In 2018, when Alpine Theatre Project (ATP) co-founders Luke Walrath and Betsi Morrison acquired the company’s “garage” space, a 4,500 square-foot studio in Whitefish to host rehearsals and conduct behind-the-scenes operations, they also had ambitions to expand theater education beyond productions with their new program, the ATP Academy.
Walrath taught most of the classes by himself, but when a slew of Broadway veterans relocated to the valley in 2020, he and Morrison saw an opportunity to grow the program and offer a variety of classes for students.
From Feb. 1 to March 10, ATP will offer 11 courses, including Broadway dance, acting, theatrical design, private voice lessons and more. The group classes will be capped at 10 with masks required to maintain safety during the pandemic.
“With all of these artists coming in (to the Flathead) and with their love for theater and their desire to throw their hat in the ring to the community, we knew this was our chance to really utilize this kind of integration of talent to benefit the kids in the valley,” Walrath said. “It was a real opportunity.”
ATP Academy’s new roster of instructors includes veteran Broadway actor Meredith Patterson, who will teach courses such as Broadway dance, Broadway tap and Broadway industry and business, as well as Susan O’Dea, a member of the Broadway Inspirational Voices who will teach songwriting and ukulele, musical theater and private voice lessons. Other teachers include former Broadway performers Tracy McDowell, Eric Krop and Dustin Brayley.
The academy is also offering a career class, which is new this year, for students who want to pursue the entertainment business, covering topics such as networking and industry etiquette.
Walrath will also still teach courses, but he says the revamped academy will be more diverse now that there are more teachers with different talents.
“We all come from different backgrounds,” Walrath said. “We have different ways of approaching things, and the students need a variety of points of view.”
While Walrath and Morrison saw an opportunity for kids to learn from top-tier talent, giving them real potential to pursue theater and entertainment careers, they also saw a more important opportunity to give students a place to build their confidence, work as a team and provide a creative space.
“In addition to practical training, it’s also just psychological, emotional and mental training,” Walrath said. “Ninety-eight percent of kids that we will see will not go into careers in theater, but that’s not the point. The point isn’t to train the next Broadway star; the point is to show kids how they can be better people.”
Following the end of the academy’s classes this spring, ATP will jump into its high school production of “Godspell” and move into the grade-school production of Disney’s “Descendants.” Summer programming will follow, and classes will pick back up in the fall.
To register for classes, visit www.atpwhitefish.org.
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