Theater director staying behind scenes |

Theater director staying behind scenes

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

ASPEN ” Don’t expect to see Paige Price, who starred last summer in Theatre Aspen’s production of the two-person musical “The Last Five Years,” back on the Theatre Aspen stage. She doesn’t believe an acting gig is an appropriate fit with her newest role, as the nonprofit organization’s artistic director.

“I’m 100 percent sure I will not be behind the footlights ” except maybe to ask for donations to the theater,” Price said by phone from New York City, where she lives. “I have a general aversion to casting myself. I don’t think that works well for anyone.”

Theatre Aspen hired Price to succeed David McClendon, who served as artistic director from 2004 until this summer, when his contract was not renewed. In an effort to reduce costs, the position has been restructured; while McClendon was employed year-round, Price will work full time from late spring through Theatre Aspen’s summer season, which typically concludes at the beginning of September. Through the year, she will also attend board meetings in Aspen, and will travel for casting purposes.

“This obviates the need to house her full time, which is a big deal,” said Melanie Sturm, a co-president, with Katherine Sand, of Theatre Aspen’s board of directors. “It’s a different concept for the job.”

Theatre Aspen also announced two additional hires: Shirley Tipton, a former operations manager for Theatre Aspen as well as a past director of the Red Brick Center for the Arts, is executive director; Kate Webber is development and communications associate.

Despite the reduced time, Price anticipates that the position will make full use of her abilities. Apart from being an actress, with credits on Broadway and in film and television, she has experience as a producer. The 43-year-old New Jersey native also has been active on the business end of the profession; she is currently first national vice president of Actors Equity, and has served as co-chairwoman of the union’s alien committee, handling issues relating to foreign actors.

“This is the first job I’ve ever had that will use all the skills I have,” Price said.

Price, who attended a series of meetings with the Theatre Aspen board recently, said that several other changes are in store for the organization, which began life in the mid-’80s as Theatre Under the Jerome. There will be a greater reliance on local and regional talent in casting and producing shows. There might be a boost in educational opportunities, especially in bringing in outside instructors for what Sturm called “Broadway boot camps.” And the season will be structured differently ” instead of presenting consecutive long runs of shows, the summer will move closer to the repertory model, with the productions alternating through the summer, and actors used in more than one show.

Price envisions that a repertory season can lure top talent ” actors who are interested in challenging themselves. As she sees it, an actor might appear in both a comedy and a musical during the Theatre Aspen season: “That’s very creatively satisfying to performers,” she said. “It’s a great way to show their versatility.”

Otherwise, Price didn’t see many immediate or drastic changes to the program. Both she and Sturm noted that McClendon’s tenure had enhanced the professionalism of Theatre Aspen, and neither was looking to retreat from that.

During McClendon’s three years, the organization’s annual budget nearly doubled, to $1.1 million last year. Price said she would likely continue the organization’s emphasis on musicals and comedies, rather than heavy drama. She noted that the Theatre Aspen audience comprises largely vacationers looking “more for the entertainment ilk than the dark ilk. Which is not to say we want to feature fluff.”

Price said bringing talented actors and directors to Aspen for the summer shouldn’t be much of a problem. She well could offer herself as an example. After spending half the summer here, she saw a very different side of the town than she had in her previous visit a few years ago, when she performed in a wintertime benefit for Theatre Aspen.

“They came to me at an advantageous time ” I was smitten with the town, with the theater,” Price said. “I can sell it wholeheartedly to any actor.”

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