‘Take Ten’ showcases short plays from new voices in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

‘Take Ten’ showcases short plays from new voices in Aspen

Six of the newest voices in American theater are taking over the Black Box Theatre in Aspen this weekend as the annual "Take Ten" festival returns.

The annual festival selects 10-minute plays from graduate students, stages them here for three nights with local casts and professional directors, then brings them to New York for a spring showcase.

This year's festival is the first with new executive artistic director Daisy Walker at the helm. She took over the nonprofit — founded by Aspen's Julia Hansen — following the one-season tenure of director Joseph Ward.

But Walker is no stranger to "Take Ten." She directed plays at the festival in 2014 and 2017.

"I just fell in love with the program," Walker said in December during auditions at the Pitkin County Library. "I love the involvement in the community here and I love doing new plays. That combination is perfect."

The crop of local actors who make up the cast for the local production bring a rare energy to the stage, she said, noting that most are not full-time actors and infuse rich life experiences into the work.

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"They bring such a great energy to the plays that I'd never seen in New York," she said of her local actors.

Walker also has been heartened by Aspen's supportive theater-goers. In 2017, the first night of the festival fell on Super Bowl Sunday — as it does this year — and the Broncos were in the game. Still, local theater fans filled the Black Box.

"I said, 'Wow, that is a great audience,'" Walker recalled.

This year's six featured playwrights come from the University of California San Diego, Northwestern University, the Iowa Playwright's Workshop and New York University. The grad students' plays include a futuristic relationship story imagining a world where your grandparents could have met on Tinder, one about police racially profiling African-American drivers, one about schoolteachers venting to one another on a smoke break and one about an Iranian-American attempting to connect with her Persian roots.

"I love this group of plays," Walker said, noting that "Take Ten" received a record number of submissions this year.

The evening also includes three works by local high-schoolers: Graham Hazleton of Roaring Fork High School, Zoe Stelzriede of Glenwood Springs High School and Morgan Witt of Aspen High School.

Unsurprisingly in our heated cultural moment in America, Walker said submissions evidenced young playwrights aiming to tackle hot-button political issues and racism.

"I felt a sense of more political plays, more dealing with racism in this country and immigration," she said.

This year's national adjudicator is the Pulitzer- and Tony-nominated playwright Craig Lucas, whose work on Broadway has included the play "Prelude to a Kiss" and the musical "An American in Paris" and film work as a screenwriter and director.

Lucas will give a free public talk Saturday, with the publisher Samuel French's literary director Amy Rose Marsh, at Explore Booksellers.

Lucas, and the three New York-based guest directors, will be working with the playwrights and local casts to get these new works onstage for the first time.

The format for "Take Ten" has remained largely the same over the past 13 years, but Walker has made one major change for 2019. All of this year's works will be performed as staged readings — with actors reading scripts on music stands — rather than fully produced 10-minute plays with costumes, lighting cues and actors working off-script. She's made the switch in the hopes of giving playwrights more time to work with the actors and tweak their work.

"The playwrights gave us some feedback that they arrive and it's pretty much done and they don't get to make changes," she explained. "So we said, 'OK, let's do staged readings.'"

The scaled-down productions also gave Theater Masters the chance to showcase "Take Ten" in multiple venues. The organization will host a night of shows at The Temporary at Willits on Tuesday. The Sunday and Monday showcases are at the Black Box.

Looking ahead, Walker said she and her team are also thinking about giving "Take Ten" an annual theme — prompting playwrights a topical issue, she suggested, such as elder abuse or immigration — to focus their work.

Walker said she also is eyeing an expansion of Theater Masters programming into the summer season in Aspen, both with local high-schoolers and commissioned playwrights.

"One of my goals is to raise the profile of this theater company," she said.

atravers@aspentimes.com

IF YOU GO …

What: Take Ten 2019 Aspen Play Lab, presented by Theater Masters

When: Sunday, Feb. 3 through Tuesday, Feb. 5, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Black Box Theater (Feb. 3 and 4) and The Temporary at Willits (Feb. 5)

How much: $18 ($10/students)

Tickets: theatermasters.org; available at the door 30 minutes prior to show time

What: ‘The Life of a Play’ panel

Who: Craig Lucas and Amy Rose Marsh

Where: Explore Booksellers

When: Saturday, Feb. 2, 4:30-6:30 p.m.

How much: Free

More info: theatermasters.org

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