Isaacson. Zuckerman. Fletcher. Horowitz. In Aspen, those who successfully helm a revered local cultural organization might come to be known by just one name. Now, it’s time for Jed Bernstein to take a turn as the newly anointed producing director of Theatre Aspen, celebrating its 35th year. (He joins past and present local luminaries such as Walter Isaacson of the Aspen Institute, Heidi Zuckerman of the Aspen Art Museum, Alan Fletcher of Aspen Music Festival and School, and Jim Horowitz of Jazz Aspen Snowmass.)
With a résumé that includes advertising (Ogilvy & Mather), theater management (president and CEO of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts) and production (Tony Award winner as producer of the Broadway revival of Hair), one might ask why a Yankee Stadium-size talent chooses to play in the relative sandlot of Aspen.
“Because it’s Aspen,” the 62-year old says, pointing out the obvious while sitting in a rocking chair at the Red Brick, home to Theatre Aspen’s office. “It is so culturally intense here. This is a community that takes great pride in its institutions, and it is amazing how many they support.” Pausing, he adds, “And it is a really beautiful place.”
While music and idea confabs take center stage during Aspen’s summer months, Bernstein sees real opportunity for Theatre Aspen the rest of the year. He spent his first 100 days meeting the heads of the town’s other cultural institutions—as well as donors, supporters and townspeople—to identify a plan of attack. “I want to start with ‘first practices’: define the purpose of Theatre Aspen and communicate it to the community,” he says, sounding very much the marketer. But, in his next sentence, that morphs into passionate advocacy for theater in general. “When you work in the theater, you are so blessed to get to spend your days helping artists create beautiful things.” It is this unique combination of Bernstein’s professional and creative sensibilities that bodes so well for Theatre Aspen’s future. “I hope that, one day, our footprint might span 52 weeks,” he says, alluding to education, youth programs or writers’ workshops.
This is not Bernstein’s first foray into community theater. As a partner and producing director, he was instrumental in the renovation and renaissance of the historic Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pa. “Local theater is at its strongest when it understands the community and supports the community in which it works,” he says.
Theatre Aspen’s exceedingly charming and intimate Hurst Theatre will host productions of Ragtime, Godspell and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town this summer. “It is maybe the most American play ever written and a classic,” says Bernstein. And its title appropriately defines how Theatre Aspen and its new director feel about the community.
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