Local actors convey important role of community arts
By Michael Somerby ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR
BIG SKY – On May 16, a group of Big Sky locals representing the Big Sky Community Theater took the stage at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center, putting on an impressive rendition of Tennessee William’s “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Considered among the most noteworthy plays in the history of American theater, “A Streetcar Named Desire” tells the story of Blanche DuBois, a schoolteacher visiting her sister Stella in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Coming from a wealthy Mississippi family, DuBois is stunned to find Stella and her husband Stanley Kowalski living in relative poverty.
Through the distrust and subsequent malicious and subversive initiatives of Kowalski, who feels Blanche is cheating her sister out of inheritance money, the play reveals that Blanche is not as refined and delicate as she seems, having copulated with many men in Laurel, Mississippi, as well as her high school English student. Her polished feminine nature and wit unravel to a tragic degree as a result of the revelations.
John Zirkle, WMPAC artistic director, feels the performance and journey leading up to it served their purposes, keeping in line with the original intent of forming a community theater group in Big Sky.
“We wanted to create more opportunity for adults in the community to get their creative spirit on, with a grassroots approach to performance artmaking,” Zirkle said. “And these shows are one night only so it’s a really special night for everyone.”
Stephanie Kissell, a resident of Big Sky since 2005, played Blanche masterfully through a well-done southern drawl, powerful line delivery and on-character airy intimations. Kissell echoed Zirkle’s assertions about the space it creates for creative outlet and community togetherness.
“That team-playing aspect is really important to me, as well as being involved in the creative process,” she said. “The performing arts center is an amazing place and the support for the arts in our community is … incredible.”
Kissell credited Zirkle with cultivating that support and interest over the years.
“The performing arts center is amazing, and John has given us [the community] a creative outlet that I really needed.”
For his part, Zirkle felt that Kissell, who was initially unsure of the undertaking due to the sheer commitment it requires, particularly with the amount of lines Blanche has, rose to the challenge.
“Amazing. She was amazing, truly,” Zirkle said. “Everyone was.”
Mark Kuntz, a professional actor who was hired to direct this show and played the brutish and uncouth Kowalski, also spoke to the importance of community theater and the trials it presents as a director.
“It has this stigma of not being as high of quality as professional productions, and I take that on as a challenge,” Kuntz said. “It’s just really special to see people you see every day in the community up on stage putting on a quality show.”
The community theater’s sixth performance since WMPAC opened in March, 2013, the show garnered a healthy turnout of community members and patrons of the arts.
Big Sky’s Community Theater first took shape in 2013 when Zirkle and Jeremy Harder, then a fourth-grade teacher at Ophir Elementary, led the charge for the venue’s first-ever show, Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.”
For Zirkle, the genesis of the venture was an important step for a fledgling arts community still taking shape. Finding success in Big Sky’s theater scene, he says, is also a success for Big Sky.
“[These shows] really do something for people. I think they help people dig their heels in on what it means to be a fulltime resident of this community,” Zirkle said. “It’s one of the core elements, one of the most important things that we [at WMPAC] do because it’s truly grassroots. Each show is fully by the community, for the community.”