Worth Saving

Weekly Webb: Personal stories show why Venture is worth saving

January 11, 2013 2:00 am  •  By Jaci Webb

Folks may be asking this week, “Why save Venture Theatre?”

Finger-pointing and general grousing about artistic choices at Venture have clouded the picture of a community theater where all are welcome.

The fact is that many of the people who could best answer that question are the young actors who without Venture don’t have a voice. Venture Conservatory Director Lynn Al is compiling their stories from hundreds of emails, phone calls and letters she has received in the last week.

There’s the 10-year-old boy who told his mother the day his dad died that what he wanted most was to go to Venture and hug his friends.

There’s Andrew who suffered a stroke a couple of years back. He arrived at Venture in his wheelchair to see “Chicago,” and before he could even walk and was barely speaking, he successfully auditioned for a role in “Sweeney Todd,” impressing his speech therapist because when Andrew got on stage, his words came back.

Since Venture’s board of directors announced last week that the theater needs to raise $126,500 to stay open, many people jumped into the fray. And that’s good. One Facebook commenter on the Save Venture page suggested that if every person in Yellowstone County pitched in one dollar, the debt would go away.

The three remaining staff members at Venture are scrambling to mobilize volunteers in order to put together a big fundraiser in coming weeks. Venture’s board committed on Monday to pledging 10 percent of the $126,500 needed to pay off the debt. The board is encouraging others to do the same.

“Until we can sort through all of the suggestions for fundraising events, the best way you can help is to make a financial pledge to Venture Theatre,” the board said.

Pledge cards will be available at all of the Fringe Festival venues on Jan. 18, which include Venture, Ciao Mambo’s back room and loft, Andy’s Storefront on 2413 Montana Ave., and the Billings Depot baggage room.

Funky Bunch, a group of improvisational actors, was the first to rally. Their fundraiser, which will include alumni from years past, is Feb. 1.

Al suggested several other ways the public can help out in the next two weeks, which are crucial to Venture’s future.

Buy tickets to “Red” or “Steady Rain,” which are two-person plays that were nominated for Tony Awards. They open Friday night at 8 and run through Jan. 26 at Venture. You can also buy tickets to the Fringe Festival, which begins Jan. 18. A full pass to the event is $20, which includes admission to all 16 performances.

You can also take a child to Venture Theatre for a free class next week. Classes range from hip-hop dancing to acting, singing, set design and improv comedy. They begin on Monday. Al said the theater has arranged for a free preview week. After that, participants can set up a monthly payment plan. Most classes cost $35 a month.

One of the best ways to help Venture Theatre move into a more stable future, though, is to spread the word about the importance of a community theater like Venture, and that is that it serves as a safe, nurturing place for actors of all ages. If you don’t understand its impact, talk to someone who has grown up there, like Skylar Jessen, who is now studying art in Portland.

Jessen said the old Venture, under founders Mace Archer and Lysa Fox, was a place that had a huge impact on his childhood. He rallied friends to meet at Venture last week to help find ways to bring the soul back to Venture.

“I was part of a character-building utopia, where we learned our lines and our songs, but with them being nothing more than a vehicle for grander lessons at hand,” Jessen wrote on Facebook.