Naomi McDougal Jones always knew she wanted to act, but it wasn’t until she won a Theater Masters high school competition in 2005 that the Aspen native believed she was a playwright.
“It was the first time I wrote a play and the first time I believed I could write a play,” Jones said. “It was the first time I thought, ‘I could actually do this.’ ... It was definitely validating for me.”
An Aspen High School graduate, Jones has since gone on to have seven of her plays produced on stages like New York’s Fringe Fest, and has acted in movies and television shows, including an episode of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.” This spring, a film she wrote and will act in, “Under Her Skin,” goes into production.
But it all started with Theater Masters, the local organization staging the National MFA Playwrights festival, which she is now helping produce. The festival kicks off this weekend in Aspen and includes “Take Ten,” a collection of new 10-minute plays. Alumni have gone on to see their work produced Off Broadway and at regional theaters across the U.S.
“Take Ten” runs Sunday through Tuesday, at 7:30 p.m. at the Black Box Theater in Aspen High School.
Along with work by graduate students from writing programs at Yale, New York University, Columbia and other schools, it includes this year’s winning local high school play, “May the Best Man Win.”
Co-written by three Glenwood Springs High School students, it’s a biting commentary on American electoral politics.
“It’s a critique on the political system, where if you say nothing, but say it well, you can win,” explained Theater Masters founder Julia Hansen.
“Take Ten” was born out of Theater Masters’ mission to bring experienced theater directors to Aspen to teach local actors. After years of producing existing plays, six years ago the group started bringing new plays to the stage from graduate students, judged by established writers.
“We ran out of published 10-minute plays,” laughed Hansen, “so we decided to do something with grad schools to create new ones.”
A company of 30 local actors will be performing the plays, with familiar faces from the local stage, including Aspen Community Theatre vets like Nina Ganianelli, Naomi Havlen and Corey Simpson.
“It brings together the cream of the crop in the most extraordinary way,” Hansen said.
Following the local production, the grad school students’ plays go to New York for a limited run there.
The 10-minute plays are self-contained pieces that range from heavy material about single parenting and growing up, to fanciful and funny plays, including one about a couple living in an Ikea store.
The festival also includes a panel discussion, co-hosted with the Aspen Institute, on Saturday at 5 p.m. in the Koch Building. Dubbed “Today Gives Voice to Timeless Ideas,” the panel is free and open to the public. It includes Theresa Rebeck, an award-winning playwright and creator of the TV show “Smash,” who judged this year’s playwright competition. She will be joined by the “Take Ten” winning playwrights, New York’s Primary Stages artistic director Andrew Leynse, and Hansen.
For “Take Ten” tickets and more information, visit www.theatermasters.org .