Restructuring Off Stage

By Beacon Staff

The Alpine Theatre Project was founded in Whitefish in 2004, and since then its members have played numerous roles, both on and off the stage. But after nearly a decade of scrambling to keep everything running smoothly, the founding members and the board of directors have decided it is time for a change.

That shift, which is termed “ATP 2.0” by the staff, will occur largely behind the scenes at the theater company, impacting the administrative structure and the strategies for public outreach.

“It was time to learn from our past, organize our present and define our future,” Luke Walrath, co-founder of ATP, said in an interview last week.

For the past eight years, Walrath has served as the executive director at ATP. It was a role he fell into as one of the founders, he said, but his past experience as a Broadway actor didn’t quite prepare him for the financial and managerial side of the job.

Regardless, Walrath said he and his other co-founders, Betsi Morrison and David Ackroyd, assumed whatever roles necessary to keep the company moving.

The idea of shifting ATP’s administrative structure was bandied about for a couple years, Walrath said, but the discussions began in earnest last summer. The theater company was finishing a five-year funding cycle, and it took that opportunity to discuss its future.
“The time was right,” Walrath said. “The company needed to take a step back and ask where are we and what do we want to be moving forward?”

Much of the structural changes at ATP center on the idea of playing on its staff’s strengths, as in, who is doing what in the company and is that the right fit for that person’s talents.

“We were all wearing too many hats and I think in order to get where we wanted to go, we needed to align everybody with their skillset,” Walrath said.

Walrath said that in his time at ATP, he has grown to understand that he has a passion for education, and, of course, acting. That is where he feels he would be the strongest, Walrath said, which would mean the company would need someone new to take the managerial and financial reins.

Enter Brian “Chip” Scott, ATP’s new managing development director. Scott and his wife moved to Whitefish for the job from his position in Jackson Hole, Wyo., where he worked on fundraising for the Grand Teton Music Festival.

Scott also brings more than 20 years of experience working with nonprofit artistic endeavors and volunteer boards, and has years of experience in fund development and marketing as well.

The new development director said he saw a great fit in the ATP job because he could use his own strengths for the betterment of the company while freeing up those who could use their talents elsewhere.

Though he’s only been here about three weeks, Scott said he is absorbing what he can and feels encouraged by what he’s seen.

“I’m charged up and ready to go,” Scott said.

Alpine Theatre Project’s Luke Walrath, left, and Betsi Morrison rehearse a scene from ATP’s 2011 production of “I Do! I Do!” in Whitefish. – File photo by Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

ATP’s board of directors will also see some change, as Nancy Gordley takes over as president for Sean Frampton. Frampton had planned on stepping down as president at the end of the year anyway, Walrath said, so the company decided to make all the changes at once.

With the restructuring, considered ATP 2.0’s first phase, audience members will see a slight shift in this summer’s stage performances. Instead of several large-scale productions, ATP will put on four concerts based on different Broadway musical genres.

It will be an exciting season, considering that the talent on the Whitefish stage will come from Broadway with experience with these show tunes, Walrath said, and it will also allow the theater company to maintain a strong presence in the community.

The second phase for ATP 2.0 will happen next year, Walrath said, and will include a shift back to the types of performances ATP is known for, except the performances will then be on a rotating schedule with three or four shows a week.

Research and surveys showed that 80 percent of ATP’s audience is local, Walrath said. And while the locals have the opportunity to see each show, visitors who are in the Flathead for only a week or a month at a time would only get to see one show, he said.

“We realized that we were not tapping into the tourist market the way we really could,” Walrath said. “This way we can offer more to not just residents but also visitors.”

Other changes in the new ATP structure will include more outreach programs, better housing solutions for visiting artists, and rethinking rehearsal space issues.

And while it might take the theater company some time to adjust to the new situation, Walrath believes they are taking the right steps toward growth.

“We had never been in a position where we could make that change,” he said. “We just had to make the decision to do it.”

For more information on Alpine Theatre Project’s summer lineup, visit www.atpwhitefish.org or call 406-862-7469.

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