Aspen Fringe Festival producing two nights of live dance and theater
IF YOU GO …
What: FallFest 2020, presented by Aspen Fringe Festival
Where: Aspen District Theatre
When: Friday, Sept. 25 & Saturday, Sept. 26, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: Sold out
More info: aspenfringefestival.org
It didn’t take long after the cancellation of the annual Aspen Fringe Festival in June for the creative team behind it to start making new dance and theater for their audience.
The festival, focusing on new work and hosting playwrights in residence annually, has frequently responded to and delivered cultural news over the past 12 years — challenging audiences in recent festivals with work on toxic masculinity and the alt-right (“Angry Alan”) and #MeToo (“A Doll’s House, Part Two”) and the Trump presidency (“The Trump Card”) along with workshopping the latest plays by some of the best living playwrights.
So, of course, when the novel coronavirus hit, the actor and Fringe founder David Ledingham and his partner and choreographer Adrianna Thompson soon got to work responding to this jarring historic moment.
During the springtime lockdown, Thompson — who also founded the San Francisco-based Soulskin Dance — became acquainted with two New York-based dancers, furloughed from their companies and spending their quarantine in Snowmass Village. Thompson was soon setting a new piece on the dancers, Giacomo Bavutti and Sammy Altenau, of Martha Graham 2 and Carolyn Dorfmann Dance, and working in a socially distanced setting to make “Closer,” a work about the struggle for connection during the pandemic.
An excerpt of the piece premiered last weekend in an outdoor performance at The Collective in Snowmass Base Village. It will debut in full Sept. 25 and 26 during a two-night Fringe presentation, dubbed FallFest, that also includes new short plays and multimedia performance at the Aspen District Theatre.
“We all just agreed we didn’t want to go a whole year without doing something,” Ledingham explained last week on the porch of the Snow Queen Lodge.
He said that as “Closer” progressed, the momentum for a fall production built. He reached out to the stable of playwrights who the festival has hosted for residencies and workshops, asking if they would contribute a monologue or short piece responding to the COVID-19 experience in the U.S.
“I just said, ‘Write something that inspires you about this time,’” Ledingham recalled.
Three playwrights contributed a diverse trio of short drama and comedy.
Simon Stephens, the Tony-winning writer of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” who was scheduled to workshop a new play here in June, recorded a monologue of his own. The recording will play as a masked, silent actor performs it onstage to the recording.
John Kolvenbach, the 2013 playwright-in-residence of “Love Song” and “Bank Job” fame, wrote a two-hander that imagines a woman living through the influenza pandemic of 1918 corresponding with a man living through the 2020 coronoavirus pandemic.
“It examines how alienating this unknown of not being able to see each other in person can be,” Ledingham said.
The third theatrical piece, from “Stupid Kid” and “The Other Place” playwright Sharr White, imagines a waitress stepping out for a cigarette break and wondering how her life may have been altered if global events had played out differently.
The Fringe team felt it a creative duty to put our collective trauma and the pandemic experience onstage.
“We wanted to talk about this need for relationship in the time of isolation,” Ledingham said. “It’s this weird time in a world that’s already isolated, with everyone staring at their phones. I thought, ‘This is really important.’”
Like most people, Ledingham has been challenged by the past six months. His mother, Norma Dolle, the 94-year-old matriarch of the Snow Queen, died in May. The small lodge was “financially devastated” by the shutdown. Still, manifesting a Fringe event for the fall and creating new work, he felt, was vital.
“We wanted to do something that embraced what we’ve all been going through for these six months, but that’s not just a downer,” he said.
Ledingham and Thompson’s son, Aidan, had been set to begin studying theater this fall at Pace University in New York, but is now studying remotely from home. He will perform in Kolvenbach’s play, opposite Julia Foran. Aspen theater stalwart Eileen Seeley will perform the Sharr White piece.
The evening will also include a multimedia presentation of Italian Guest Choreographer Annarita Rinconi’s new work L’Amore Vertical. Bavutti and Altenau will perform the dance live onstage as the accompanying film plays.
This two-night FallFest is among just a handful of live performances in the Aspen area since the onset of the pandemic. In keeping with public health guidelines, the audience will be limited to 50 people and masks will be required. Originally planned as a one-night event, FallFest quickly sold out, prompting the addition of a second show (also now sold out).
Ledingham said the night will include elements previewing the 2021 festival at the Wheeler Opera House, which will include a workshop production of a new work by Stephens and dance performances by Soulskin Dance and a guest company.