Crystal changes hands 

After taking over management of the Crystal Theatre in September 2008, budget cuts have forced Montana Rep Missoula to step down from running the space. The 100-seat Hip Strip venue regularly hosts theater productions, live music and special events.

Greg Johnson, the Rep’s artistic director, says the decision has to do with economic impacts on the theater company’s national tour. Montana Rep Missoula is the local arm of The Montana Repertory Theatre, a professional touring company founded in 1967. Specifically, Johnson says the Rep had to cut back on staff, including the theater and booking managers at the Crystal.

“We’d said in May we were going to ascertain our situation, check it out and see where we were at,” Johnson says. “It became a drain on us, especially while we were finding that the bookings for our national tour—which is our big financial engine—were down this year because of the economy. We had to cut back and one of the places we had to cut back was [the Crystal].”

Johnson says Grant Olson, artistic director of the Montana Actors Theatre, has expressed an interest in running the space. Current bookings at the Crystal are being handled by owners Shirley Juhl and Dave McEwen. Juhl declined to comment on the theater’s future until a new management contract is signed. Olson also declined comment.

The change at the Crystal comes a week after Missoula’s arts community was hit with the closing of popular music venue The Other Side after the death of club owner Tom Reed. The Top Hat, another long-time music venue, is also up for sale after the passing of owner Steve Garr in February.

Whoever ends up managing the Crystal, Johnson says his company remains committed to the space and still plans to stage four productions there later this year.

“We’re very much still working hand in hand,” he says. “Last year excitement was generated about the space and it came true: We had, I think, over 25 productions there last year. And we’re still committed to keeping that spirit dwelling in the room.” 
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