23 Jul ASPEN DAILY NEWS: Theatre Aspen School summer programs enter the spotlight
It’s easy to see the public faces of Aspen’s major arts organizations – the Aspen Art Museum and the Red Brick Center for the Arts host exhibits; Aspen Santa Fe Ballet performs dances; Jazz Aspen Snowmass and the Aspen Music Festival & School stage big concerts – but much of what the aforementioned and similar groups really do goes on behind the scenes.
Following the AMFS model, many organizations go beyond just entertaining audiences and have robust education programs for people of all ages. And while the results of those classes, seminars, talks and camps are quantifiable, they’re not always readily visible.
That’s what makes this week special for Theatre Aspen and the youthful participants in the Theatre Aspen School, who will finally get the chance to show off what they’ve been working on all summer.
First up will be the Summer Conservatory, consisting of students going into grades 7-12. Having spent more than three weeks rehearsing and preparing at Theatre Aspen School’s new summer campus at the Aspen Community School, the conservatory students will open their abridged production of the musical “Mary Poppins” Wednesday night, July 25, at Theatre Aspen’s Hurst Theatre in Rio Grande Park.
“The conservatory students receive training in choral music, dancing and acting, in addition to rehearsing and performing a production of ‘Mary Poppins Jr.,’ which is basically the one-act version of ‘Mary Poppins,’” said Graham Northrup, Theatre Aspen’s director of education and outreach. “The full version is like two hours and 45 minutes long. We didn’t think our younger kids would sit through that,” he quipped.
An even younger bunch will take center stage the next day, Thursday, July 26, when the kids from Theatre Aspen School’s Musical Theatre Workshop for grades 3-6 open their production of “Madagascar, A Musical Adventure” at the Black Box Theatre at Aspen High School.
Like the conservatory program, the workshop included rehearsals and instruction in acting, singing and dance, and just like their older counterparts, the kids will get to stage a real live show with lighting, sound, sets and costumes that they got to work on with industry professionals.
“We bill it as those students’ first introduction to what we call a book musical, which is a musical with a script and a story and all that stuff,” said Northrup. “If people want to bring their children, it’s a fun morning outing.”
The workshop took all comers, but the increasingly competitive conservatory was by audition only and “turned away more people this year than we have in any other year,” according to Northrup.
Seeing an apparent demand for more teen educational offerings, this summer Theatre Aspen added a Triple Threat Training program for grades 7-12. Working with a director, the kids in the ensemble created a cabaret with music and dance that they performed in the Wheeler Opera House bar lobby last Saturday, July 21.
The Theatre Aspen School curriculum also included one-week workshops in singing, dancing, puppetry and magic for kids as young as kindergarteners, Broadway boot camps for middle schoolers and an apprentice program for college students and recent graduates who are preparing for careers in all aspects of theater.
“Those folks, especially the technical apprentices, are getting to work on ‘Mary Poppins’ to build their portfolios and skills,” said Northrup about the highly prized apprenticeships. “We got over 500 applications, and we took 17.”
Buoyed by such programs and their popularity, Theatre Aspen School has seen its student numbers swell over the last decade. This summer, some 260 students registered for classes, compared to the year before Northrup came aboard, 2009, when enrollment numbered just 114.
This increase has been possible, at least this summer, partially due to Theatre Aspen moving its education programs to Aspen Community School’s campus in Woody Creek. It’s a move that could lead to even bigger things to come in the future.
“It gives us room to rehearse, room to teach at least five classes at a time and a place to meet as a group, as well as outdoor space and playgrounds and a gymnasium,” said Northrup. “It’s just a nice place to hang out during the day.”
It also secludes the kids in a beautiful setting where they can focus on theater without the distractions of being in town. It does mean that you won’t get to see all the behind-the-scenes hard work and learning that goes on, but this week, you can see the great shows it all adds up to.
“Mary Poppins” runs July 25-26 and Aug. 2-3, with two performances on Aug. 5, at the Hurst Theatre. “Madagascar, A Musical Adventure” runs July 26-28 at Aspen High School’s Black Box Theatre. For showtimes and tickets, visit theatreaspen.org.