January 24, 2008
Missoula: Theater town -- but only outside city limitsJoe Nickell
A couple of months ago, a magazine called Inside Arts commissioned me to write an article about how performing arts presenters - that is, concert halls and theaters that host shows by touring performers - go about localizing the touring shows they present. In the course of working on the story, I ended up calling more than a dozen presenting companies around the country.
During a few of those conversations, it came up that I live in
I heard the same thing from several people last February, when I attended a theater journalism institute in
In the arts world outside
Meantime, Missoula Children's Theater has made an international name for itself by sending crews of theater professionals to some of the most far-flung regions of the earth. During its 2007-2008 season it will send a total of 27 teams to raise 900 shows with over 55,000 children in all fifty states as well as Canada, Europe, South America and Asia. No other children's theater company in
It's funny how different things look from inside the city limits of
As I typed that last sentence - as if by divine intervention, or at least a stage cue - my phone rang. It was a woman from Kalispell -- a small city about two hours north of Missoula. She was in Missoula visiting for the week.
She wanted to know if there was any theater worth seeing while she's here.
"I looked online and couldn't find anything except ('A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum' at) MCT," she said. "I saw that already, so I was wondering if there are other things going on."
No, dear caller, there are not. Nor, for the most part, are there ever more than one or two plays running in
Professional theater, with paid actors? It practically doesn't exist. Next week, we Missoula-folk will get a quick run of performances of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," this year's Montana Rep show. Unless something surprising happens, the next time we'll see paid actors on stage is when Montana Shakespeare in the Parks comes through
That may sound more dire than warranted. For one thing, the season of shows by
Additionally, Montana Rep Missoula has emerged in the past couple of years as an exciting new local production company, presenting challenging modern plays to local audiences. The goal of that company - started by Montana Rep director Greg Johnson -- is to reach a point where a full season of shows performed by paid actors and crews can be presented in
And every few months it seems that some independent group appears on the scene, putting up a short run of a play, often with fine results.
"It's a great irony, isn't it?" muses Greg Johnson. "I think about it often."
In fact, Johnson has tried to remedy the situation before, as far back as his own history goes in this town. When he arrived in
"It sort of ran its course," says Johnson. "We decided to close it down and see what would happen next."
What happened was Montana Rep Missoula, a similar company with less reliance on student actors and crew. Since its founding in 2003, the company has enjoyed increasing success, often selling out tickets when it performs at the
"We're on the cusp, I think," says Greg Johnson. "Demographically, socially, economically - we're almost there where this town can support a local theater company."
In the meantime, we in
"I always try to see shows when I come down to
Posted by Joe Nickell at January 24, 2008 3:13 PM