Saturday night in Livingston, Montana used to mean listening to country music at the bar, playing pool, and hitting on girls — at least according to Jimmy Buffet. And while honky-tonking remains a vibrant part of Livingston’s weekend scene, you can also look forward to taking in a show at one of Livingston’s two live theatres.
The Blue Slipper Theatre and The Shane Lalani Center for the Arts each run a season of four live mainstage performances. Both theatres combine the acting, singing, musical, and dance talents of local and regional professionals, semi-professionals, and amateurs to create performances that reflect the unique intersection of personalities in Livingston. This town, its people, and the art that is created here all contribute to making Livingston a crossroads of the old and new West.
Walking down Main Street, the snow-capped, rugged peaks of the Absarokas rise from the horizon, and the brick facades of downtown call to mind the high times of the Northern Pacific’s railroad influence. But just around the corner, you can step into two distinct performance venues. Housed in repurposed historic buildings, Livingston’s slice of theatre artistry and culture is an experience you’d be as likely to find in any urban setting but are happier to enjoy alongside the wildness of this mountain town.
Built in 1901 as the original home of the Livingston Post newspaper, the Park County News building, at 113 East Callender Street, was purchased by the Blue Slipper Theatre in 1966 through the generous donation of a private local supporter. By 1967, it was transformed from printing offices into a performance venue, and it has since been the permanent home of the original Park County Theatre Guild.
The Blue Slipper, home of a 70-seat auditorium, tends to feature straight comedy and drama. Recent productions have included: “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “You Can’t Take It With You,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” and “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Whether you’re in for laughs or tears, the performances in this setting are intimate and memorable!
In early 2009, Crazy Mountain Productions approached the City of Livingston with the idea of turning the East Side School building, at 415 East Lewis Street, into a multi-use community arts center. The building, designed by C.E. Bell — who also designed Montana’s Capitol building in Helena — had been an elementary school from 1902-1994, but had been vacant for a number of years. The City agreed to donate the building to the project, and along with the support of many generous individuals and businesses, The Shane Lalani Center for the Arts opened in 2010.
The Shane Center houses a 165-seat auditorium and concentrates its productions in the musical theatre genre, but has been known to put American straight theatre on the bill at times. Past productions have included: “Anything Goes,” “A Chorus Line,” “Sweeney Todd,” and “Cats.” It’s a treat to see a show in the newest performing arts space in Montana.
Both theatres run performances at 8:00pm on Fridays and Saturdays, which makes for a perfect finish to a day of outdoor recreation or sightseeing. Make a quick phone call to the Blue Slipper (406-222-7720) or hop online at theshanecenter.org to reserve your seats, then head downtown for a bite of dinner prior to the show. Adagio serves regional Italian cuisine and is a block away from the Blue Slipper on Callender Street, and Montana’s Rib and Chop House on Park Street, serving steak, seafood, and ribs, is just a few blocks from The Shane Center. For centrally-located fine dining, try Rick’s on Main.
Need some daytime down time? Matinees at each theatre run on Sundays at 3:00pm. Both box offices open two hours before showtime, leaving plenty of time to make reservations and take in a pre-show lunch made from locally sourced produce and meat at Gil’s Goods on Park Street.
Livingston, Montana has had its share of wild west rebels, from Calamity Jane and Yankee Jim to Don Johns, the founding director of the Blue Slipper who bucked the conventional wisdom that said no town of less than 10,000 could support a theatre group (let alone two!). Livingston takes pride in having come together as a community over the years to support these two theatre organizations. Between the Blue Slipper and The Shane Center, Livingston keeps its connection to the Arts as strong as the wind can blow!
Kory Gunderson is an educator, performer, and arts advocate. When she is not in the classroom, at the dance studio, or on stage, she can be found in her garden or on one of the local hills telemark skiing, depending on the season. Kory has happily made Livingston, Montana her home for 12 years.