Community Theater Travels the Flathead

The Gypsy Theatre Guild’s new dinner theater show “MURD-ARRR!!! Pirates of the Salty Dog” will be at the Swan River Inn in Bigfork July 25-28 and Aug. 1-4

By Charlotte Bausch
Amy Galt, Roger Idaho and Tony Nelson of the Gypsy Theatre Guild rehearse their new dinner theater show “MURD-ARRR!!! Pirates of the Salty Dog,” to be performed at the Swan River Inn in Bigfork on July 25-28 and August 1-4. | Courtesy Photo

For a year and a half, the Gypsy Theatre Guild has brought community theater productions to locations around the Flathead Valley — and its members don’t take anything too seriously. Crowdsourcing everything from actors to costumes to ushers, the group encourages people to get involved (including audience members) and experience the fun of theater.

According to Jerry Brobst, a member of the board, the Guild’s philosophy is simple.

“It’s got to be fun, that’s the key,” Brobst said. “Fun for us, and fun for the audience.”

The Gypsy Theatre Guild began in December 2017, when five founding members who had experience in community theater decided to start a group in the Flathead Valley. Rather than choosing a single location, they decided to have the group perform in a variety of places in the Flathead, traveling around and trying different kinds of performances.

“That’s kind of what we had in mind, that we weren’t going to be tied down to a specific place,” Brobst said. “We move around.”

In the past year, the Gypsy Theatre Guild has put on a variety of shows in locations around the Flathead Valley, including Columbia Falls, Bigfork and Kalispell. Their shows have included “Old Time Radio Shows,” in which actors reproduce an audio-based show on stage in front of microphones, a production of “A Christmas Carol” at Kalispell’s Conrad Mansion and a dinner theater show at the Swan River Inn.

When putting together each of these productions, the Gypsy Theatre Guild has looked to their community of theater enthusiasts for help with set building, backstage management, sound, lighting, props, costumes, makeup, and ushering. To find actors, the organization holds open auditions before each show and typically finds a lot of its actors from its mailing list.

“We have a pretty good mailing list of folks who are involved with us,” Brobst said. “We try to get all kinds of folks involved from around the Flathead.”

The Guild’s latest production, “MURD-ARRR!!! Pirates of the Salty Dog,” about a group of pirates who decide to settle on land and build the Salty Dog Seafood and Steak Restaurant, began in the same community-focused way.

Volunteers found through the Guild’s mailing list and open auditions produce and act in the show. Even the show’s costumes were crowdsourced from actors’ closets, thrift stores or a local college’s theater department. Brobst, who is the show’s production manager, said the pirate costumes are a particularly exciting element.

“With pirates, there’s a lot of fun things,” Brobst said. “There are swords and cutlasses and daggers.”

The costumes and props are the main staging elements of the show. Otherwise, “MUR-DARRR!!!” has no sets or stage. Instead, the acting will take place within the real dining room of the Swan River Inn, bringing the play into close contact with its viewers. Without the separation of a stage, the actors have the chance to include the audience in the show.

“If you come to one of our dinner theaters, there’s a good chance you could get pulled up on stage and be a participant,” said Brobst. “We just like to get the audience involved.”

The production is a dinner theater event and will feature a four-course meal based on the food served at the fictional restaurant in the play. The menu will feature items like Surf and Turf and Chocolate Panna Cotta with Huckleberries.

The Guild has done dinner theater before. Last year, it put on a production of “Contempt of Court” at the Swan River Inn, which featured dinner alongside the show. That show was a success, and the group wanted to do another dinner theater program. When members found the script for “MURD-ARRR!!!,” they knew the show fit into their philosophy of fun, easy-going community theater.

The thought was simple, Brobst said: “Well yeah, pirates, that oughta be fun.”

See “MURD-ARRR!!! Pirates of the Salty Dog” at the Swan River Inn in Bigfork from July 25 to 28 and Aug. 1 to 4. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the show begins at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online at http://www.gypsytheatreguild.com/, or by calling (406) 356-6022.