Once The Rock Venue, hoping to rent Oberon, filling it with diverse shows and all-day use

February 12, 2022

Famous Somerville music club, Once Lounge and Ballroom, is in the running for rent the space formerly occupied by the Oberon of the American Repertory Theatre. Harvard, which listed the space Oct. 28, is trying to fill the Harvard Square slot by April.

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According to an arts collective that discussed its rejection of the space in a shared Jan. 18 email, the Harvard backer narrowed its decision down to a shortlist. Once appears to be in it – but the most owner JJ Gonson could say on Friday is that Once hasn’t received a denial. She doesn’t know where Once, who applied in early January, sits in the application process, she said.

“The Once vibe and the Oberon vibe are very, very similar,” Gonson said. “There are ballet-centric theaters, there are opera houses and there are rock clubs that cater to rock ‘n’ roll. And then there are spaces that are a bit more diverse in their programming. And that’s always been my goal, to be very diverse in my programming, not always looking at the same genre. I feel like people who [went] in Oberon are also people who like the diversity of performances.”

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Harvard had nothing to share about possible tenants or timing on Friday, university spokeswoman Brigid O’Rourke said. Graffito SP tenants did not immediately respond to a message left on Friday.

Two closures

Oberon, before closed its doors at 2 Arrow Street in late 2021 for a move from the Harvard Theater to Allston, was known for his experimental performances and fringe acts. Originally a black box space that turned into a nightclub in 2009, Oberon has hosted burlesque, musicals, drag shows, and readings for “The Moth.” The space also housed “The Donkey Show”, a disco rendition of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” which ran weekly.

Once closed its Somerville location on Highland Avenue permanently in November 2020, ending a six-year occupation. He continued to host shows virtually and last summer had a residence at Boynton Yards in Somerville life sciences campus for outdoor concerts.

Gonson said she doesn’t really see herself leaving Somerville and will continue to partner with Boynton Yards – but would also like to see Once have a more permanent home. This was backed up by Adam Cissell, co-owner of Gonson collaborator Dead Moon Audio.

“When [Once] closed, the scene took a hit. It was an independent place. There aren’t many of them, especially of this size,” Cissell said. “They’re doing well, but the ideal situation is to have a real physical space.” The logistics of bringing different sound equipment to each show at different venues is impossible to sustain long-term, said Marc Valois, another co-owner of Dead Moon Audio.Having your own space, staff and cohesive sound helps “build a community in a space where people know what to expect, and what the vibe is,” Valois said. “It’s really important for Once to have the space.”

Once in Oberon

Moving Once to Oberon could be a fusion of two creative energies – and a way to save and revive two iconic spaces. Gonson said she was enthusiastic about the club’s 20-foot ceilings, which make it an ideal venue for aerial acrobats and a capacity of 300 people. On Highland Avenue, it had 18-foot ceilings and room for 411 people.

“I went to see an old day care center in a state of complete collapse, with tiny little rooms. There was no way it would ever work,” Gonson said. “I’ve been to developments, and they want us, but it’s going to take years. You can’t just slip a rock club into any room.”

In her proposal for Oberon, she told Graffito that she envisions a multi-use scenario, “with a ballroom that hosts louder and livelier things in the evenings, especially around the weekends, but also that we do spoken word, theater and burlesque,” Gonson said. “Then there’s a smaller space. It is currently a classroom or rehearsal room. I proposed that we use it to make a smaller performance space. For the front room, the entry, we’re talking to a cafe and a record seller about doing something, using the space in a way that lasts all day.” Gonson would like to see poke bowls with cereal and vegetables, or tacos, served on site.

Gonson thinks Once has a chance of being offered the space.

“We’re totally an outsider in this area, and we’re hitting these walls everywhere,” Gonson said. “We don’t have corporate backing. We’re kind of a scrappy, do-it-yourself little weirdo…I think we’re a very, very strong candidate artistically. We’re one in a group, and I hope just that we’re strong enough.”

Close enough

Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys were the first to perform at Once in Somerville, and have played there several times over the years. Edrie Edrie, an accordionist with the band who fielded applications from several bands hoping to hire Oberon, said the 2 Arrow St. space has “bare bones” to create unique productions, adding that she sees the potential for let it be “interesting”. , intimate and community-oriented.”

A move to Cambridge also might not be the blow to Somerville that some think it might be, Edrie said.

“For me, the loss of Somerville is quite significant, but … the spaces are so close together that for the average viewer who goes to either place, it’s not that bad,” said Edrie, a longtime Somerville resident who has been priceless. “It’s all part of this cycle of not being able to find the most affordable place to make art in a place that has fostered my own art and my own artistic career. It’s sad that way for me – but as a regular audience member, the disconnect isn’t there.”


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