By Sarah Gianelli EBS Senior Editor
BIG SKY – Since the end of December, a parade of Broadway talent, comedic jugglers, avant garde choral ensembles, virtuoso musicians, and contemporary and international dance troupes has swept across the stage at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center.
Their most successful season to date closed on March 31 with Che Malambo, a powerhouse Argentinan dance company that delivered a jaw-dropping performance of foot-stomping grace, song and light-show acrobatics.
The WMPAC performances brought in approximately 3,000 patrons this year, up 15 percent from the previous season, which also saw record-breaking numbers. Sixty percent of attendees are full-time local residents.
The organization also experienced a record growth of 45 percent in revenue. Executive Director John Zirkle finds it staggering that their inaugural season five years ago had a budget of $75,000, and today that number is closer to $800,000.
“The ambition of Big Sky and the growth of Big Sky is intoxicating,” Zirkle said. “Our goal was to really push the limits in every area you can imagine—artistically, professionally and the ability of our little organization to play in the big leagues. We met our goals and we are still standing.”
The 2017-2018 season was perhaps the most rewarding for Zirkle, but it was also the most challenging. WMPAC produced three of the season’s shows: “Concert for America,” “Levity” and “[Title of Show].” This means that rather than buying a packaged production from another company, the concept is developed, organized and financially backed to some degree by WMPAC.
For Zirkle, the musical within a musical “[Title of Show]” was one of the highlights of the season.
“Musicals are challenging,” he said. “But I think we pulled it off … It had all the right elements—the right type of humor, it tied in with WMPAC’s story of getting things off the ground, and it was beautifully designed and executed.”
In his opinion, James Sewell Ballet with the Ahn Trio was probably the most successful event overall.
“It was a really successful artistic collaboration and the culmination of five years of integrating James Sewell in the town.”
Looking ahead to season six, Zirkle said they plan to bring back a few artists from prior seasons now that they have a better sense of what type of productions are the best fit for Big Sky audiences.
“We know that a big name really draws crowds,” he said. “And we have another one lined up for next year.”
He also said they will scale back the number of original productions WMPAC takes on, having a better understanding of the workload their limited staff can handle; and might reduce the number of performances from nine to eight to further refine the WMPAC experience.
“What did we learn this season?” he asked. “Stay the course.”