New Executive Artistic Director Chuck Ethridge helps Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre launch into 2022 season By Taylor Shillam
Every summer, the Coeur d'Alene Summer Theatre brings Broadway-quality productions to North Idaho. Now Idaho's oldest performing arts organization, the Coeur d'Alene Summer Theatre (CST) is a nonprofit corporation featuring talented performers and musicians from across the region.
Now, with the appointment of new Executive Artistic Director Chuck Ethridge, CST looks forward to its first full production season since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The theatre's board appointed Ethridge to the unique position in January 2022 to lead efforts related to fundraising, managing business operations, and overseeing the artistic direction and production.
“The executive artistic director represents the public face of CST, providing skilled management, fiscal and artistic direction, leadership in artistic innovation, and the day-to-day management of programming, finances, fundraising, personnel, and the physical facility,” Ethridge described, noting his positions from past leadership roles within the theatre. In the past, CST separated tasks related to administration and arts, the executive director and the artistic director.
“It is unusual, but not unheard of, to find someone skilled in both business administration and as an artist," Ethridge explained. “Due to my unique skill set and experience, merging the positions into the executive artistic director position made sense.” He said the new position's integration between the two divisions of the organization allows the entire organization to more easily align and move forward with the same goals.
Ethridge is certainly no stranger to the theatre arts. “I've been performing, directing, teaching and administrating for decades,” he said. He studied vocal performance at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, followed by graduate studies in voice at the University of Idaho. He has worked as a performer, music director, conductor and private voice teacher. Since 2018, he has worked with CST, performing, directing music, and providing additional artistic services.
When the pandemic hit, Ethridge stepped up right away to ensure support for the theatre. "I quickly realized that without someone jumping in and actively focusing on saving the theatre, we wouldn't survive," he recalled. "That's what happens when your ability to have any live events is taken away: We couldn't hold fundraisers, do any performing, or produce our season for two years."
He began to work on researching and writing grants, dedicating hundreds of hours to securing enough grant funding to not only survive for two years, but to catapult into a healthy 2022 season.
In July of 2021, he was hired as Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre’s executive director on a part-time basis. "At that time, I looked at a revamp of our business office, facilities, systems, and organizational structure," he said. "Everything was put on the table to consider." The focus was not only on immediate revenue growth, but also long-term sustainability, and the constant, overarching mission to produce the best-quality musicals possible.
"The primary goal of any leader of a theatrical organization should be continually improving upon the production quality, and that is where the CST Board and I focused," he said.
Now immersed in his full-time position as the executive artistic director, Ethridge has witnessed the CST take a nonstop forward motion into 2022.
With the summer season quickly approaching, his sights are set on continuing that forward motion and helping both the CST and the surrounding Coeur d'Alene community thrive.
Ethridge's values within the theatre are centered on recruiting the best local talent, bringing in skilled talent from outside the area, and constantly improving on tech and production values—all while maintaining a steady revenue flow and sharing with the community how supporting the performing arts positively impacts the local culture and economy.
The CST has shared that for the first time since 2014, its productions will be held at the Schuler Performing Arts Center at North Idaho College, with the hope that the larger venue will make the theatre’s productions more accessible to underserved members of the community. As the Coeur d'Alene Summer Theatre moves forward, revived for an exciting new season in the summer of 2022, its leadership will continue to look for opportunities to service and engage the community.
"We are a professional performing arts organization, and when we (and other arts organizations) thrive, it helps the community as a whole to thrive,” Ethridge said.
The Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre reports season ticket sales higher than any seen in the previous decade, a sure sign of what's to come under the leadership with Ethridge's passion and dedication. Their professional summer season will begin July 1 with “Mamma Mia!,” followed by “Little Women, The Broadway Musical” and “Nunsense.”