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Full Scale Productions, Audiences Back For Theatre Aspen’s Summer Season

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Courtesy Theatre Aspen
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Theatre Aspen announced its summer season this week, which includes two musicals at the company's Hurst Theatre.

The Roaring Fork Valley’s arts and culture scene is readying to reopen, and Theatre Aspen is the latest to announce what looks like a more normal return to the stage for cast, crew members and audiences this summer.

Full scale productions, for one, are back. That includes two musicals, “Chicago” and “Rock of Ages.” The theater company has also expanded its summer programming to include more one-person plays as part of its Solo Flights series. Theatre Aspen Education, which encompasses programming for kids K through 12, will also be performing a record three productions this summer. The company is also hosting a first-ever summer gala featuring award-winning actor and “Glee” star Darren Criss as a headliner.

“It was in the works beforehand,” said Theatre Aspen’s Producing Director Jed Bernstein, noting that expanding Theatre Aspen productions and youth programming had been discussed since 2019. “Chicago” and “Rock of Ages” had originally been planned for last summer until Theatre Aspen had to scale back its season due to the pandemic.

Bernstein also said that the goal is to grow Theatre Aspen Education programming and outreach even more as performances and programming resumes in-person this year and beyond. This summer, the youth theater troupe will be performing Theatre Aspen’s first-ever Shakespeare production, “A Midsummer’s Night Dream,” outside in the John Denver Sanctuary.

Last summer, Theatre Aspen was one of the few in the country that kept in-person shows going at all, although those were limited to cabaret performances with socially distanced seating and reduced attendance. The company’s cabaret series will also be returning this summer, but bringing back full scale productions to the company’s main stage at Hurst Theatre in the John Denver Sanctuary marks a major shift to pre-pandemic performances. It’s also particularly special, according to Theatre Aspen’s General Manager Dani Taylor, given how hard the performing arts industry has been hit since the pandemic shut things — notably in-person gatherings — down last year.

“Within two weeks going into the summer [season] we grow from a team of 11 to a company of about 70,” she said. “There’s always this excitement when everyone starts to arrive. This year it’s even more exciting because so many people have not been working for 15 months.”

Taylor added that bringing back full scale productions, in particular, is a milestone for local performing arts and the community.

“This pandemic has shown how much a community needs arts and entertainment and I think for a moment like we realized how much we take for granted,” said Taylor. “Being able to come back fully is just really exciting.”

One notable departure from a more normal theatre season, however, is the audience and ticketing requirements for attending Theatre Aspen shows. Audiences can attend shows with full attendance and traditional seating if they show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within 48 hours of the performance, although masks will still be required. The company will also be selling tickets for smaller performances that have socially-distanced seating for anyone who’s not quite comfortable rubbing shoulders with their neighbors yet.

Despite some of the post-pandemic changes, Bernstein said getting back into the swing of things for the upcoming summer season is a welcome change from the last year.

“People who do summer theater are really like camp counselors,” he said. “It’s all that excitement. Every year this week I put a box together that I ship with office files from New York, things like that, just like packing your camp trunk. We all feel really lucky to have this chance to be back with people who support us and love good storytelling. There’s nothing better.”

Season passes go on sale on May 26, and more information about the company’s full schedule is available at Theatre Aspen’s website.

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