Virgina City, MT

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(story by Aaron Schultz)

Last Saturday I traveled to see the Virginia City Players in Virginia City, MT. Map Quest says it’s an hour and twenty minute drive from Bozeman but we make it in an hour, including a pit stop to get some ice-cream in Ennis. It’s a beautiful drive. Most drives through Montana are.

If you’ve never been, Virginia City is worth the trip. The downtown is a national historic landmark and a ghost town.

I wander the boardwalk looking in all the old windows and reading plaques describing each building’s history. Some buildings contain wax museums. One contains a barbershop scene, barber a with handle bar moustache giving an aproned cowboy a cut and a shave. Others contain remnants from the day the building was boarded up. It seems as though one could wipe the dust off an old carriage, hitch it up to a horse, throw open the faded wood doors and tour the countryside. But, the carriage looks small and fragile compared to modern forms of transportation (think Escalade) and, as the boardwalk sags and creaks under the passing tourists, leaves me wondering how many modern Americans could actually fit in it with out getting stuck or crushing it like a wet cardboard box.

People are forced to look around and interact because there isn’t cell phone service. I can only imagine the horror of all the 13-year-old girls dragged to this place on family vacation. Even I had a hard time turning my phone off, occasionally checking a blank screen. But, it doubles as my watch, so I have a valid excuse for any network separation anxiety, right?

Next, we hang out at the Bale of Hay Saloon for a few beers. It sits next door to the theater. I’ve never seen so many hawt cowgirls in one place before. I chalk it up to a beautiful modern combination of feminism, Levi's, big-ass belt buckles and push-up bras by Victoria.

Someone hollers and people file towards the theater. The actors are also the ticket takers and ushers. They didn’t even blink at the bottle of PBR I carried into the theater. Ahhh, the old west. One of the reasons I love Montana is most Montanans don’t tell others how they should live – as long as you don’t hurt anyone else and clean up after yourself. The theater is an old stable with river rock walls and a low hanging, rough-sawn plank ceiling from 18-I-don’t-know-when. I can feel the narrow theater heat up instantly as all the bodies pile in.

The first half of the show is a comedy called Aggie, the Mail Order Bride. It’s an adaptation of Moliere's The School for Wives. The actors and actresses are amazing, projecting their voices, filling the old theater. Despite the sweat the laughs kept coming. To attract this level of professional the Virginia City Players must be famous. But, what do I know? I’m a writer not a thespian.

I carry another bottle of beer into the theater, this time without concern. The second half features a variety show packed with song, dance, bare midriffs, one-liners and music provided by a Cremona. “The only other one in existence is in Australia,” the musician informs us. Not usually my style, but this part is better than the play. I find myself understanding the true definition of performer and entertainment. The crowd gets into it and the old lady in from of me stomps her cane on the floor and hollers at the performers.

It’s family entertainment, but like the old Bugs Bunny cartoons, there is plenty of humor for all ages. And, with 132 permanent residents, the town seems free from the local's normal projection of tension and annoyance because the people who work there are seasonal like the tourists. But, it’s still early in the season. Maybe the vibe will change in September.

After decompressing over pizza we head home, tired but smiling, Yanky Doodle Dandy rattling in our heads…

(Aaron Schultz is a writer, photographer and chronic wanderer)

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