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Six ways to reignite the Great Falls arts scene in 2015

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Me 1As 2014 unfolds into 2015, Great Falls’ art and entertainment scene sits in a bit of a transitional phase.

While some might call it a lull, I look at it as an opportunity for those who care about the arts here to take it into a new direction.

Because, let’s be honest for a minute, there have been several developments that haven’t helped things.

Be it the shuttering of Montana Actors’ Theatre-Great Falls, the end of the Step 2 the Mic Poetry Slam, or the fissure of Root Boy Productions, which while might not be totally stopped, has slowed to a crawl in terms of new shows.

There were some positive developments here, as well, however.

NDM Productions started with a bang with “The Wizard of Oz.” Miss Linda Productions put on a strong showing with “The Sound of Music,” and there were many musicians who put out exciting new albums, musicians such as Hydr8, Joel Corda and Ghost Town Sound.

The Russell Museum broke it’s own record for money raised during Western Art Week along with several exhibits afterward such as George Catlin’s American Buffalo, and the Paris Gibson Square continued to see new, captivating artwork on display, from several strong ceramics displays from artists such as Liisa Nelson and Julia Galloway to a host of ledger art from some of the best native artists in the country.

I’d be remiss, as well, if I didn’t mention the exhibits done by several independent galleries downtown such as the Portal Gallery, the Wrangler Gallery and Brian Morger’s downtown studio, who each brought interesting pieces each month such as the Wrangler’s expansive David Humphreys Miller exhibit or the Portal Gallery’s exhibits from Barry Hood and Rachel Kaiser.

However, an objective bystander could stand back and say that the Great Falls’ scene has seen better days. The number of touring musicians coming through here has dipped somewhat, the amount of new art galleries opening has declined, and the open mic scene has fallen from what it was several years ago as well.

But, enough about the past, let’s move onto what I’d like to see happen in 2015 and beyond.

1) Build and sustain a real comedy club

I was beyond thrilled when I heard that a group of local people were exploring the idea of starting a new comedy club in the Electric City.

The last attempt at starting a comedy night failed, and I can say that because I was one of the individuals who had a hand in it. The comedy night at the Black Eagle Community Center lasted only several months before I, Krystine Scolley, and Joe Ryan pulled the plug.

Now, I believe there were several reasons for this failure, a large part due to the fact that I was a bit over my head in terms of what I thought it took to pull it off.

Anyone who wants to start a new comedy club, which Great Falls deserves, needs to know that it takes time and patience to make it happen. People want to have a place to go where comedy is front and center, but, they also want a place that has music, cheap alcohol, and a variety of performers.

It also takes time to get the word out. A grand opening does a decent job at letting people know that you’re here, but even that only goes so far.

It takes a whirlwind of advertising and hard work just to get people aware of your existence, and that you’re a safe, clean, and enjoyable place to go.

These things need to be taken into account when starting a new club, but, I feel Great Falls is prime to make this happen. There are some funny people who are from here, and many of them would, I feel, start coming out to perform if there was a happening place to make it happen.

Let’s get this done, Great Falls.

2) Support a reinvigorated open mic night

Open Mic Night in Great Falls used to be a happening place with fun hosts, talented performers and a wide variety of acts who each had something unique to bring.

Open MIc NightFor whatever reason, however, the variety has started to fall off a bit, and we started seeing fewer fire dancers, poets, jugglers and comedians and more acoustic singers playing the same old songs we’ve all heard one too many times, especially those of us who have been to more than a few open mics.

I don’t care where it is, or when it is, but I feel a vibrant open mic night helps prime the rest of the performing arts scene. If you’re going to perform in front of a crowd, no matter what it is, you have a better understanding for how brave, daring and awesome others are who do it too.

I believe what a good open mic night needs is a dynamic host. Someone who is a strong performer in his/her own right, but can set the scene for others and make them feel open and welcome to the possibility of getting on stage and letting loose.

Also, someone who does everything in his/her power to make it be known that it doesn’t matter if you’re a professional, amateur, or first-timer, this is your stage. This is where you make things happen, hone your craft, try something new, make new connections, or simply have a few too many drinks and do something you would never do otherwise in front of the mic.

I believe the performers are still here in Great Falls, but for whatever reason, we’ve started losing the importance of what open mic means. It can be recaptured, I believe it, and maybe it’ll take a new venue, but maybe not. But, it’s been done before and it can be done again.

3) Start a new poetry slam or resume the one that ended

At the same time, the Great Falls poetry scene, which, at one time was an up-and-coming entity, has fell off a bit, as well. Without pointing fingers, it seems as if the reason is that it sort of reached the end of it’s road. Jeff Scolley, the passionate host who started Step 2 the Mic several years ago, has had life commitments, which, if you know him, you know that he’s doing the right thing and choosing to spend his time with his young newborn.

But, we shouldn’t be so dependent on one person to make poetry in this town happen. It might take one person to ignite the flame, but, that one person can come from anywhere. It doesn’t take a whole lot of time, but it does take a passion for it to be here.

You can’t tell me if one person doesn’t want to host a poetry slam anymore, that there aren’t any others who can do it as well as he did, which, admittedly, was quite excellent.

Poetry, like open mic night, is an important part of our creative community because it’s essentially allowing anyone with something to say a place to spread their voice, to try new things, and be funny, dramatic, shocking, lewd, lyrical or loud.

Maybe it’s too much for one person, maybe it’s something that Great Falls isn’t into anymore, but, I don’t think that’s the case at all. If one person can’t host every month, find two or three people. Have rotating hosts, remind people that poetry is still alive and while it might have taken a few steps back, the only ones who have the power to make it come back is you, and me.

4) Find a way to reopen MAT-Great Falls

Now, this might be the most controversial post in this entry, but, we really deserve a community theater here. Whatever happened in the past is done, but, nobody can tell me that whatever it was can’t be fixed, can’t be forgiven, can’t be changed so we can get 111 Central open again.

If it’s money causing the problem, find some sponsors. I know for a fact it’s not a lack of people wanting to take back control because I’ve talked to several who have said they’d gladly help get it restarted.

Montana Actors Theatre-Great Falls
Montana Actors Theatre-Great Falls

The onus is on the folks in Havre, essentially. Let’s all drop the drama and find a way to make this work. It can be done, I know it, and there are many talented actors who essentially don’t have a real community theater in which to perform. This shouldn’t be the case.

I know it’s easy for me to say “we should do this, we should do that,” without actually doing any of the hard work myself, but, I am willing to help in whatever way I can.

I’ve said this in conversations before, but, I believe any disagreements or problems can be worked out. And, if not, we need to find somewhere else to host a community theater. There is no alternative in my mind. Having an empty theater with no signs in the future if it will ever re-open isn’t acceptable.

Let’s make this happen, please.

5) Start cross promoting between different niches

I think Great Falls is one of those places that has a lot of great small communities of people who are passionate about one thing. Be it hip hop, be it comedy, be it heavy metal, be it punk, be it dramas, be it musicals, whatever.

While it’s great to be passionate about something, it takes a certain amount of understanding that while you might not ever go to the hip hop shows if you’re into heavy metal, you NEED to understand that if you don’t support the other shows, or help others support it in whatever way you can, that in the end it’ll mean less shows that you actually want to go to because it’s the same venues hosting each of these.

A perfect example is some of what Cory Smith and 221 Industries have done in the last year. While most of their shows are MMA related, they’ve hosted a country show featuring Montana artist Kayla Adams, a high-flying motorcycle show, and others. They do this because they know that while some people might not be into MMA, there are others in this town who are into these things and the sole reason that they are possible is because of the large support 221 Industries gets from it’s own fights. This model should be examined and replicated.

Plus, stronger support for live music will help local promoters keep bringing in a variety of acts, too.

If we establish that we’re willing to go to different kind of shows, promoters, such as Black Diamond Promotions, have and will continue to make sure that different niches are served. Some of the shows Dana House, who is now part of Black Diamond, has brought in include Merle Haggard, Snoop Dogg, Journey, Warrant, the Ying Yang Twins and Charley Pride.

What this all means, essentially, is we need to do a better job of reaching across the divide and saying, “you know, while I might not enjoy this show, I know others will, and I know that if I help them, they might help me if I need it and we’ll all benefit.”

Plus, who knows, you might end up liking something you never would have even considered before. I believe in broadening our horizons and trying new things, and what better time to try that then the new year.

Which leads me to the last idea —

6) Accept the idea of breaking out of our shells

We all have our comfort levels and the groups of individuals who we enjoy spending time with. However, when you shut yourself off to anyone else, you’re essentially limiting yourself to new experiences.

If your’e reading this and have never gone to a metal show, go to one. If you’ve never been to a hip hop show, go to one. If you’ve never been to First Friday Art Walk, check it out. If you’ve never been to a comedy club, please, go check it out if it opens. That’s the only way, truly, that our arts scene will ever blossom into something that rivals places such as Spokane and/or Park City, Utah. It takes people willing to do something new. People who are excited by the idea of finding others who feel the same way. People who are willing to put their money where their mouth is.

I still have amazing faith in this community and that we can keep building what’s already been established by those who have came before us.

Happy New Year everyone!

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