Operalesque in the Woods

Alpine Theatre Project's burlesque, opera, aerial circus is back with an outdoor forest show

By Maggie Dresser
A 2019 performance of OperaLesque at The Alpine Theatre Project Garage in Whitefish. Photo by Brenda Ahearn

Alpine Theatre Project is bringing back the third installment of its “Operalesque” performance, a combination of burlesque and aerial circus act featuring world-class opera vocalists who will be hanging upside down and singing from trees.

But instead of a large indoor theater setting, the Whitefish Lake Institute’s Viking Creek Wetland Reserve north of Whitefish will transform into an intimate, woodland fairy-themed stage, with capacity capped at 60 audience members.

“It’s pretty incredible to behold,” theater instructor Luke Walrath said. “The way we’re setting things up is in the grove of trees. Patrons will be sitting in the forest and it will be happening above them.”

With a six-member cast hailing from New York City, including singing aerialist Marcy Richardson, the classically trained singers will bring a burlesque, upside-down show with “ample amount of skin.”

Walrath describes the first “Operalesque” installment, held in 2019, as having a more romantic vibe, followed by a French circus-themed show the following August. The third will feature a magical theme with famous duets and excerpts from “Magic Flute,” as well as more obscure operas.

“The staging is definitely ‘adult,’” Walrath said. “There’s nudity — it’s burlesque and it’s an overall sexy vibe.”

With much of the country’s entertainment industry shut down due to the pandemic, Walrath says the singers are thrilled to come to Montana and perform.

“Marcy, our aerialist, has literally been in her apartment in Brooklyn since March,” Walrath said. “We’re trying to provide employment for them to keep things going.”

While Montana’s entertainment industry hasn’t been hit as hard, ATP’s ticket sales have declined by more than 90%, Walrath said.

“Theaters have been the first to shut down and will be the last to open,” Walrath said. “It’s an $800 billion industry that’s been brought to its knees.”

Despite the drop in revenue, Walrath and Betsi Morrison, his wife and ATP’s artistic director, were determined to go on with events.

ATP has adapted to the pandemic in order to continue offering education and performances, starting with a virtual “Young Frankenstein” performance last April. In June, it continued with a “Moana Jr.” production, performing in a backyard, along with two additional outdoor performances at Memorial Park. ATP also continued Broadway summer training, bringing in 10 actors to teach 35 students outside in masks.

Following the “Operalesque” production, ATP will have two more shows this year, with a final kids program of “Aladdin,” and the Yuletide Christmas concert, both outside performances that may include fire pits, depending on the weather.

“We’ve all got to realize the old ways are out,” Walrath said. “We’ve got to find new ways of doing things and it could also bring a whole new fresh way of looking at performance. There could be some really good, creative innovations coming out of this thing that will stick.”

The sold-out “Operalesque” will show Friday, Sept. 18, Saturday, Sept. 19 and Sunday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m.

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