the whole community. The idea is to bring local filmmaking talent and singing talent and comedians together. Eventually it would be great to have just one star and everyone else from town here."
If High Desert Hijinks finds an audience, the Old Stone Performing Arts Center could become a cross-genre hub for comedy, cabaret, filmmakers, musicians and vocalists. This would create a single roof under which multiple performers of different styles can collaborate. If that's not the definition of community, I don't know what is.
High Desert Hijinks
Friday, July 22 & Saturday, July 23, 9pm
Old Stone Performing Arts Center, 157 NW Franklin Ave., Bend