Coming off of a successful two-year $2 million capital campaign, construction of its permanent lobby in Rio Grande Park and an ongoing staging of a Broadway epic in its revamped tent, Theatre Aspen is now planning to expand its education programs and build an endowment.
The local nonprofit, which brings professional Broadway-caliber productions to the 189-seat Hurst Theatre, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this summer.
The season opened June 21 with “Les Miserables,” and expanded with Saturday’s opening of the one-man show “Fully Committed.” This week, its third show of the summer, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” opens.
All three run through mid-August at the Hurst Theatre.
The “Les Miserables” production is the largest and most technically demanding the company has undertaken, pairing Broadway veterans with local actors in an intimate rendition of the beloved epic.
“It’s great seeing people so amazed and emotional,” Theatre Aspen artistic director Paige Price said of the ongoing production. “They’re only now admitting how dubious they were that we could do it.”
On the business side, this marks the first time in recent memory that the company is opening its summer season debt free. The last two years have focused on replacing an aged tent, building a new lobby and coordinating with the city of Aspen on the $1.4 million beautification project of the riverside area.
“I feel like this is the end of the beginning,” Price said. “We’re in a place that has set our level of professionalism and our national profile. Now it’s going to be a period of thoughtful growth.”
Chris Council/Aspen Daily News
A contractor works on Friday afternoon on the new composting bathrooms in Rio Grande Park adjacent to the Theatre Aspen tent.
That begins with an expansion of the nonprofit’s education programs. This spring marked the launch of the new Theatre Aspen Apprentice program, which brings in aspiring theater professionals to work with the pros and local theater veterans in Theatre Aspen productions. The 10 students in the inaugural class include actors, stage managers, technicians and arts administrators.
Most prominently, the integral role of Cosette in “Les Miserables” is played by Theatre Aspen apprentice Chelsea Groen, a musical theater major at the University of Michigan.
Aspen residents Jessica and John Fullerton have funded Theatre Aspen Apprentice for the next three years, at $60,000 per year.
Price said the next goal is to expand into theater education programs in valley schools.
With an annual budget of about $1.75 million, including $800,000 in production costs, ticket sales make up only 28 percent of the nonprofit’s income. The rest comes from fundraising.
With the capital campaign behind it, Theatre Aspen is beginning to look at raising an endowment. It’s goal this summer is $300,000 in donations, of which about $50,000 has been raised.
While the major overhaul of the tent is complete, the city is still finishing permanent bathrooms on the site and will be doing trail construction around it throughout this summer season. And Theatre Aspen is in the process of installing a cooling system in the tent, which runs cold water over the top of the tent, dropping the temperature within by 10 to 15 degrees. Theatre Aspen tested it for the first time last week, and will likely begin using it this summer as the tent gets muggy.
“Les Miserables” enjoyed a string of sold-out nights after opening. Competition from the Aspen Ideas Festival siphoned away crowds and has led to more empty seats over the last two weeks, Price reported. Season pass sales, however, are up more than 15 percent over 2012.