In the midst of starting its 18th season in Havre and raising funds for productions, the founder of the local amateur acting troupe reminisced about Montana Actors’ Theatre’s lengthy history.
“I think back to the days of MAT when there were three or four of us compared to now, when I can sit here and name 50 people in Havre alone, ” Jay Pyette said.
Pyette said the fundraising is crucial to the success of the season, with production starting next week on its first show, “The Laramie Project” of the Tectonic Theatre Project. Aside from government requirements that a percentage of the nonprofit’s budget come from donations or it loses its nonprofit status, without community support, MAT could not exist, he said.
“In reality, we couldn’t have a season, ” he said. “There is not a theater anywhere that is able to operate on ticket sales alone. There are just too many costs involved. ”
Bringing benefits to the community
Pyette said the support in the community is, and always has been, phenomenal. Despite that, the fundraising effort has fallen behind compared to past years, as he believes is true for most nonprofit organizations.
“There is concern in communities about the economy, ” he said. “Money might be a little tighter than it has been in the past. ”
He still is hopeful that people will be able to come through to help the troupe bring its art to Havre.
Darren Overlie, who has been on MAT’s board for about a year, said the benefits to the area and to residents are great, both in bringing more culture here and in benefiting the people who participate.
“You get people involved that normally would not be in front of an audience, ” he said. “It really empowers people. ”
Havre business owner Murray Barkus, a long-time supporter of the troupe, said he is glad MAT is here.
“I think it’s a great activity for Havre, Montana. It’s great for for adults and children, ” he said. “It’s just an asset for Havre. ”
Pyette said the benefit is far greater than letting people act, build sets or make costumes or direct. He said the purpose is wrapped up in MAT’s slogan — “Entertain, educate, enlighten. ”
“We do want to entertain people. We do want people to have a good time, ” he said. “We want people to enjoy their night out, but we also want to bring out issues. We want to bring out things that make people think. ”
Bringing benefits to the players
Overlie said that when he decided he would act in MAT’s 2008 production of “Man of La Mancha, ” he gained many benefits he didn’t expect. One was the closeness of the production crew, and making many good, new friends, he said.
Another was seeing, and feeling, the growth that being in the theater gives, he said.
He said whether someone is an adult or a young child, seeing what happens when they hear an audience member compliment the production is a special experience.
Pyette said the nature of theater benefits its players, as well as the community. That includes the five or six people working behind the scenes for every actor on stage, he said.
“Theater is a way of expressing yourself that you just can’t find in other ways, ” he said.
Continuing its expanding operations
The company is continuing to grow, in Havre as well as expanding to add troupes in Missoula and Great Falls.
Pyette said the troupe is working on multiple productions at a time throughout its September to June regular season.
“We’re always doing three shows at a time and doing multiple rehearsals, ” he said.
The previously slower summer season also has picked up, with MAT putting on four youth camps this last summer — two for children, a youth camp for high-school aged students and another combining the two age groups.
That also meets one of MAT’s goals, he said — introducing the children of the area to drama.
“I have actors now who started in youth theater years ago, and now they are some of our mainstay actors, ” he said.
That is another goal of the troupe, he added, brining in new talent.
“That’s really been a push for us, ” he said. “We’ve really worked to involve new people. ”
While any troupe will use its veteran actors, as a basketball coach will use starters in a basketball game, bringing in new people — some of whom stay and become veterans — is the key to MAT’s growth over the last 18 years, he added.
Recognition to the sponsors
Pyette said the company also gives recognition to the people who support it. MAT gives advertising to business sponsors, but also lists the individual donors.
That includes everyone — while some longtime supporters give major donations, the people who donate $10, $20, $100, “those are the ones that have really been the backbone of the company, ” he said.
Pyette said people interested in making a tax-deductible donation, or who want more information about MAT, can call him at 945-0272. Donations also can be mailed to MAT at Box 1363, Havre, MT 59501.