The Shows Must Go On

Theater and production organizations across the valley are adapting in a variety of ways to put on their winter and holiday shows amid the pandemic

By Maggie Dresser
Luke Walrath of the Alpine Theatre Project records some music for a production of Young Frankenstein on March 26, 2020. The show will be assembled and performed remotely with a series of video and audio clips sent in by their students, in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

As the holidays approach and COVID-19 cases continue to climb, large gatherings are increasingly discouraged, and theater organizations in the Flathead are trying to figure out how to safely put on holiday season concerts and shows.

The pandemic has hit the entertainment industry hard, shutting down venues across the country, and production companies in the Flathead Valley are adapting in a variety of ways to produce holiday shows, ranging from streamed video to live shows with limited capacity and smaller casts.

Alpine Theatre Project (ATP)

Luke Walrath and Betsi Morrison of ATP originally wanted to do an outside production of their annual holiday special, Yuletide Affair, similar to their outdoor summer shows, but they shifted to a video format to emulate a televised holiday special following winter weather concerns.

As their most popular show, Walrath and Morrison wanted to make sure the Yuletide Affair was a quality show, so they contracted with audio and video companies to use professional equipment. Much of it will be shot outside and will include 25 songs, 13 singers and five instrumentalists.

“Every project is faced with, ‘Wow, that’s cool, how do we do it?,’” Walrath said. “Every project has started with that conversation. You just sit down and figure it out. We also want to show the community that theater can be much more than the physical space it’s in.”

Yuletide Affair will be available for rent beginning Dec. 20 on and can be watched within seven days after renting.

Whitefish Theatre Company (WTC)

Whitefish Theatre Company attempted a community-written Christmas show this year but was forced to cancel the show a week before opening night due to cast members’ exposure to the coronavirus.

“People were getting exposed and there were positive cases,” Executive Director Jen Asebrook said. “We had ages from 5 to people in their late 60s in the cast and it just didn’t feel responsible.”

WTC canceled all shows for the remaining 2020 season but hopes to put on three Black Curtain plays this winter and spring if the pandemic permits.

The Black Curtain plays will entail small, pandemic-friendly casts of only a few people and will be filmed with no live audiences.

“It’s not the feel-good musical, but they’re deeper,” Asebrook said. “It’s the real kind of raw theater.”

Bigfork Playhouse Children’s Theatre

After Artistic Director Brach Thomson originally planned to hold a live show of Elf the Musical this holiday season with a 50-person masked cast on stage, the show was canceled following guidance from the Flathead City-County Health Department.

A Touch of Christmas was also canceled, which was originally planned for mid December, but Thomson hopes to film the event to be streamed online.

The Northwest Ballet School and Company

Director Marisa Roth is also still planning a live Nutcracker Ballet performance this holiday season.

Instead of its usual location at the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts, the ballet will be at Flathead High School, which is a larger venue with 700 seats to allow for social distancing.

The ballet’s cast is also smaller this year, with a 25-person cast compared to a 40- to 60-person cast in years past. Roth didn’t hold auditions this year and chose instead to do invitation only for cast members. The show will only be an hour-long production instead of an hour-and-a-half, and will be simplified with shorter scenes.

The Nutcracker Ballet will show Friday, Nov. 27, Saturday, Nov. 28 and Sunday, Nov. 29 at 4 p.m.

Tickets will be available at the door one hour prior to each show at the Flathead High School Auditorium.

UPDATE (Dec. 2, 11:30 p.m.): This story was updated to reflect Bigfork Playhouse Children’s Theatre’s canceled shows.

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