A Theater of Versatility

Alpine Theatre Project will move into Mountain Cinema 4 in Whitefish this April, allowing for expanded programming

By Maggie Dresser
Betsi Morrison and Luke Walrath of the Alpine Theatre Project are pictured in their working space in Whitefish on March 26, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Despite a stressful year of constant adapting and restructuring, Alpine Theatre Project (ATP) continues to expand its programming and will now have twice the space as it moves into the Mountain Cinema 4 location in Whitefish, where cofounders Luke Walrath and Betsi Morrison recently signed a year lease.

Walrath and Morrison plan to convert two theaters into rehearsal and performance spaces and two theaters into shop and storage space, giving them 5,000 more square feet than their previous location, which they called the ATP Garage.

“Back at The Garage, we were constantly redoing space and rooms to accommodate our education programming,” Walrath said. “It’s allowed us to expand more and we wanted to offer more classes.”

Mountain Cinema, a four-screen movie theater, closed last year due to declining revenue, rising rent and uncertainty related to the pandemic. With four separate spaces and twice the square footage, the location allows ATP to host several activities simultaneously while providing ample parking.

“It gives us more versatility,” Walrath said.

Walrath and Morrison had already started expanding ATP even before they found the new theater space, and staff recently finished their first session of a new education program called the ATP Academy, which offered classes that included Broadway dance, songwriting and voice lessons. After a slew of Broadway veterans relocated to the valley this past year due to the pandemic, they were able to recruit many artists to teach classes.

Walrath says there was a high demand for the courses, which were held in February and March, with each class at capacity.

“The space was being used every day, which was great,” Walrath said. “We had people learning every day whether it was dance, class, acting class … It was constant.”

With plans already in the works to offer the classes again this fall, Walrath says the long-term goal is to provide the courses year round.

Once ATP officially moves into Mountain Cinema in April, it will host a movie premiere of “Next to Normal,” a rock musical that staff shot in February and adapted for a full-length film.

Looking forward to the spring, ATP staff is getting ready for the high school production of “Godspell,” which will be performed in May along with a performance of Disney’s “Descendants” in June, which will include students in grades three through 12.

All of the performances will be held outside, Walrath says, even as the pandemic begins to wind down.

“It was such a tumultuous year that I think we would do well to move forward and take the lessons we learned,” Walrath said. “Some of the things we’ve experienced, like the adaptations, worked. And being outside was one of them.”

Even as more of the population gets vaccinated and gatherings inch toward becoming more viable once again, ATP will continue to perform outside throughout the summer.

“We’ll continue to do it outside, especially this summer,” Walrath said. “I think it’s only safe and responsible still because we’re not out of the woods yet.”

After a positive experience taking operations outside this past year, Walrath says ATP will likely continue having live outdoor shows even in a post-pandemic world.

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