Big Sky Summer Theatre Festival expands performance boundaries

The Warren Miller Performing Arts Center is embracing the fact that most everything about our world has been turned upside down lately. Though the Center’s usual suite of artistic residencies and in-person performances were gradually suspended over the course of the spring, Executive Director John Zirkle wasn’t ready to give up on providing the Big Sky community with high-caliber artistic performances. “We decided to pivot and try something completely new and different,” he said recently.

After hosting a series of successful spring performances virtually, Zirkle went to work designing a summer season that would take advantage of the center’s new capacity for virtual performances. The result? A three-show series that combines both virtual and in-person performances and audiences.

“It’s a totally new idea, and we’re figuring it out as we go, but the result is going to be super, super cool,” Zirkle said. The first show is the Big Sky Summer Theatre Festival, which takes place this Saturday, July 18 at 6 p.m. Actors from around the country will be video-calling in to perform three brand-new plays written especially for this hybrid performance. They will be projected onto a series of screens on the WMPAC stage, joining a couple of (socially distanced) actors who will appear in person. The entire experience will then be broadcast live from WMPAC to audiences who will tune in from home. Though there are three plays, all of them are brief, and the entire performance will be under an hour. Some of the plays do contain some mature content, so the experience is not recommended for audiences under 17.

The Artistic Director of the festival is Broadway veteran Asmeret Ghebremichael, who was in the original cast of Book of Mormon, among others. She describes the project as “an artful, emotional, and compelling theatre festival, experienced from home in under an hour.” The festival will feature new work by the playwrights Ari Afsar, Korde Arrington Tuttle, and Rodrigo Nogueira. Cody Renard Richard is serving as the festival’s Production Supervisor, and was previously the Assistant Stage Manager for Hamilton on Broadway.

WMPAC is also releasing a limited number of tickets for a live audience to attend the performance on Saturday. In accordance with the CDC’s social distancing guidelines, up to 40 live audience members can be seated in the 280-seat auditorium. Masks are required for everyone in the theatre, and the seating will be spaced with maximum distance between parties.

“We’ve embraced a hybrid model for both the actors and audiences this summer,” Zirkle said. “This is all completely new technology, and audiences haven’t seen anything comparable to it before. But this is the direction the art world is heading, and we’re thrilled to bring these new possibilities to Big Sky.”

Tickets and more information are available at warrenmmillerpac.org. Tickets range from $7-19. Content is not suitable for audiences under 17.

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