When the eighth-grade class from the Aspen County Day School visited Washington, D.C., in October, they had no idea the U.S. government would be in the midst of a historic shutdown that lasted 16 days.
Many of the students tapped into their experiences from the trip to help write “Shutdown: sorry we’re closed,” a musical performance the ACDS student body will perform tonight and Saturday at the Wheeler Opera House.
The 36th annual all-school performance features 205 cast members, representing the largest production in school history. The show was written exclusively by the students.
Because of the October government shutdown, the students on the trip didn’t get to visit the White House, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum or the National Gallery of Art. In “Shutdown,” the students give their expositions of those locations and more, in humorous and musical interpretations.
Working in groups of three or four, the students wrote all 13 scenes in the show. Director Marci Sketch said each group of writers had a different take of the trip. She said putting all the scenes together was challenging with the end product surprisingly cohesive.
“This show is like a patchwork quilt,” Sketch said. “There’s a lot of pieces sewn together, and it works. It’s been amazing to watch it all come together. The kids bring endless energy to the performance.”
Sketch has been an instructor for 20 years at the school, teaching drama, improvisation and film study. She said most of the students in the annual performances don’t start out as “theater kids” but often end up with a keen interest in performing.
Sketch said this show has been rewarding on many levels. Not only was the thought of working with more than 200 students daunting, she never really knows how much the kids will enjoy the experience until the final days leading up to the actual performance.
This year’s group has been nothing short of spectacular.
“Out of the 15 shows I’ve directed at the school, this one ranks in the top-three,” she said. “This group is not only fun to work with, they’re energetic and a joy to watch develop. I’m sure the audience will feed off their enthusiasm.”
Eighth-grader Sam Weiser was on the school trip to Washington, D.C. in October and got to see the government shutdown first-hand. He’s been performing in the annual ACDS shows since he was a toddler. Weiser not only sings “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die,” a song made famous by Frank Sinatra, he also sings “What Does Fox News Say?”, a song he co-wrote the lyrics to with fellow eighth-graders Sander Elliott and Andrew Meisler.
“As long as my voice doesn’t crack, the audience will really like what they see and hear,” Weiser said. “This year’s production is special. It’s the largest cast in school history, and I’m really happy it came together as well as it has. I never thought I’d enjoy performing as much as I do. I have to give credit to these annual shows for developing my love of music and acting.”
The show is full of music and dancing, featuring many songs that the audience will recognize, as well changing up some classic songs with student-infused lyrics. During a rehearsal on Thursday, the excitement from the cast was obvious.
“The kids are totally high-energy,” said Annie Garrett, the choreographer for the show and an English teacher at the school. “It’s fun to be involved with such happy kids that work really well together. I really drill the kids to give them a sense of precision and pride when they’re on stage.”
The show also features a seven-piece band, led by musical director Tom Paxton, a long-time local Aspen musician. Paxton recruited the remaining members of the band that features drums, guitar, bass, keyboards and horns.
Sketch said she enjoys watching the faces of the musicians as they perform with the cast.
“They’re really enjoying themselves,” she said. “They offer great encouragement to the students. They certainly aren’t just going through the motions; they’re obviously having a good time, and they sound fantastic.”
For Sketch, the annual performance is bittersweet in that she knows this is the end for another eighth-grade class that she’s grown close to. More than 20 students in the eighth grade class first performed in an ACDS play when they were only three years old.
“This annual show has become a strong tradition at our school,” she said. “By the time the kids are in eighth grade, they’re not only actors, they’re writers, directors and mentors to the younger kids. I miss every class when they graduate, and this class will be no different.”