Aspen Times Weekly: Story Time |

Aspen Times Weekly: Story Time

by Andrew Travers
The 1977 Aspen Community Theatre production of "Fiddler on the Roof."
Aspen Times file |

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Just before Mike Monroney went on stage as Harold Hill on opening night of Aspen Community Theatre’s 2009 production of “The Music Man,” his father died. Over the next two weeks, Monroney played the iconic con man and sang “(Ya Got) Trouble” and helped carry the show in honor of his dad.

“I had to come to terms with a way to internalize that which would allow me to continue to produce this show for the next two weeks,” Monroney recalls. “In some ways, it was easy because my father was a music educator and a jazz musician. He was my ‘music man.’”

Monroney’s experience of grief meeting art and community is one of the countless stories to emerge from Aspen Community Theatre since its founding in 1976. As the troupe celebrates its 40th anniversary, it is collecting stories about the lives touched by its shows. Monroney and music director David Dyer are aiming to weave those memories into an original anniversary show for the fall.

“We know people have met and married during the shows, they’ve had calamities, they’ve lost people, they’ve gained people,” Monroney says. “I want to know two things: one, what happened to you that was meaningful? And two, what did you see that amazed you?”

In March, the organization began soliciting stories through social media. They want to hear from audience members as well as those who have put on the shows, and they want to hear both the good and the bad (the working title for the show is “40 Years of Laughter and Tears”).

The idea is for Monroney and Dyer to put together a production stringing together 15 short stories about Aspen Community Theatre with 15 memorable musical numbers from past shows. It won’t be a chronological retrospective, but a portrait of what Aspen Community Theatre means to Aspen.

“I want to weave it into an emotional narrative,” explains Monroney.

And now, he and Aspen Community Theatre are on the hunt for stories, and trying to get beyond superficial memories into something more substantial.

“We’re struggling to get people to open up and dig in,” he says.

Ten years ago, for the 30th anniversary, the troupe restaged scenes and songs from over the years in a massive production.

“It was almost too much,” says Monroney. “It was fun, it was exciting, but it didn’t necessarily celebrate the sprit of why we do what we do.”

He wanted to try something different. The cultural boom of storytelling – in local events like Justice Snow’s Writ Large series and national phenomena like “The Moth” – offered Monroney a new way of thinking about commemorating four decades of community theater in Aspen. As a regular Writ Large contributor and through his work as a history coach at the Aspen Historical Society, Monroney has immersed himself in different ways of telling stories in recent years.

“It’s fascinating and it’s wonderful,” he says. “The thing that’s surprising to a lot of people its that they have something to say. Everyone has a story – and I know this sounds schmaltzy – that is connected to their heart.”

So he and Dyer convinced Aspen Community Theatre producer Rita Hunter to let them anchor the anniversary show with people telling their own stories from over the years.

“I said, ‘Why not let people create it?’” he recalls. “It’s risky. It’s taking a chance. But let’s solicit every person who has ever been in a show, watched a show, helped produce, been on the technical side – any level of involvement – and let’s find out how it affected them.”

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