With subjects ranging from a college basketball coach to a cancer survivor, four fledgling plays will have the chance to spread their wings and soar September 18–21 when Theatre Aspen launches its inaugural Solo Flights festival. The event features one-person plays in early development, many followed by talkbacks and creative discussions, while bringing in some high flyers from the acting and playwrighting worlds.
The brainchild of Theatre Aspen Producing Director Jed Bernstein, who's been looking for ways to expand the organization's offerings beyond its standard summer repertoire, Solo Flights also highlights a subset of the theater scene that rarely gets the spotlight.
"A lot of theater companies around the country do new musical festivals, or even new play festivals, but not very many companies do a new one-person-show festival," says Matthew Troillett, Theatre Aspen’s associate artistic director. "That was the impetus for this. The one-person-show format is really gaining some momentum and is an important part of the theatrical landscape that's not explored that often."
Theatre Aspen's announcement of Solo Flights a year ago brought in hundreds of submissions, from which three plays and a musical were selected. The actors and creative teams arrive in Aspen Monday to start rehearsing with one another, some for the very first time.
The result should be four fascinating works from some of theater's hottest names and a first-year festival with surprising directorial and acting heft. And it's just the beginning. "Our plan is to do Solo Flights this week every September, following our main-stage summer season," says Troillett.
All shows take place at Theatre Aspen's Hurst Theater in Rio Grande Park. Festival passes cost $350 (lower-tier ones are sold out), while single-show tickets are $40–$72.
Coach: An Evening with John Wooden
Sept 18, 7 p.m.; Sept 21, 4 p.m.
Starring Hollywood's Beau Bridges (who himself played a year of basketball under Wooden), written by John Wilder, and directed by veteran director and playwright Joe Calarco, this paean to UCLA's legendary basketball coach explores his journey from humble, small-town beginnings to the monumental success, with the only woman he ever loved by his side each step of the way.
See it because: "What's great about Coach is it extends past just the theater audience," says Troillett. "For people who were basketball players growing up or who are basketball fans, I think there's another layer of interest there. And, obviously, Beau Bridges is an incredible actor."
Sept 19, 4 p.m.; Sept 20, 7 p.m.; Sept 21, 10 a.m.
Based on Hjalmer Söderberg’s Scandinavian mystery novel, this thriller follows a doctor (played by veteran TV actor Daniel Gerroll) who has fallen madly in love with one of his patients, a dilemma that presents moral challenges and potentially fatal consequences. Accomplished playwright Jeffrey Hatcher wrote the script, and two-time Obie winner Lisa Peterson directed.
See it because: "It's darkly comedic in tone with really expert storytelling," says Troillett. "People are going to be taken aback with how connected and engrossing the story is."
What We Leave Behind
Sept 19, 7 p.m.; Sept 20, 12 p.m.; Sept 21, 1 p.m.
A courageous musical about a life reshaped by illness, this autobiographical creation comes from musician and cancer survivor Jenny Giering and her husband, writer Sean Barry. Under the direction of Tracy Brigden and musical direction of Lynne Shankel, Tony Award–nominated actress and singer Kate Baldwin tells the story of two lives: one decimated by breast cancer as well as a mysterious medical condition and a former one full of daring and passion.
See it because: "Kate Baldwin, who plays Jenny, is incredible, so to have her stand behind it and be the voice of it is really wonderful," says Troillett. "It's not only heartbreaking but heartwarming."
When It's You
Sept 19, 12 p.m.; Sept 20, 4 p.m.; Sept 21, 7 p.m.
Joy Nash, star of AMC's Dietland, plays Ginnifer, an unlucky-in-love woman who returns to her hometown to care for her dying mother, only to find that a former boyfriend has committed a horrible act of violence. Written by Courtney Baron and directed by Kent Nicholson, this deeply moving story asks how we're all connected and whom we're ultimately responsible for.
See it because: "Joy Nash is really wonderful, and to have Kent Nicholson, who runs a developmental program at Broadway's Playwrights Horizons, in this festival setting, helping to develop new works, is another coup," says Troillet.