Local Syndrome: Lacking Open Spaces

By on June 27, 2018

A small selection of venue options limits Jackson’s theatrical potential

[The author is a board member of Riot Act, Inc. But, he says, his position has “no bearing on my opinions within this column nor my desire to write it.” – Ed.]

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to experience local theatre company Riot Act, Inc.’s Annual Series of Shorts. The trio of plays premiered at the Center for the Arts, on the second floor, inside Dancers’ Workshop Studio 1. Over the course of the five years the series of shorts has been in existence, the plays have been performed in that studio. The windows are blacked out and a series of curtains act as the primary set dressings, with the audience’s seating area assembled out of risers and folding chairs.

Meanwhile, the Center Theater, in the same building, not 500 feet away, stood vacant.

As a local actor, writer and director who has been active in the theatrical community for two decades, I recognize creative determination when I see it. Artistic Director Macey Mott has been a consistent advocate for local artistic cultivation. Riot Act productions are a far cry from large-scale Broadway productions, but their intimacy offers a clearer picture of the passion and joy on display.

The company has a strong cult following in the valley, despite having no venue to call home. Instead, Riot Act gets creative, performing everywhere from yoga studios, the Elks Club, and even, on one occasion, a warehouse south of town. Their largest shows have taken place at Walk Festival Hall in Teton Village.

Now that I sit on the board of a local theatre company, I can liken the stress of finding venues for productions to the stress of a person finding housing. I am fighting personal battles on those fronts. Yes, there are options in both arenas, but oftentimes they are not financially or logistically viable.

Off Square Theatre Company’s upcoming production of Macbeth next week will take place in the Center for the Arts outdoor amphitheater. As a resident of the Center for the Arts, Off Square sees discounted rental rates on-site, and possesses its own rehearsal space (which it transforms into an intimate performance venue known as the The Black Box). The Jackson Hole Playhouse, performing The Ballad of Cat Ballou this summer, is the only other theatre company in town that has a consistent venue and rehearsal space.

The success and survival of both organizations relies on their access to performing and rehearsal spaces. Available and affordable venues are the lifeblood of every theatre company in the world. But Jackson’s limited venues (the largest being Walk Festival Hall, the Center Theater and the Pink Garter Theatre, respectively) are already programmed regularly by the organizations and staff who run them. Other organizations like Riot Act, and, the tragically fading organization, Jackson Community Theater, are faced with high rental quotes. Even if they can afford the rental costs, they are forced to fight for dates in already-packed schedules.

The new Town Enclosure pavilion outside the Center is an option, but its outdoor location and lack of amenities make it a difficult space for large-scale works.

Last week, Big City Broadway founder and creative producer Gina Fellccia announced she was moving her operations to Sheridan, WY for a few reasons, including the search of more affordable venues. I saw Feliccia’s efforts of bringing performing arts organizations together to form a coalition firsthand. She carried a torch in the fight for collaboration, hoping to create an alliance that would have more success in demanding venue calendar dates. I believe those efforts were less than successful at no fault of Feliccia’s, but rather the friction between mismatched nonprofit missions and a standstill in compromise from both the organizations and the venues in question.

The only way this problem can be solved is for there to be another performance venue, one that is affordable and designed by artists for artists.

In its defense, the Center for the Arts has bills to pay and should not be forced to offer lower rates or more discounts to its auditorium, nor should it be necessary to coerce a venue like the Pink Garter Theatre to simply give away space for similar reasons. We are all in this community fighting for our voices to be heard and our legacies to be cemented. It is not just those of us involved in theatrical companies, but musicians, dancers, performance artists, set designers, public speakers, and anyone who dreams to stand center stage in front of an attentive audience.

The demand for an affordable, easily accessible venue in Jackson Hole exists. Until that place emerges, companies like Riot Act, and all other ambitious artists that will rise in the future, will have to resort to transforming found spaces, like dance and yoga studios, into theaters on nights when the ideal, larger and pricier venues sit empty and dark.

About Andrew Munz

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