Stevensville Playhouse is raising funds to build a backstage and is hosting a 'Backstage Benefit!' gala event, Saturday, Feb. 18.

The theatre has engaged community members and produced outstanding plays for years with what space they have and a lot of inconvenience for the actors.

“If you need to exit on one side of the stage and enter on the other side of the stage you need to go outside, down the stairs, through the alley, up the stairs and on stage on the other side,” said Susan McCauley, board member. 

Sometimes the playhouse puts up a tent behind the theatre to protect the actors from the elements.

“The actors walk out in all the different elements and come up the stairs to get into the theatre,” said Jaime Williams, board member. “We’ve made it work but realistically we need a solution. We don’t like having our cast members in the rain, snow or heat.”

The problem is the size of the stage and little space behind the curtain.

“What you see is what you get, when you see the stage that’s it, there is nothing beyond that,” Williams said. “You walk out that door and you’re outside. We need more room.”

The stage is the only area to build sets and designing the set pieces to move off stage takes creativity.

“We did ‘Barnum’ a couple of years ago and we had to build Tom Thumb’s chair in two parts because we had to carry it out and down the stars then up and in,” McCauley said. “There is maybe four feet between the stage and the wall and we have nowhere else to build. The curtains and walls get full of sawdust.”

Thanks to a Rapp grant there is a storage shed out back that is quite full of set pieces.

Stevensville Playhouse board has a solution.

Their goal is to add on to the existing facility providing safety for the cast and storage for the theatre.

“We are raising money to add on to the back of our building,” Williams said. “It would be two stories with a basement to include restrooms, dressing rooms, storage for props, costumes and sets. There would be a shop and a green room where actors meet before they go on stage. It is exciting.”

Stevensville Playhouse has applied for grants but needs cash-in-hand to move forward.

The building would be turn-key at $170,000 and the builder is Schrock Construction.

“The bottom line is that to keep giving great performances to our community we need an active community behind our project,” Williams said. “Right now we are looking for funds and that’s the goal of the benefit. We are constantly fundraising but the 'Backstage Benefit!' is the main event.”

There will be food and drink, tours, an opportunity to bid for the silent auction items and professional entertainment.

McCauley said the backstage event would have hors d’oeurves, vegetarian and meat lovers, and many home baked sweets.

“We’ll have local wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages from Hidden Legend, Blodgett Cellars, Blacksmith Brewing, Trapper Creek Winery and Backroads Cider,” McCauley said. “The community has been so generous in donating items and gift certificates for the silent auction. Everyone we asked said yes. There are lots of items from local businesses like granite from Alpine Granite, a night in Bitterroot Bed and Breakfast and a half of beef.”

The guests will be entertained by professional performers Kendal Norris, Christian Ackerman, Josh Farmer and Jenn Adams.

“Christian will welcome guests, he has been a great support of the playhouse for a long time,” McCauley said. “Kendal Norris will be playing some original music, she writes her own music and has a real nice touch on the piano. After a bit, we’ll go in to watch performances by Christian, Jenn and Josh. All of them are excellent performers and big supporters of the theatre. They love the venue for intimate performances.”

“It’s going to be really fun,” Williams said. “We’ve got a pianist, a mime, a jazz and rock musician and a guitar singer and songwriter. If you don’t know what to do for your valentine it’s a great Valentine’s Day gift.”

As for what to wear Williams said, the event is nice but not formal.

“Be comfortable, we’re still in the Bitterroot Valley,” she said.

William said her family got involved in the Stevensville Playhouse five years ago when her daughter was 5. They moved to the area, looked for things to do and volunteered at the playhouse.

“From that first moment she fell in love with the atmosphere of the theatre,” Williams said. “The kids receive such a level of self-esteem that they don’t get from playing sports or anything else. It brings a different dynamic to them. You can see this for the adults too.”

Williams describes the theatre as an oasis.

“It is an outlet, a niche and a safe place for kids to go,” she said. “We do workshops and there are volunteer opportunities for people to get involved in even if they don’t want to be on stage.”

Stevensville Playhouse board of trustees inlcudes Susan McCauley (president), Jim McCauley (secretary/treasurer), Amy Rau (volunteer coordinator), Christy Uskoski (facilities) and Jaime Williams (communications).

McCauley said she values theatre experience.

“My kids grew up in theatre and what I saw for them was the most magical thing,” she said. “One son had confidence and theatre taught him the value of working together and supporting each other. Our other son was shy but always willing to pick up the person who has fallen. It was great watching him bloom and come alive on stage, he became his own best advocate.”

McCauley said each year about 100 different kids come through the theatre for auditions, performances and participation in after school programs.

“This is a safe haven for kids, they finally have friends and confidence,” she said. “The kids in our theatre are supportive of each other. It doesn’t matter what type of a learner you are, we are all equals on stage. It makes me so happy.”

Contributors to the Stevensville Playhouse’s 'Backstage Benefit!' event are A2Z personnel, Alpine Granite, Jim and Susan McCauley, Rapp Family Foundation, Schrock Constructions, Severson Flying E Ranch and Jaime Williams.

Stevensville Playhouse's 'Backstage Benefit!' begins at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 18. The fundraising event costs $40 per person or $60 for two people. For tickets and information call 406-777-2722 or visit online at stevensvilleplayhouse.org

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