Young playwrights in the spotlight at Theater Masters’ Take Ten

Director Lee Casper of Take Ten’s 2017 production gives instruction at a rehearsal Wednesday night to theatrical staff, Talulah Marolt, left, Franz Alderfer, and Izzi Rojo. The annual festival, now celebrating its 11th year in Aspen, returns to the Black Box Theatre at Aspen High School Feb. 5-7.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

If You Go …

What: Take Ten Festival, presented by Theater Masters

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

Where: Black Box Theatre

How much: $25; $12/students



What: ‘The Art of Negotiation: Can Theater Help Bridge the Divide in Our Country?’

When: Saturday, Feb. 4, 5 p.m.

Where: Koch Building, Aspen Institute

How much: Free

More info: Panelists include Andrew Leynse, Abe Koogler and the playwrights from the 2017 National MFA Playwright Competition

The next generation of dramatists is taking over the Black Box for Theater Masters’ annual “Take Ten” festival.

The three-night event, now in its 11th year, presents 10-minue plays by graduate students from schools around the U.S., whose work has been selected in a national competition.

These very short and very new plays by talented young playwrights, almost inevitably, tap into the zeitgeist and the collective American psyche. They’re always eclectic in genre, tone, setting and style — running the gamut from tragedy to farce and science fiction. But themes tend to emerge. This year, unsurprisingly, tumult and division are cropping up a lot.

“There’s a lot of isolation in these plays,” said Lee Kasper, a New York-based theater director helming three works in the festival. “Forcing people into a room together to have a conversation, putting people into uncomfortable situations and finding a way out of them.”

Other “Take Ten” plays show people in prisons (both physical and metaphysical) and struggling with change.

Along with the three-night run of the short plays, the festival is hosting a panel discussion at the Aspen Institute on Saturday. Featuring the eight winning MFA playwrights, Primary Stages Theater artistic director Andrew Leynse and Take Ten alumnus Abe Koogler — whose “Kill Floor” recently had an acclaimed run at Lincoln Center — the panel will explore the question, “Can theater help bridge the divide in our country?”

Along with holding up a mirror to our troubled society, the Theater Masters artistic team said the works in this year’s festival underscore the vital importance of storytelling itself, and the instinctual need for narrative.

“At the end of the day, if the world does blow up, what do we have? We have a fireplace and stories to tell,” said Melissa Annis, co-artistic director at Theater Masters.

After the Aspen productions (running Sunay through Tuesday), the writers revise and refine their works, which are staged a second time in a spring showcase in New York (May 2 to 6).

This year’s plays come from playwriting students at Arizona State University, Brown, Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern, NYU, UCLA and UCSD. The eight plays by MFA students are complemented by two from a local high school contest. This year’s winning locals are Zamira Mullally and Genevieve LaMee, both of Glenwood Springs High School.

All 10 plays will be brought to life by a cast of 23 local actors — ranging from high schoolers to community theater veterans.

The eight winning playwrights, three guest directors and the Theater Masters team arrived in Aspen last weekend. They quite literally got right to work on putting up the plays, going directly to the theater from the airport.

They’ve been in rehearsals all week. But the most vital part of the creative process for Take Ten begins on opening night.

“I like to think of audiences as the final member of the cast,” Kasper said, “because when you introduce them, the dynamic of the play changes.”

Getting a play produced for a live audience is a rare opportunity for playwriting students, most of whom have never seen one of their plays onstage.

“Here you get a real production with a really engaged audience in Aspen, and you learn so much about it by seeing it,” said guest director Daisy Walker. “And then you have the chance to work on it again and see it in front of another audience.”

The cast and crew (and audiences) for “Take Ten” give these short plays the kind of attention rarely afforded to a 10-minute piece. It’s a creative crucible, from which playwrights discover the meticulous attention to detail they must show every moment of every scene in a full-length play.

“You learn an enormous amount from so much conversation and work on something that’s so small,” Walker said.

Two years ago, Samuel French began publishing the grad students’ “Take Ten” plays, which has led to productions around the U.S. and given them an extended life. This year, in a first for Theater Masters, they’ve also recorded podcast versions of the two winning high school plays and three runners-up, representing each of the Roaring Fork Valley’s public high schools. Those will be available online at and