Final curtain for Gaslighter
By Jaweed Kaleem
It's curtains for the Gaslighter Theatre.
After 37 years of vaudeville and melodrama shows -- and more
recently rock concerts that cater to teens -- the venue with the
landmark marble columns on Campbell Avenue will hold its final show
Over the last several years, the theater became better-known as one
of the few all-ages concert venues in the South Bay, tapping local
up-and-coming bands such as Altruist, the Vex and Story Told. Scores
of teenagers would attend the concerts five nights a week, while
older crowds participated in the Thursday comedy nights and Saturday
The building will remain -- as it has for more than 80 years -- but
the clientele will change, since the new owner plans to convert it
into a chic night lounge for a more mature crowd.
``Where will the kids go when we're not open?'' asked Greg Walker, a
Gaslighter security guard and drummer for the San Jose band Reckless
The weekend vaudeville and melodrama shows, which the theater has
showcased for decades, saw their conclusion Saturday with the last
two-hour performance of ``Gaslighter Cold Case,'' a murder mystery.
Concerts continue tonight and Wednesday.
Wendi Zuccaro, who has been involved in the shows the past two
years, said the Gaslighter is the last vaudeville and melodrama
theater left in Northern California and possibly the oldest one in
``Melodrama is interactive and trite: You boo the villain and cheer
the hero,'' said Gaslighter owner Mark Gaetano. Vaudeville is
comedic and includes song and dance. Audiences at Gaslighter
melodrama shows are encouraged to throw popcorn (free with
admission) at the villains, instead of the traditional tomatoes.
``It's like losing your family,'' said Zuccaro, who works for the
San Jose Medical Group during the day. She will be taking a position
as stage manager for the Sunnyvale Community Players, a theater
group, but many other performers are unsure of their plans.
Gaetano blames the closing on the city, which he said has been
``uncooperative and unwelcoming'' toward the theater since it became
more of a youth hangout spot. The city, he said, required him to buy
permits for activities the Gaslighter had been showcasing for
decades, such as concerts, and required him to beef up security.
Gaetano said he tried to abide by city rules, but ``got tired of
dealing with them.'' He has been arrested three times, including
once this year, for not having the proper permits to run the venue.
Campbell Redevelopment Manager Kirk Heinrichs said Gaslighter
operators ``were having difficulty satisfying the conditions''
required for most restaurants and entertainment venues, especially
those that hold concerts.
This isn't the first time Gaslighter management has announced the
theater will close. In 2002, then-owner Robin Swartz, on the verge
of a foreclosure, raised $28,000 from donors to save the property,
which she had bought from the Gaetanos -- Mark and his siblings --
in the late 1990s. (Mark Gaetano moved to Los Angeles and became a
regular on the TV show ``JAG.'') By 2003 the theater was back in the
hands of Mark Gaetano and his wife, Susan Gaetano.
Nick Di'Arpino, who purchased the Gaslighter from Gaetano, will turn
it into a 21-and-over lounge, Heinrichs said. ``With the new use and
restoration of the building coming in, there will be some comfort
that the building will be around for a long time,'' he said. It will
join a host of bars, cafes, and restaurants that have sprung up over
recent years in the formerly quiet old-time downtown.
Walker, the drummer, said his band plans to find other stages where
they can perform, although the Gaslighter was home turf.
Gaetano said he is sad to see his theater go, but glad he won't have
to deal with the stress of keeping the building running anymore.
``The Gaslighter is an institution in Campbell. The city won't be
the same after it's gone.''
Contact Jaweed Kaleem at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408) 920-5714.
I shed a tear at the passing of this traditional venue...
Let's not let the form pass when the venue goes!
Actors from the Gaslighter seeking spaces for continuing the tradition in alternative venues may contact me via email@example.com. I am currently involved in building two theaters on Sutter (A 50 seater and a 99 seater)
of which I know the 50 seat house is for public rental (the 99 may be limited to company use).
I am looking to host a monthly vaudeville night at a private SOMA venue being developed in June: a mix of video, animation, music, circus and sketch comedy. Interested parties should also contact me with a URL of online promotionals or request an address for hard copy promo delivery. Our first show will be in July.