In 1968, Dr. Firman H. Brown, better known simply as “Bo,” set out with a bunch of University of Montana students and barnstormed across the state with barebones productions of Julius Caesar, The Devil’s Disciple and She Stoops to Conquer. Forty years later, the Montana Repertory Theatre, better known as simply the Rep, continues to provide Montanans—and, now, the country—with high-quality theater. Under the 18-year guidance of current artistic director Greg Johnson, the Rep now travels to more than 50 communities coast to coast every year. And while UM students are still a part of the tour, the Rep’s now a professional operation starring equity actors, directors and designers.
This year’s anniversary included a tribute to Brown, as well as an excellent production of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. In typical Rep fashion, however, the celebration hardly stopped there. Johnson announced later in the year that the Rep’s local offshoot, Montana Rep Missoula, had taken over booking for the Crystal Theatre, ensuring that the downtown venue continues to host local work.
Ryan “Schmed” Maynes spent years in Los Angeles trying to make it in the music world. He was in the band Arlo, played on a Weezer album and composed music for “That ’70s Show,” “Weeds” and “3rd Rock from the Sun.” Unsatisfied, Maynes left the rat race and moved to Missoula to build a recording studio. The buzz around Club Shmed this year wasn’t just talk. Rooster Sauce, Black Velvet Elvis, Good Neighbor Policy, Victory Smokes, Blessiddoom, Reptile Dysfunction, Pluto is a Planet (formerly LP & the Federales), Secret Powers, Deny the Dinosaur, Shelby Cunliffe, Wolf Redboy and Nova Combo are just some of the local bands who recorded Shmed-engineered albums this year.
Big screen country
The 2008 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, which celebrated its five-year anniversary, featured two films with local connections that made major impressions. The debut of The Little Red Truck, made by Missoula’s own Rob Whitehair and Pam Voth, and featuring the outreach work of Missoula’s own Children’s Theatre, created a line of eager theatergoers that snaked all the way across the Higgins Avenue bridge. And judging by the ovation that followed the screening, few in the all-ages crowd were disappointed by the touching film.
Class C, which was co-directed by UM alumnus Shasta Grenier, also used a local topic to inspire audiences. The story of big-time women’s hoops in small-town Montana showcases some of the most articulate and grounded high school athletes you could ever find. It deservedly won the festival’s Big Sky Award for best capturing the spirit of the American West.
While talk of an enormous performing arts center dominated 2007, this year focused on securing more intimate, Missoula-centric venues. None embodied that community spirit more than the Downtown Dance Collective, an all-encompassing organization founded by Heather Adams and dedicated to making movement available to everyone. With a full slate of classes and intimate performances from international performers who otherwise wouldn’t stop in western Montana, DDC filled a vital local niche.
The forbidden Jewel
Former Missoulian reporter Sherry Jones made waves with her historical novel, The Jewel of Medina. The fictionalized version of the life of Aisha, one of the wives of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, brought a storm of ridicule. Critics felt that Jones was infringing on sacred territory, called it “soft porn” or pitied the book’s “poor prose.” Others lauded her for her historical research and the dialogue that came out of the controversy. Random House dropped the project like a hot potato and opponents of the publication firebombed Jones’ British publisher, Gibson Square. But Beaufort Books, famously known for publication of O.J. Simpson’s If I Did It, eventually picked it up and released the book in October.
A new look
When Rocky Mountain Development Group purchased the Wilma in 2007 and decided to renovate both the interior and exterior—at a cost of approximately $1.5 million—the local arts scene reaped the benefits. The renovations, completed earlier this year, included removing the first four rows of seating inside the Wilma Theatre, making for a better live music experience (read: mosh pits!). More noticeably, a new red and gold sign replaced the building’s previous marquee and received mixed reactions. The sign itself harkened back to a romantic yesteryear, but an electronic reader board underneath evoked images of a convenience store. We’re not critical, however, if it helps the old building last another 87 years.
Loss of a giant
The September 17 death of famed crime writer and local celebrity James Crumley made international news, but shook Missoula hardest. The Depot put up a “Crumley’s Corner” memorial at the bar stool where he drank; Charlie B’s posted a photo with an obituary and a pack of Dunhills. Both bars erupted into impromptu storytelling sessions about the man known for books like The Last Good Kiss and One to Count Cadence, but even better known for his larger-than-life persona. Behind Crumley’s hardboiled words and deadpan delivery, friends found a man generous with his time, willing to spend it with just about anyone who sat down for a drink or a story.
Welcome to Zootown
Talk about a Northside revival. The Zootown Arts Community Center (ZACC)—with artist/teacher Hanna Hannan at the helm— houses artist studios, a gallery, community workroom and a space where artists sell their wares. Since officially opening in September, ZACC’s already held numerous shows—involving theater, film, poetry, music and art exhibits—among other DIY and kid-centric events.
Even in the recent cold snap, ZACC artists witnessed non-stop traffic during an all-day holiday craft fair. Such a strong draw means that some local artists, like illustrator Courtney Blazon and REcreate Designs owner Carol Lynn Lapotka, have been able to quit their day jobs and focus solely on artistic pursuits. It goes to prove that even in tough economic times—and freezing weather—Missoulians value their local artists.