HAZLETON — It’s safe to say there’s been a void as far as all-ages entertainment in lower Luzerne and Schuylkill counties. There’s a building in Hazleton that, if a few entrepreneurial souls have their way, will change this.
The Sanctuary, occupying a former church at 172 North Wyoming Street, in the course of about a year’s time, is now a fully converted multimedia venue specializing in events such as concerts and professional wrestling. Pro boxing cards are in the works. The brainchild of Penn State Hazleton Computer Science professor Jon Trosky, who is a sought-after wrestling trainer, actor, and stunt double, (Trosky actually worked closely with Mickey Rourke on movie “The Wrestler”) the venue is on its way to achieving its goal of bringing a nightlife – more specifically, all-ages excitement, back to the area.
“I’ve been trying to work every angle I can in the area for the kids,” said Lorraine Searfoss, the promoter working closely with Trosky. Searfoss, along with husband Jerry Fisher of Fisher Light and Sound, are the key movers on the music end of The Sanctuary’s endeavors. “The kids need something – there’s nothing going in Pottsville, there’s nothing going on in McAdoo, nothing in Hazleton, period. They need this place.”
Searfoss became associated with Trosky out of frustration with her former booking situation – further cementing her commitment to all-ages live music.
“I was doing punk shows in Wilkes-Barre, and the venue went really bad,” she said. “There was no promotion, no this, no that. I was doing everything for the place, and I just couldn’t keep doing it. I kept hearing about this place called The Sanctuary from all the kids in the area, so I looked it up online and called Jon. We had a meeting the next day.”
Only a few bands have played at The Sanctuary, but with word of mouth spreading, it’s expected to change. Searfoss plans on incorporating bands she books for all-ages shows at The Strand, a historic theater/roller rink in nearby McAdoo.
“I’ve only had two bands play there once and we had to shut the doors because of the insurance,” Searfoss said. “But, the bands love it, period. Everybody wants to play there and I don’t blame them because it’s the ultimate place to play. And, lately, we’ve seen more people out than there have been in quite some time.”
The venue is orchestrating “First Friday” events for the public – the next of which will be from 7 to 10:30 p.m. Sept. 4. Trosky said anyone can come get a feel for the place, and see the facility and learn what its operations are about.
Recent community “open-houses” at The Sanctuary have included a free viewing of WWE Summerslam, with another ticketed event on Aug. 30 in a professional wrestling bill dubbed “The Fire Rises.” The wrestling events are full theatrical spectacles, complete with announcer and multi-camera production, broadcast live on www.sanctuarywrestling.com.
“The last ‘First Friday’ we had over 200 people come, with no advertisement whatsoever,” Searfoss said. “It was all word of mouth. So, yes, people do want this.”
The Sanctuary has seasoned professionals behind Trosky’s vision. Fisher’s resume reads like a who’s who of local music lore. Having worked with classic names on the NEPA scene like Twice Shy and Arc Angel, and venues like the Station complex in Wilkes-Barre and even the old Rocky Glenn Park amphitheater, Fisher knows the light and sound game.
“I’m one of the guys out there not looking to get rich,” he said. “We’re just trying to provide an affordable, quality service and get the music built up. I’m one of the guys out there actually getting work like this because bands know they can afford us, and we in turn give them a great product.”
Fisher said the diversity of what Trosky wants to offer with The Sanctuary is a win/win for everyone involved.
“It’s nice for me because it gives me a bit of a home base to run one of my larger sound systems, because there really isn’t any place for that around here,” he said. “And, we’re trying to get the bands once a month on a regular basis. The ‘First Fridays’ will have wrestling until 9 p.m., and the bands will play from 9 to 10 p.m. It will give the bands free exposure, too.”
Fisher knows all-ages events are crucial to the health of the local music scene.
“These shows are a great way for the kids to learn what’s out there,” he said. “When the bar scene took a hit with the drinking age being raised in the late 80s, it was like, where do the younger people go to hear the bands other than a benefit? And, if the bar scene doesn’t want to pay the money, maybe bands can start making money doing this type of stuff like we’ll be having here. That’s what we’re hoping.”
Fisher is optimistic that The Sanctuary can be a key component in returning NEPA entertainment to its former glory.
“We can get this back,” he said. “It just takes more people committed to building the local scene back to what it was. I don’t want to sit around talking about it, I want to go out and do it.”
Mark is a Northeast Pennsylvania-based music journalist who’s enjoyed interviewing legends like members of Iron Maiden, The E-Street Band, and Hall & Oates, right down to the garage band next door - intrigued by a great musical story on any level.