Wednesday, June 16, 1999
Our Times : A supplement to the Los Angeles Times published by Times Community News

RENOVATION: A laughing matter

Ventura’s Variety Theatre, where comedy is king, is undergoing expansion — and that’s good for everyone, owners say

Tom and Gary

Tom Mueller, left, and Gary Best ham it up atop a pile of rubble inside the Variety Theatre in Ventura, which is undergoing renovation.

The Variety Theatre is known for its from-the-hip comedy shows. But there’s nothing improvisational about the construction going on at the theater on Palm Street in Ventura.

Tom Mueller, co director of the Variety Theatre, said the move has two goals: make the place bigger and provide a permanent stage.

“We’re going to gain more space,” Mueller said. “This is a multiuse theater and the space will allow us to have more room to do things. “

The permanent stage was essential for Mueller and his business partner, Gary Best, since it allows them to provide live theater space while maintaining space for the other uses, such as dance classes. In the past, the pair had to provide a make-shift stage for live productions, and performers came to the theater knowing they would have to set up the stage in addition to any props — and take it all down after the show.

When the theater reopens July 3, performers don’t have to worry about the stage and can even store props on the premises while other events are going on.

The changes also mean Best and Mueller will be able to seat more people: between 80 and 100, up from 49.

Heading up the renovations are the new owners of the building, including Jimmy Mesa, who said a combination theater/ restaurant will help everyone in the area.

“I feel that the theatric and dining experience collaborating together will be very good for attracting crowds to both places,” said Mesa, who is negotiating with a restaurant to replace Cafe Voltaire, which will move to Palm Street, south of East Main Street, in September.

“We’re tickled to death that we can stay in this building,” Best said. “They’ve made an effort to keep us here. They could have done a lot of things, but they kept us.”

The renovation will also allow for a more prominent entrance that will also help make the Variety Theatre more noticeable.

“People say they have walked right past the place so many times and don’t see it,” Mueller said. “There will be more lighting and a larger sign, so hopefully it will soon be easier to spot.”
Tom Mueller

The new Variety Theatre on North Palm Street will boast more seats and a permanent stage, said theater co director Tom Mueller, above. Photo: Dave Luchansky/Our Times