Venture Theater History

Venture Theatre 

It’s hard to say what Venture is without saying what it isn’t. Venture isn’t a building, though we love our home on Montana Avenue. Venture isn’t one person or another – though it is anyone who wants to do or see challenging, exciting work. Venture isn’t a certain kind of play or playwright, but is any play (new or classic) that challenges and engages us. Venture isn’t an institution, it’s an experience.

Scenes from some recent productions at Venture (left to right) Venture Into The Night Fundraiser, Hank Williams: Lost Highway, Miss Saigon (concert version), Violet, One Act Play Festival, Young Jane Eyre, Lieutenant of Inishmore, A Kids Life, Man From Nebraska, Funky Bunch Teen Improv, Chicago, My Way, 1984, History Boys.

Past Performance Press from Billings Gazette

Mace Archer and Lysa Fox, together with a handful of friends and family, founded Venture twenty years ago because they saw a need in Billings: a need to see shows produced and performed by local artists that could only be seen in the store front theater spaces in New York and Chicago. They believed in the talent of the Billings actors’ community and knew from their own experience that they were craving work that would challenge their skills and stretch their imaginations. They were brave enough to take the risk that the audience was ready to be confronted with compelling, flawed and many times contradictory characters who would throw themselves nightly into the maelstrom of chaos which is so often the human condition. Twenty years ago the founders set out to bring an ‘edge’ to the Billings Theatre scene and today we carry on that tradition.

Venture’s first productions at then Eastern Montana College were not afraid to confront the audience on subject matters that might cause them to not only squirm in their seat but to question their prejudices and fears. Plays like Lonely Planet and The Baltimore Waltz unflinchingly revealed our collective denial of the AIDS epidemic at a time when the nation still believed it only affected homosexuals. God’s Country dealt with issues of racism and hatred happening in our own back yard with the surge of White Power groups creeping into our community. These early shows were challenging and exciting, and started to ‘create’ that feeling that is Venture.

In 1997 Venture took its shows from the Petro Theatre at EMC to the bars and restaurants of Billings. Adopting a cabaret style of theatre, Venture actors would entertain over the din of clinking beer glasses and noisy patrons in rooms where blue cigarette smoke still hung thick in the air. The Venture Unplugged shows were not only designed to entertain with their covers of popular songs and clever and humorous skits written by local playwrights but they also served to confront issues that were prevalent in the Billings social and cultural and political landscape. This kept with the founders’ belief that theatre was meant to be relevant to the audience’s world. During this time, Venture’s Improv troupe was also growing in popularity. The nomadic troupe quickly began to cultivate a loyal base of fans who gladly followed them from bar to bar all over Montana, and around Wyoming, Idaho and Colorado while Venture was still looking for a home.

As the fans grew it became clear that Venture would need to find a home. It seemed fitting that a theatre troupe so devoted to raw and gritty work would find its first home in an unfurnished garage on Central Avenue. Sets were built and rebuilt to accommodate the needs of each show; audience members packed the garage each weekend and sat on donated second hand couches. Actors made costume changes in the lobby and had to compete with the roar of the industrial heater to be heard. It was during this time that Venture’s commitment to feeding and generating new work by local playwrights was truly cemented into the ethos of the Venture aesthetic. It was in the garage that Venture Theatre’s One Act Play Festival truly exploded in its popularity.

It was also at the garage that Venture Theatre began its commitment to providing top quality arts education to youth in the Billings area with the first ever Venture Summer Theatre School in July of 2000. The first Venture Summer Theatre School only ran for half a day and served ten children in its first year. Today Venture’s Youth Conservatory presents classes and camps to over 400 students, and the community outreach program, Venture into the Schools, touches the lives of an additional 4000.

In October 2003, Venture found its home at our present location on Montana Ave. As Venture grew into their new home, the Youth Conservatory began to flourish, and production schedules grew.

In 2008, after Venture’s founders had both left the organization to pursue further dreams, Robert Brian Wood was hired as the new director of this energetic, spontaneous group. Today, Venture is an active, vital 501(c)3 non-profit organization. The company’s strength comes from the enthusiasm and generosity of its donors, volunteers, and artists. Venture now produces over 20 shows per year and conducts 14 classes per semester. And though Venture now lives in a ‘physical space’, the boisterous and pioneering spirit lives on. In its home on Montana Avenue, in a maze of classrooms, dance studios, and stages, with rehearsals, classes and shows in full ‘roar’ almost every hour of the week, Venture’s halls are seldom silent. On many weekends, patrons find productions happening on both Venture stages, and the audience members often lingers after the show well into the night – discussing and sharing a drink with the cast and crew.

Merger Information

Q2 Local Theater Gets a Boost

Gazette opinion: Opera-Venture merger ensures shows will go on  May 17 2013

Venture Pays Back City

Venture Starts Paying Debts

Venture and Rimrock Opera Announce Collaboration

$67,400 Raised

Can Venture Be Saved?

Venture Theatre Board Moves Forward

Worth Saving

Brainstorming to Save Venture

Venture Improv  (stories by Jaci Webb, Billings Gazette):
Still crazy after all these years  

Classes and Youth
And I Know
It Goes Without Saying

Press and Archives

Kid’s Speak

Catherine Bergman: Hard work, laughter, family and loyalty make for great success

2017-2018 season Improv
Funky Bunch opens new season with improv comedy
Venture Improv, Monsters of Rock
Imrprov Open expands to 2 days at NOVA

2015-2016 season 

March 2016
Improv Open comes to NOVA on March 5

 Feb. 2016
Club Wrap: Venture Improv, Montana Comedy Competition

 2014-2015 season

March 2015
Venture Improv celebrates 20 years

Dec. 2014 
Venture Improv: Still crazy after all these years

Aug 2014
Improv class at NOVA

2012 – 2013

Musical Series
    Guys & Dolls
    The Who’s: Tommy
        – See it, Feel it
        – ‘Tommy’ scores with strong vocals, bold staging

Sunset Blvd.

with  Hannah Joy BondurantSam Herbert,Holly KaryCheryl K BunnellSusan Kennedy SommerfeldMyra NurreJC McCannRobert Brian WoodWilliam Manning MouatHeidi Hoffmann,Timber Weigel-Venard and Gary Wayne Treglown

Joseph & the Amazing technicolor Dreamcoat
         – Singer and Mentor Helped me reach for/Meet Higher Goals
         – Venture’s Joseph Production Moves to the Big Top
         – CASA Night Features ‘Joseph’ at Venture

Producer’s Series

Youth Series
    Peter Pan *Slightly Weird

2011 – 2012
Season Announcement

Musical Series
    Ragtime-Concert Version

Avenue Q 
   – Avenue Q Opens Friday at the Venture Theater
Avenue Q at the Venture Theater 
   – Naughty Puppets or Angsty Teens 
   – Avenue Q will make you Laugh, Wince and Think

Sweeney Todd
    – Something is Going on in the Next Room  
    – Venture Ends Season with Showy Sweeny Todd

Producer’s Series
    Lord of the Flies
    Bright Ideas
    That Face
    Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom
    In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play

Youth Series
    Into the Woods
    Happily Ever After
    How to Eat Like a Child
    Inherit the Wind
    The Wedding Singer
    Journey to the Edge of the World

Special Events
    The Guys
    Santaland Diaries
    2011-12 Wet Ink Festival
    17th Annual One-Act Festival

2010 – 2011
History Boys
Young Jane Eyre
The Lieutenant of Inishmore
A Kid’s Life
Hank Williams: Lost Highway
Man From Nebraska
16th Annual One-Act Play Festival
Miss Saigon in concert
A Christmas Carol
A Heart Without: Real Stories of Homelessness
Dying City
The Survivor
Just So Stories
Once On This Island

2009 – 2010
Big Love
The Crucible
School House Rock Live! Jr.
My Way
P.O.V. Teen 2010
Ramona Quimby
15th Annual One-Act Play Festival
Funky Bunch Reunion
Willy Wonka
The Beauty Queen of Leenane
Full Monty
RENT: School Edition

2008 – 2009
Evil Dead: the Musical
The Outsiders
A Little Princess
2nd Annual Wet Ink Play Festival
The Clean House
A Feast for the Hunger Moon 2009
P.O.V. Teen 2009
The Castaways
14th Annual One-Act Play Festival
Funky Bunch Reunion
Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol
Velveteen Rabbit
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Reefer Madness
Stone Soup
West Side Story

2007 – 2008
Always, Patsy Cline
Bebop With Aesop
Funny Money
1st Annual Wet Ink Play Festival
Boy Gets Girl
P.O.V. Teen 2008
Voices of Venture
A Feast for the Hunger Moon 2008
13th Annual One-Act Play Festival
Funky Bunch Reunion
The Santaland Diaries
All These Minor Variants
Holly and the Ivy League
Assignment: Earth
The Rocky Horror Show

2006 – 2007
The Typographer’s Dream
Oliver Twist
Last of the Boys
Lonely Planet
Still Life with Iris
Little Women
The Shame of Tombstone
To Each His Own
Tom Sawyer
P.O.V. Teen 2007
12th Annual One-Act Play Festival
Funky Bunch Reunion
The Facades Project
Rocket Man
Show Me What’s On
Painting it Red

The Widow of Abraham
Julius Caesar
Krazy Kamp
Joined at the Head
Nickel and Dimed
P.O.V. Teen 2006
Oh, Promise Me
The Adventures of Lewis and Clark
Cannibal! The Musical
11th Annual One-Act Play Festival
Funky Bunch Reunion
Paper Candles
Stones in His Pockets
P.O.V. Teen 2005 – Fall
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change

2004 – 2005
Much Ado About Nothing
Venture Comedy Weekend
Same Difference
Treasure Island
6 Women With Brain Death
The Revenge of the Broadway Cabaret
The Trial of the Big Bad Wolf
Venture Improv – 10 Year Anniversary Show
About Saturday
House and Garden
P.O.V. Teen 2005
The Jr. Cabaret: Animation Outtakes
10th Annual One-Act Play Festival
Funky Bunch Reunion
The Magic of Christmas Time
The Odd Couple (Male and Female versions)
The Stand Up Showcase
The Mystery of Irma Vep
Theseus and the Minotaur
Seussical, the Musical
Venture Unplugged: Like a Muv

2003 – 2004
Romeo and Juliet
Angry Housewives
The Gotta Have it Gals Live at the Rock Bottom Hotel
Project Peace
The Broadway Cabaret
Dear Abby
P.O.V. Teen 2004
Stop Kiss
9th Annual One-Act Play Festival
Funky Bunch Reunion
The Return of the Glass Slipper
Christmas Extravaganza
Christmas Around The World
Wait Until Dark
When I Grow Up
Always . . . Patsy Cline

2002 – 2003
The Tempest
Angry Housewives
The Strike Show
I Need a Vacation
Radium Girls
P.O.V. Teen 2003
Dig It!
Venture Improv Team Challenge
8th Annual Venture One-Act Play Festival
Funky Bunch Reunion
The Nerd
The Castaways
Always . . . Patsy Cline

2001 – 2002
Bye, Bye Birdie
#11 (Blue & White)
Venture Stripped
Schoolhouse Rock
Sweet Nothing
P.O.V. Teen
Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n Roll
The Big Funk
7th Annual One-Act Play Festival
Surfin’ Santa
A Gingerbread Christmas
Tales of the Lost Formicans
Episode 26
Venture Unplugged: A Hazy Shade of Venture

2000 – 2001
Taming of the Shrew
The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek
Venture Wired: What Time Is It?
Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You
‘dentity Crisis
Our Country’s Good
Why Mosquitos Buzz / The Elephant’s Child
6th Annual One-Act Play Festival
Schoolhouse Rock
Ruby Cat and Mister Dog
The Heidi Chronicles
Ten Little Indians
Venture Unplugged: Irrelevance and Irreverance
Picasso at the Lapin Agile

1999 – 2000
The Zoo Story / Howl
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Venture Wired: Don’t Blink
An Endangered Species: Waking Up
Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde
5th Annual One-Act Play Festival
Parallel Lives
Venture Unplugged: Love

1998 -1999
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)
In the Middle of Grand Central Station
Venture Wired
4th Annual One-Act Play Festival
Venture Unplugged: Sole Searching

1997 – 1998
Heaven Can Wait
Crash Commercialism
3rd Annual One-Act Play Festival
Rush Limbaugh in Night School
Venture Unplugged: Except, Accept, Access

1996 – 1997
Class Dismissed
Red Scare on Sunset
2nd Annual One-Act Play Festival
The Baltimore Waltz
Venture: Unplugged, Unhinged, and Underpaid

1995 – 1996
Strangers on Earth
Time After Time
God’s Country
Reverse Psychology
1st Annual One-Act Play Festival
Miss Julia
Picasso at the Lapine Agile

1994 – 1995
True West
The Curious Savage
Boy’s Life

1993 – 1994
Italian American Reconciliation
The Truth about Cinderella
Lonely Planet

1992 – 1993
The Wiz