Theater without borders: Gypsy Theatre Guild brings all-inclusive attitude to the Flathead Valley

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  • HICKS and Jez Schussler perform during the Gypsy Theatre Guild’s old-time radio show production in mid-May. (Courtesy photo)

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    Tom Hicks, founding member of the Gypsy Theatre Guild, at his home in Woods Bay. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • HICKS and Jez Schussler perform during the Gypsy Theatre Guild’s old-time radio show production in mid-May. (Courtesy photo)

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    Tom Hicks, founding member of the Gypsy Theatre Guild, at his home in Woods Bay. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Gypsy Theatre Guild wants you.

Acted before? Great.

Never set foot on stage? That’s great too.

Handy with a hammer? Come on down.

That all-inclusive, anyone-can-do-it attitude is the spirit in which the Flathead Valley’s newest theater company was founded.

“This isn’t an elite group of actors and directors and producers,” said founding member Tom Hicks. “We don’t want to be intimidating. We want to be open to anybody if they have any talent at all — if not, there’s tons of other things that people can do. They can do stage management, they can do props, they can do costumes.”

Hicks, along with Tony Nelson, Gaylynn Nelson, Larry Lefcourt and Karen Kolar hatched a plan for a traveling theater company to serve the Kalispell area about six months ago. They wanted to appeal to newcomers and “bucket list people,” and more than anything, put the community back into community theater.

“We noticed that Kalispell didn’t have a community theater — they’ve had a few over the years, but nothing that really stuck,” Hicks explained. “It’s the biggest town around, it should have some theatrical arts program, so we figured why not?”

After all, Bigfork has the Bigfork Community Players and the Bigfork Summer Playhouse, while Whitefish is home to the Whitefish Theatre Company and the Alpine Theatre Project and Polson claims the Port Polson Players.

The guild calls themselves “gypsies” because the group isn’t tied down to a single venue. They hosted their first performance at the Angel Theater in Columbia Falls and are planning a dinner theater in August to held at Bigfork’s Swan River Inn.“We want to be able to move around to different venues to serve different communities,” Hicks said.

They’re also strong supporters of military servicemen and women and offer discounted ticket prices for both veterans and active duty members..

“We very strongly believe that they do not get anywhere near the recognition or the consideration that they deserve for the service they provided,” Hicks said. “It’s our way of thanking them.”

The group’s inaugural production was an oldtime radio show held May 17-20 featuring “The Lone Ranger,” “The Bickersons” and “The Shadow.” Hicks said crowds averaged between 30-35 people on each of the four nights, which he considered pretty good for a new group’s first show. Although the radio show was done in “black box” style — where actors read from scripts with minimal set design, he hopes the guild’s full-on productions will feature familiar favorites that are also family-friendly.

“We would probably tend towards recognizable productions — ‘Steel Magnolias,’ things like that, ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ … We’d love to do ‘Grease,’” he said. “You can always pick these Henrik Ibsen plays that have great messages or something — that’s not why people come to community theater. They want to see a play they know something about.”

Hicks himself is no stranger to stage lights — he’s been performing as a musician “for forever” before he and his wife relocated to Montana three years ago and he was bitten by the theater bug.

“It’s not for everybody, but to those who want to do it? Nothing better,” Hicks said, of acting. “All of a sudden, there’s this reality that’s so different from what you normally do and you’re a part of it. There’s so much that goes on in that short period of time and then when you leave the theater, it’s all over and you’re back to who you are and your normal, everyday life. But, for that brief moment, you were able to be something perhaps larger than yourself.”

Reporter Mackenzie Reiss may be reached at 758-4433 or mreiss@dailyinterlake.com.

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