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WMPAC’s winter season in full swing

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The Warren Miller Performing Arts Center’s Executive Director John Zirkle introduces A Christmas Carol on Dec. 12. PHOTO BY MIRA BRODY

‘A Christmas Carol’ kicks off holiday spirit

By Mira Brody EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – It’s not uncommon to use paper to convey emotion—a letter, for example, heartfelt journal entry, play, book or illustration, maybe. 

Manual Cinema, however, takes 2D art to another level, utilizing paper cutout puppets and slide projectors to tell a story. In this case, on Dec. 12 at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center, it was their adaptation of the classic, “A Christmas Carol.”

Adapted from Charles Dickens’ original, this version of the story included a character, Aunt Trudy, struggling to continue family holiday traditions following the death of her husband, who we later learn passed away from complications due to COVID-19. Trudy begrudgingly puts on a puppet show of “A Christmas Carol” for the family members attending via Zoom call as she spends her first Christmas alone.

Similarly, attendees at WMPAC were also watching a live show of the performance, broadcast by Manual Cinema from Chicago, on the theater’s screen.

“There are about 400 other people in the country sharing in this experience with you and I hope that we can just kind of know that that feeling is happening,” said John Zirkle, WMPAC’s executive director, ahead of the show. “Even though this is going to feel a little bit like a film because Manual Cinema does such an amazing job, this is happening live. All of the music that you hear, all of the performers, everything about it is live.”

Manual Cinema is an Emmy Award winning performance and production company whose season of touring was interrupted by COVID-19. The Dec. 12 production was written by Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, Ben Kauffman, Julia Miller and Kyle Vegter.

WMPAC’s winter season is adapting to the current pandemic as well. Despite some changes for audience safety, the preforming arts center is open and in full swing. In addition to limited seating—Zirkle estimates the theater can safely fit 80 people—each group is spaced six feet from others, masks are required, hand sanitizer is on deck and shows are shorter, limited to around an hour.

One of their more impactful investments has been the theater’s air filtration system. WMPAC pumps in extra outside air, so rather than the average 300-400 cubic feet per minute, Zirkle says WMPAC averages 800 cubic feet of circulated air per minute.

“We’re thinking about every single person who comes in here,” he said. “We’re not really holding that to chance.”

Another big move is, the theater’s virtual streaming platform for those preferring to watch shows from home. Armed with a robust backend technology, WMPAC can stream every show this season to provide a high-quality virtual experience.

“We’ve really started to think about how all those angles come together,” said Zirkle, pointing out the numerous cameras throughout the theater. “It becomes almost like a television style experience.”

On Dec. 19, WMPAC is partnering with Montana Shakespeare in the Parks for “Hamlet: A Radio Show,” and on Dec. 27 and 28, are putting on “In A Landscape,” which involves towing a nine-foot Steinway piano through the Lone Mountain Ranch cross-country ski course. Attendees will ski with headphones broadcasting the piano music and experience the performance through the landscape.

“It’s a diversified approach, so every show is different,” Zirkle said. “We’re pulling a piano out into a golf course, Lone Mountain Ranch is going to do a custom, bi-directional cross-country ski course that has a 1,000-yard radius, and then we have all these Bluetooth headphones so people can experience it.”

The main message, Zirkle says, is that WMPAC is open and operating, and it’s being done in a safe manner.

“It’s like we’ve accepted as a society that performing arts are kind of dead,” he said. “WMPAC is open and it’s safe. We’ve been very thoughtful and we’ve invested quite a bit to make it safe and ensure access for everybody.”

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