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New theater company reimagines classic plays

Whitefish Pilot | July 28, 2021 1:00 AM

When thinking of classic theater such as Shakespeare’s many works or the ancient Greek dramas of Euripides and Sophocles, the idea of it can seem old-timey and even stuffy for many immersed in 21st century culture.

But Nicholas Rapp has made it his mission as a director to reimagine these classic scripts and themes into something that is relatable for modern audiences through a newly formed theater group the Montana Art Theatre.

He says producing classic plays is something that the two already established theater groups in Whitefish are not readily doing and reimagining classic plays would bring an alternative artistic touch to local theater.

Although this is what Rapp has spent his career doing, he didn’t come to Whitefish last year with the intention of starting a new theater company. It wasn’t until after working with Caitlyn Goeman on a recent production through the Whitefish Theatre Company, for which he directed and Goeman was the assistant director, that he thought of the startup nonprofit. It was specifically the way Rapp and Goeman worked together that made both of them believe they could start a new theater company that would have success and brings great value to the community.

Just after deciding that the duo would form their own theater group, Goeman suggested they bring Abigail Brooks in as the company manager — Goeman and Brooks work closely together in the theater program at Flathead Valley Community College. Brooks says she didn’t hesitate to hop on board and could see the potential in the new theater group.

As the three artistic gurus put their talents together, they hope their take on theater will be loved and cherished by local residents that attend the productions.

“Classics can feel a little stuffy and just a tough thing to approach… but that’s what I do,” Rapp said. “And I know that when I do it, especially with this team, it will be exciting, invigorating…”

All three involved in the company have unique backgrounds that contribute to a well-rounded team.

Rapp has his bachelor’s degree in theater from UCLA and went on to get his Master of Fine Art with the La Jolla Playhouse at University of California San Diego. He apprenticed under numerous well-known theater directors and went on to direct several productions on his own as well.

Goeman was born in Missoula and moved to Kalispell eight years ago. She says performance has always been an interest of hers, but when she was younger she was specifically training in classical ballet. As a young teenager, she transitioned out of ballet and found acting as a way to express herself artistically. She is attending FVCC on a scholarship in the theater department and over the last two years has been in over 15 shows with the college. She’s also branched out and has worked with both the Alpine Theatre Project and Whitefish Theatre Company.

Brooks moved to the valley when she was 10 years old and was always interested in art and dance. In middle school, she found the theater and got more involved in acting her sophomore year of high school. At Flathead High School she lettered in theater and is now attending FVCC, majoring in theater. She’s experienced both in performing and in stage management.

“These are very formidable partners in this theater company,” Rapp said. “I think probably the greatest assets that they bring to the table are practical experience; I have these surface-level credentials, but those are not as important as that in my opinion.”

For the Montana Art Theatre, Rapp serves as artistic director, Goeman as executive director and Brooks as the company manager. They founded MAT in May and recently held auditions for their first production set to be performed at the O’Shaughnessy Center in downtown Whitefish in late August.

MAT hopes to give the community a new opportunity to be involved in theater and the arts locally.

“It just gives the community another theater that is more readily available to them to be a part of,” Brooks explained. “And even if they aren't a part of it through backstage or acting, they can come to the shows and be entertained.”

The company also wants to do educational outreach to schools in the valley and is starting with FVCC because of the connections Goeman and Brooks already have with the college. In the future, they hope to continue creating educational partnerships with schools across Montana to bring a fun and accessible way of learning theater works.

In addition, MAT hopes that those attending their shows will not only be entertained but will also be challenged to see different concepts in a new light. The company believes that while entertainment is for the sole purpose of entertaining, art has a purpose to stimulate and challenge a way of thinking.

“We should be making material that sticks with them (the audience) and opens gateways in their minds,” Rapp said. “It has to do with a certain mental and spiritual health, and theater is designed to serve that purpose — not just to entertain, but to heal in a way.”

While the Montana Art Theatre company will strive to push the boundaries of where entertainment meets mental stimulation, they plan to do to it by producing classic plays in a way that locals can relate to each work.

“We want to bring classic theater to a Montana audience,” Goeman explained.

And Brooks added, “Just to make it community-based, bring ideas and current concepts that Montanans are seeing on a regular basis or hearing about and present that through these classic plays.”

With the local theater and community experience that Brooks and Goeman bring, combined with the vision Rapp has for reimagining classic plays, the MAT is confident that they can fulfill their mission to host invigorating performances relatable to modern audiences — ones that challenge the way we think about theater and about life in general.

“When I talk about reimagining the classics, I’m talking about reimagining them in the way where we get to have our own impression, given the current times we live in, on what exactly this text is trying to do,” Rapp said. “And not just back then, we’re not trying to recreate an artifact, we’re trying to reconcile that artifact from the past with this moment right now.”

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