By Ron VandenBoom
Havre's premier acting troop, the Montana Actors Theatre, has found a new home in the MSU-Northern Theatre.
"It's one of the best things that could have happened to us," said Jay Pyette, president of the group.
A recently signed year-long agreement between the school and the theater group gives MAT full managerial and artistic control over the use of the 140-seat theater.
MAT has already started remodeling the stage and costume storage areas, but a lot of cleaning and some construction still needs to be done, said Sam Stuart, a trustee of the group.
According to Pyette, the only financial tie between the Northern and MAT is a 50-cent fee for every seat sold to a MAT production to help cover basic maintenance.
MAT was started as an amateur theater company about three years ago by Pyette and Grant Olson, two theater enthusiasts who met when Olson was a drama student at Havre High School. Since then, the group has grown to about 60 members and recently received its 501-C-3 nonprofit status. MAT produces about five plays a year and conducts workshops in the summer for high school and grade school students.
Alex Capdeville, chancellor of MSU-Northern, said Monday the school and the theater group are pooling resources.
"We have the facilities and they have the experts," he said.
Capdeville also said the project presents opportunities for Northern students.
Roger Barber, provost at Northern, said that in addition to students having a chance to act in a play, they might also have the chance to earn credits. University officials have talked about creating a course focusing on theater production.
Barber said creating such a course could be done quickly, but he didn't know if it will be available this year.
The idea of combining tying MAT and the theater together started in February, Pyette said, after MAT performed Neil Simon's "London Suite" in the MSU-Northern Theatre.
Capdeville, who had given permission for MAT to use the school's theater, said he discussed the idea with Barber and, after attending a performance of the play, called Pyette.
"It sounds like something that is going to work out great for everybody concerned," Capdeville said.
"We have so much more flexibility now because we have a home base to work out of," Pyette said.
Capdeville said he would like to see the MAT agreement lead to the creation of a cultural center on campus that could accommodate 300 to 500 people and offer the community all kinds of opportunities.
"Northern needs to be the focal point of the Hi-Line in whatever happens here, whether it be in athletics or in theater," he said.
MAT began its annual children's workshop Monday in the Northern Theatre, and last weekend MAT's youth production of "Trojan Women" was performed in the amphitheater behind Pershing Hall.