Behind the Scenes of Tempe's New Venue 104

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The tables are set and final touches are almost complete at Venue 104, the new performance cafe scheduled to open next weekend in Tempe's Cornerstone Center at 940 East University Drive. The stage is built, the coffee shop's walls covered in a killer music-themed mural by local artist Sean Griffin, and the opening acts booked.

There's only one thing standing in the venue's way: The health department.

Last-minute permitting issues have owner Michael Peck concerned that he may not be allowed to serve food or alcohol during the grand opening weekend. "The amount of red tape involved in opening a small business is ridiculous," says Peck. "I don't know how people dumber than me do it."

Even if Peck isn't able to get his expedited permit requests finalized in time, he still plans to host the kickoff with performances by Captain Squeegee, Dearspeak, Instructions and more. It's a free show, so he still expects a good-sized crowd -- and with sushi and pizza restaurants just steps away from the door, no one will starve.  

Get the lowdown on the space, and on Venue 104's first theater season, after the jump. 

The new venue is huge, with a separate coffee shop up front, a box office window that will open just prior to shows, and a 250-seat performance venue that includes high-tops, a few comfortable couches, and standing-room-only seating near the stage, where the underage crowd will be corralled during shows where alcohol is served at the bar in the back of the house.

The small room that Peck calls "The Gallery" will have local artwork on the walls and double as a rehearsal space for bands and theater groups. Located directly off of the cafe area, it's well-insulated for soundproofing and is approximately the same size as the stage.   

So, what is on tap for that stage? Live bands have been booked for much of the the venue's first few weeks, and Scandalesque Burlesque will make an appearance in September. Peck's in-house theatre company is set to open with Mr. Marmalade, directed by Tim Shawver, on September 16. 

If you expected family-friendly musicals from the churchgoing Peck, think again. He has a rep for producing edgy theatrical productions that most other theaters -- Stray Cat and Nearly Naked aside -- won't touch.

The season continues with Tape, a dramatic show in which a date rapist is cornered by the victim and a friend, Juvenilia by Wendy McLeod (which includes a threesome), and Some Girls, which will be Peck's directorial debut at Venue 104.

Peck hopes that these brash and often controversial works will help to break the stereotype of what people think theater is. "There's a stigma that goes with theater. Say the word and people think of Annie or Carousel," he quips. "But the description of our first show alone... it's about a four-year-old girl, played by an adult, who has an imaginary friend that has a cocaine addiction, is abusive towards his assistant, and has a propensity for pornography and large dildos. Who wouldn't fuckin' see that?"        

Venue 104 will kick off with a 6:30 p.m. show next Friday, August 19. Once permits are approved, the coffee shop will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.      

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