Updated September 22, 2020 - 5:09 am
As his surname implies, Chris Wink relishes mischief.
The director of content and cool “stuff” for Area15 and co-founder of Blue Man Group arrived at the arts-and-entertainment complex in a full Las Vegas Raider costume.
Wink wore a cherry-red jacket; matching; blinged-out loafers; a pirate eye patch; and black-and-turquoise face mask. He also had an orange cajon drum-piece fashioned belt.
“It’s the Raiders, but it’s Las Vegas first,” Wink said. “We take creative license.”
That license was flashed frequently at The Portal at Area15, the venue’s first formal event since opening Thursday. The Portal is as you would expect, hidden behind a pair of unmarked, heavy-metal doors.
The Las Vegas opener was projected 360 degrees around the building, his being a new “four wall” entertainment option in Vegas. A scaled-down football field was shown in the middle of the floor.
That’s where Wink led two “ambient percussion” performances, one before kickoff and another at halftime. It was an Area15 adaptation of NFL in-game entertainment.
“It’s not a show,” Wink said, mindful that entertainment “events” are still a no-no in the Entertainment Capital of the World. “This drumming could happen anywhere. We just happen to be near it tonight.”
Astute Vegas entertainment observers recognized such artists as Blue Man Group musician Jeff Tortora and “Zombie Burlesque” cast member Jeffrey DeBarathy in the mix. Wink’s girlfriend, Sonia Sheron, was the lead dancer/alien character.
“We just want something that is only Las Vegas, but also very safe,” Wink said. “We can’t wait for the pandemic to be over, like everyone else, but we feel good about how we can produce entertainment in here. There is so much space to work with.”
When it’s finished, Area15 will cover about 200,000 square feet. With a partnership with Meow Wolf of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and counting its outdoor platforms, Area15 could conceivably host 10,000 visitors with no restrictions when it is fully finished. The annex is capped at 750 during COVID, and a less than 50 percent capacity crowd of about 60 were in The Portal.
“I think we can produce an entertainment experience as well as anyone during the pandemic,” Wink said. “This is a good time for a soft opening.”
Wink and performing sidekick Duncan Horst popped over to my station just before kickoff. Horst asked a series of questions, “What is your favorite art form? Why? What feeling do you most appreciate when observing this art?” My answers coalesced to, “My favorite entertainment is live concert production because it reminds me of when I was a kid and bought vinyl records.”
Wink and Horst then performed an on-the-spot rap of my answers. An impromptu, and ambient, work of art.
Area15 CEO Michael Beneville said the Raider parties in The Portal can continue through the season.
“If the response is strong, and it seems to be, we’ll keep going,” Beneville said. “This is a great room for the Raiders, the fans are loving it.”
Beneville said it’s possible to host such events as Academy Awards telecasts, production shows and even election-night watch parties in The Portal.
“How great would something like the ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ be in here?” he said. “We have some things planned for Area 15 that nobody has ever seen before.”
Chef Todd English showed up at the party during the second quarter. He’s offering a truncated, pop-up version of The Beast at the Portal and also the Oddwood center bar. The Raider-watch menu included tuna tartar wonton tacos, chili-lime watermelon salad, loaded short-rib fries, Todd’s crispy chicken sliders, and a bananas- foster, Cookie Monster ice cream in a rice-crispy cone. Yes I tried them all.
English himself sat at the Kats! Bureau for one Raiders offensive series, taking in the scene.
“This team coning to Las Vegas is the best thing that’s ever happened to the city,” he said. “Now they just need to bring John Madden back.”
He’d love the sliders.
We did find a pair of real Raders, absent the “I,” at the party.
Las Vegans Chase and Katherine Rader were set off to the side, along with cousin Randy Rader (he was the one in the official Rader family T-shirt).
Katherine happens to be a Chiefs fan. Chase has always loved the Raiders.
“In absence of actually being at the game, it’s been fun to be around so many actual fans,” Katherine said. “It’s like stepping into a different universe. It’s dark and a little spooky.”
“I didn’t know what to expect, but I am pleasantly surprised,” Chase said. “And I’m watching the Las Vegas Raiders. It’s like a dream come true.”
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.