Stensrud sold; new owners look to create live performance venue

Posted by Jessica Mayrer 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.

Comments (3)

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Hooray for Mark Kersting. His perseverance planted the seeds of rebirth for this part of Missoula. He deserves an award!!

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Posted by Kym on 02/20/2014 at 12:03 PM

Yes, Allan Matthews! This venue was a favorite with the world class flamenco artists Flamenco Montana brings to Missoula. As I plan our third year for fall, 2014, I would love to be involved in any way in the changes! This is a perfect venue for the end of festival event, and we could perform and host more artists there with some improvements! --Victoria Lenihan

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Posted by Victoria Wieber Lenihan on 02/19/2014 at 12:19 PM

I hope the new owners of the Stensrud respect the building's heritage status on the National Register of Historic Places. How about not putting a sign up on the building, but using a photo of the Stensrud in the advertising and declaring, "Located in the historic Stensrud Building," and giving the location. Use a sandwich board sign outside and something temporary in the window to advertise events. That would get big points with a community that really cares about the building. I give historic tours that include the Stensrud. Mark has been kind enough to show us the interior whenever possible. Good luck to the new owners!

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Posted by Allan Mathews on 02/19/2014 at 11:48 AM
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