Letter: Do we really need another theater stage in Aspen?

The performing-arts budget of Aspen is enviable. Why are we only a stopover for small tours that fit in one truck? Why aren’t we the stopover for major tours between Denver and Salt Lake? Why aren’t we the birthplace of new productions? The ballet is a notable exception, but for the most part, like our art museum, we do not have a “permanent collection” of home-produced film, theater or opera — certainly nothing strong enough to travel. Our creative sons and daughters go elsewhere to perfect their craft.

With the writers conference, the Aspen Institute, the Aspen Music School, Aspen Film, Jazz Aspen and other numerous arts institutions, plus that big pot of money, we should have the proud label of “made in Aspen” as part of our “brand.”

When I asked Nancy Quinn, of Arena Stage, why Aspen wasn’t on the list for major productions, her reply was, “They’re hobbyists.” When Herman Edel asked me what we needed during the Wheeler Opera House renovation, I said, “A shop space.” I had the same answer for the District Theatre and urged adding 2 more feet of fly loft so that we could host touring Broadway shows. I was drafting the tour of “Phantom” at the time — another 2 feet, and we could have had that tour. Of course none of that happened.

A vibrant performing-arts community takes building relationships as much as building with brick and mortar. We can be leaders in the performing arts if we choose to support innovation and nurture our local talent. We can be leaders in the performing arts if we tap into the wealth of knowledge of our guest artists.

We need to prove we’re serious and not hobbyists. We need to support the people who make the production as well as those who sit in the seats. Bring the backstage kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Give our performers a place to rehearse. Give our scenic artists a place to paint other than the cafetorium, preferably one with a source of water and a sink. Have a place to learn stagecraft from projections to CAD, from saber saws to CNC. Have a costume shop instead of renting everything. Make some hats. Build some shoes. Gild and egg and dart. Focus a light. Rig a rope. Write a script, and then watch it turn into flesh and blood. We are on the edge of a makers revolution — let’s ride that wave.

So, yes, another performing-arts venue would be nice, but please don’t keep repeating the same mistake over and over again. Plan for more than comfortable seats and a great place to unload the truck. Plan for a space where creative and curious minds can gather and play together and turn their ideas from dreams into something you can touch. We could be a powerhouse of innovative arts entrepreneurship if we tried.

Ziska Childs