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Challenging summer season on bill for Theatre in the Park

Stewart Oksenhorn

In her two-plus years as executive director of Aspen Theatre in the Park, Tammie Dauson has seen her primary job as putting TIP on steady financial ground.

In this, she has succeeded. With Dauson at the helm, TIP has both expanded its programming and raised attendance at its summerlong season of rotating repertoire. While the national average for theaters is around 70 percent of capacity, Dauson reports having sold 85 percent of available tickets last summer. She also says the nonprofit organization is on steady financial ground.

A large part of the success has stemmed from the programming selection. Dauson and the TIP selection committee have focused on plays with wide appeal – light musicals, broad comedies, and works by playwrights, like Neil Simon, with vast name name recognition.

This coming summer, however, TIP is taking a further step into the artistry of theater. Theatergoers who attend TIP’s intimate tent in Rio Grande Park will feast on a program that includes Steve Martin’s acclaimed social comedy “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” Stephen Sondheim’s “Side by Side by Sondheim,” and Shakespeare’s comedy “Much Ado About Nothing,” which Dauson believes will be the first ever theater presentation of Shakespeare in the valley.

“In terms of the choice of the season, it’s more serious and challenging,” said Dauson. “We’re definitely looking to up the stakes of what we’re producing.

“Some people have said we’ve been very commercial, and we have been. We’ve had to become a fiscally strong theater before we took on the risk of Shakespeare and even Sondheim.”

Shakespeare is a risk Dauson cannot wait to take.

“That’s one of the greatest steps we could be taking,” said Dauson, adding that Steve Cardamone, who has directed at Shakespeare festivals in Colorado, Texas and Oregon, will direct “Much Ado About Nothing.” “We’ve always wanted to do classical works. We won’t do Shakespeare every year, but it’s a great start,” she said.

“Side by Side by Sondheim,” a musical revue that includes narration on the life and work of the composer, is also a step up on the artistic scale from recent TIP musicals productions like “Forever Plaid” and “Pump Boys and Dinettes.”

“Sondheim is like a god to so many musicians and singers,” said Dauson. “The way he writes music is so unexpected and so different.”

And for TIP, Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” is a plum. TIP attempted to produce the play last year, but lost out to a regional touring company that had already been selected to perform the comedy. TIP persevered, and was able to get the play for the upcoming summer; after TIP secured the rights, the Denver Center Theatre Company decided it would revive it this summer after an initial run in November. The play, which premiered in 1993 in Chicago, has had excellent reviews and, with comedian Steve Martin, great name recognition.

“It’s extremely intelligent and funny,” said Dauson. “It says something about our times, our era, even though it’s about Picasso and Einstein meeting at a bar in 1904 in Paris.”

As it did last year, TIP will also present a children-oriented play, “The Unwicked Witch.”

Dauson does not have to look far to find solid evidence that TIP is standing on firm ground. The entire design team from last year – scenic designer Greg Stevens, costume designer Patricia Whitelock, lighting designer Bill VanDeest, lighting and properties designer Carol Wisner and sound designer Steve Skinner – are all returning for another season.

Two recent TIP directors are also signed up for this summer: Michael Monroney, who directed a superb production of Simon’s “Jake’s Women” last year, will direct “Side by Side by Sondheim,” and Mark Wells, who directed “The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged)” in 1997, will direct “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.” Bob Finnie, musical director of last year’s “Forever Plaid,” will serve as musical director for “Side by Side by Sondheim.” And Dauson expects that when actors’ auditions are held next month, she will see a lot of familiar faces.

TIP’s season will open June 27 and run through Aug. 28, with nightly performances of rotating repertoire. There will also be two to three matinees per week.

Actors’ auditions will be held Feb. 20-21. In addition, the TIP fund-raiser, the Lovers’ Ball, will be held on Feb. 13 at Bumps Restaurant.

For further information on auditions or the Lovers’ Ball, call 925-9313.


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