Wheeler gets new director | AspenTimes.com

Wheeler gets new director

Janet Urquhart
Gram Slaton is the new executive director of the Wheeler Opera House.

The head of the Community Arts Center in Williamsport, Pa., will become the new executive director of Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House.Gram Slaton is expected to take over direction of the Wheeler in early October, succeeding Nida Tautvydas, who stepped down in July.The city hired an outside consultant to analyze the Wheeler’s operation and help search for Tautvydas’ replacement. Slaton was chosen from a roster of more than 90 applicants, narrowed to five candidates who came to Aspen for interviews. One contender turned down the job.A July visit was Slaton’s first glimpse of Aspen and of the Wheeler.

“This is a dream job in a dream town,” he said. It was the Wheeler staff, however, rather than the historic theater itself, that made the first big impression, Slaton said. He had braced for a demoralized crew after reading the consultant’s assessment of staff burnout, among other things.”I think the staff is delightful. I think there’s a strong group of people down there,” he said. “They are enthusiastic, dedicated and so positive. That, I was not expecting.””The Wheeler staff really liked him,” added Randy Ready, assistant city manager. Slaton impressed his interviewers – a group of city administrators, Wheeler Board members and representatives of local arts groups – with his experience and expertise, Ready said.

Slaton, 51, has worked in the performing arts industry for 28 years. Since 1993, he has been the executive director of the Community Arts Center in the central-Pennsylvania community of Williamsport, where he is responsible for all facets of operating the 2,159-seat venue.Like the 505-seat Wheeler, the Community Arts Center is a historic building, constructed in 1928 and later restored to its original grandeur, according to the venue’s website. It has hosted a variety of acts, from Broadway shows like “Grease” and “Cats” to such singers as Barry Manilow, B.B. King, Alice Cooper, Willie Nelson and bands like Lonestar, Foreigner and Three Dog Night.The smaller capacity of the Wheeler will not be a limitation, Slaton said.”It’s going to feel liberating,” he said. “I think the Wheeler has cache – artists want to come and perform there … it’s the place, you know? I don’t have the ‘who are you, where are you, why should I come there?’ that a lot of theaters do.”

And with the Wheeler financially solvent, thanks to a real estate transfer tax dedicated to it, Slaton won’t be consumed with fund-raising duties.Among his first orders of business will be will helping select a new operations manager for the opera house, Ready said. The Wheeler consultants recommended the director’s post be split into two – a director and the operations manager.Slaton’s starting salary will be $85,000.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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