Writing, producing and touring an original play sounded too easy for the Agile Rascals, a group of young troubadours from across the country.
So, to up the ante, they strapped the whole show to their bicycles for a 1,260-mile journey around Montana.
“Through careful planning, we’ve only had one flat tire so far,” said Sam Cordes, actor and equipment manager. “Technical stuff goes wrong, each venue is totally different and we’re constantly adapting. But it’s so rewarding to just become part of the surroundings and be flexible.”
The Sunday evening showing at the M.O.P. Shop in Helena marked the sixth of 10 stops the Agile Rascals are making in towns across the state. The tour finishes up with stops in Missoula, Whitefish, Eureka and Great Falls.
Three of the current group of eight “rascals” were part of the theater company’s first, experimental tour in 2015, which spanned 4,600 miles from California to New York. For this round, they decided to shorten the tour and write a play emphasizing the setting of the tour within the play.
“Compared to that first tour, this is going absolutely swimmingly,” Johnson said of their tour of "We Called It Resonance." “We’re around halfway through the tour now, and besides the three of us who went in 2015, we had never met before, so we’ve really come together into an awesome collaborative family.”
The Agile Rascals, founded in the San Francisco Bay area by Johnson and artistic director Dara Silverman, chose Montana for their second tour for its natural beauty and friendly small town feel. On their 2015 nationwide tour, small towns gave the Agile Rascals warmer, welcoming experiences.
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After advertising positions on social media, the eight playwrights, designers and actors convened in Great Falls for five weeks of writing, rehearsing and packing. The team worked together writing the play from scratch, and over time it morphed from a story of a girl discovering a dinosaur to the story of a town with a mine that is drying up. They don’t mine coal or copper in the fictional town of Resonance, but rather sound.
“It was kind of a boom town, but the sound is running out and stakes are high. It’s sort of a story of this town figuring out how to adapt to changes in the life they’ve built,” Cordes said.
The eight members of the company came from as far as New York and Miami for the process of writing and touring. With the bulk of the group never having worked together before, during the five weeks they spent at the Ursuline Center in Great Falls writing and rehearsing they figured out how to put up with each other for the next couple months.
“Before the creative process could even begin, there had to be a lot of bonding so it could be a true collaborative effort,” Johnson said. “Just figuring out what everyone’s expectations for this was one of the first steps. Not everyone is a biker either, so getting in shape for this kind of long haul was part of it too.”
The actors aren’t all out-of-staters though. Kean Haunt is a Billings native and Sarah Bell was raised in Montana and went to the University of Montana.
Each person carries at least 100 pounds of gear and props, including items such as an amplifier, saxophone and food supplies. Johnson said teams of two rotate cooking duties, so besides endless granola bars, the food has stayed creative.
“A lot of peanut butter. We eat a whole lot of peanut butter. And applesauce. Like a big jar every day. We’re kind of obsessed.”