Typically, when a high school or middle school theater troupe puts on a play, a degree of amateurism is expected. Whether it’s the set, the costumes, the lighting or the special effects, most school districts don’t have the financial wherewithal (or local talent) to stage a full-blown, professional-style production. Of course, most school districts aren’t the Aspen School District.
As with many things Aspen, the local theater company, comprised of students from Aspen’s middle and high schools, finds itself in a good position when it comes time to put on its annual musical. Aided in large part by ad sales in the program and ticket receipts at the voluminous Aspen District Theatre, the student company generally finds itself with a budget in the neighborhood of $20,000 each year. This year’s production of “Peter Pan” is no exception.
“Our goal is to break even with ticket sales and sponsorships from local businesses,” said Logan Carter, theater teacher and director for both Aspen High School and Aspen Middle School. “That goes toward the set, the professional designers, the costumes, the props, the lighting. We basically treat it like a professional production even though it’s within a school setting.”
The professionals enlisted for the play include a set designer with a degree in scenic and costume design from Colorado State University; a costume designer; a lighting designer from Carbondale’s Robert Singer & Associates with a degree in theatrical lighting; and longtime local choreographer Marisa Post. Most importantly — this being “Peter Pan” — the troupe brought in the big guns to help the characters fly.
“We’re going with a company from Las Vegas called Flying by Foy,” said Carter. “They pretty much invented the whole flying system for ‘Peter Pan,’ so we were like, ‘We kind of should go with them.’”
The Vegas-based pros, whose other credits include numerous Broadway plays (including five current ones), television awards shows and Disney theme parks, came into town a couple of weeks ago to help the local students take to the air. After 60 years in the business Foy has theatrical flying down pat, but that doesn’t mean it’s comfortable.
“Morgan, who plays Peter, has to fly so much that she basically has to go home and ice her whole body,” said Carter, with a sympathetic laugh. “It’s pretty athletic, and it’s also pretty painful. It’s like being lifted in a rock-climbing harness.”
It’s a great chance for the students in the crew and expanded cast to learn from seasoned professionals, and it gives them a first-hand look into what it takes to stage a big-time production. For Carter, who started Carbondale’s SOL Theatre before taking the position with the Aspen schools six years ago, and technical director Jon Geller, it’s also a chance to put their own professional theater backgrounds to use.
The music will be backed by a cast under the direction of the school’s new choir teacher, Erica Nottingham, and Carter expects a great vocal performance, despite the young ages of the bit players, many of whom are still in their tweens.
“We have 22 Lost Boys, and those are all middle schoolers,” said Carter. “We have 15 Pirates and 12 Indians, and then the leads are mostly high schoolers and a few middle schoolers. So they’re young, but the high school kids are really paving the way and showing the others what it’s like to be a professional theater kid.”
There will be only one Peter in the cast — the aforementioned and evidently oft-bruised Morgan Witt — but many of the other leads, including Wendy, Hook and Tiger Lily, were double-cast to accommodate more of the young actors who auditioned. It will also help with the grueling schedule of six shows in four days.
They’ll be enacting a tale familiar to most theater buffs, but there will be some changes to accommodate modern social norms, particularly in the scenes involving the Indians. There will be one element of the show, however, that probably won’t vary an iota from the way it’s been done in the past on Broadway: Witt and her cast members are going to fly in professional, albeit painful, style.