Grant, Dietrich help usher the ABT into new season

September 8, 2016 GMT

When the Alberta Bair Theater season kicks off the new season on Sunday, Sept. 11, with Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Jody Grant and Jan Dietrich will be there in the lobby taking it all in.

Grant, who serves as marketing director, and Dietrich, who is interim executive director, are stepping up to fill the complex role that William “Woody” Wood took on during his tenure at the performing arts venue. For nine years, patrons were greeted by Wood at almost every performance, but often he was accompanied by Grant or Dietrich or both of them. So their faces are familiar to the ABT crowd.

Now they want to get to know more of the ABT patrons, especially the new fans who come out for shows like Trombone Shorty.

“For me, it’s important to know the faces of the ticket buyer,” Grant said. “We listen when people have suggestions for shows they want to see and sometimes we are able to land them.”

The 2016-17 season follows a record-breaking year in which four Billings Symphony Orchestra concerts and 10 ABT shows sold out.

The musical “Once,” which won eight Tony Awards on Broadway, continues to be the best-selling show for the season. It comes to the ABT on Nov. 10.

“Woody left us this season and it’s a good one,” Grant said. “We remain true to programming diversity so there is something for everyone.”

As other downtown venues, including the Pub Station and the Babcock Theatre, continue to evolve, the ABT is looking to lay the groundwork for a $10 million capital campaign to make improvements to the theater. It’s been almost 30 years since the last big remodel at the ABT, when the Fox Theatre became the ABT in 1987.

“It’s time to renovate the theater, for technology purposes. It needs to happen,” Grant said. “People love the shows that we are bringing here. We want them to love the building and the sound and lights, too. We want to enhance their whole experience.”

Dietrich said a committee is forming to gear up for the fundraising campaign, which will seek private and business sponsorships and grants, to increase the number of restrooms, improve the sound and lights in the theater, and increase seating and lobby space. She said the City Council has approved vacating a portion of Third Avenue North and North Broadway to allow for the 3,200-square-foot expansion.

Meanwhile, the Pub Station is expanding into an 800-person venue that can host larger music acts possibly as soon as December and the Babcock Theatre is set to return to the city of Billings in March 2017.

Is there enough audience for three major venues in downtown Billings?

Grant says yes.

“Billings is growing and people have higher expectations about how they want their entertainment,” Grant said.

All three venues work together on building a strong audience pool in Billings, supplying quality programming that satisfies. 11:11 Presents, the booking arm of the Pub Station, recently presented Kansas at the ABT and the Billings-based promotion company often presents shows at the Babcock Theatre.

“As I talk to agents and artists who want to rent the theater, if it’s not a good fit for audience numbers and pricing, I ask them to call Kim at the Babcock,” Grant said.

Putting Grant and Dietrich in leadership positions at the ABT is allowing the Board of Directors to re-evaluate the role of the new executive director and to pick the right person for the job.