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Theatre Aspen stages the future

Isabelle Chapman
Special to The Aspen Times
Isabelle Chapman/Special to The Aspen Times

This summer, Theatre Aspen is taking another step towards making Aspen one of America’s premiere theater towns.

Theatre Aspen is hosting 10 aspiring theater professionals as a part of its new apprentice program. The actors, stage managers and directors will participate in workshops, work with local youth and be a part of the three shows Theatre Aspen will present this summer: “Les Misérables,” “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and “Fully Committed.”

One morning at Glee Factor day camp, a dozen and a half 8- to-12-year-olds were bouncing around the Dance Progressions studio, learning about singing and dancing under the watchful eye of Theatre Aspen apprentices Luke Steinhauer and Alie Walsh.

“Do you know the words to it?” Steinhauer asked one of his campers during a musical exercise. “Baby, you light up my world like nobody else,” he crooned and the camper looked up at him starry-eyed.

“The way that you flip your hair gets me overwhelmed,” she whispered along.

“That’s good!” Steinhauer said with a smile at the camper. It was easy to picture the 19-year-old Pittsburgh native onstage. He had charisma coming out of his ears — and it wasn’t even 10 a.m.

Moments later, Steinhauer and Walsh had their campers gathered around an electric keyboard singing “The Sound of Music.” The campers all wore matching red T-shirts with white block lettering that asked, “Got Drama?”

“Doe, a deer,” Steinhauer sang, vibrato echoing off of the dance studio walls as his fingers bounced across the electric keyboard. The campers imitated him.

“A female deer,” they sang, tentatively.

“Let me tell you,” Steinhauer said, taking his hands off the keys and suddenly looking serious, “this is a song you’re going to want to know for the rest of your life. I promise.”

Steinhauer and Walsh teach Glee Factor, one of the youth classes and workshops that Theatre Aspen offers this summer, but the two will also get to spend the summer developing their own theater education — by contributing to Theatre Aspen’s three summer productions.

The woman behind the Apprentice Program is Theatre Aspen’s artistic director Paige Price. Price sat primly at her desk Wednesday afternoon at the Red Brick Arts and Recreation Center, her long, blond hair pulled back in a ponytail.

“I came (to Aspen) after 30 years in the field, and I wanted to elevate the standards and professionalism here,” Price said. “This program grew out of a commitment to that.”

Price, who has performed on Broadway in productions including “Beauty and the Beast,” “Saturday Night Fever” and “Smokey Joe’s Café,” and also in film and television, has a strong vision for what she wants the apprentice program to be.

“The philosophy of the organization is that we are kind of like a teaching hospital. We joke about that,” Price said. “We want to be able to teach up-and-coming professionals what it’s like to work in theater.”

The 10 apprentices, who are either undergraduates or recent graduates of theater program, aren’t paying for their summer experience. Instead, they receive a $100 weekly stipend, and Theatre Aspen board members John and Jessica Fullerton funded their housing and travel to and from Aspen. In addition, upon their arrival, the apprentices were presented with a bicycle as a means of transportation for the summer.

Price hopes that during their time in Aspen the apprentices won’t develop just their particular theater strengths. She also wants to get them out of their comfort zones —working behind the scenes, in the box office, teaching camps and workshops and spending time in the office at the Red Brick.

“They’ve been absorbing all that’s going on around them. We’re trying to wrap them into as many projects as we can,” Price said.

Developing all these skills will make the apprentices well-rounded theater professionals. One of many ways Price hopes to foster the apprentices’ skills is to get them to track their own progress.

“One of the things we asked them to do was to write a self-assessment. We wanted to know what they thought their strengths were,” Price said. “After looking at those, we’re going to tailor the education to each apprentice.”

Walsh, who plays Sally in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” (which opened Friday) already is looking forward to what she will learn this summer.

“I hope to learn skills to use in the professional world,” Walsh said. “Even if I just perform my whole life, it’s important to know what goes on behind the scenes in a theater.”

“People don’t realize when they see a show,” Steinhauer agreed. “They think it’s magic, but there’s so much more going on.”

Walsh, who just graduated from the musical-theater program at the University of Oklahoma, plans to move to New York City in the fall to join the musical-theater work force.

Bailey Frankenberg, another apprentice, recently graduated from a conservatory in New York and has similar plans to return to the Big Apple and start auditions come fall. However, she feels that this apprenticeship is the perfect stepping-stone.

“This is my jump-start into the professional world,” Frankenberg said. “Everything that I’ve been preparing and training for has been leading up to this moment — learning how to apply my skills.”

But the apprentice program isn’t focusing just on fostering actors’ skills. Adam Quinn, another apprentice, is a directing major at the University of Michigan and will be spending his time developing his skills at directing musicals these next few months.

“It’s exciting,” Quinn said. “We’re doing things a little bit different than a regular show. For (‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’), we’ll be arranging the music for a different orchestra. Instead of keeping strictly to the old arrangements, I’ll also be writing new ones.”

“Very few people can do that,” said Walsh, who had been listening. “He’s really special.”

Aside from the enthusiasm the apprentices share for the theater, it is clear they also share an adoration for one another.

“They are so excited to be here,” Price said. “You’ll see them riding around on the bicycles we gave them. They are really embracing their mountain summer experience.”

Walsh described the dynamic of the apprentices as overwhelmingly positive.

“It’s just so great,” she said, her eyes widening. “It’s only been a few weeks, but everyone’s so close. I feel like I’ve known Bailey so much longer.”

But the apprentices also share a respect for Price.

“She’s an extremely driven human being,” Steinhauer said. “She has now established (Theatre Aspen) as one of the finest theaters across the country.”

Quinn nodded before adding, “She’s good about seeing what shows people want to see. There are three shows (this summer), and no matter who you are, old, young, your sex, whatever, there’s a show for you.”

Isabelle Chapman is an editorial intern working for The Aspen Times through the end of July.


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