Image above: Theatre Aspen's 2018 production of Godspell. Photograph courtesy Theatre Aspen.
Aspen Fringe Festival
We’re not suggesting that it should change its name or anything, but in its 11th year, the Aspen Fringe Festival is taking a major step toward the mainstream by adding a much larger venue—the Wheeler Opera House. It’s a fitting reward for the hard work of founder David Ledingham. “This is a huge opportunity for us to take AFF to the next level,” he says. “I’ve always been a believer that if you build something extraordinary, they will come.” On this year’s slate of shows: Push Dance Company’s innovative production Codelining (June 7); the dark comedy Angry Alan, which won an award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival after previewing in Aspen in 2017 and was named a New York Times Critics’ Pick for its current Big Apple run; and the comedy Ulster American, which Ledingham terms “the best play I’ve read in a long time. It’s brutally funny.” Wheeler Opera House, Black Box Theatre at Aspen High School
A festival pass includes entry to AFF’s Tony Awards Party (June 9) at The Vault, the lobby bar at the Wheeler, so you can cheer on nominees in the company of other theater buffs.
June 21–August 17
It’s not a festival in name, but with a variety of recurring programming over the course of the summer, Theatre Aspen’s summer repertoire seems to qualify. Plus, like all good festivals, it involves a tent (the intimate Hurst Theatre in Aspen’s Rio Grande Park). Better yet, the acclaimed nonprofit offers a Broadway-caliber experience—actors and directors come from around the country—without the hassle of big crowds, the glare of neon lights, and the expense of traveling to New York City. This year’s lineup includes the classic musical comedy Guys & Dolls (June 2–Aug 17), the quirky and uproarious musical Little Shop of Horrors (July 11–Aug 17), and the Tony Award–winning, darkly comic play God of Carnage (July 17–Aug 3). Plus, Theatre Aspen’s Summer Conservatory for kids in grades 7 to 12 presents The Wizard of Oz on the main stage (July 17–Aug 3). Says Theatre Aspen Producing Director Jed Bernstein, who took the helm in early 2018, “I learned in my first year that Aspen’s sophisticated audiences are interested in a broad range of entertainment, from classic Broadway sounds to the irreverent homage that Little Shop pays to old horror films, to a smart contemporary comedy from one of the theater world’s finest playwrights [Yasmina Reza].” Hurst Theatre
For a song: Theatre Aspen Cabaret, featuring summer cast members, expands to three evenings this summer, June 30 at the Caribou Club and August 4 and 11 at Jimmy’s restaurant.
Together on the high seas: Witness the fruits of the inaugural collaboration between Theatre Aspen and the Aspen Music Festival and School with a special concert production of South Pacific at the Benedict Music Tent (July 22), featuring a 55-piece orchestra, a chorus of Aspen Opera Center singers, and Broadway stars bringing the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic to life.
Theater lovers won’t want to miss Theatre Aspen’s new weeklong Solo Flights (Sept 18–21), which will bring a variety of one-person shows—some still being workshopped—to venues throughout Aspen. Says Bernstein, “We think audiences will really like the new and never-seen-before work that it will feature.”
Aspen Mountain Film Festival
This newly branded festival grows out of the 10-year legacy of Mountainfilm in Aspen and continues to highlight documentary shorts and features about outdoor adventure, environmental issues, and mountain culture, along with filmmaker appearances and a lunchtime speaker series. The line-up includes an evening of short films hosted by National Geographic Adventurer of the Year Jennifer Pharr Davis; Qualified, a documentary about pioneering Indy car driver (and Aspen resident) Janet Guthrie; the Colorado premiere of Mr. Jimmy, a biopic about a Japanese guitarist who reveres Led Zeppelin, along with a closing-night performance by the film's subject at Belly Up; and more. Wheeler Opera House
It’s not easy to compete with the premier Sundance or Telluride festivals, but Aspen’s hometown movie-ganza more than holds its own, bringing in buzzworthy independent films that often explode onto the national scene a couple of months later. The weeklong event also features post-screening talks with directors, producers, and documentarians, as well as other social gatherings that allow attendees to get up close and personal with the folks making the magic on the screen. The full lineup is announced about a month before the festival; look for it to contain, as usual, a must-see mix of little-known gems and indie heavies bound for critical acclaim. Wheeler Opera House and Isis Theatre, Aspen; Crystal Theatre, Carbondale
Buy an Aspen Film membership (from $150) and reap benefits like advance ticket purchase, discounts, and special-event access.
Shining Mountains Film Festival
This second annual celebration of Native American culture and history, now in partnership with Aspen Film, features documentary films that honor Native American culture and voices. It coincides with Indigenous People's Day, which the City of Aspen declared a holiday in place of Columbus Day in 2017. wheeleroperahouse.com