Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Stensrud sold; new owners look to create live performance venue

Posted By on Tue, Feb 18, 2014 at 7:02 PM

The past few weeks have been emotional ones for Mark Kersting. After devoting 14 years to restoring and caring for the historic Stensrud Building on Missoula’s Northside, he agreed earlier this winter to sell it to local buyers who plan on transforming the 6,000-foot structure into a playhouse.

“Just the last two months have been an incredible amount of stress and heartache,” Kersting says. “And in a way the building seemed to be revolting with my leaving, because things started going wrong, which they had never in the past done so.”

The Stensrud’s boiler crashed last month, for example, leaving a watery mess that led to a time-consuming fix. The project prompted Kersting to postpone the closing date until this week.

To Kersting’s relief, everything finally came together on Feb. 18, the day that veteran theater performer Jackie Stermitz purchased the building. When the Independent caught up with Stermitz shortly after she closed the deal, she eagerly shared her long list of ambitious plans for the old structure, now renamed the Stensrud Playhouse.

“I feel great,” Stermitz said. “I have lot of work to do.”

Stermitz is a long-time Montanan who, during a stint in Los Angeles, fell in love with improvisational acting. After she and her husband returned to Montana three and half years ago, she began brainstorming ways to incorporate her fondness for performance into Missoula’s cultural landscape.

“I was thinking, well, what does Missoula need? Well, Missoula doesn’t have improv comedy shows and it doesn’t have dinner theater,” she says. “The Stensrud came up, and I was like, this is the perfect venue.”

In March, Stermitz plans to roll out regular acting and comedy writing classes, beginning with a two-day intensive workshop led by Guy Stevenson. The Los Angeles-based writer and actor has contributed to “MAD TV” and appeared in television shows like “Punk’D,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Parks and Recreation.” He teaches at the Los Angeles-based Groundlings theater and school.

The Stensrud Playhouse will also host weekend murder mystery dinner theater performances and Friday night improv and sketch comedy shows.

While neither Kersting nor Stermitz would release the Stensrud’s sales price, Kersting told the Independent in 2013 that the property last appraised at $700,000.

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