Aspenite’s ‘The Agent’ comes to Theatre Fest
The Aspen Times
If You Go …
What: ‘The Agent’ staged reading, presented by Theatre Aspen
Where: Aspen Theatre Fest, Hurst Theatre, Rio Grande Park
When: Tuesday, Aug. 25, 7 p.m.
How much: $20
One horrible boss brings two Hollywood dreamers together in Aspenite Scott Martin’s new play “The Agent,” which gets its first staged reading tonight at the Aspen Theatre Fest.
The two-character comedy stars Allen E. Read (seen earlier this summer in Theater Aspen’s “Cabaret” and “Peter and the Starcatcher”) and Amanda Paige (from “Cabaret” and “Junie B. Jones the Musical”). Read plays an assistant to a powerful and nasty A-list Hollywood agent (who is heard from offstage but never seen). Paige plays an aspiring actress calling the office and hoping, futilely, to get the agent on the phone. Over the course of their conversations, the pair forms a relationship.
Martin, an executive vice president at Paramount Pictures who has been based in Aspen for two decades, had written screenplays before but never a script for the stage. In a conversation last year, a Broadway producer complained to him that there are no good two-actor, no-set plays being written today. Martin wanted to see if he could pull one off.
He finished a draft of his script last fall, and it found its way into the hands of Theatre Aspen Artistic Director Paige Price, who was on the hunt for new material for the first annual Aspen Theatre Fest. She passed it on to Aspenite and famed television director Jay Sandrich.
“Between the two of them, they decided to make it part of this festival,” Martin said Monday morning in his home office.
The story of “The Agent” was inspired by Martin’s own assistants over his nearly 25 years at Paramount (though Martin said he is a much nicer boss than the one in the play, of course). They’ve been aspiring actors and comedians, aiming for a big break while working on the studio lot and taking time off for auditions and shoots. But none have yet made it in the industry.
“They’ve all had happy endings, but none of them have had career happy endings,” Martin said.
Despite the industry setting, Martin hopes the play will resonate with audiences outside of the movie-business bubble.
“This isn’t as much about Hollywood as it’s about having an impossible boss and doing a job that isn’t your dream job,” he said. “I think people are going to see themselves in it.”
Earlier this month, actors performed an excerpt from “The Agent” at Theatre Aspen’s annual Scene Day. Over the past few days, the cast and Sandrich — who Martin first met on the set of “The Cosby Show” in the late 1980s — have done readthroughs and rehearsals. Hearing his words performed by actors has helped shape Martin’s revision process.
“When you hear it, it’s like when you hear your own voice on a recording,” he said. “It doesn’t sound natural. Then there were a bunch of places where Jay thought something wasn’t necessary or could be moved because the beats weren’t right.”
Today’s reading will be the first time Martin sees the play with an audience. Their reactions are likely to spawn another round of rewrites. Martin is hopeful that the play will have a life onstage beyond the festival. But for now, he’s enjoying seeing it come to life for the first time.
“To me it’s very cool to have the first play I’ve ever written directed by Jay Sandrich, being performed by Equity professional actors,” he said. “Nobody gets that with their first play. So even if that’s where it ends, it’s been unbelievably cool.”
The show is one of two staged readings this week at the first annual Aspen Theatre Fest. The new musical “Finn the Fearless” runs Friday. Both productions have been in workshops over the past week at the festival, which aims to incubate new work for the stage. The festival caps an extended 10-week Theatre Aspen season, which this year includes four shows performed in repertory.
Fostering new voices and productions is now a cornerstone of Theatre Aspen’s mission, according to Price, and was a prominent part of a new strategic plan adopted by the nonprofit last year.
“The way to stay relevant and attract talent is to do new work and encourage emerging artists,” she said.