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ZACC Performance

Matt Olson of Attack and Release Sound works the PA system as Chris Sand, aka "Sandman the Rappin' Cowboy," does a sound check before a show last week in the Zootown Arts Community Center's new performance space.

The Show Room is open.

When the Zootown Arts Community Center moved into its new location on West Main Street last month, it added a new option for performances and events in downtown.

"We created something that we think is highly accessible for artists and for anyone who might want to use it," said Mikyla Veis, the ZACC's coordinator of marketing, events and community outreach.

The nonprofit designed the room based on feedback from the community about what they thought it needed, eventually generating a design that's intended to be as versatile as possible.

"From music to plays to performance art to dance," she said, "anything you can really think of, the space could accommodate." 

The offerings will run from all-ages, family-friendly events to adult-oriented ones. So far, they've hosted a cabaret, a drag show, two music shows and holiday parties. There's a comedy show on Saturday and  plays booked for the spring. 

The ZACC's performance space at its old location on the Northside was located in the basement and doubled as a music venue, performance space, music school and printshop. 

The new one in the renovated Studebaker Building, meanwhile, is dedicated solely to performances and events and designed as such.

It's deliberately a "blank slate," Veis said, who manages the space. It has a modular stage that can be moved into multiple configurations, such as the standard thrust style you see at concerts or most theaters. It can be set up in the middle of the room for theater in the round. As a bonus for performers, it has a green room with private bathrooms. 

It can fit between 350 and 400 people for a standing-room show and 175 for a seated event.

They bought a nonprofit beer and wine license so that events can serve drinks if they want. It is not, she emphasized, a bar, and events typically start and end much earlier than a typical show in a watering hole.

The ZACC got help from veteran Missoula sound expert Mike Jones and board member Paulie Donaldson of Rocky Mountain Rigging on the design and installation for the sound system. There's a raised booth for the sound technician, and theater-grade curtains to black out the windows and dampen sound. They have more sound improvements planned soon.

Last Friday the Montana Area Music Association, a fledgling nonprofit advocacy and education group, held a "Meet Your MAMA" event that drew about 150 to 200 people.

The sound was clear and loud (but not too loud) during a set by Junior, a Missoula three-piece that employs harmony vocals, and The Vintage, a local rock band. It had kick in the lower frequencies when Anthony Lamarr Brown, MAMA's vice president, beat-boxed while Wailing Aaron Jennings yodeled. The space was large enough for people to sit toward the front or stand toward the back. A gallery and long hallway are just outside the room if you wanted to stop and talk, Missoula audiences' chatty nature during performances being a perennial complaint.

The ZACC hired Chris Baumann as event technician — running the shows, working sound and lights, and set-up and break down. Baumann's worked in the music scene in many capacities over the years: a Dead Hipster DJ, bassist for rock band MASS FM, and he owns a recording studio, Black National. In the past, he also booked music at the Badlander and Palace, and will help set up local music nights at the ZACC. He envisions "interesting and unexpected local bills" of groups who might not have played together before. He also hopes to help book off-beat "weirdo" touring acts that would be a good fit for an all-ages, nonprofit space.

Veis said they want to see the space "used as much as possible." It's outfitted with a 16-by-9-foot screen and projector that can be used for conferences like the upcoming Audience Awards Film Festival Innovation panels. The nonprofit Big Sky Film Institute, which puts on its annual documentary film festival, is moving its offices into the ZACC and will likely hold screenings there, too.

There are separate paths to book through the ZACC or rent the space, which they've designed to be affordable.

"We want anyone who might want to try something new or create a cool piece of performance for our community to be able to use the space," Veis said.

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