3Below

Like locking puzzle pieces, Scott and Shannon Guggenheim—or “Stannon” as they are fittingly known by their staff—are the producing entity and owners of 3Below, the new home of Guggenheim Entertainment since the closing of the Retro Dome, San Jose’s previous realm of movie and sing-along fun. At 3Below, expect top-quality surround sound as you view an indie film or enjoy a classic flick in the cozy Theater 2. Participate in a ComedySportz show or take an acting class in Theater 1. Sing along to The Rocky Horror Picture Show or see a play in Theater 3 for a family night out. No matter what you come for, your experience is curated by creators driven by the need to provide entertainment that promotes joy. 

You used to be the Retro Dome in West San Jose. How is this downtown location treating you? SHANNON: The audience we’ve grown in Saratoga hasn’t really followed us down here. I don’t know if they just haven’t caught on that there’s something family friendly out here to do. Usually, we announce Sound of Music and sell out a thousand seats in a weekend. We’re really trying to explain that we have this lovely little bubble you can just pull into. It’s tricky being a movie theater. With other businesses—restaurants, salons—you see the hustle and bustle of activity through the front windows. When we’re busy, everybody’s in here. SCOTT: We’re a safe place, too. Here, we have validated parking. You can just park in our garage, walk downstairs; it’s lit, there’s security in the building, and afterward you can walk right back out to your car. 

How have you applied your artistic backgrounds to the challenges you face every day as a business? SHANNON: If there’s any testament to art’s importance in schools, it’s that when you learn anything relative to being a performer, you immediately have a skillset you can take with you your entire life. You can’t be in a show without multitasking: you need to be a good communicator, understand conflict resolution and give-and-take. Being tenacious and not wanting to give up are the traits of a performer. Who but a performer will subject themselves to rejection after rejection? 

One of our bread and butter concepts throughout the ‘90s was doing kids club programming for shopping centers. We had fashion shows with jeans that the kids in the audience decorated; we did Retail Star, a competition to see which storefront was going to be occupied by a new tenant.

That was all well and good, frankly, until 9/11 happened. As the climate changed in America relative to what your third place could be, people didn’t feel safe in those environments the way they did the day before. So marketing managers in shopping centers completely changed their focus. They weren’t hosting events or fun things for crowds anymore. All that money was re-allocated to security. So we had to adapt really quickly.

SCOTT: For seven or eight years, we exclusively did the Christmas rollouts at Stanford and Bay Street in Emeryville, at Montgomery Village, and Pier 39. So when you see elves or soldiers or bands performing or carolers out there, most of the time it’s us doing that. SHANNON: There were definitely things you did because they paid the bills, and there were things you did for your artist soul. Very often our Christmas events were paying for the Hanukkah show we wrote. As that trend changed, we had to find other ways to survive. Our synagogue employed us to create a theatrical program for their school or synagogue. That let us keep paying the bills, while enjoying some aspect of our own selves. 

Not everyone gets to start a theater company with their best friend and stay married for 30 years. Through all the co-writing and co-directing, marketing and administrative work, how have you managed to keep the family together? SCOTT: We’ve been very lucky in that we found each other when we were young. Shannon and I met doing children’s theater in the late ’80s. We ran a children’s theater for nearly a decade, and our exit from that was producing Schoolhouse Rock Live. We have the same sensibility. We’re both really good event planners. That’s probably our biggest strength. SHANNON: For everything I’m not good at, Scott is. And vice versa. We’re very lucky in that way. And we know each other’s weaknesses, too. It’s possible that having Ally in our life was a big reason for that. SCOTT: Our second-born, Ally, has been in and out of a hospital her whole life. She’s 100 percent dependent on us. SHANNON: With Ally’s severe disabilities, what’s the alternative? We can’t just say never mind, I’m not going to be the adult today. The strong get stronger, and the weak get weaker. Whatever you have in your life that’s already strong, it’s going to be crystallized as a result of having to get
through it. 

We’re here to create. It’s just some sort of knowledge that we’re here for a purpose. And if we have the opportunity in our lives to figure out what it is and go do it, well how lucky are we? 

What do you want the South Bay to know about 3Below? SCOTT: If you want to come experience a show and know the quality of entertainment will be top bar, this is one thing I say because it’s true: both Shannon and I are director and choreographer, and we find the best way to get the best performance out of our actors. My brother Stephen is able to find the means to get the best vocals from the performers as well. SHANNON: We love the idea of having creative control over everything, but we would love a couple other people to share this with. People are moving away because they can’t afford to live here. It’s been hard to cast actors, fill slots behind cash registers, or find set builders. Every industry that supports what we’re creating seems to have ebbed off as far as abundance of talent. We’re talking to other theaters, the opera, and symphony—and they agree; it’s just really lean out there. We’re all using the same wig mistress. Our designers are fantastic, but we’re afraid we’ll lose them. If people don’t support the arts, they will go away. You can’t let the convenience of insular entertainment change you completely. No filmmaker ever said, “I can’t wait for you to see it on this little screen!” They want you to see it on a massive screen with great sound with other people. Technology makes what we do even better, but if you let it bleed you of any enjoyment found in other ways, those ways won’t exist. 

Through all the turmoil we experience in our news, why are you rebuilding? When you’re done rebuilding, then what are you going to do? Just because we can get to the moon, what are we going to do when we get there? SCOTT: We create new programming to keep us going, but also to make sure we’re meeting our basic needs of building better people, creating a better world. We choose things that promote joy.

Written by Esther Young

Photography by Daniel Garcia

This article originally appeared in Issue 11.0 “Discover”

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