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Solo Flights connects artist and audience with developmental one-person shows

Theatre Aspen festival offers attendees an “insider” look at creative process

Hurst Theatre, photographed by Mike Lyons.
Theatre Aspen/Courtesy photo

The second-ever iteration of Theatre Aspen’s Solo Flights festival will bring audiences in on the ground floor with a series of developmental one-person shows that focus on characters and storytelling, according to the festival’s organizers.

“When you do developmental presentations like this, it isn’t about the bells and whistles, because you don’t have sets and lots of costumes or props or things like that,” said Theatre Aspen producing director Jed Bernstein. “You’re really trying to examine what is the best way to clearly communicate the story that you’re trying to tell, and that’s a really valuable first step for writers in the life of their project.”

Audiences have the opportunity to see the creative process in progress with a “behind the scenes” experience, said Britt Marden, Theatre Aspen’s director of artistic planning who also worked on the inaugural Solo Flights festival.



“I think there’s a feeling that with Solo Flights, that you are kind of an insider, you are getting a first listen or look at something,” Marden said.

The festival also plays into Theatre Aspen’s broader goals to “become more and more a participant in the national theater landscape,” according to Bernstein; the debut of Solo Flights two years ago and return this year coincides with the rapid growth of one-person shows in the industry, he said.


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What was once a genre rooted in stars impersonating historical figures — Hal Holrook as Mark Twain, James Whitmore as Harry Truman — has since evolved to include solo musicals, circuses, mentalist performances and dramatized autobiography among its many iterations.

The pandemic, too, ushered in a new wave of these small-scale productions that were much easier to stage amid public health restrictions compared to their ensemble counterparts, Marden said.

This year’s interest from creatives seeking to participate in the festival is a testament to that growth and to Theatre Aspen’s efforts to increase involvement on a national level.

“Solo Flights, as it gains in recognition, becomes more of a destination for people who are developing one-person projects,” Bernstein said.

A number of factors were considered for the selection of this year’s seven-show cohort, which runs the gamut from an autobiographical musical (“The Noah Racey Project”) to a dark comedy of stolen identity (“A Good Day to Me Not to You”) to a coming-of-age story about growing up Black in the nearly all-white suburban Midwest (“Token”).

One bilingual production, “Clean,” will diverge from the one-person-show framework of Solo Flights to feature two actors performing monologues, according to Marden.

Bernstein said Theatre Aspen aims to feature a “range of storytelling” with voices that represent different genders, ethnicities and backgrounds.

“At the end of the day, what they all have in common is that they are really interesting stories, we think, and they’re stories that are at a point in their development that will benefit from this kind of process,” he said.

That process includes talkbacks, creative discussions and panels — two are currently scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and Aug. 27 at the Hurst Theatre, per a news release — as well as post-show formal and informal conversations with audiences that will occur at the discretion of the creative teams, Marden said.

Each production will have two showings; those conversations with audiences are most likely to occur after the first run so creative teams can make changes before the second go-around during the festival, according to Marden.

The feedback that can come from an audience is a key component to the creative process with developmental plays, said frequent Theatre Aspen collaborator Hunter Foster.

“We need a place that (we) can really develop shows, and we can learn from (the audience) because it’s the only way we learn,” Foster said. “You know, you can rehearse it 1,000 times without an audience, and you’ll only learn so much. It’s only when you put in front of an audience that you (learn), does a play truly make a leap?”

Foster directed the two-night run of “Give ‘Em Hell, Harry!” in July as a preview for Solo Flights as well as this summer’s run of “Rock of Ages.

He also directs “Esmeranda’s Gift (Or How To Make a Crossword Puzzle and Solve Your Life),” a play by Donna Hoke, for the festival next week.

“Having a live audience is going to be tremendous for us. … The audience is another character in the play as well, and I think that having a developmental process to discover all that is so vital, because you really can’t move forward until you have had that interaction with an audience,” Foster said.

Seven Days, Seven Plays

“Clean”: Playwright Christine Quintana and Director Melissa Crespo explore the past, present and imagined future when a hotel floor manager and a visiting guest connect. (7:30 p.m. Wednesday and 1 p.m. Aug. 28)

“Esmeranda’s Gift (Or How To Make a Crossword Puzzle and Solve Your Life)”: A puzzlemaker embarks on an agenda to win back her ex-boyfriend in this play written by Donna Hoke and directed by Hunter Foster. Starring Sarah Stiles. (7:30 p.m. Aug. 27 and 4 p.m. Aug. 29)

“A Good Day to Me Not to You”: Lameece Issaq writes and stars in this play about a woman who comes to terms with her sister’s death and considers an untaken path to motherhood while living in a boarding house run by nuns. Lee Sunday Evans directs. (4 p.m. Thursday and 7:30 p.m. Aug. 29)

“Making Good”: This dark comedy of stolen identity written by Stuart Slade combines the ethos of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” with a romantic comedy (and a bit of “American Psycho”); Tyne Rafaeli directs. Starring Taylor Trensch. (4 p.m. Aug. 27 and 7:30 p.m. Aug. 31)

“The Noah Racey Project”: Playwright and star Noah Racey sings and tap-dances his way back to his childhood and considers competing needs for freedom and safety. Dick Scanlan directs; a pianist and percussionist will perform an accompanying jazz score. (4 p.m. Aug. 28 and 7:30 p.m. Aug. 30)

“A Shot Rang Out”: An actor (David Ivers) returns to the stage after a period of isolation and explores what led to his seclusion in this play written by Richard Greenberg and directed by Tony Taccone. (7:30 p.m. Aug. 28 and 4 p.m. Aug. 30)

“Token”: Kaye Winks details her childhood growing up Black in the nearly all-white suburban Midwest as the writer and star of this coming-of-age story; Schoen Smith directs. (7:30 p.m. Thursday and 4 p.m. Aug. 31)

A Platinum Pass includes two tickets to each of the seven festival plays for $350, and a Silver Pass, offering a six-ticket sampler to use at any combination of shows, is $200. Single tickets are $35-$50. Tickets are available online at theatreaspen.org, over the phone at 970-300-4474 and in-person at the Hurst Theatre box office.

kwilliams@aspentimes.com


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