September marks the beginning of the theater season. If the schedule is looking a little bare, it's because the Montana Actors' Theatre has pulled out of Missoula for at least the 2011-2012 season. Artistic Director Jay Pyette says the Havre-based non-profit needs to "reorganize" and "regroup"—and find a way to stay afloat financially. "We're by no means leaving Missoula, but for right now, we are scaling back," he says.
Pyette laments that MAT's absence leaves a void in the local theater scene: "As far as regular community folks being able to do riskier, more cutting-edge work, that opportunity really isn't there without MAT." He says he hopes to resume MAT-Missoula next September.
Meanwhile, the Crystal Theatre finds itself without its primary tenant. The small Hip Strip theater, which opened in 1972, housed MAT-Missoula over the course of its three-year run.
"It left us with some choices [to make]," says Dave McEwen, who owns the Crystal with his wife Shirley Juhl. "If MAT had continued on, that would have been what it would have been. But now that they're gone, we're given this space back, so now we're like, 'What are we going to do?'"
McEwen says he and Juhl are "patrons of the arts" who are committed to maintaining the Crystal as a venue. For the last couple of weeks he's been improving it—painting, fixing the lighting system, among other things—to prepare it for a new era that's less focused on theater. Drag and comedy shows and dancers and drummers are all on the schedule for the coming week.
"The last few years with MAT in there, and [Montana Rep Missoula] before that, the Crystal kind of went in the direction of being strictly a live theater house, and got away from music—which was okay with us, but we miss the music and everything," McEwen says.
Adds Juhl, "We're just giving back the Crystal to the community to do whatever they like."