Theatre director exits the stage |

Theatre director exits the stage

Stewart OksenhornAspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad/Aspen Times Weekly

ASPEN Three years ago, David McClendon took over as artistic director of Aspen Theatre in the Park with an eye toward expanding the nonprofit organization. But in an effort to cut expenses and downsize programming, the theatre company, now know as Theatre Aspen, has parted ways with McClendon.Melanie Sturm, a co-chair of the organization’s board of directors, confirmed Monday that McClendon’s contract was not renewed. The board is in the process of restructuring the organization, which was founded in the 1980s as Theatre Under the Jerome. The most prominent piece in that restructuring is likely to be the elimination of a year-round artistic director. Sturm noted that it did not make financial sense for Theatre Aspen to employ a full-time, around-the-calendar artistic director when almost all of the organization’s programming is packed into a nine-month summer season.”We need to do a better job of matching our expenses with our revenues,” said Sturm, adding that the increasing cost of providing housing for the artistic director was a major consideration. “We owe it to our donors, who have helped us increase our budget by 50 percent” in three years.

A voice message left for McClendon was not returned as of Monday evening.Sturm added that an announcement about Theatre Aspen’s restructuring would be made in a few weeks.Sturm praised McClendon’s work on both the organizational and artistic sides of Theatre Aspen. The performance tent in Rio Grande Park was upgraded and the seating capacity expanded under McClendon. Theater Aspen added a winter component to its program, performing a stage version of the film classic “It’s A Wonderful Life” at the Wheeler Opera House during the Christmas season. Theatre Aspen is now certified as a category D organization by the League of Regional Theaters, which represents a step up from its status when McClendon joined.”Three years ago, we were akin to a high-quality community theater,” Sturmsaid. “We’ve made a concerted effort to become a certified professional theater.”

This past season, McClendon directed the comedy “Moonlight and Magnolias.”Sturm noted that the caliber of actors hired by Theatre Aspen was raised substantially during McClendon’s tenure. The group’s budget increased from about $600,000 in 2004 to approximately $1.1 million now.Sturm said the board was satisfied with the performance of Theatre Aspen, even including the 2007 summer season, which concluded Sept. 1. “We had a very successful season in terms of underwriting and ticket sales,” she said. “He’s done a great job. He provided a vision, and we’re very happy to have had the association with him the last three years.”

At least one portion of that vision remains intact. The 53-year-old McClendon, who had been the associate artistic director for the renowned Globe Theatre in San Diego for a decade, before becoming a Colorado Springs-based freelance director, came to Aspen with a mission to build a permanent structure for Theatre Aspen. Sturm said that plan is still afloat, though it is not a part of the group’s immediate agenda.Another part of the vision has been scaled back for now. Theatre Aspen had been planning to do a different winter production this coming season, but has scrapped the project. Instead, the organization’s present plan, said Sturm, is to “gear up for the spring and summer, and gear down in the off-season.””We’re still a summer theater,” Sturm said. “And we’re proud of that.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is