Best Bets: Rockshop closing its doors tonight

Friday will be bittersweet at The Rockshop Performing Arts Center in Camden as the doors will close after tonight’s event.

Stanton’s 4th Wall’s “On The Air: An Old Time Radio Show,” will be the final production for the venue, which opened in April of 2017 next to B&B Music at 3395 S. DuPont Highway.

Music & Arts, a national brand of Guitar Center, purchased the B&B Music stores in Camden, Lewes and Salisbury, Maryland in June. Since then, the store has run separate from the Rockshop and it became too costly to run on its own.

From left, former B&B Music employees Donny Marvel, Joshua Rose and Joey Fulkerson stand in front of The Rockshop Performing Arts Center in Camden in 2017. The venue will hold its final performance Friday night. (Delaware State News file photo/Marc Clery)

“Once B&B wasn’t associated with it anymore, it was myself and my wife and a few others who pulled together to run it until the end of the year,” said Donnie Marvel, who until this past June was manager of the Camden store.

He and Jon Nuzzo started the concept of the Rockshop several years ago.

The Rockshop is a 1,200-square-foot performance space that served as B&B’s home in the early 1970s. Forty-five years later, it began presenting music in a whole new way.

Designed by the musicians who work at B&B, the center featured acoustic paneling, an insulated stage, professional lighting and room to fit 150 audience members.

It also has a concession area, handicapped-accessible bathroom, break room and a recording studio. Music lessons were taught on the second floor.

Over the last couple of years, it has hosted student recitals, improvisational comedy, open mics, concerts and more.

“Our mission was to provide music and other arts events to the community. The music store basically funded most of the shows. But when that connection got lost, the rent still needed to be paid and the venue was therefore not sustainable,” Mr. Marvel said.

“We liked to charge maybe 10 bucks for a show or even some community-based things were free. We had some birthday and retirement parties there but it was too much wear and tear on the place and we just don’t have a staff for those kinds of things,” Mr. Marvel said.

“Nobody is a common point man and we can’t just run over to the store to get what we need anymore. It’s been a struggle ever since but we thought it was in everyone’s best interest to give it 100 percent on the way out.”

Mr. Marvel, who is also a professional musician, said the loss of a space like the Rockshop is a big loss to Kent County.

“It was a true arts space. We didn’t just specialize in music. We had full-blown plays here like ‘A Few Good Men’ with Stanton’s 4th Wall. We put up a curtain and everything. We covered all of the bases. To lose another space in Central Delaware is a shame,” said Mr. Marvel who noted the Schwartz Center for the Arts’ closing in June of 2017.

“You have a lot when you go south to the beach or up north but in the middle, there isn’t a whole lot.”

Melissa Brenner ran her First State Improv group out of the Rockshop. She had her final performance with the adult group last month.

“When I was looking for a place to do improv I ran into one of my improv kids and her mom coming out of a voice lesson with Ashley Mitchell who told me about the Rockshop. I immediately went to Donny Marvel who gave me a tour of the space when they were still renovating the building and I was thrilled,” she said.

“I knew then that it would be the perfect space for improv. After tons of improv shows and workouts for kids and adults of all ages, camps, homeschool series, classes, Giggles Express (children”s entertainment with puppets and music) and more, I am sad to see this incredible space for performing arts be lost to the community. I will be forever grateful that I had the opportunity to use the Rockshop to get the word out about First State Improv because improvisation has had a long-lasting impact on those who have participated in this fun and magical art form.”

Don Lonski, co-founder of Stanton’s 4th Wall agreed.

“When I heard the news the The Rockshop was closing I was heartbroken. We have been performing there since it opened and along with the Smyrna Opera House, it was a venue we could count on to be receptive to new ideas, professional in every aspect, and determined to bring quality entertainment to their audiences.

“Over the past few years, Delaware has lost several performing arts groups and venues, including The Schwartz Center. As a performer, business owner, and theatre advocate this is quite distressing. While companies like Stanton’s 4th Wall and First State Improv will be fine, artists that were looking for creative outlets will find this increasingly difficult as venues continue to close.”

Looking back, Mr. Marvel is proud of what he and his associates accomplished.

“It was such a nice place. Everybody who came in said ‘Wow, this is in Camden?’ Normally, a type of place like this is in Wilmington or Philly. Artists loved it. We had two acts in town this past weekend and they were blown away,” Mr. Marvel said.

“One of them, who are on a national tour, said ‘no venue looks like this. We’re used to playing dives with a 50 dollar PA system.’ We had full-blown lights and sound and we gave artists the full treatment that they deserved.”

Mr. Marvel said he continues to get emails from artists who have heard about the Rockshop asking if they can play there.

But Friday will be the end of the fun there. Stanton’s 4th Wall’s production will transport the audience back in time to the golden age of radio and allow them to see what happened in the radio studios during live broadcasts.

It wlll feature Christmas-themed comedy broadcasts that aired in the 1940s along with some original scripting.

“It will be a nice Christmastime event,” said Mr. Marvel.

“We’ll keep it light. It won’t be a pity party. I think it will be an awesome event. People will really dig it.”

Tickets will be $12 for adults and $10 for seniors and military. They are available at bnbrockshop.com or at the door.

If you miss Friday’s performance, you can catch an encore presentation at the Smyrna Opera House Saturday at 7 p.m.

Spontaneous Combustion

Speaking of First State Improv, the organization’s teen troupe, Spontaneous Combustion, will hold its first performance Sunday afternoon at the Kent County Theatre Guild’s Patchwork Playhouse with A Very Merry Improv Celebration.

Melissa Brenner, left, works with her teen improv troupe at The Rockshop last month. The troupe, Spontaneous Combustion, will perform a free show Sunday at Kent County Theatre Guild’s Patchwork Playhouse on Sunday. (Delaware State News/Craig Horleman)

Everyone is invited to eat some cookies and participate in some fun improv games with a holiday twist. The 3 p.m. event is free and for all ages.

With the closing of The Rockshop, First State Improv will move its base to the Patchwork Playhouse, 140 Roosevelt Ave, Dover.

Rehoboth Concert Band

The Rehoboth Concert Band will present its annual Holiday Peace Concert Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Cape Henlopen High School Theater (1250 Kings Highway, Lewes), with guest vocalist, Jerry Birl.

Mr. Birl is the music teacher at Sussex Academy, is involved in the area’s active community theater scene and a frequent guest soloist with RCB.

This year’s selections of seasonal music include classics such as “O Holy Night,” and “A Hanukkah Festival,” as well as new twists on old favorites such as “Hark! Those Jingle Bells Are Smokin’” and “An American Christmas.”

Those 18 years old and under attend free.

Tickets cost $20/adult, and are available in advance online at www.rehobothconcertband.org, and at the Cape Henlopen Senior Center (11 Christian St., Rehoboth Beach). Tickets may also be purchased at the door (cash only, please).

School segregation exhibit

The Biggs Museum of American Art is joining with Dover’s Citywide Black History Celebration to host a feature art exhibition on the subject of “Schools Under Segregation” in February and March of 2020. Different sites across Dover, including the Biggs Museum, will present original programs on public education for African Americans before the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling that ended segregation in U.S. schools.

The Biggs Museum has partnered with University of Delaware Professor of Africana Studies Tiffany Barber to curate an exhibition of recent works by Billy Colbert of the Delaware State University Fine Art Department. Mr. Colbert will present original videos, installations and paintings about life, and especially education, of African Americans during the period of segregation.

Mr. Colbert and Tiffany Barber will also help direct community-based activities during this important exhibition:

• Ms. Barber will help create a display of artifacts and artworks from Kent County’s African American community on the subject of Segregated Schools of Delaware.

• Mr. Colbert will conduct oral history interviews with members of the community that wish to talk about their experiences with Delaware’s segregated schools. A schedule of these interviews will be listed on the Biggs Museum’s website at BiggsMuseum.org.

• These oral histories of Kent County residents will be used to create an original fine art video by Billy Colbert that will be debuted at the end of March 2020 at the Biggs Museum and on its website.

For this exhibition, the Biggs Museum is hoping that citizens of Greater Kent County and Delaware State University alumni can lend vital materials that relate to Delaware’s segregated schools, including but not limited to:

• School photos

• Report cards

• Yearbooks

• School art projects

• Your own artworks that relate to the topic of segregated schools

The project organizers will select objects to include in the display of local materials.

If you have questions or recommendations for people who should be interviewed about Delaware’s segregated schools, contact Biggs Museum Curator Ryan Grover at 302-674-2111 Ext. 108 or rgrover@biggsmuseum.org.

If you have materials, whether they are new artworks or older archives, contact the Biggs Museum’s registrar, David Clapp at 302-674-2111 Ext. 113 or dclapp@biggsmuseum.org, to set up a time to drop off works and fill out the correct loan forms.

Now Showing

New in theaters this weekend is highly anticipated “Star Wars: The Rise of the Skywalker” and the film version of the musical “Cats.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is the Judy Garland biopic “Judy.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com