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Venture Theatre's "And I Know"

Venture Theatre’s Vanessa Dent, left, and Tanner Stichman perform a scene from “Project Homelessness: And I Know,” an original play that completed its run the weekend of NOVA Center’s grand opening.

Last year might have been the finale for Venture Theatre. The revelation of financial mismanagement that came to light in December might have meant curtains for the children’s classes, the musicals and other contemporary theater productions.

But dedicated volunteer board members and other theater supporters rose to the challenge. Within weeks, they announced a rescue plan and had already started raising money to cover the organization’s $130,000 deficit. As fundraising continued, they also sought community collaboration.

Enter: Rimrock Opera Company, a small local, nonprofit with a loyal fan base and a reputation for producing high-quality operas. Rimrock Opera also gets kids involved in musical performance with its youth chorus.

After just four months of fundraising, Venture’s outstanding debts to the IRS and the city of Billings have been paid, and payments on the theater building are current. The building owner, Mike Schaer, has been a strong supporter of the theater on Montana Avenue. Venture’s board members themselves helped with donations to erase the debt. Volunteers and new management have formulated a solid business plan.

Although these organizations are relatively small, in 2012 Venture produced 18 shows with 137 performances and 10,615 tickets sold. It involved 4,548 children and young adults involved in performances, classes and other activities.

Rimrock Opera typically has 1,200 to 2,000 attendees at the main stage operas at the Alberta Bair Theater and up to 500 school children, seniors and individuals with disabilities attend the student matinee each spring.

Early this spring, Rimrock Opera Company and Venture Theatre announced plans for merging.

As promised, they unveiled the NOVA Center for the Performing Arts, a joint venture, on Saturday. The NOVA board includes longtime volunteers from both Venture and ROC.

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This joining of two beloved organizations will result in a stronger new organization and benefit the community. Under the new NOVA name, staff and volunteers will continue high-quality productions and children’s programs that Venture and Rimrock made so popular.

ROC plans to present one full-scale opera annually at Alberta Bair Theater and smaller opera productions at the NOVA Center. Venture’s 2012 season continues with “Bye, Bye Birdie” opening on May 24.

Mayor Tom Hanel was among about 200 people who gathered Saturday to celebrate the NOVA Center opening. “I’m just glad you worked so hard to make this happen,” Hanel told NOVA board members.

We agree. Venture and ROC board members wrote a new script for overcoming adversity. These community volunteers made sure the shows will go on. Bravo!

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