I think I can safely say I love The Great Gatsby. The power of the narrative; the accurate, haunting, and heartfelt snapshot of the Roaring Twenties; and the sheer beauty of the prose still take my breath away. I’ve discovered and rediscovered this masterpiece over the years with new perspective, joy, and appreciation.

I first read The Great Gatsby in one thrilling afternoon on the Jersey shore during high school, and I have long dreamed of bringing the novel to the stage. Only recently has this become possible, with the publication of Simon Levy’s masterful adaptation. Although there are several movie versions of varying artistic merit, the stage offers a new, exciting, and fertile ground for the story. On the stage we can feel the energy of Jay Gatsby, the sensual allure of Daisy Buchanan, and the Everyman complexity of Nick Carraway.

As Montana Rep continues telling great American stories, we approach The Great Gatsby with all the honor and care such an outstanding work of art deserves. We’re pleased to reintroduce and reinvigorate this classic, bringing the beauty and poetry of this masterpiece—living and breathing on stage—to a new generation of theatergoers.

Greg Johnson, Artistic Director, Montana Repertory Theatre

The Great Gatsby Cast
The Great Gatsby Cast in rehearsals

Q & A Series : Equity Actor, Bret Tuomi

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There have been nearly a thousand actors, designers, directors, and staff employed by the Rep over our 50 years. We can’t think of a better way to help celebrate the 50th Anniversary of MRT than to hear from those who’ve made it all possible. This Q & A series helps illuminate the vast range of experiences the Rep offers. We get to hear from Bret Tuomi – Broadway veteran, Chicago actor, and Rep Alum.

Before Bret became the successful actor he is now, he was an Acting student at the University of Montana. He went on to tour nationally once as a student, three times as a non-equity professional, and three more times as an Equity Actor.

Bret has done over 100 performances on Broadway of the musical Rock of Ages. His Chicago credits include: The Iceman Cometh with Nathan Lane at the Goodman Theatre, Julius Caesar at Chicago Shakespeare, and ENRON at TimeLine Theatre Company. Film and television credits include a featured role in Keep the Change with Jack Palance (a TBS television movie) and commentary as Dr. Trent Troutly on ESPN2’s Fly Fishing Challenge.


Q: What was special about the Montana Repertory Theatre experience you had?
Getting to see the country while getting to know some of the closest friends I’ll ever have.

Q: Where did your work with Montana Rep come in your career? Student? Equity? What effect did it have on your career?
I did seven tours between 1992 and 2010. Once as a student, three times as non-equity, and three times as Equity. I got my equity card in 2002 doing Death of a Salesman. I am enormously grateful for the opportunities I have had with this company – and I seriously hope that my work with the company is not done.

Q: The Rep has long since had a tradition of producing American Canonical texts. What is your favorite classic the Rep has toured? And why?
Death of a Salesman. It tells a story of characters we all know very well.

Q: If you could tell a student actor hoping to work for The Rep one thing – what would it be?
Pack light.

Q: Looking back on your work with Montana Repertory Theatre, which singular memory stands out the most?
I’m sure I’m not the only person when faced with this question to think of half a dozen instances which would fall into the category of “what happens on tour stays on tour”. The problem is that so many of these memories would incriminate me or someone else. Anyone who has gone out on the road knows there are varying levels of debauchery on every tour. The thing is, it’s this kind of life that really lends itself to the best kind of bonding a human can have. And when a person can experience that, while bringing America’s greatest stories to America, that’s about as good as it gets.

(Bret seen right in Montana Rep’s production of Leading Ladies)

Q & A Series : Hannah Appell

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There have been nearly a thousand actors, designers, directors, and staff employed by the Rep over our 50 years. We can’t think of a better way to help celebrate the 50th Anniversary of MRT than to hear from those who’ve made it all possible. This Q & A series helps illuminate the vast range of experiences the Rep offers.

Hannah has been an integral part of the Rep family these last several years. Having been out on two Education Outreach Tours and a National Tour to boot, she has a unique vantage on the Rep experience. In this Q & A, Hannah’s excitement and gratitude is practically tangible. Thank you, and enjoy!


 

  1. What was special about the Montana Repertory Theatre experience you had?

The Montana Repertory Theatre gave me my first big role. I grew up in a small town where I did speech and drama and school plays, but they were never big productions. When I went to the University of Montana I auditioned for shows but there was never a role that fit. Then the Rep did The Miracle Worker. It was the first time I felt like I had a real chance to be cast. And I did. I have never been so excited.

  1. Where did your work with Montana Rep come in your career? Student? Equity? What effect did it have on your trajectory?

I was hired for the Rep’s 2014 National Tour of The Miracle Worker when I was a junior at the University of Montana. It was because of that tour that I became part of the Rep family. It allowed me to be able to do their Educational Outreach Tour when I graduated college and always feel like I was a part of an amazing theatre family.

  1. The Rep has long since had a tradition of producing American Canonical texts. What is your favorite classic? And why?

Do I have to pick a favorite? I feel like it changes constantly. But I have always had a soft spot for The Glass Menagerie. I think it mostly has to do with the fact that I really love the character of Laura and her struggle through her physical and mental illnesses. Her character is quiet and shy and yet I have always felt she was the one to jump out of the script and stick in your memory.

  1. If you could tell a student actor hoping to work for The Rep one thing – what would it be?

Always be willing to help when the Rep is putting on an event, or needing a crew to load in, or needs posters put up around town. Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer! No one will know you unless you come out and show your face. Plus volunteering shows that you want to be involved and willing to help in any way you can. Everyone loves that.

  1. Looking back on your work with Montana Repertory Theatre, which singular memory stands out the most?

I have so many great memories with the Montana Repertory Theatre. It is hard to choose just one. A really sweet and recent memory I like to think of is during the 2016 Educational Outreach Tour when we were in the town of Poplar, MT. It was one of the best shows we had that entire tour. The students laughed and were completely engaged the entire performance. When we finished we came out from backstage and we had a line of students that wanted to shake our hands and thank us for coming. It was so heartwarming to see how thankful and excited those students were to have this performance come to their school. It made me so proud of what the Montana Repertory Theatre stands for and what they do for the incredible state of Montana.

(Hannah, left as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker)

Q & A Series : Equity Actor, Suzy Hunt

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We are so lucky to have had so many fantastic equity actors work for us over the years. These professionals steeped in the trade work alongside the students. They must be exemplary in their hard work, success, and dedication to their craft. It just so happens that Suzy Hunt has these characteristics in spades.

You may recognize her from roles in The Trip to Bountiful, Doubt, and Lost in Yonkers.

There have been nearly a thousand actors, designers, directors, and staff employed by the Rep over our 50 years. We can’t think of a better way to help celebrate the 50th Anniversary of MRT than to hear from those who’ve made it all possible.

1.  What was special about the MRT experience you had?

 

Working with students rather than a slate of professional actors.  The students were always eager to learn and to work hard.  And to play hard too.  The work is arduous and repetitive and far from home so challenges are never ending.  I found myself learning from them the nuts and bolts of creative improvisation for we would perform on many kinds and qualities of stages.  Often we would reblock a scene given the dimensions of the playing space.  Their eagerness to solve problems and delight when theatrical variances worked was heartening.  Many of the students I worked with have gone on to professional work in the theatre.  A good dose of tour will never discourage an impassioned theatre worker.

2.  Where did your work with the MRT come in your career? What effect did it have on your career?

Mid late to late…though as the Pythons say, “I’m not dead yet.”  I played middle aged and older character roles for the Rep.  And some juicy ones for the which I am grateful to Greg Johnson.  Although touring for some time away from your home base excludes you from roles, you nevertheless have the singular pleasure of working on a part in many venues for many audiences in a MRT tour.  I never regretted taking the time away from other opportunities because the work although difficult was rewarding on many levels.  I adored the students, the people along the way whose lives we enriched (and that ain’t hay), the extraordinary kindnesses from our hosts, and the opportunity to travel the length and breadth of our wonderful country. Having the chance to play these roles galvanized my career. I brought the experience of playing them to many other subsequent roles. I continue to work into my 70’s with gratitude that I am able to do so.  I am a walking illustration that a career in the theatre is a lifelong commitment and joy.

3.  What is your favorite classic the Rep has toured? Why?

That’s easy…The Trip to Bountiful.  This great play about going home resonated with our audiences more than any play I was ever a part of at the Rep.  We tour in many states that are mostly rural.  We play in small to medium sized towns where the populace is closer to the land than in our major cities.  These are people who have lost their land, seen it blown away in hurricanes, bought out by corporate farms, or lost because their children went to the cities.  Their tears and stories about the loss of home brought me to tears as well.  The world of family farms is mostly gone and the yearning to return to a place that gave solace is palpable to these people and I was moved by their emotion. And of course we met Mr. Horton Foote on our tour and listened to his beautiful words during a question and answer period.  His hug and praise at the end of our show is something I will take with me always.

4.  If you could tell a student actor hoping to work for the Rep one thing what would it be?

Embrace all challenges.

5.  What singular memory stands out? 

I could say the day our Ryder truck loaded with all our sets was confiscated by the authorities in Billings, Montana after the bombing in Oklahoma, or the time we arrived at the theatre and there were long tables of moonshine in Mason jars for every member of the company, or the fantastic hikes I took with Jimmy Robinson including the day of the tornado in Oxford Mississippi when we happened upon the home of William Faulkner, or the wonderful hospitality we received every time we played Plains, Montana. Especially the night we held our show for the folks coming from Thompson Falls in a snow storm.  We took our curtain call around midnight to a standing ovation of very grateful people. It was thrilling.  But I guess I have to say that playing all the gorgeous theatres that had once been vaudeville houses from Uniontown, PA with it’s ghost to the elegant Galveston Theatre to the glorious theatre in my birthplace of Butte, Montana (please fill in the name of this theatre cause I have forgotten it) is finally my greatest memory.  I would stand on the floor backstage and look up into the loft and imagine all who had come before.  I made a silent prayer to St. Genesius who is the patron saint of actors.  All of the greats and near greats played in these houses.  The communities that had the wit to save them added immeasurably to the cultural life of their towns.  We played in houses that held the comedy of the Marx Brothers, the easy wit of Will Rogers, and the glorious sounds of Rubinstein.  It was before TV and Blockbuster movies, and all the rest and to these old eyes it was a halcyon time.

(Hunt, left as Sister Aloysius in Doubt)

Q & A Series: Hugh Bickley

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1. What was special about the Montana Repertory Theatre experience you had?
I was lucky enough to double as a proud Montana Repertory Theatre Actor and Projection Designer for both the 2014 National Tour of the Miracle Worker and 2015 National Tour of the Great Gatsby. Thus, I had the rare advantage of working both on and behind the scenes. This perspective afforded me a breathtaking glimpse into the staggering attention to detail that is poured into every facet of an MRT production: The thread count of the sheets on a bed onstage that is never even unmade; the fitting and heartbreaking origin story of a piece of music tucked away into a transition; the authenticity of a period-specific pocket watch. The Montana Repertory Theatre is a well-oiled machine; a group of passionate professionals that thrive on substance, not illusion.

2. Where did your work with Montana Rep come in your career? Student? Equity? What effect did it have on your trajectory?
Since I was lucky enough to embark on three national tours with the Montana Repertory Theatre, I had amassed forty-seven equity points by the time I moved to the big city––thirty of them before I even graduated. This positioned me to be able to network freely and volunteer my time, while having the option of joining the Union when I see fit.
MRT is to the University experience what AP or IB classes are to high schools. The latter provide young students with college-level experience and actual credit. MRT provides college students with real-world experience and actual Equity points. I hear a lot of alumni from other schools lament that their education failed to ready them for the harsh reality of the real world. Thanks to the Montana Repertory Theatre, I got real-world experience before I even graduated.

3. The Rep has long since had a tradition of producing American Canonical texts. What is your favorite classic? And why?
The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald’s requiem for the American Dream is proving more and more prophetic by the year. With its rich tapestry of characters and timeless metaphors, bringing Gatsby to the stage seemed like pinning wings on the Titanic. But under Greg Johnson’s adept direction and knack for theatrical momentum, this classic stormed across the country like a portent of coming strife amidst our nation’s escalating financial tensions and class stratification. The Rep never fails to commemorate the legacy of classic storytellers like Fitzgerald. Now, more than ever, we need the voices of our literary giants. Now, more than ever, we need artists like the Rep to champion them.

4. If you could tell a student actor hoping to work for The Rep one thing – what would it be?
Pay attention. Don’t think of this as a chance to use your voice. Think of it as a chance to listen. The country is now your classroom. Study it, soak it up, revel in its awe––and listen as intently as you expect them to hear you.

5. Looking back on your work with Montana Repertory Theatre, which singular memory stands out the most?
Toward the end of our tour with the Miracle Worker, we had the privilege of playing for the Helen Keller School for the Deaf & Blind in Talladega, Alabama. The deaf students in particular were a uniquely terrific audience because they showed little vocal restraint when the play resonated with them emotionally. Their laughter was uninhibited, their gasps were audible, their etiquette was of another paradigm.
For those unfamiliar, the Miracle Worker tells the story of Anne Sullivan teaching a young Helen Keller about language itself––that things have words, that words have meaning. The moment that Helen understands her first word is the ‘miracle’ that the title refers to. It happens toward the end of the play, and every night we could measure our audience’s adulation in sniffles, gasps, and finally unbridled applause come time for the curtain call.
The students at the Helen Keller school showed no such restraint. The miracle happened and there was an uproar. Wailing and declarations of love (“Thank you!” and “I love you, Helen!”), clapping, cheering, howling and astonishment––a clamor that hit those of us on and backstage like an avalanche.
I’m not sure that I’ll ever again witness the power of live theatre to such a raw, tangible and measurable degree. That audience understood the story we were telling on a level that we could never claim to. But somehow, we validated their story. And in turn, they validated mine.

(Bickley in Biloxi Blues – seen being restrained left)

Q & A Series : Elizabeth Bennett

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Over the next several weeks we will be releasing a fantastic series of Q & A’s with both students and professionals who have worked with Montana Repertory Theatre. We can’t think of a better way to help celebrate the 50th Anniversary of MRT than to hear from those who’ve made it all possible. There have been nearly a thousand actors, designers, directors, and staff employed by the Rep over our 50 years. Here are a few of them.

We asked the same questions to a handful of Rep family members. The responses are obviously unique to each person – but they help to highlight the range of experiences offered by Montana Rep. You’ll read hilarious anecdotes, success stories, and a pervasive gratitude. We are proud to have worked with each and every one of these folks.

Beginning our Q & A series is Elizabeth Bennett! Having begun her work with the Rep during her Junior Year at the University of Montana, she is now transitioning into the professional realm. Most recently, you may have seen her in Bronté to the Future, this fall’s Educational Outreach Tour. Enjoy!

  1. What was special about the Montana Repertory Theatre experience you had?

To me, what was special about my time with the Rep is that it resembled ascending a staircase of experience; I started with volunteering for the Biloxi Blues gala. I worked in the office as a student, where I got to know Greg and Salina and Teresa, all wonderful people. That led to me being cast in the Rep’s first Visions and Voices project, Circle Mirror Transformation. Then I got cast in Gatsby one year and in All My Sons the next; I just finished my first Educational Outreach tour, the last of which many can attest is one of the most challenging and enriching Rep tours. I couldn’t have done any of these adventures without the experience of the one before. It all fell exactly into place.

  1. Where did your work with Montana Rep come in your career? Student? Equity? What effect did it have on your trajectory?

The Rep came into my career exactly when it needed to; as a junior. It jump started my attitude as an adult working actor earlier than it might for most college students, for which I consider myself extremely lucky.

  1. The Rep has long since had a tradition of producing American Canonical texts. What is your favorite classic? And why?

I’ve only seen a handful of the Rep’s canonical pieces, but my favorite of the ones I’ve seen has got to be Biloxi Blues. I remember being blown away by the comedy of Neil Simon and the ensemble of my peers.

  1. If you could tell a student actor hoping to work for The Rep one thing – what would it be?

Get involved and be thankful for every opportunity. I remember helping at the Biloxi gala and thinking, “Someday it’s gonna be me going on tour.” Interest in working for the Rep goes far beyond expression at auditions; being interested means helping behind the scenes, volunteering, helping with Colony; be a hard worker and show passion for every facet of the theatre, not just the spotlight. I would also encourage any student actor to give the Educational Outreach tour special attention; it is an extremely rewarding experience teaching kids theatre.

  1. Looking back on your work with Montana Repertory Theatre, which singular memory stands out the most?

The most recent memory (they are too numerous for me to narrow down to one!) that stands out is performing Bronte to the Future! for a school in Rosebud, Montana; their whole school was there, only a hundred or so kids K-12, and they were enamored with the show and laughed like it was their job. It was one of the best moments of my performing life. 

(Lizzy, right, with Hannah Appell as the Bronté sisters)

Q & A with Lily Gladstone

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Lily Gladstone on StageLily Gladstone was raised on the Blackfeet Reservation in Northwestern Montana.  

Of mixed heritage, Lily’s tribal affiliations include Kainai, Amskapi Piikani and Nimi’ipuu First Nations. In 2008, she graduated with high honors from the University of Montana with a BFA in Acting, and a minor in Native American studies.  Film credits include Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, Alex and Andrew Smith’s Winter in the Blood, Arnaud Desplechin’s Jimmy P, and Sarah Adina Smith’s Buster’s Mal Heart.  She has thrice toured nationally with The Montana Repertory Theater.

In addition to garnering multiple film and theater credits, she has facilitated countless expressive arts workshops with various social justice and human rights advocacy groups – including National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, Living Voices, Red Eagle Soaring, Longhouse Media, Yellow Bird Inc., The Roxy Film Academy and Conscious Alliance. Her emphasis is youth outreach and education.

Q: What was special about the Montana Repertory Theatre experience you had?

A: Having gone on three tours with the Rep, I have seen parts of the country and met people I never would have otherwise. I have made life-long friendships, seen amazing places and performed some of my greatest work with the rep. It has expanded my capacity as an artist and as a human being. I am forever thankful for my time on the road and on the stage with MTRep!

Q: Where did your work with Montana Rep come in your career? Student? Equity? What effect did it have on your career?

A: The Montana Rep has allowed me to lay the foundation for a vibrant career in theater – I started as a Non-equity professional right out of undergrad, and have become a member of Actors Equity Association through my three Montana Repertory Theater tours. I am now a company member of Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which was a direct result of connections made and talent grown from MT Rep family.

Q: The Rep has long since had a tradition of producing American Canonical texts. What is your favorite classic the Rep has toured? And why?

A: Tough choice!Lily Gladstone at the University of Montana
Aside from my biased love for 2014’s “The Miracle Worker”, I was completely blown away by Trip to Bountiful by Horton Foote for its noblilty and heart, and was in absolute stitches over 2010’s Leading Ladies – the pacing and energy of this sadly underapprecoated show was refreshing, and still stands out in my mind.
(Not that this is a platform for it, but I would really love to see The Crucible at some point!)

Q: If you could tell a student actor hoping to work for The Rep one thing – what would it be?

A: You’re doing yourself a great service in auditioning. The Montana Rep is a loyal family – Every moment spent in the theater is an audition, so be respectful, be humble, and work hard. A willingness to pitch in and be hands on, on and off stage, will go a long way. Touring life is not for everyone, but is wholly rewarding to those who dive in head first. Dive in. Give it your all. You’ll see the return in ways you can’t imagine.

Q: Looking back on your work with Montana Repertory Theatre, which singular memory stands out the most?

A: Standing on the beach in Galveston, Texas, breathing in the gulf air, knowing my life was changing for the better because of the “Miracle Worker” tour.

Variety, Stamina, and Listening: A Student Testimonial

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Mason Wagner, headshotA two-week run of a university production is one thing. A four-month, seventy-four performance run spread out over 16,000 miles of American Landscape is, well, slightly different. As a student, I was lucky enough to have toured twice nationally with the Montana Repertory Theatre (The Great Gatsby, All My Sons). I think back on them all the time – the memories are really strong. To say these were formative experiences feels like a gross understatement. Working with The Rep was not only my introduction to professional theatre, but also, my foray into the real craft of acting. I learned stamina, integrity, and gained a new sense of how to listen.

When cast in a university production, I had the privilege of experimenting with different theories and practices. For a while, at least. You get to throw different ideas, tactics, and methods from your acting training at the wall to see what sticks. But that whole process is balanced with other scene studies, classes, and a fundamental understanding that you are playing to the audience of a very specific community. You get to know this audience very well (but, I mean, most of them are your peers). And often, you’d walk away from these two-week stands and finally feel ready to open – like previews had ended. It goes by fast.

By the end of my first two-weeks on the road, I’d already performed in ten different towns in Montana (41 venues remained). It was an exhausting muscular experience. I was learning about different energy reserves I didn’t know existed. Because every audience was different, every performance was different. I had known this in theory, but it soon became very real to me. Theaters ranged from converted chapels on college campuses to state-of-the-art performing arts centers in big cities. Often, the set had to be modified to fit a specific theatre, so that subsequently all movement on stage would be adjusted. At the company meeting before every show, we’d talk through all the alterations for the night. This was actually terrifying at first. I’d never faced such immediate problem solving on stage. But then, this variety, this problem solving kept me on my toes, alive to each moment. And what I didn’t realize until later was that it was opening the heart of the play to me a little more every performance.

There were no classes, no professors, just this life on the road. Drive, build, perform, strike, sleep, and repeat. The rhythm of it stands out in my memory as somehow incredibly important – the breathing pattern of the tour, I suppose. But here it is; here’s why touring with the Montana Rep is important. There is no better way to teach student actors how to tell the stories engrained in the American psyche, than by sending them traversing across its literal and cultural landscape.  In having to present the same show to audiences across the country, from rural Iowa to New York City – the great challenge of making it mean something to them both — I learned about our culture, the ways we need theatre and stories, and most importantly, I learned a great deal about the craft of acting. Every show is different. Fundamentally, I learned that acting requires an especially attuned listening, and like a muscle, it is this listening and reacting that touring with The Rep helped me to develop.

A Conversation with Designer Joey Sarno

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Neil Simon ingeniously wrote an additional character into his breakthrough classic, Barefoot in the Park: the set. The apartment is the top floor of a brownstone building on East 48th in New York City. This five-story walk-up (if you don’t count the stoop), is the arena in which newlyweds Paul and Corie Bratter collide. And often, their conflict is in direct result over the status of this apartment; there’s a crack in the skylight, no bath, a broken heater, an emphatically exotic downstairs neighbor, and (oh yeah, did I mention?) it’s a five-story walk-up. That being said, it’s obvious how important a bold, flawless design for this production is.

Luckily, we have scenic designer Joey Sarno on the job for the 50th Anniversary of The Rep. His box-set design for the iconic Barefoot in the Park culminates all the hard work he has been doing lately. Joey recently received his MFA in Scenic Design from the prestigious program at Carnegie Mellon University, and before that completed an MFA in Lighting from the University of Montana. He is extremely talented and devoted, having worked extensively in both theatre and television. But the single thing absent from Joey’s impressive resumé – and one of his countless strengths – is his ebullient personality. It has been such a joy working with him on this project.

Here’s the conversation between Joey and Artistic Director Greg Johnson, director of Barefoot in the Park. They talk concept, challenges, period, touring, and the details. How can the set represent both the magic of Corie, as well as the staunch pragmatism of Paul? How did Joey get into Corie’s mind to aid in his design? When does design call for subtlety, and when does it require boldness? Listen in for the answers. Tickets for the Opening Night Gala, a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Montana Repertory Theatre are available from the UMArts Box Office in the PARTV building. Call (406) 243-4581 to make a reservation. And be sure to like our Facebook page.