Considered the “driving force” behind Aspen Community Theatre (ACT), Rita Hunter has been producing shows and involved in nearly every aspect of ACT for the past 40+ years.
Rita Jo Marks was the fourth child, and only daughter in her family. The Marks children were no von Trapps, but they did put on countless original plays together as youngsters. As her brothers tell it, Rita was a born leader. They grew up in California, where Rita is still famous among the Sunnyvale High class of ’64. She was their mascot “Jetro”, after all. While hitchhiking through Europe at the age of 20, she found employment at a U.S. Army base in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. It was there she met her future husband, Pat Hunter. In 1970 the two moved to Aspen and began putting down roots – including a daughter, Christy, who also remains planted in Aspen. Social, helpful, and a true go-getter, Rita quickly became an integral part of the community. From her early years waitressing at The Red Onion and Dudley’s, to her 29 years at Pitkin County Dry Goods, Rita served her customers with openness, enthusiasm and kindness – and they all loved her for it!
Rita’s first local theatre show was Aspen Community Theatre’s 1980 production of the play “Nightwatch.” She auditioned for the cast, and when she didn’t land a part, the show’s producer, former Aspen Mayor Herman Edel, encouraged her to get involved backstage. Soon she was volunteering in every capacity for ACT. Fast-forward four decades: Rita has served on the Board of Directors for 41 years; produced or co-produced 52 ACT shows – many with the incomparable Jody Hecht; and procured or created thousands of costumes.
ACT thrived because Rita excelled in recruitment. If she learned you sewed, could swing a hammer, or liked to sing in the shower…she’d convince you that ACT needed you, and you needed ACT. Shows were made possible (and usually sensational!) and countless lives enriched because of her very compelling cajoling…as well as her superb organizational skills, copious hours of hard work, and relentless quest for excellence. Rita was a master at gathering the right people and inspiring them to turn the “impossible dream” into a true theatrical masterpiece.
Talk to anyone who has been on-stage or behind the scenes on an ACT show, andyou’ll hear many of these repeated: professionalism, integrity, kindness, positivity, camaraderie, creativity, safe space for taking chances, hard work, excellence, fun, friendship, community. It’s the secret sauce that Rita has had a huge hand in developing.The result: “Broadway caliber” entertainment by your friends and neighbors – a gift to everyone involved, to our community.
No task was too big or too small for Rita. She has given so much to ACT, all while working full time and raising her daughter. She did it all never expecting anything in return. Her reward was the delighted faces of the cast, crew and audience – her beloved community. It’s no wonder she’s earned the reputation as ACT’s “heart and soul.”
Diagnosed with ALS in 2019, Rita has stepped back from the demands of solo or co-producing the annual musical. Instead, she was an advisor on the production committee – a team of SIX producers – for 2021’s musical, “Company”. Her legacy is one that won’t soon be forgotten because it’s in the DNA of this cherished organization. Rita is one of those unsung heroes who has made our community a better place to live.
Photo: © Sarah kuhn