Big Read in Aspen concludes with Halloween Boo Bash
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – For more than a month, valley readers participating in The Big Read have been discussing, examining, and experiencing in various forms “To Kill a Mockingbird.” In the process, Harper Lee’s classic 1960 story has inspired conversation and reflections on racism and justice, childhood and innocence, tolerance and community, and the virtues and flaws of Atticus Finch, the attorney and father who, as played by Gregory Peck in the 1962 big-screen version, was named by the American Film Institute as the greatest hero in cinema.
Which leaves just one topic of conversation: Halloween.
The Roaring Fork Valley’s version of The Big Read – a program of the National Endowment for the Arts, and spearheaded locally by the Aspen Writers’ Foundation – concludes with the Halloween Boo Bash on Saturday, Oct. 31, at the Red Brick Center for the Arts in Aspen. The all-ages event runs from 3-7 p.m. and is free and open to the public.
After delving into prejudice, fear and the American trial system, Halloween – the holiday of costumes and candy, and, at least in Aspen, one of the year’s biggest party nights – might seem like trivial stuff. But the Pulitzer Prize-winning “To Kill a Mockingbird,” while it penetrates into some of society’s most significant issues, is also, in part, a Halloween story.
The climactic final scene takes place on Halloween – timing which is no coincidence. It is an episode of “haints,” fear and hidden identities. It is also the scene which contains the most overt bit of humor in a story not packed with belly laughs: Eight-year-old Scout Finch, dressed as a cured ham – “a ham with legs,” as her brother Jem observes, with glistening streaks of fat, and set to respond to the call of “Pork” at the Halloween pageant – is laugh-out-loud funny.
The Halloweenish atmosphere is not limited to the final scene. The Radley place, just down the street from the Finch’s, might as well be a haunted house – an element which is played up to the hilt in the film, with the frequent shots of an empty rocking chair creaking on the old, dark, broken-down porch. And the mysterious Arthur “Boo” Radley is as much ghost as human.
For the Aspen Writers’ Foundation, Halloween holds a place of prominence in their list of Big Read activities. “We actually wrote it into our proposal,” Lisa Consiglio, the executive director of the Writers’ Foundation, said of the earliest planning stages for The Big Read. “A Halloween event in honor of Boo Radley, with a pageant type of feel.”
Whether anyone was going to honor Scout by dressing as a slab of cooked pig was up in the air. Aside from that, the Boo Bash, presented with the Red Brick Center for the Arts, covers most every base. There may not be ham, but there will be food – meals provided by the Cantina, as well as pies that are entered in a pie-baking contest sponsored by EdibleAspen magazine. Naturally, there will be “tons of candy,” promises Consiglio.
There will be plenty of “To Kill a Mockingbird”-related treats: The Hudson Reed Ensemble theater troupe will reenact the pivotal courtroom scene, while the film, which earned three Academy Awards, will play in a continuous loop. The Wyly Community Art Center will have a make-your-own-treasure-box room, with the boxes based on the items of treasure found by Scout and Jem. A scavenger hunt will include clues based around the novel. And in the Adult Spook Lounge, the featured beverage is the Tequila Mockingbird (which has an eerie resemblance to a Tequila sunrise).
Other activities have more to do with modern-day Halloween than the Halloween celebrated in the tiny Alabama town of Maycomb in 1936, the setting of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” There will be balloon artists, face-painters, clowns, psychic readings, costumes for borrowing and sack races. A dunk tank will feature local celebs including Olympic snowboarder Chris Klug. Spellbinders will tell stories for children. The Red Brick will be decorated with signs made by students from Carbondale’s Roaring Fork High School, while a pumpkin display was being created by students at the Colorado Rocky Mountain School. A centerpiece of the Boo Bash is the Haunted House set up by students from Aspen High School.
Leading up to the Boo Bash, the local celebration of The Big Read has included a full-length stage version of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” screenings of the film, a serial radio drama, a church service addressing issues raised by the novel, a mock trial and a slew of book discussions. Consiglio is satisfied that the breadth and extent of events has saturated the community.
“I’ve rarely run into people who don’t know about the program,” she said. That has translated into achieving the ultimate goal – getting people to read, and talk about, an essential piece of literature. Last week, at St. Stephen’s Hispanic Ministry in Glenwood Springs, Consiglio saw some 350 copies of a Spanish-language translation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” snapped up.
“I like to hear people say, ‘I’ve seen the movie, I’ve seen the play – now it’s time to read the book.’ Or they say, ‘I’ve never seen the movie. I’m popping it into my Netflix line.’ Or ‘I haven’t read that in years; I’m going to go back and read it again,'” Consiglio said. “It’s a multi-dimensional buzz.”
But that buzz is having its after-effects. Consiglio, for one, is having a bout of literary postpartum blues.
“It’s been hard for me to go on to another book,” she said. “I was so into reading it. I wholly wrapped my mind around every character and every word. The day after I finished ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ I picked up three books and I had to put them all down. [Harper Lee] was just too good.”
Casey Altman is not a big Halloween person. She doesn’t watch scary movies, shies away from all things horror-related. But when she was asked by Jordan Dann, the education programs coordinator for the Aspen Writers’ Foundation, to lead a team in creating a haunted house, Altman jumped in.
The Aspen High School senior recruited 20 fellow Aspen High students, and began researching haunted houses. She even consulted with someone who makes haunted houses for a living, to come up with ideas for materials, layout and themes.
The result is something that would have Altman herself running for the hills. The haunted house she and her team created, for the Halloween Boo Bash at the Red Brick Center for the Arts, features several rooms tricked out with skeletons, tombstones, warnings, shifting floors, smoke, music – and numerous surprises.
Fortunately for Altman, her crew included her classmate Mamie Brown, who embraces all things that go bump in the night.
“I love Halloween. I think it’s the greatest,” she said.
Brown was given the task of creating a movie-themed room for the haunted house, and the native Texan naturally gravitated toward the 1974 splatter classic, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” “Welcome to Texas” reads the lettering on the walls of the room Brown fashioned at the haunted house.
Creating the haunted house hasn’t made Altman any fonder of graveyards, axe-wielding maniacs, blood or the “Saw” series of movies. But being on the outside of the process wasn’t so bad.
“I don’t even like haunted houses,” she said. “But setting it up isn’t so scary.”
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The coronavirus pandemic provided an unlikely springboard for the Aspen Brain Institute’s programs, allowing them to go virtual and global and sustain a large audience outside of its Aspen bubble.