Walking into the new Silverthorne Performing Arts Center this summer meant risking collision with an exuberant gaggle of children rehearsing for “Aladdin” in the lobby. Further in, “Ghost” and “Sister Act” were in production alongside the solo act “Buyer & Cellar,” not to mention rehearsals by the company’s own orchestra in the pit.
Upstairs, a buzz of administrators hummed, equally busy handling everything from long-term planning to day-to-day operations for the Lake Dillon Theatre Company (LDTC), which moved into the space in April.
“We each participate in a multitude of aspects relating to the Lake Dillon Theatre Company programs and initiatives, and everyone maintains a strong understanding and appreciation of all the departments—whether it be administration, fundraising, marketing and sales, education, patron services, or production,” said Joshua Blanchard, the company’s executive director, of the management team behind the troupe’s success.
Back in the early days, there was only one full time employee—Christopher Alleman—who now serves as artistic director. Today, Lake Dillon Theatre Company has a full-time staff of nine, soon to be 10, in addition to the company of professional actors, technicians, designers, and directors hired for each run of productions.
“It doesn’t feel like we’re working any less than we did 15 years ago,” Alleman said. “As a matter of fact we might be working harder.”
Although the new performing arts center is a huge accomplishment, the tight-knit team behind the Lake Dillon Theatre Company is already on to the next big project.
For example, there’s the new Lab Solo Series, featuring one-person shows curated to explore sociopolitical themes from global politics to civil rights, which take place inside The Lab. “One of our core values is intimacy,” said Blanchard. “In this intimate venue, the audience can really connect with the storyteller and subject matter in a way that is unique.”
Meanwhile enrollment in the summer youth theater workshops has increased, according to Alleman, who said community attendance for their free performances—including “Disney’s Aladdin Jr,” “Alice in Wonderland,” and “The Addams Family”—has also grown. “Even with the added seating capacity, we filled up the houses this summer,” he said. “It’s inspiring to see these young people gaining confidence and building skills that will help them further down the line in school.”
“It’s been quite a season already,” production manager Ben Whitmore said during the summer run, noting that the company doubled in size in order to put on multiple productions simultaneously, which wasn’t possible in their old space. “Every day there are eight different things going on here. It’s great—it makes this building feel really alive.”
Lake Dillon Theatre Company is an actors’ equity house, meaning that a good portion of the acting and stage management staff it hires—90% of whom come from New York via an audition process conducted in the city twice a year—are union members guaranteed a certain rate of pay and housing. “We identify as a destination regional theater,” Blanchard explained. “That means we have high standards for quality, we work with unions, and there’s a certain level of professionalism that we work to maintain, in addition to serving the Summit County community.”
Programming each season is “a very organic process” that starts with the goal of offering “diverse, high quality theater with something for everyone,” he said. For example, the team decides if they want to offer a musical, or a family play. Then, he said, “We like to provide something thought-provoking and somewhat challenging. We like to provide a new work, and we like to have a recognizable title. Within those parameters, we start to chisel away at what the program will look like.”
To inform the process, Alleman reads scripts all year long. The team also sees a lot of shows, belongs to professional organizations, and attends conferences to generate ideas.
“Every show we produce is based on how our audiences will respond,” Blanchard said, describing how they’ll sometimes reject a show on their short list if they think it won’t resonate in Summit County.
“Or it may resonate with a smaller portion of Summit County and we think, ‘You know, that’s a show for the off-season,”’ Alleman said. For example, “‘Sister Act’ in mud season would be a horrible idea because we need the audiences,” he said. “But if we do something challenging in May, our diehard subscribers come.”
A 2015 survey found that 40% of LDTC’s summer audiences were local, with 60% second-home owners, weekend and destination guests. In winter, the numbers are reversed. The results inform programmatic decision-making.
“We have a board member who is fond of saying: ‘It’s called show business, and show is the adjective,’” Alleman said. “It’s a business. We have to respond to our board members, staff, and community—it’s not just what shows Josh and Chris want to produce. Creativity is important to the process, but this is not a process-oriented business, it’s a productoriented business. People make significant contributions to our organization because they believe in what we do,” he said. “We take that to heart.”
Indeed, the community forms the backbone of LDTC initiatives—from its partnerships with local organizations like the National Repertory Orchestra in Breckenridge, to its work in local schools. “That’s one of the things I’m really proud of—we care about the community, what kind of impact we are having,” said Blanchard. “I love it when there’s a letter to the editor, when there’s dialogue happening.”
“As Summit County continues to evolve, we want to be a part of that dialogue and address what’s happening in our community,” said Shawnna Dodd, who, as director of development, works with other members of the LDTC team to raise individual contributions and foundation grants in support of day-to-day operations, in addition to the new performing arts center.
“To me it boils down to what we are doing for the community and the people who come to the theater,” she said. “If I can do a good job in my position, we can do our work—bringing people here and making a change in people’s lives through the performing arts.” Dodd is happy for the increased visibility of the new Silverthorne Performing Arts Center. “You can see it from the highway,” she said. “We have people coming in the door that weren’t able to find us before. It’s been really nice to see new faces and get the enthusiasm from the community.”
“Working together with the town on the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center has been a wonderfully collaborative and supportive journey,” Alleman said, describing the groups’ shared vision for a vibrant arts community in Silverthorne. “We are so appreciative of our partnership with the town, and we are thrilled to be at the center of the excitement.”
“It’s not just Silverthorne,” added Dodd. “We are really building an arts community in Summit County, and that’s something I’m really excited to see, that people can come to Summit County for all kinds of reasons—to exercise, to enjoy the outdoors, and also to experience the arts.”
The Lake Dillon Theatre Company has an active board of directors that provides oversight with long-term planning, and each member of the leadership team wears a number of hats. “Every person on our staff understands the different elements of what it takes to run a business,” Blanchard said. “It’s unique that an executive director has experience in actually creating the art, and likewise it’s unique that an artistic director has experience in administration and fundraising.”
Meanwhile on the production side, Whitmore manages everything from contracts and staffing to supervising set-building and lighting design. “We aim to product good art—that’s our first and foremost priority,” he said. “The onus is on us to bring that to our community in the finest way we know how.”
“So many people have been saying to us—‘you finally have this new building, now you can rest,’” Blanchard concluded. “I think people see this as an exclamation point. I see this as a continuation of what we’ve done before, but also as a new starting point. I see us continuing to expand, becoming more involved in the community, selling more tickets, offering new programs. We’re not taking time off; we’re pushing the ball forward. For us this has always been a continuation, about resources and sustainability. It’s exciting to see where we’re going next.”
Lake Dillon Theatre Company // lakedillontheatre.org
Photos: Liam Doran and others, courtesy of the Town of Silverthorne and Lake Dillon Theatre Company