When Derek Stonebarger finished production on the feature film he shot in the Arts District last year, he wanted to hold a premiere for his friends. Renting a theater in a large cinema would have cost several thousand dollars, so the 35-year-old screened I.M. Caravaggio, his biopic of the early 17th-century Italian painter, at a local art gallery.
He then traveled to Rome to scope out a location for his Italian premiere. As Stonebarger sat in a series of small theaters, he had an epiphany: If he wanted a permanent home for independent cinema in Vegas, he’d have to create it himself. Not long after he returned from Italy, Stonebarger found a space and began transforming it into an art house with fiancee Dorian Martin and her father, Darryl.
Theatre7 opened downtown in March with two films. Part gallery, part playhouse, part art-house cinema, the space is available to anyone who would like to showcase their creative passions. At the far end of the room, a 10-foot projection screen with an ornate golden frame sits on an easel. Martin runs the gallery side of Theatre7, exhibiting his works alongside local artwork that lines the walls of the 65-seat theater.
“It’s been great to be in a place where people can showcase their work. Film is art, too; basically we like to say we’re a film gallery,” says Stonebarger, who by day runs a local television commercial production company, Vegaswood Studios. (You may recognize his over-the-top Glen Lerner attorney spots.)
Recently Theatre7 held its first play, Oscar: A Good Man, loosely based on Mayor Oscar Goodman. Stonebarger co-wrote, produced and starred. It was a draining experience that he’s not looking to repeat anytime soon, but it was also their most popular draw.
Theatre7 has also become the new home for several film festivals. Filling in the time between the festivals, Theatre7 screens independent films. “It’s a huge void that Theatre7 is helping to fill by bringing local filmmakers together and giving people a place to see things that they would not normally get a chance to see here in town,” says program director Chad Clinton Freeman, whose own film festival, Pollygrind, has found a home at Theatre7.
Theatre7 offers direct access between audiences and filmmakers. “There’s only been a few times when the filmmaker hasn’t been here,” Stonebarger says. And the main actors and producers are typically in attendance as well. “There’s always a Q&A afterward, even if it evolves outside or we go and get a drink together.”
Many times, those asking the questions or sharing a beer are fellow filmmakers. Stonebarger and Freeman estimate that there are up to 40 filmmakers who live and work in the Valley. “I kind of thought I was one of the only ones,” Stonebarger says. “We’re meeting these people face-to-face now and sharing stories; that wasn’t really what I had planned on doing with this but it’s a great thing that’s happened.”
After the success of the first play and festival (Cinekink earlier this month), Theatre7 has begun to turn a profit. Martin has seen an increase in sales for his artwork and all signs point to the new space becoming a successful venture. So much so, they are already thinking of expanding a two-story building down the street. They plan to have a bar and gallery on the first floor with a permanent theater on the second.
“Probably the biggest surprise is [that] I.M. Caravaggio is responsible for taking me down this path,” Stonebarger says. “If I never would have made the film, I wouldn’t be able to help so many other filmmakers show their art to the public, which is honestly the most rewarding part of this whole journey.”