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Annual community school musical could be swan song

Jennifer Davoren

For 29 years, the students of the Aspen Community School have put their time and creativity into the production of their much-anticipated annual musical.

For 22 of those years, drama teacher Rett Harper has been at the helm of the production as director and part-time playwright.

However, Harper said this year’s musical might put an end to the tradition as she leaves her position with the community school.

“It may be just a sabbatical, or it may be my swan song,” she said.

Harper isn’t the only one ready to move on. The production’s lyricist, Polly Whitcomb, producer Patti Stranahan and art director Deb Jones are also preparing to leave for other projects. The four women all have different reasons for semi-retirement, but Harper said she’s just ready for a rest.

“For me, it’s the first time in 25 years I won’t have children at home. I’m looking for other input in my life,” she said.

Harper’s last collaboration with the community school will come this weekend as the ACS brings its latest effort, the original musical “Yesterday and Today,” to the Wheeler Opera House stage at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

The production will explore Aspen’s history while borrowing from popular children’s stories, Harper said. Sleeping Beauty and Rip Van Winkle, reincarnated as an 1890s silver baron’s daughter and a 1970s Lenado logger, become key characters when they wake from their extended naps to find Aspen as it is today.

“It’s basically a brief history spanning 100 years of the Roaring Fork Valley, starting with the Utes and the treaties that pushed them from the area and moving up to the 1890s,” Harper said. “We also talk about the history of the Quiet Years, the Aspen Institute and the rejuvenation of skiing.”

Each production becomes a part of class curriculum for ACS students as the kids apply classwork to the stage.

“They’ve read a couple of historical novels and studied the Utes,” Harper said. “They’ve talked about sawmills and seen pictures of how people worked at that time.”

More than 100 children, from preschool through eighth grade, have participated in the event, tackling everything from costumes and sets to the original music. The students serve as inspiration when Harper pens her scripts, she said.

“They have had an input in some of the lyrics and some of the scenes through improvisations,” Harper said.

Watching the students during the musical’s final performance is another chance at inspiration, Harper said.

“The thing that’s wonderful is watching the kids perform at 100 percent and watching them take that leap,” she said. “It’s a great safe way to take an extreme risk.

“I love watching each and every kid find his or her spark.”

Tickets for Aspen Community School’s 29th annual musical “Yesterday and Today” are on sale for $15 for adults and $7.50 for children 12 years and under.

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