More Than Meets the Eye

Visual arts get most of the attention in Jackson Hole’s art scene, but the valley has a strong performing arts scene, too.

By Isa Jones

Grammy-nominated artist Brandi Carlile performs at the Center for the Arts. Photo by Ryan Dorgan

STROLLING AROUND DOWNTOWN Jackson, it’s difficult to count the number of art galleries you see. Also, does the café showing work by a local painter or photographer count? Then 2 miles north of downtown, we’ve got the National Museum of Wildlife Art, which has a permanent collection of more than 4,000 works and has been recognized as the National Museum of Wildlife Art of the United States by an Act of Congress. Painters whose work hangs in museums across the country, like Kathryn Mapes Turner, Jim Wilcox, and Bill Sawczuk, live in Jackson Hole. If Jackson Hole’s art scene is a tree, it is undoubtedly these artists and the valley’s many galleries that are its roots. But there are an increasing number of branches: Jackson Hole’s performing arts offerings are expanding. 

The valley is home to three theater companies, the Grand Teton Music Festival, youth musicals, Wyoming’s only professional contemporary dance company, and even an improv comedy troupe. Here you can watch the Metropolitan Opera streamed live in HD or watch the film of a London stage production. Playwrights, dancers, actors, and singers live here, and all of them love to share their art. “Pretty much everywhere you go offers multiple performance arts options, from dance to music to theater,” says Macey Mott, a founder of local theater group Riot Act, Inc. 


“Jackson’s performing arts community is incredible given the size of our community.” 

– Anne Bradley, Marketing Director for the Center for the Arts


“Jackson’s performing arts community is incredible given the size of our community,” says Anne Bradley, marketing director for the Center for the Arts, a 78,000-square-foot space in downtown Jackson with a 500-seat theater and office space that is home to many of the valley’s arts organizations. “From the smaller volunteer-run organizations to those with full-time staff, the organizations focused on the performing arts continue to deliver high-caliber performances in our community and beyond.” For a full calendar of all arts and culture events, go to the nonprofit Center of Wonder’s website, Dailywonder.org. (During an average week, this calendar includes about 80 events.) 

The Center for the Arts

JUST TWO BLOCKS from the Town Square stands the beating heart of performing arts in Jackson. Opened twelve years ago with the intention to provide office, performance, and gallery space for arts-related nonprofits, the Center for the Arts has grown to become the biggest art hub in the valley. Within its 78,000-square-foot space are the offices of about twenty art and performance groups and also the Center Theater. Touring musicians like Brandi Carlile, Shovels and Rope, and Rufus Wainwright have performed in the latter. This theater also serves as a rehearsal space and screens both operas and plays from international locales, some live, others filmed.

Every winter, the Center Theater presents National Theatre Live, a selection of various filmed plays from the National Theatre of Great Britain. Past plays include Frankenstein, One Man, Two Guvnors, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. “We began screening National Theatre Live to appeal to theater buffs who might not be able to travel to see these performances live,” Bradley says. “National Theatre Live brings performances to our small town.”

You can also catch The Met: Live in HD at the Center Theater. (These are presented in partnership with the Grand Teton Music Festival.) Past Live in HD performances include Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and Tosca, the melodramatic masterpiece by Giacomo Puccini. 

Off Square Theatre Company

WHETHER YOU LOVE musicals, Shakespeare, or something contemporary and experimental, Off Square, which was founded in 1998, has you covered. “Off Square offers the whole of our community the chance to experience professional theatre through live performances all year,” says stage manger Nanci Turner Steveson.

Year-round Off Square does staged readings like Marjorie Prime and Cost of Living. It also presents an annual youth musical (in February) and, every July, does Thin Air Shakespeare. “Professional theatre is more than just entertainment; it provides a venue for initiating conversations about issues that impact us all,” Steveson says. “It brings history to the present; offers us new ideas, experiences, and viewpoints and multilayered cultural opportunities.” In addition to using local talent, the company brings in national actors, directors, and creatives to infuse the valley with outside knowledge and skill. 

Off Square’s annual youth musical—last year it was Beauty and the Beast Jr.; prior years it was James and The Giant Peach, Jr. and Mary Poppins—is always one of the most anticipated and popular performances of the year. The show always includes a large cast, with an equally large age range (six to sixteen) singing, dancing, and acting their young hearts out. After a month of rehearsals, the show feels more like a night on Broadway than a youth community musical. 

Riot Act, Inc.

“IT IS IMPORTANT to Riot Act to provide high-quality performances utilizing local talent,” says Mott. “We also try to produce productions that are artistic and challenging—emotionally, creatively, intellectually, and/or physically.” This could be a full production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet at Walk Festival Hall in Teton Village or a smaller production of the emotional The Normal Heart, or the comedic (and iconic) Rumors. In 2019—its 16th season—Riot Act is tackling the timeless musical Chicago (performances in March) and the romantic comedy Fat Pig (performances in May). The latter was written by American playwright Neil LaBute and premiered Off-Broadway in 2004. In 2005, it won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Play. It premiered in London in 2008. “Riot Act focuses on full productions often dealing with a hot topic,” Mott says. “For example, The Normal Heart deals with the beginning of the AIDS epidemic within the NYC gay community.”

Laff Staff

TAKING OVER THE Center for the Arts’ intimate Black Box Theater every winter season with hijinks and hilarity, Laff Staff has made up skits on the fly and kept Jacksonites giggling for over a decade now. These masters of the comedic arts “rehearse,” but like most improv shows, audience participation isn’t suggested, it’s mandatory, and makes every show different. The only constant is laughter. (It helps that two of the troupe members are twins who can mine each other’s minds for the best one-liners and punch lines.) The topics vary from universal to hyperlocal, and you never know what direction a show, or even one joke, will take.

Beware: These shows, which are held twice a weekend during the winter and spring months, provide cheap, solid entertainment. Buy tickets in advance or get there early. 

Dancers’ Workshop

Dancers’ Workshop offers ongoing and one-off public dance classes for all ages and in all types of dance, from ballet to tap and salsa. Around Halloween, they even do a Thriller workshop in which they teach participants the dance from—yes—Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video.

Dancers’ Workshop also brings in resident dance companies and guest artists and is home to Contemporary Dance Wyoming, the state’s only professional dance company. Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, David Dorfman Dance, and Savion Glover, among others, have performed in Jackson thanks to Dancers’ Workshop.

As impressive as these guest artists are, Dancers’ Workshop most popular production is its annual student winter show. Last December it was Alice, based on Alice in Wonderland. Students have also done The Nutcracker and Wizard of Oz. “Alice literally blew me away,” says Noa Staryk, the founder/owner of Nest boutique and the mother of exactly none of the kids and young adults in the production. “The choreography, the dancing, the costumes, and set design—all perfection. It was a visual feast and I was so inspired by the level of artistic production. Walking out of that performance, my heart swelled with pride in this place and the people who live here. It was a community production in a league of its own.”


JACKSON COMMUNITY THEATER

Founded in the 1970s, the Actors Co-Op is today known as Jackson Community Theater. “Arts and culture preserves our heritage and gives us a medium for artistic expression, it provides an escape to others,” current member Jill Callaway says. Community Theater stages performances by and for locals. Its 2017 performance of Dixie Swim Club not only told the story of lifelong friends, but featured thespians that have worked together year after year in Jackson. As an audience member, “Be prepared to just know that you’re going to have a good time,” member Lisa Sprague says.


Director Deborah Supowit jots down notes during a Riot Act rehearsal. Photo by Ryan Dorgan

Jon Christensen and Chris Staron and the other members of Laff Staff perform at the Black Box Theater at the Center for the Arts. Photo by Price Chambers

The 78,000-square-foot Center is the hub of the Valley’s art scene. Photo by Ryan Dorgan

An Off Square Theatre Company outdoor performance of a Shakespeare play. Photo by Rugile Kaladyte

Professional tap dancer, actor, and choreographer Savion Glover leads
a tap dancing class at Dancers’ Workshop. Photo by Bradly J. Boner

| Posted in JH Living
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