Theatre Aspen’s new Solo Flights festival spotlights one-person-shows

Shannon Asher
Special to The Aspen Times
Beau Bridges
Courtesy photo


What: Solo Flights, presented by Theatre Aspen

When: Wednesday, Sept 18 through Saturday, Sept. 21

Where: Hurst Theatre, Rio Grande Park

How much: $40-$350


More info: In addition to the 11 performances at the Hurst, the festival is hosting two free panel discussions at the Pitkin County Librrary. Actor Beau Bridges will discuss his career in movies and theater on Thursday at 5:45 p.m. and directors Tracy Bridgen, Joe Calarco, Kent Nicholson and Lisa Peterson will discuss theater directing on Friday at 5:45 p.m.

While Aspen’s summer art scene may be winding down, Theatre Aspen is giving visitors and locals a reason to stick around a bit longer.

The inaugural Solo Flights festival features four in-development one-person plays and a series of panel discussions that are free to the public. Performances run Wednesday through Saturday at the Hurst Theatre.

“There is no festival in the United States that focuses on this part of the theatrical world,” said Theatre Aspen producing director Jed Bernstein. “I’m hoping that over time — it’s not going to happen immediately — but over time those theater professionals who are interested in developing new work and in booking new work will start coming to Aspen specifically for this. Then, the avid theatergoers who go to play festivals in various cities or musicals in various cities, will add this to their itineraries.”

One-person shows are a growing part of the theater world. Originally, they mostly consisted of famous people portraying historical figures. For example, Hal Holbrook playing Mark Twain or Julie Harris playing Emily Dickinson

“We still have some of that,” Bernstein said, “but now writers are writing shows with one character. Comedians are doing dramatic pieces, and less stand-up comedy. Billy Crystal’s ‘700 Sundays,’ for example. It’s a category that’s getting more and more attention.”

Solo Flights replaces and re-brands the company’s Aspen Theatre Festival, which ran annually from from 2015 to 2017 at summer’s end. It focused on workshop productions of developing plays and musicals.

With relatively fewer events happening in Aspen this time of year, Bernstein thinks September is the opportune time of year for this festival.

“We think it’s going to catch on and we’re excited for it,” Bernstein said.

Theatre Aspen put out a call for entries almost exactly a year ago and they received 86 submissions, from which they chose four.

“We wanted to make sure there was some variety in terms of the topic and men versus women,” Bernstein said. “We think they’re all interesting in their own way.”

The festival will debut four different one-man shows including: “Coach: An Evening with John Wooden,” “Dr. Glas,” ‘’What We Leave Behind” and “When It’s You.” The shows run between 60 and 80 minutes, all performed without intermission.

The schedule has them playing like a film festival would, all day long. People can see one a day for four days or they can see two and two. The schedule is flexible, Bernstein noted, offering optimal convenience.

“What I say to people is that they will for sure hate one of the four, they will feel good about two of the four and they will love one of the four,” Bernstein said. “Every person will have a different sequence, but that’s how it’s going to break down. I hope people will embrace the idea of sampling — they could see the entire festival in two days if that’s what they wanted to do. There’s lots of choices and I hope people will sample everything.”

Theatre Aspen’s hope is that over time, the festival will attract more and more people from outside Aspen.

“I think that it could be a real value added to the list of the other various iconic events that are on the Aspen calendar every year,” Bernstein said. “I hope that at least one or two of the projects that we do over the next five years will go on to successful and highly visible lives, whether that means Broadway or London or get turned into a film or whatever it might be. I think we have significant talent this year at the director level, writer level and at the acting level.”

Bernstein hopes that audience members will take away a sense of adventure about it all.

“One of our goals is to expand our footprint so we’re not just an end-of-June to the middle-of-August organization, and this is a big step in that direction,” he said.

The festival will ultimately allow the nonprofit organization to expand the kind of work they do. Bernstein suggested that Solo Flights will allow Theatre Aspen to take a little more risk in terms of topics, to be a little more ambitious.

Bernstein is striving to make this week as festival-like as possible, meaning there will be offstage events as well as the four main shows. There are two events open to the general public including an interview with Beau Bridges, who stars in “Coach,” as well a panel discussion with the directors.