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Hillary Sea Bard

Hillary Sea Bard wants to make The Good Work Studio, a venture she's started with Chris Torma, into a place that fills a niche in the theater community in Missoula. The studio plans to offer classes and workshops, and Bard also envisions a writer's club, staged readings and short plays.

The Good Work Studio wants to help make work better. Theater work, specifically.

The project is the brainchild of a theater couple, Hillary Sea Bard and Chris Torma, who have both been active in the local drama community.

Bard sees the studio as a place to help the theater community as a whole develop.

"I wanted to be a part of making our art excel," she said. It's something of a gamble as they begin preparing to offer classes and workshops, with announcements pending in the month ahead. They range from courses for middle-schoolers and high-schoolers to workshops for adults. She also envisions a writers' club and eventually a festival for staged readings and short plays.

Bard earned her master's in directing from the University of Montana. Since finishing school in 2015, she's searched out freelance directing gigs in Missoula, like "Slut: The Play" and "The Vagina Monologues," the latter of which she's directing this year. Before the studio's soft opening, she staged "Hir," a family drama involving a returning veteran and a transgender sibling. Outside of Missoula, she directed Sam Shepard's "True West" for the Tipping Point Theatre in Michigan, among other projects.

Most recently, Torma was the lead in Missoula Community Theatre's "Sweeney Todd." He's also acted, directed and worked in many other capacities in the drama world.

They don't see the project as a competitor for existing groups.

"I'm hoping to do something that fits in the community, and assists the other things that are happening," she said. She admires the work being done at MCT Inc. and the UM School of Theatre & Dance, but sees potential for people who might want something different — people from middle school age to adulthood who might want to take a class, workshop or some training in a smaller-scale environment.

She gave a class more than a year ago in Meisner technique. It drew two college students, one a theater major and one not; plus community members who wanted to polish their technique.

One thing that the studio is not? A venue. "It's a struggle, but it's also an opportunity for me to work with other places in town, and explore, because there are places," she said.

The Zootown Arts Community Center is moving into a new building with a dedicated performance space. The MASC Studio, the Downtown Dance Collective, the Union Hall, and the Roxy Theater have all hosted indie theatrical productions.

In laying out her mission statement, inclusiveness was important. "Whatever your age, experience or income there is something for you. We are an inclusive company that invites persons of all abilities, gender identities, colors, races, sexual orientations and religious beliefs. With our classes, activities, events and productions there is (at the very least) something for everyone," she said.

Bard said that in part that relates to her experiences — three years ago she was sexually assaulted.

"Spaces that had an awareness of, 'we're here for everyone,' included me at that time and people that needed a space to know that they can feel protected. And I think that it's important to do that and promote that and say that out front so that people know that, and to get as much diversity as we can," she said.

Montana isn't a diverse place, which can make it difficult to find theater for women, people of color and LGBTQI individuals, even though plenty of those scripts exist in the broader world.

"I just think it's really important to promote a loving and open environment for a company," she said.

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