Jody Grant: 9 Years Behind The Scenes at Billings’ ABT
I get an email from Alberta Bair's Programming and Marketing Director Jody Grant every couple of weeks, typically when the theater is announcing an upcoming show or event. Tucked into an email I received on February 17 regarding the rescheduled Nobuntu performance (originally scheduled pre-COVID, now finally happening on Sunday 3/6), was the news that Grant was leaving the Alberta Bair. Jody announced her last day with the Alberta Bair Theater will be March 11, adding,
My roots are deep in Montana (born and raised) but it’s time to propagate and grow myself in new-to-me soil… perhaps somewhere warmer for a while.
Today (3/1) I got to sit down with Grant to chat about some of her highlights from nearly a decade working behind-the-scenes at the beautiful venue. Take a listen below.
A major renovation and a global pandemic, simultaneously.
Jody was with the Billings Symphony before joining the Alberta Bair, and when the position came up, she jumped at the opportunity. She knew the capital campaign to renovate the building was coming (it had been discussed for years), but when the fundraising efforts became a reality five years ago, with construction soon to follow, the immensity of the project became real.
$13.6 million, top-to-bottom renovations.
Their last ABT performance before the pandemic that basically turned the arts and entertainment world (and everything else) upside down, occurred in April 2020. Shortly after, nearly every touring performance in the country was canceled. Construction workers were deemed "essential", so progress continued on the renovation throughout the pandemic. In the photo above, Jody is high above the theater floor on the catwalk, catching a birdseye view of the work happening below. Near the ceiling, on the exposed brick wall, there are hundreds of chalk signatures from where stage crews have signed the building over the years, almost like a time capsule of past performances.
She's experienced literally hundreds of performances.
Grant estimates she's been involved with booking around 450 performances and events at the ABT in her nine years with the theater. When Kenny Rogers performed in Billings in June of 2014, fans loved the show. Almost immediately, they were asking the ABT to bring him back for another concert. Grant noticed his health was beginning to fail, and she had her doubts about his ability to continue. While Kenny did embark on a final tour in 2016, his 2014 stop in Billings was his last performance in Big Sky Country. The Gambler died in 2020.
Grant's favorite memories at the ABT.
Obviously, there were many fantastic encounters with talented artists and performers. I asked Jody about some that stand out the most for her. She said,
Dance Theatre of Harlem was amazing. We got them out here to Montana for the first time and did a residency and took them into schools and things.
I have to say the collaboration with Gabriel Royal; he's a cellist who was a busker down in the subways in New York City. And that's how he found his management. He has a beautiful style, and I thought, "what if?" and so I approached Supaman [local Native musician]. And we got Supaman and gave together out into the schools and on the stage, and that was a, you know, fabulous collaboration.
And she'll never forget the first act she booked on her own at the ABT, the Naked Magicians from Australia. She said they were awesome.
What about difficult or demanding artists?
A true professional, Grant kept mum when I pressed her about the most difficult artists to work with over the years. I couldn't get any juicy details about ridiculous "green room" requests, like a giant bowl of ONLY red Skittles or tables of exotic foods prepared a certain way.
She did mention that some performers were disappointed they couldn't smoke onstage. Dave Chapelle requested a certain brand of clove cigarettes that are unavailable in Montana. And because of our state liquor laws, the theater is unable to provide hard liquor backstage. They can provide a runner to go pick up an artist's favorite booze, but the ABT can't pay for it or provide it.
Were there any interesting old items found during the renovation?
You never know what you'll find when you basically tear an old building down to the studs. Perhaps some old newspapers used as insulation? A wall full of rusty old bottle caps? Stacks of dusty, antique playbills stuffed under some flooring somewhere? My imagination ran rampant, but Grant said that during the recent remodel at ABT she wasn't aware of any treasures being discovered, other than some groovy 1930s wallpaper hiding under the plaster of a wall.
The building (formerly the Fox Theater) did receive a makeover in the late 1980s when it became the Alberta Bair Theater. The Billings Gazette wrote a special section documenting that renovation and Grant said they still have a few copies available for the public to browse or borrow if you'd like to learn more about the history of the property.
What's next for Grant?
Jody said she will certainly miss certain aspects of her job at Alberta Bair Theater, but she's looking forward to the next chapter in her life. She said,
...the part that really grabs at my heart is the social justice movement of what the arts, the conversations that the arts can start about some injustices we're living through right now. So I want to drill down deeper into that, I need a better understanding of the US legal system. So I'm attending the University of California San Diego paralegal program, extension program.
Hoping to combine her passion for the arts with social justice, she shared an interesting anecdote,
I sat in on a super cool seminar the other day about the arts intersecting with the border of Mexico. And there's this indigenous tribe that has no word for a wall. So when their tribe was split by the wall that the US and Mexico put up, they didn't even have a word for that.
We wish Jody the best of luck in her new endeavor and offer our heartfelt "thank you" for all of her efforts to bring quality artists, entertainers, and performers to Billings.
Upcoming shows at the Alberta Bair.
They announced this week that country singer Trace Adkins is coming to the ABT in August and tickets to classic rockers, Night Ranger are on sale now for their June 1 show. Other upcoming events include:
- Rhoad Dahls Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 3/2
- Nobuntu 3/6
- The Ugly Duckling 3/7 - 3/8
- National Geographic Live: Untamed with Filipe DeAndrade 3/18
- The British Invasion 3/19
- The Magic of Bill Blagg 3/29 - 3/30
- Marty Stuart 4/7
View the Alberta Bair Theater event calendar HERE.