Alpine Theatre Project brings professional theatre to Montana

Alpine Theatre Project is Broadway's 'summer home'

By Erica Williams/Montana Living

The Flathead Valley has even more to boast about than its nationally acclaimed outdoors, great bars and restaurants, and an exceptional community — the Alpine Theatre Project adds world-class professional theatre to northwest Montana’s list of worthy attractions.

alpine theatre project performing arts in whitefish, montana, betsi morrison, luke walrath, david ackroyd, montana living

The cast of 'Godspell' in Alpine Theatre Project's 2007 production. (David Reese photo/Montana Living)

Led by founding artistic director Betsi Morrison, artistic development director David Ackroyd and executive director Luke Walrath,  Alpine Theatre Project is a name to follow. “We believe that a good theatre company is more than just a company, it’s a mission. That’s why we felt ‘project’ was important to have in our name,” said Walrath.  “It’s an ongoing project to an ideal which is, can we produce world-class, professional theatre in this part of the country.”

Since the Alpine Theatre Project officially began in Whitefish in 2003 it has been inspiring audiences and artists alike, bringing major metropolitan-quality theatrical talent to Montana’s more rural setting.  The founders behind Alpine Theatre Project are all Whitefish transplants who were drawn to Montana’s natural beauty after spending significant time living and working in large cities: New York City for married couple Morrison and Walrath; Los Angeles for Ackroyd.  The trio united in the Flathead where they combined their experience in professional theatre, film, and television and began toying with the idea of creating a professional theatre. 
“We saw a niche in that people are moving here for the quality of life, like us, but they still want the offerings of a large city.  So we thought this was the perfect opportunity to provide that,” said Walrath.
“The community has been wonderful, just wonderful,” said Ackroyd, Artistic Development Director.  “Most of our audience is locals, we get great feedback from people about what we’re trying to do.”

alpine theatre project performing arts in whitefish, montana, betsi morrison, luke walrath, david ackroyd, montana living

ATP's Betsi Morrison takes a bow after performing 'West Side Story' with Glacier Symphony and Chorale (David Reese photo/Montana Living)

The Alpine Theatre Project is entering its fifth official season. It has put on several productions since its opening, including I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, Songs for a New World, ART, My Fair Lady, K2, Camelot, Picasso, Songs of Life & Love, The Sound of Music, Godspell, Moonlight & Magnolias, and West Side Story. Other audience-pleasing shows have included the Alpine Theatre Project’s Valentine’s Day Concert and its annual holiday production, Yuletide Affair. The Alpine Theatre Project has also wowed its audiences with its annual interview series, “An Evening With,” that has featured such noted artists as John Lithgow, Olympia Dukakis and Louis Zorich.
“You never get to run over the goal line and spike the ball and say, ‘boom, we did it.’  Because yeah you did it, but you still got next year,” said Ackroyd.
Teamwork permeates the Alpine Theatre Project.  There really is a sense of family obvious among the Alpine Theatre Project’s founding artists.  When the trio confronted the question, “what is the social dynamic among the ATP staff,” laughter erupted immediately. 
Summer in Whitefish is a season enjoyed by many, locals and tourists. With the Alpine Theatre Project, Whitefish is beginning to become a destination for famous artists as well.  Alpine Theatre Project is thrilled to welcome such talent to its company.
“It takes us another step further towards establishing that there’s a lot going on culturally in this state, in this region, in this town and with our company to let people know,” said Walrath of ATP’s final Summer production with Olympia Dukakis.  “This is probably one of the bigger things culturally that will hit this state in a long time,”
What accompanies the approaching season is a great deal of hard work and dedication, a concept very familiar to Alpine Theatre Project.  During summer rehearsals, the Alpine Theatre Project staff works eight hours a day, six days a week.  The seventh day is spent taking advantage of all the wonderful things summer in the Flathead provides: hiking, savoring Glacier National Park, water sports on Whitefish Lake, boat rides, and a slough of other outdoor activities.  For the founders especially, life really does revolve around Alpine Theatre Project. 
“I love it.  And it’s not like I wish I could stop thinking about it; it’s what I want to think about.  We work ‘till midnight, we work on Saturday and Sunday, and we love that! We are so passionate,” said Morrison.
In addition to ATP staff and the Flathead Valley community, the Alpine Theatre Project’s Board of Directors plays an integral part of the success the company has seen over the years.  At fifteen-strong, the Board advises ATP with its larger business decisions, helps it to stay on track with its budget, and uses its deep community roots to keep support coming.
The work, the time, the talent, the funding, the creativity, the passion, all pays off in the end for Alpine Theatre Project.
Morrison said, “A guy who lives here in town said to me, ‘I want to thank you, you inspire me because you guys aren’t afraid to take on anything.’” 
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