Double duty for Ethan Griggs
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” Ethan Griggs, a 13-year-old Glenwood Springs resident and a seventh-grader at the Carbondale Community School, isn’t ready to give up either of his true loves yet.
So on Saturday, his itinerary has him playing solo rock ‘n’ roll, at 12:12 p.m., at the Battle of the Bands in Basalt, where he will defend his title of Judge’s Choice, which he won last year. He will then be whisked to the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen, where, at 1 p.m., he begins the arduous task of getting into costume for the latest role in his musical theater career. At 2 p.m., curtains rise on the latest presentation from Gottlieb Bartley Productions, “Beauty and the Beast,” with Griggs in the male lead role, as the Beast.
All this moving around is a microcosm of what Griggs might face in the near future. He says there is a 90 percent likelihood that his family will relocate to the Denver area in time for him to attend eighth grade in the theater department of the Denver School of the Arts.
Saturday’s busy schedule is also an indicator of the pace Griggs has kept up the past few years. Since earning, much to his surprise, the lead role of Baloo the Bear in a 2005 production of “The Jungle Book,” which marked the debut of Gottlieb Bartley Productions, Griggs has racked up a resume that might represent a full career for a Broadway actor. He has been the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz,” the lead character Bobby in the Gershwin’s “Crazy for You,” Captain Hook in “Peter Pan,” Chief Sitting Bull in “Annie Get Your Gun” and, a personal favorite, Tony in “West Side Story.” His summer plans include appearing in yet another Gottlieb Bartley show, “A Chorus Line,” to be staged in July at the Basalt Middle School, and possibly in “Fame,” a production for the company’s younger actors.
Griggs’ connection to music and the theater started when he was 6, with his participation in the Earthbeat Choir, a Carbondale-based youth group. Shortly after, he attended a summer workshop, led by Jayne Gottlieb, at Aspen Theatre in the Park, where he recalls dancing to Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash” with a towel as a prop.
Griggs didn’t concentrate much on music or theater for the next few years. When he received a flyer announcing the launch of Jayne Gottlieb Productions, he had to be pushed into it by his mother, Lisa.
“I wasn’t too excited about it,” he said. “I thought, What if it ends up being boring what if I just don’t like it?” But he auditioned, and that same night, received a call from Gottlieb, who offered him the lead role. That got him excited, and he hasn’t stopped being enthused about theater since. He has appeared in every one of the Gottlieb Bartley Productions ” which grew out of the former Gottlieb Productions, with the addition of Adam Bartley ” except the two that were restricted to the younger kids.
“Hence that show, I think performing is my passion,” said Griggs, who parents are not especially artistic. (Griggs, though, praises his father Glenn’s abilities as a carpenter, saying he takes his trade to an artistic level.) “I don’t think I’d be as happy doing anything else.”
Gottlieb is as high on Griggs’ prospects now as she was three years ago, when she cast him in “The Jungle Book.” “If he sticks with it, he’ll make it wherever he wants to go. No question about it,” she said. “I’m excited for him to be in Denver. He’s ready to be on a bigger level.”
To Gottlieb, Griggs has more than talent. He has also shown a desire to learn and grow. She recalls that, when she first met him, he was “bright-eyed, silly and goofy” ” and a good singer, even at age 6. Now, he’s taken on something of a leadership role: “He’s our go-to guy, in heart, spirit and talent,” added Gottlieb. “He’s grown into being so multi-talented for us.”
Griggs reveals an admirable perspective on the team approach to theater. In last winter’s production of “Singin’ in the Rain,” he had a chorus role. He embraced it as a way to learn another aspect of theater to learn and enjoy.
“The chorus is another great, great part of musical theater,” he said. “You’re still part of the team, you’re smiling, dancing with your peers.
“Getting the lead role ” that’s what motivates most people. But I’m happy being in the show, meeting new people, being with my peers.”
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Two years ago, Griggs was messing around on an old kids’ version of a Casio keyboard that was laying around his house. “I was screwing around on it,” he said. And I thought it would be cool to learn, so I told my mom I thought I was ready. She said she’d get me some lessons.”
Even with that level of self-motivation, Griggs is surprised by how he has taken to music. “It just came to me. I don’t know how,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d love it as much as I do. I didn’t think I’d be as committed as I am.”
At last year’s Basalt Battle of the Bands, Griggs took the Judge’s Choice Award, performing solo versions of songs by Coldplay and The Fray on keyboard. More recently, he has taken up guitar, and begun writing his own songs in the alternative-rock vein he favors. A few weeks ago, warming up the crowd at Zele Cafe for a poetry reading night, Griggs displayed an impressive handle on keyboard and vocals.
This year’s Battle of the Bands, featuring 30 acts over six hours in Basalt’s Lions Park, will feature Griggs playing another Coldplay song, “Shiver”; Foo Fighters’ “Everlong”; and an original tune, “The Ballad of a Loner.”
Despite having more experience in theater, Griggs has his eye, for the moment, more on the music path.
“Mainly, I want to be a musician. With a little acting on the side,” he said. “Because I love both.”