Verge Theatre: 25 Years In Bozeman

Kevin Brustuen

Bozeman was a quiet sleepy little mountain town of about 23,000 people in 1990. Bozemanites would hike empty trails, go out to eat at Black Angus, have a couple drinks and maybe dance at the Cat’s Paw, and sometimes go see a play at the Procrastinator Theater on MSU campus, or see a production at The Loft in the Red Barn, where Feed Café is currently located.

In 1994, two young college students who had recently relocated to Bozeman, Soren Kisiel and Katie Goodman, started an acting group and named it Equinox Theatre Company. For five years, they rented space at The Emerson, following their dream to give community members of Bozeman an opportunity to become actors, to learn about live performances, and to gain a better understanding of how theatre works, but even more, to provide acting experiences for children. Their hope and desire was to create a safe place where kids support each other, feel proud of the creative work they are capable of doing, and foster both friendships and culture.

Kisiel and Goodman’s ideas took strong root in Bozeman, as the company they founded continues to flourish and grow, consistent with their founding vision 25 years ago. Today, Equinox Theatre Company is known as the Verge Theatre and is celebrating its 25th Anniversary at a special event at The Emerson on February 27, 2020.
From the beginning, Kisiel and Goodman’s vision included outreach and improv theater for both children and adults, as well as providing quality community theater experiences for all ages. By 1996, they had also formed Camp Equinox for kids, and Spontaneous Combustibles, a comedy troupe that grew out of their improv classes, and within five more years the well-known Broad Comedy was formed.

In an interview with Bozeman Magazine in 2015, Soren Kisiel commented, “We really believe in creating community first, and nurturing campers to become amazing young people. Theatre and comedy are just terrific ways to do it.” Kisiel and Goodman not only created all these programs and ran the theater, but also co-wrote and directed full length plays, one-act plays, short skits and a new musical with the Pultizer-Prize winning political cartoonist of the Washington Post, Tom Toles.

Spontaneous Combustibles, a comedy team Kisiel and Goodman formed in 1996 out of the Equinox improv sessions, provided popular entertainment for Bozeman. The troupe used audiences’ suggestions to create comedy scenes, skits and musicals. They continue to perform occasionally (although not part of the Verge since 2013), having performed at 23 Sweet Pea Festivals and many other venues. The 2015 Sweet Pea Festival featured local favorites Kent Davis, Brian Dugan, Katie Goodman, Soren Kisiel and Craig Stauber as the Spontaneous Combustibles.

Goodman and Kisiel created Camp Equinox, originally based out of the Headwaters Academy, a theater camp experience for children around the same time as Spontaneous Combustibles was created. Goodman once noted the importance of her own memories of acting as a child as one of the formative experiences in giving her the desire to create a theater camp for children: “I get so much joy out of creating a character and connecting with other actors to bring a show to life. It’s magical. I learned this when I was a kid doing theatre.”

Broad Comedy grew out of another Equinox outreach effort, that is, participating in public events. Broad Comedy began in the Leaf and Bean Coffee shop during the 2001 Christmas Stroll when Goodman and several of her Equinox friends created a short program consisting of skits and funny songs that they performed at the Leaf and Bean. Their brief gig was so successful they continued the show, evolving into what we know today as Broad Comedy: racy, smart, feisty comedy that comes with an edgy integrity and satirical honesty.

From the beginning, Equinox Theatre Company offered both children’s theatre and main stage productions. Among the earliest main stage productions was a musical, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, based on the last novel ever written by Charles Dickens, performed in 1996. In 1999, the same year Equinox Theatre Company moved into the current home of the Verge, they were performing children’s plays on Saturday afternoons, main stage adult performances on Friday and Saturday evenings, and doing their regular improv and acting classes. Kisiel wrote the play, The Ballad of Irregular Envelopes” which was performed on the main stage to much applause also in 1999.

A quick glance at some of the shows they’ve done over the years shows a dizzying array of musicals, drama, and comedy: David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago, Fully Committed by Becky Mode, The Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris, Silent Night of the Lambs, A Steady Rain, Young Frankenstein, The Great American Trailer Park Musical, Art, How I Learned to Drive, and The Verge’s own Ryan Cassavaugh’s Jimmy’s First Christmas on Parole. These are but a small sampling of the wide variety of shows they’ve performed over the last 25 years, in addition to Children’s Theatre which has included shows such as Charlotte’s Web, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The Elves and the Shoemaker, and Alice in Wonderland.

In 2013, Equinox Theatre Company became the Verge Theater and Goodman and Kisiel parted company with the acting company they began, focusing on Camp Equinox and Broad Comedy. Erin Roberg, Artistic Director of Equinox Theatre Company, continued with the Verge Theatre, providing stability through the transition, serving for twelve years all together.

In the Get Out magazine of March 22, 2013, an article appeared that was titled, “Theater on the edge: Equinox becomes Verge Theater.” Bennett Drozic, the Verge’s Managing Director at the time, commented in the article, “the theater’s new name visits the idea of standing on that verge, testing how much fun it could be if one decided to ‘huck’ themselves over it.” The name change is practical in distancing the theater from its now unaffiliated offshoots, Broad Comedy and Spontaneous Combustibles. Verge’s mission is to “create offbeat, thought provoking, heart-inspiring theater that is masterful in execution, empowering to children, teens and adults, and evocative of our vibrant local community.” The first production done under the Verge name was the Tony-award winning Urinetown, a perfect example of the type of programming the theater is aiming for.

Today, Executive Director Hilary Parker oversees the continued growth of the Verge Theater. Under Parker’s oversight, the Verge’s offerings have grown: Their 2019-2020 season offers eleven Main Stage shows, six Family Stage shows, kids’ classes, Teen Theater, Teen Improv, and Adult Improv. The Main Stage performances for the 2019-2020 season range from the perennially favorite cult classic The Rocky Horror Show to Heathers: The Musical to Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf: A Parody to Constellations, plus several other Main Stage shows and the Family Stage shows.

Starting with the idea that Equinox would be a place where the community could come together and make art, Kisiel and Goodman’s vision from the day the doors first opened revolved around education for both children and adults. Providing acting workshops for adults soon led to performances for the community, by the community. Today the Verge Theatre not only carries on the traditions that Kisiel and Goodman instilled in the newly-founded company in 1994, but continues to push into new territory. Beginning in 2020, Equinox starts a new program of bringing theater experience into the Gallatin County Detention Center, offering detainees an opportunity to learn more about themselves through theater.

February 27th at 6 p.m. at The Emerson Cultural Center, the Verge Theatre will hold a 25th Anniversary party and fundraiser. Missy O’Malley will be the host of the event and auctioneering the fund-raiser. Verge Executive Director Hilary Parker issues an invite to everyone to come and be a part of this special celebration. Tickets are available on the Verge website, www.vergetheater.com. For more information about the anniversary celebration or any of their shows or classes, email info@vergetheater.com, or call 406-587-0737. 

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