“It’s been a wild ride,” Sasha Sullivan said. The artistic director of one of the box canyon’s most-loved cultural institutions — certainly the most prodigious when it comes to fresh programming — has been navigating fresh challenges of late.
How to keep delivering theatrical performances to a community that badly misses them, especially in summer?
How to continue to offer such experiences —which are typically intimate, close-up, in-person affairs — safely in a pandemic, without resorting to Zoom?
There is really only one answer: by working hand in (likely latex) glove with Grace Franklin, San Miguel County’s public health director, to make sure safety protocols are in place.
That is what Sullivan’s indefatigable creative counterpart (and also husband), Colin Sullivan, Telluride Theatre’s executive director, has been doing.
The result is that “the show will go on, safe and sound,” as Sasha has put it.
Make that shows: next month brings a performance of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” in Town Park, likely for free.
But first, up this weekend, there are not one but two evenings of A Midsummer Night’s Gala, the theater company’s annual fundraiser, on Friday and Saturday nights. “We didn’t know if we could do anything this summer,” Sullivan said, a slight tone of wonderment in her voice. Turns out they could. “We’ve been working very closely and following best practices with Grace to make this a totally Covid-safe event,” Sullivan said.
And yes, as always, the evening will involve staged “pop-up performances,” fine dining, and an auction (this is an important annual fundraiser for a nonprofit that missed its other popular fundraiser, Telluride Burlesque, due to the pandemic and ensuing lockdown this past spring).
The tagline is the same too: A secret party at a secret location.
“The biggest thing was making sure we had a venue that was safe, and that we could get people to,” Sullivan said. So for starters, “We’ll be eating outside.”
Each night will be comprised of six, socially distanced tables of five people. “We’re doing the whole thing in pods,” Sullivan explained. “You book a table of five. We have a driver who brings you up” to the venue on a separate journey along with the rest of your tribe to your table.
“You sit with your pod, you eat in your pod. It’s all quarantine-friendly.”
Each gala has a theme, and this year’s is, quite simply, The Trip (you might recall the Grateful Dead’s classic line about what a long, strange one it’s been).
“It’s a trippy trip,” Sullivan emphasized, “through many strange and different lands. We made it all up. We dreamed it up.”
The trip involves “like, 13 different performers, and everybody has their own space. We’re all spaced out.”
Exactly where and how these performers will appear, dear reader, this reporter cannot say (it’s a secret). Suffice to say that the quality of the food will be no surprise: the chef is Graham Charles, who works with Telluride Theatre board member Ashley Story, the owner of Telluride Sleighs and Wagons, which presents the Dinner Sleigh Ride each winter on the historic Aldasoro Ranch above town.
“Graham is incredible, awesome, very detail-oriented and adventurous as a chef,” Sullivan said. “And Ashley has concocted a thematically-appropriate cocktail menu that will be delicious.”
The dinner will take place at Aldasoro Ranch. And that is all we can reveal, except to add, “We have a lot of surprises planned and special guests,” Sullivan said.
“We hope people come and experience this evening, hold it in their hearts, and then think back on it and remember, ‘That was wild and crazy.’ It’s not something you post to your Instagram account or Tweet about.” That’s the magic of live theater, after all: the joy is in the journey.
Or in this case, “The Trip.”
To book a table at A Midsummer Night’s Gala, visit telluridetheatre.org.