Take Ten celebrates 10 years of 10-minute plays in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Take Ten celebrates 10 years of 10-minute plays in Aspen

For local theatergoers, Theater Masters' Take Ten Festival is a captivating night out — a grab bag of 10-minute plays ranging from farce to tragedy, without any thematic restraints. For local actors, it's a week of rehearsals and three nights of bringing fresh work to life onstage. And for a growing roster of playwrights and directors, as Take Ten celebrates its tenth anniversary, it's a family.

"Once you're in this organization, you have an artistic home for life," Theater Masters founder Julia Hansen said Tuesday in her downtown home, gathered with directors and crew after a round of morning rehearsals. "It really is a family."

The annual festival selects winning plays from graduate students across the country, stages them here for three nights (this year, that's Sunday through Monday), then brings them to New York for a spring showcase (April 26 to 29). In the process, many form relationships that continue through their careers.

Directors return to Aspen for multiple years. Alumni playwrights bring works to Theater Masters' Palm Beach New Play Festival. They end up working together in New York and regional theater. They become Take Ten readers and judges. And some — like "Madam Secretary" and "Homeland" writer Alexander Maggio this year — return to mentor the new classes of writers.

2016's short productions include seven plays by graduate students from programs at UCLA, Yale, NYU, Carnegie Mellon and elsewhere, directed by theater professionals and performed by a cast of 23 local actors (from teens to local theater vets like Mike Monroney and Kathy Pelowski).

"It's a mysterious adventure," said director Lee Kasper, among the team of directors in from New York to helm the plays. "We're really excited about meeting local actors who are passionate about theater and getting to expose them to brand new 10-minute plays written by up-and-coming, emerging playwrights."

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Take Ten also hosts a competition of local aspiring high school playwrights — this year's winners were Caroline Piffer of Glenwood Springs High and Tyler Gruel of Roaring Fork High.

"He jumped right in, having never been around a table for a table read, and was immediately collaborating and answering actors' question," Kasper said of the freshman Gruel's first day in rehearsal. "It was amazing."

Aspen native Naomi McDougall Jones, who won the high school contest a decade ago, now acts as the organization's co-artistic director and has gone on to a stage and screen career, including writing and starring in the 2014 indie film "Imagine I'm Beautiful." Her latest work, as a writer, is on the new Amazon original series "The New Yorker Presents," which premiered this week at the Sundance Film Festival.

Each Take Ten piece gets about six hours of rehearsal time over the course of the week before opening night Sunday. That might seem a small window of time, but it carries expansive creative possibilities for actors, directors and the plays themselves.

"I think it's an adequate amount of time for the first draft of a 10-minute play," director Jessi D. Hill said. "It's about giving the actors the experience of knowing they're also helping develop the play — that their viewpoints and opinions matter to the playwright."

The directors had a ready-made cast when they arrived in town — selected by Hansen and Jones, who oversaw auditions earlier this winter.

Every year, recurring themes tend to pop up, offering a glimpse into the country's creative psyche from grad schools across the U.S. Many of this year's selections look at the timeless dramatic theme of death but also at the link between technology and isolation.

Last year's selected plays were recently published — a first for Theater Masters — so that theater companies and festivals can buy and produce them elsewhere. Hansen said the organization aims to publish annually from now on.

Along with three nights of theater, Take Ten this year is hosting a free panel discussion Saturday at the Aspen Institute on how theater can react to or take advantage of the increasing draw of home entertainment and streaming. It will feature Maggio, Hansen and Jones, along with Primary Stages Theater artistic director Andrew Leynse and this year's winning playwrights.

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What: Take Ten Festival, presented by Theater Masters

When: Sunday, Jan. 31 through Tuesday, Feb. 2, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Black Box Theatre, Aspen High School

How much: $25/GA; $12/students

Tickets: http://www.theatermasters.org

What: ‘Entertainment Today,’ panel discussion presented by Theater Masters

Where: Koch Building, Aspen Institute

When: Saturday, Jan. 30, 5 p.m.

How much: Free

More info: http://www.theatermasters.org

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