By Barbara Rowley Explore Big Sky Contributor

BIG SKY – Sojourn Theatre is wowing audiences with its fast-paced, engaging theatrical exploration of an age-old issue: poverty. This award-winning company based out of Portland, Ore. and Illinois’ Northwestern University, presents its production “How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes” at Warren Miller Performing Arts Center Feb. 26-28.

I spoke with WMPAC Artistic Director John Zirkle who recently saw the show in Portland.

Barbara Rowley: Why would I want to see a show on poverty?

John Zirkle: Why would you want to see a show on childhood cancer, war, or familial dysfunction and infidelity? As humans we need – and, given the many movies on this topic – enjoy artistic and creative avenues to explore difficult issues, which help us process them. When handled creatively and imaginatively as Sojourn does, poverty is no heavier than any of these.

BR: So, I’m not going to feel guilty hearing about poverty?

JZ: No. This isn’t preachy; it’s thoughtful. And above all, it’s fast moving, engaging and interesting. You won’t be bored, and you won’t feel bad. I really felt energized and excited throughout the whole 90 minutes [of the Portland show]. These are professional actors and devisors. At the end of the evening, you know you’ve spent time with creative, thoughtful people who understand the art and craft of theater and how to use their skills in novel ways. Ultimately, you feel like you’ve been given something to take away and think about for a long time.

BR: Why does this show limit capacity to 100 seats? And why are there three nights of performances?

JZ: This show requires audience participation and engagement to work. You aren’t going to be called up on stage, but you are going to have to speak to the audience members sitting near you. The theater company always caps audience numbers at 100 and because of that limit, showing it three nights was necessary to reach the same number of people we ordinarily reach with one performance.

BR: It takes 90 minutes to solve poverty?

JZ: Do you walk away feeling like you ended poverty? Absolutely not. But do you leave feeling changed in the way that any great art experience leaves you? I’m going to bet the answer is going to be yes.

BR: What is it about? What will happen while I’m there?

JZ: I’m not going to give everything away, but you should know that while this will be different than the theater you’re accustomed to, it is theater. There is dialogue and a narrative, exciting use of stagecraft and movement to create images and excitement, and a general plot line that moves you through to an ultimate conclusion that is very satisfying. What more can I say? You are just going to have to come to the show. And I guarantee that if you don’t, you are going to hear about it from your friends. After the fact FOMO [Fear Of Missing Out] will ensue. Don’t let that happen to you.

Tickets are $12 and revenue will be donated to a local non-profit of the audience’s choice. Visit warrenmillerpac.org to purchase tickets or for more information.

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Invisible Montana photo exhibit opens at WMPAC Feb. 26

This show features five Montana photographers who traveled the state to document individuals who have lived – or are living – on the edge. Bozeman, Alberton and Charlo are just a few of the cities featured. One of the greatest challenges of the project was giving justice to the subject of poverty – it’s a nuanced and layered subject, with no simple definition. The event is free and begins at 6:30 p.m.
Tori Pintar

Jan Roberts lives outside Superior, Mont. in a log cabin with no electricity and was photographed for the Invisible Montana project. She will turn 90 this year. PHOTO BY TORI PINTAR

Jan Roberts lives outside Superior, Mont. in a log cabin with no electricity and was photographed for the Invisible Montana project. She will turn 90 this year. PHOTO BY TORI PINTAR