‘Solo Flights’ returns to Theatre Aspen from Sept. 10-15 | AspenTimes.com

‘Solo Flights’ returns to Theatre Aspen from Sept. 10-15

Including a one-woman show about a second banana

Katherine Roberts
Special to The Aspen Times
Melia Bensussen, Obie-award winning director of 'Sidekicked.'
Courtesy photo

The weeklong developmental theater festival, “Solo Flights,” featuring one-person shows in their infancy, returns to the Hurst Theatre Sept. 10-15. Theatre Aspen invited the group of writers, directors and performers, who will together premiere five new works, in addition to putting on a special concert event. Because the performances only happen twice and the works are in progress, audiences can expect completely different shows night to night, and even from one performance to the next.

“We created ‘Solo Flights’ to give playwrights the opportunity to see their work develop. There are several shows that have never even been presented in front of a live audience, so even in the shortened rehearsal period, offering two performance slots allows the teams to see what does or does not resonate with audiences. Then, the teams can potentially make tweaks that advance the piece to the next stages,” said Britt Marden, Theatre Aspen’s director of artistic planning, as she explained the complex nature of the undertaking.

Melia Bensussen, the Obie-award winning director of “Sidekicked” — one of the plays in development (written by Kim Powers)  —echoes Marden in her excitement about this collaborative artistic process.

“What’s really interesting is what we’ll change between shows one and two; the key component is how the audience reacts,” she said.

Bensussen has never been to Theatre Aspen and is happy to join other creative people in this fast, and sometimes loose, process.

“One of the great joys of my life is directing and coming to a new place,” she said, adding that she loves the idea that both the audience and the actors onstage will experience an artistic journey in real-time. “It is an extraordinary assignment, which is routine for theater makers — just a lot of improvising and thinking on our feet. The real gift of theater is communication.”

“Many of these artists have never worked together, so ideas and concepts that may not have been considered can evolve simply by having different perspectives in the room,” Marden said.

To that end, both the audience, alongside the playwright, director and performer, will see updates on the fly.

“What’s really interesting is what we’ll change between shows one and two, and the key component is how the audience reacts,” Bensussen said. “We have time after the first performance to see what worked, what didn’t and absorb the responses of our audiences.”

The one-person shows also make for a unique theater-going experience.

“I think audiences don’t always believe that one person on stage can be as compelling as larger casts,” Marden said, “but the shows we are presenting this season are truly unique, ranging from personal narratives to stories that delve deeper into the lives of historical figures.”

And speaking of historical figures, Bensussen looks forward to audiences learning more about the leading lady of “Sidekicked,” Vivian Vance (played by Johanna Day), whom you might remember as Lucille Ball’s ever-eager second banana and whom has more depth than even longtime fans of “I Love Lucy” might realize. Described by Theatre Aspen as a show portraying the final episode of “The Lucy/Desi Comedy Hour,” America’s favorite sidekick, Vivian Vance, has a lot to get off her chest. Does she abandon everything that’s made her rich and famous and try to find herself before it’s too late?

“I think it’s a middle-aged woman’s reawakening. We all grow up at different ages,” Bensussen said. “We grow up numerous times in different ways within our lives. It’s the end of her journey of Lucille Ball’s sidekick and the start of figuring out something new. There are very few narratives about middle-aged women discovering that they’re ready to undergo a new adventure.”

And that narrative speaks directly to Bensussen, as well.

“I’m a middle-aged woman who’s been directing plays her entire adult life. I took over a major American theater when I could have been really cushy. I opted to take on this enormous challenge in my day job and continue to challenge myself with projects like ‘Solo Flights.’ The show is both really funny but also revealing of the challenges of a woman’s life,” she said.

Which is really a universal theme, whether or not you’re a famous comedienne recognizing the trappings of fame and fortune. Said playwright Powers about the overarching message:

“The audience will realize that everyone has a story.”

If you go…

What: ‘Solo Flights,’ an annual weeklong development festival of one-person shows

Details: ‘Low Expectations,’ 7 p.m. Sept. 10 and 4 p.m. Sept. 12: The true story starts with one relative’s Union Army service, then another’s immigration to America from Belfast during the Great Depression, then heads to Tulsa, Hollywood and New York City and finishes in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. The short story starts in Northern California and stays there. Both are about a lot of things, a whole lot of things, but, mostly, they’re about the measurable healing power of empathy, kindness and love.

‘Avaaz,’ 1 p.m. Sept. 11 and 7 p.m. Sept. 13: It’s Nowruz — the Iranian New Year — and who better to spend it with than our fabulous hostess, Roya? She’ll teach you how to celebrate in style. They say that on Nowruz, the souls of ancestors come alive and visit. Perhaps that’s what’s happening here tonight. Or maybe it’s just the strong Persian chai.

‘Sparrows at the Bar,’ 4 p.m. Sept. 11 and 7 p.m. Sept. 14: McCreary tells the story of his life, his love and the unexpected shot at redemption he finds in a rural pub in Ireland. You’ll hear how Frank got into the newspaper game, how he covered City Hall for the New York Post, how he met, left, met again and ultimately lost the love of his life, and how his search for peace led him to this particular seat in this particular bar. Guinness is poured, and spirits are consumed.

‘Malone Alone! A Special Solo Flights Concert’ with Beth Malone, accompanied by David Dyer, 7 p.m. Sept. 11: Join Tony and Grammy nominee Beth Malone for an evening of music including new material and some old favorites.

‘Sally: A Solo Play,’ 7 p.m. Sept. 12 and 4 p.m. Sept. 15: Mistress, common-law wife, or first lady? Sally Hemings, the sister of Jefferson’s deceased wife Martha, demands that Jefferson, whose days are numbered, must keep his promise to free their children. In this solo play, the stakes are high. Does Jefferson’s will soothe the grief and the memories held by blood kin, or does it revive old wounds and become a battleground?

‘Sidekicked,’ 4 p.m. Sept. 13 and 7 p.m. Sept. 15: It’s Friday night, March 2, 1960, and the very final episode of ‘The Lucy/Desi Comedy Hour’ is about to film. After years of playing Ethel Mertz, America’s favorite sidekick, Vivian Vance has a lot to get off her chest. Does she stay on to do the Fred and Ethel spin-off Desi Arnaz wants her to do, or does she abandon everything that’s made her rich and famous and try to find herself, before it’s too late?

Where: Hurst Theatre

Tickets: $35 for standard or $50 for premium. Passes: $200 for six tickets and $350 for 14 tickets; all passholders are invited to the opening night party at 6 p.m. Sept. 10 and receive a 20% off diner gift card to the Limelight Aspen Hotel

More info: theatreaspen.org

‘Give ‘em Hell, Harry!’ launched the 2021 Solo Flights new works festival; it was a one-man show about President Harry Truman, written by Samuel Gallu, starring actor Fred Grandy.
Courtesy Theatre Aspen
‘Sidekicked,’ starring two-time Tony Award® nominee Johanna Day (pictured, ‘Proof’), is written by Kim Powers and directed by Obie Award® winner Melia Bensussen (‘The Turn of the Screw’ Off-Broadway).
Courtesy photo
‘Avaaz,’ written by and starring Michael Shayan (pictured, Discovery+’s ‘The Book of Queer’), is directed by Tony Award® nominee Moritz Von Stuelpnagel (Broadway’s ‘Hand to God’).
Courtesy photo
‘Low Expectations,’ written by and starring Gotham Award nominee Michael Gaston (pictured, ‘Power’), is directed by Callaway Award winner Giovanna Sardelli (‘Animals Out of Paper’) and features guitarist Daniel Pearce.
Courtesy photo
‘Sally: A Solo Play,’ starring Sabrina Sloan (pictured, ‘Hamilton National Tours’), is written by Sandra Seaton (from ‘The Diary of Sally Hemings’), and directed by Hannah Ryan (Theatre Aspen’s ‘Gypsy’).
Courtesy photo
‘Sparrows at the Bar,’ starring two-time Tony Award® winner James Naughton (Broadway’s ‘Chicago,’ pictured), is written by Mike DiSalvo (Broadway’s ‘Twelve Angry Men’), and directed by Lucille Lortel Award winner Joe Calarco.
Courtesy photo

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