Review: The stories Aspenites tell |

Review: The stories Aspenites tell

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – If, as has often been suggested and was repeated Sunday night at the Theatre Aspen tent, a community is built on the stories it accumulates, Aspen might be in trouble.

The portrait that came together over the course of the storytelling event “What’s Your Story?” – seven tales all told without notes, props or staging – is of a drug-loving collection of media people. Talk about reinforcing the legend.

There were drug tales aplenty (although it should be noted that most of the contraband-related episodes took place long ago and far away): piles of cocaine on the tour bus of a heavy metal band; mushrooms driven into California from Mexico; pills and pot to combat mental illness; alcohol consumed while waiting for a hurricane to hit New Orleans.

The people telling the stories were plucked in large part from the ranks of local news organizations – an Aspen Times columnist, a former reporter and editor for the Times and the Daily News, the director of GrassRoots TV, and the news director of Aspen Public Radio. And leading off the event was a gentleman best known in the public sphere as a writer of letters to the editor of the local papers. Putting the event together was Barry Smith, another Times columnist.

But the drugs and proliferation of media personalities were only a small slice of the story. What came into focus with far more clarity were the individual tales – none of which echoed any of the others – and the personalities of the people telling them.

Lorenzo Semple, intense and focused, told a genuine tale of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll from the trenches. His perspective came from three years on the road crew of the bands Def Leppard and Poison, and while his episodic tale mostly confirmed, in full color, the debauchery one would reflexively associate with a rock tour bus, the adventure ended with a graceful note of fatherhood and maturity.

Aspen Times columnist Su Lum’s story of moving, in the 1960s, to the Alaskan wilderness had a poignant thematic resonance: If she could skin a moose by herself, with a razor blade, soon after giving birth, she damn well was going to overcome a case of nerves and physical discomforts to get out her story.

Naomi Havlen gave herself the task of telling the most complex narrative. The former reporter and editor started by recalling the sticky business of writing obituaries – an occupation that may have you calling people who are grateful for the chance to speak publicly about the dear departed, or getting the “How dare you ask such questions on such personal matters at such a time?” response. Havlen then moved into her own experience with death, when, while she was a journalism student, her aunt died in a place crash. Havlen’s story smartly wove the elements together to raise issues of death and hypocrisy, while giving a generous pat on the butt to the people whose job it is to tell a community’s stories.

Havlen concluded with a bit about the memorial benches that abound in Aspen, and her favorite such bench, which bears the inscription: “Shereen’s Bench. But she’d want you to sit here.” The Shereen in question was sitting in the front row, very much alive, and jumped on stage to introduce herself to Havlen. See? Communities really are built on storytelling.

While telling of his long-term struggle with mental illness and the drugs used to treat and escape it, Ray Adams, director of the Aspen Choral Society, illuminated the very fine line between artistic ambition and madness.

And with an assured stage presence, Mitzi Rapkin told about being busted for possession of mushrooms, while exploring issues of fear, privilege and a friend’s infidelity.

John Masters took on the persona of a stand-up comedian as he told about his drive into New Orleans – and the people he met on the way – to see what it was like to be in the middle of a hurricane. Masters’ explanation for this poor choice of behavior? He was a teenager, who didn’t yet have a story. Finding a story to tell seemed more important than his bodily safety.

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