Take Ten festival brings theater director Joanie Schultz home to Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Take Ten festival brings theater director Joanie Schultz home to Aspen

A creative spark from her childhood and teen years onstage in Aspen led Joanie Schultz to a career in theater. She has directed shows with prestigious companies like Steppenwolf in Chicago and, last year, took a role as artistic director of WaterTower Theatre in Dallas.

That work has brought Schultz back home to Aspen, where she is directing three short plays at Theatre Masters' Take Ten festival, which opens Sunday at the Black Box Theatre.

"I've wanted to come back and work here for a really long time," Schultz said Monday between rehearsals.

Schultz's family moved here from Ohio in 1984, when she was six years old. Her first theater experience came a few years later, performing in a community production of "A Christmas Carol" at the Wheeler Opera House. Schultz recalled that she'd tagged along to the auditions because her older sister was trying out for a role.

"My parents made her take me along because she was supposed to be looking after me that day," she said. "I just fell in love with theater instantly."

Schultz became a regular on local stages through high school. She points to formative experiences including acting in a professional production of the musical "Lady Lu" — her first paying theater gig — when she was in middle school, and working alongside performers from the Crystal Palace in community theater productions and in Aspen High shows

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"Really it was Aspen High School drama," she said. "That's what solidified that this was what I wanted to do with my life."

She also got her first taste of directing theater while she was still in high school, helming Neil Simon's "Star-Spangled Girl" during a festival of student-directed one-act plays on the big stage at the District Theatre.

After graduation in 1996, Schultz went to Columbia College in Chicago to study acting, but soon switched to directing. She founded a small theater company in Chicago as soon as she graduated and started landing gigs, then went to graduate school at Northwestern University. Before taking her current job in Dallas last year, Schultz worked as a freelance director on production in Chicago and around the U.S.

At Take Ten, which showcases 10-minute plays by writers in master's programs and by two local high schoolers, two of the works Schultz is directing come from students at her alma maters.

Schultz is doing "Purging the Purger" by Aspen High School student Joseph Wolfer Jenkins. She describes it as a Monty Python-esque send-up of Stalinism.

"It's really smart, it's really absurd and very funny," she said.

She's also working on "First Contact" by Northwestern MFA candidate Liam Fitzgerald, about a pair of friends looking for UFOs in the sky, and "Slap," by Iowa Playwrights Workshop student Aja Nisenson, a comedy about a mom with a lumpy botox-swollen face and the daughter who punches her to even the swelling.

Along with working on the plays, she said, she's gotten to spend time with her parents and introduced her Take Ten cohort to her hometown.

"You don't often get to spend a lot of time with other directors out in the world, so it's nice to do a festival like this where you can spend time with those folks," she said.

Growing up in Aspen and in Emma, and studying in Aspen's public schools, Schultz said, gave her a unique perspective and a bit of useful grit.

"There's something about being around this much beauty that shapes you in a certain way," she said. "I don't know how that manifests tangibly, but I know that has a lot to do with who I am."

Going to school here, where school outdoor education programs sent her into the backcountry, pushed her in ways that other places probably wouldn't have.

"I think that really shaped me, to learn how to do things that were hard and that stretched me," Schultz said.

Now in its 12th year, "Take Ten" will run at the Black Box from today through Tuesday. The festival is bringing Pulitzer Prize-winning "Proof" author David Auburn to town for the festival, along with student playwrights and professional directors. The pieces will be performed by a cast of 23 local actors.

After the Aspen run, the grad student plays will be staged in April at a showcase in New York for a crowd of agents, producers, managers, directors, literary managers, officials from professional guilds and New York theater companies. It's a rare launch pad for new voices in theater. Theater Masters artistic director Joseph Ward has described it as "an on-ramp to the professional community." For Joanie Schultz, it's also a walk down memory lane.

atravers@aspentimes.com

IF YOU GO …

What: Take Ten, presented by Theater Masters

Where: Black Box Theater

When: Sunday, Feb. 11 through Tuesday, Feb. 13, 7:30 p.m.

How much: $12-$25

Tickets: http://www.theatermasters.org

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