Locals turn storytellers on Theatre Aspen stage | AspenTimes.com

Locals turn storytellers on Theatre Aspen stage

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – As a former A/V guy, Barry Smith has no problem with high-tech. And as a performer whose one-person shows are built around reasonably sophisticated Power Point presentations, Smith has not shied away from bringing technology to the stage.

But Smith also sees the beauty of low-tech, or even no-tech. Last summer, the Aspenite (and Aspen Times columnist) produced and participated in “What’s Your Story?” – an evening of storytelling that featured essentially one piece of equipment, a microphone. That stripped-down-to-nothing format, he said, was the key to having a sold-out event, and a buzz that lasted a few weeks afterward. (Disclosure having to do with journalistic ethics, not boastfulness: I was among the performers in last year’s show.)

“There’s something just so beautifully simple about the event. There’s no performing. It’s not, ‘Oh wow, how do they do that?'” Smith said. “In the 15 years I’ve been doing stuff in the valley, that has gotten the most attention and comment. Because storytelling is the basic of all art and connection. And it didn’t hurt that all the storytellers were awesome.”

Because the list of potential storytellers he compiled was longer than the number of slots in the show, Smith began planning the second presentation literally before the first one was even finished. “What’s Your Story? – The Sequel” is set for Sunday, July 18, as part of Theatre Aspen’s Sunday Series. The lineup again comprises local residents who people may know, or know of – and are about to get to know a little better: entrepreneur Lo Semple, Aspen Choral Society director/conductor/composer Ray Adams, Grassroots TV executive director John Masters, mom/former journalist Naomi Havlen, Aspen Times columnist/sales rep Su Lum, Aspen Public Radio news reporter Mitzi Rapkin, and Smith himself. This year’s roster, Smith said, focused on people who were not generally seen on stage.

The storytellers are under orders not to reveal what their tales – true stories told without notes – will be about. A look at the stories told last year – a mountain biking misadventure, a sheriff’s childhood as a Boston hoodlum, a poignant tale about a father at war, a hippie in the Deep South crapping his pants during a puppet theater performance – suggests the range of stories out there, and gives not a clue what this year’s might be.

Smith said that even more than the bare-bones nature of the presentation, the audience last year appreciated the community aspect of “What’s Your Story?” Not only was it all local residents on stage, it was as if a community identity were being created through the sharing of stories and the revelation of personalities.

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“You hear people say Aspen used to be so much cooler, so much more a community,” said Smith (who doesn’t hesitate to note that the idea for “What’s Your Story?” was lifted from a storytelling event in New York known as “The Moth.”) “And I say that night proves that still exists here.

“As a community, we have shared stories. We know the stories of our friends; we know the stories that make the headlines. This is adding stories to that pool. It’s people you know and here they are, telling you something about themselves, something personal – funny, tragic or otherwise.”

stewart@aspentimes.com