Though certainly sparser than its northwestern neighbors, Montana’s theater scene is enlivened by its vibrant university culture and the perpetual muse of Big Sky topography. Smaller in scale, but no less charming or affecting, the humble community and college theaters throughout the Treasure State keep the thespian alive and well.
This impressive non-profit complex is a merger of a preexisting theater and opera venue, providing an all-around intensive arts experience with live shows and extensive educational opportunities. The assets here are both the spaciousness and amenities afforded by the venue, as well as the variety of content: Shakespeare one night, improv comedy the next. The popularity of the site means a show, of some sort, is likely happening every weekend.
Grandstreet has the premises, the 40 years of experience and the cast for some quality small-scale theatre. Helena’s artist-friendly climate engenders a supportive nature, both in terms of a public hungry for shows, and a young generation of students passionate about the subject. Classes are available as well, for both the uninitiated and young thespians pursuing the craft.
Approaching its third decade, this community lynchpin happened by accident. Owner Jim Caron, an unemployed actor, found himself stranded in Montana on the way to the west coast. Waiting for car repairs, on a whim, he auditioned for small role in a local troupe. He got the part, organized with his fellow actors, and developed a humble organization of producing local theatre and instruction. It’s this grassroots, MacGyver-style organization that propels this theatre: It’s all about having fun and making art in a casual atmosphere.
“Broadway in the Rockies!” claims the website. And given the venue and its gorgeous western backdrop, the claim isn’t far-fetched. The Playhouse’s founders sought to provide a venue for university theater students in which to perform during the offseason. These humble roots were truly all-inclusive: early employees worked, ate and slept in the venue. This grassroots core remains, but has since expanded into a 435-seat theater space, with a vibrant calendar sure to entertain the public and mentor the up-and-coming thespian. Look into an enjoyable evening via the Dinner & Show Package.
For a half century, the Blue Slipper has provided community theatre for families and education and mentorship for children. Occupying an old newspaper building, circa 1901, and bookended by the charming patina of Livingston’s historic district, this entertainment relic bleeds vintage community theatre. In addition to the allure of its eclectic calendar, from old standards to live comedy, the Slipper is attractive for its seasonal offerings: The Holiday show is bucolic and nostalgic, and the Kids Writing Festival in the spring allows young artists to write, produce and act in their own production.
This nostalgic, barn-wood behemoth stands proud, having survived the decades, including a 1960s push to demolish and revitalize downtown. And throughout the summer, perhaps after a meal or a few libations, Friday-Sundays are happily spent enjoying some good live entertainment. Possessing such a strong connection to its community, this theatre promotes both local theatre and participation, but perhaps more importantly, the preservation of Montanan cultural history. Fort Peck is a great summation of smalltime, impassioned, local theatre.
The interior of the Opera House embodies that kitschy, eclectic kaleidoscope of early twentieth theatre: gold accents, flourishes of Art Deco pastels, an intimate, welcoming stage. Still employing a handful of the hand-painted backdrops circa 1900, the colors, shapes and creaky floorboards all ensure an authentic, if not entirely jovial, evening of entertainment. With most modernizations affecting the underlying structure of the building, sans some expansions in seating, the theatre is charmingly western nostalgic, harkening to the best aspects of frontier fun.
For over 50 years, this humble spot has catered towards quality, family-friendly entertainment. This place is certainly a place for families and those seeking more accessible theatre experiences. The focus here isn’t merely on live entertainment, but more importantly, creating a friendly, brighter space from which to evade the drudges of reality. So volunteer, join the cast, or see a show. One may not have entered the building depressed, but she’ll certainly leave feeling elated.