Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


The Studio Theatre celebrates grand opening today

studiotheatreLittle Rock’s newest live performance venue, The Studio Theatre and The Lobby Bar, will celebrate its grand opening this Thursday, July 31. The celebration begins at 2pm with a ribbon cutting hosted by the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce. A reception follows along with theatre tours and live musical performances in The Lobby Bar until 1am.

Located in downtown Little Rock, this is a 99 seat venue. “There are other live performance spaces within walking distance of The Studio Theatre,” says President of the Board and Musical Director, Bob Bidewell. “Lovers of the performing arts now have another first class performance space to consider when making their plans.”

In August, The Studio Theatre and Lobby Bar have a schedule of  productions:

Monday’s at 8pm- Open Mic Night (Lobby Bar-FREE Admission)

August 7- Songwriters Rena Wren & Rodger King (Lobby Bar- FREE Admission)

August 15 & 16- Broadway Concert (Studio Theatre- Ticket Price: $12)

August 29- Rodney Block (Studio Theatre- Ticket Prices: $10-$25)

August 30- Arkansas’ Masters of Illusion (Studio Theatre- Ticket Prices to be announced)

Additionally, Community Theatre of Little Rock recently moved to The Studio Theatre and just wrapped up sold out performances of Rent. CTLR’s next performance is a series of One Acts and runs August 22-24. Visit www.ctlr-act.org for details.

In September, Little Shop of Horrors takes the stage with 10 performances beginning September 11.

Built in 1921, The Studio Theatre and The Lobby Bar are located in the former Balfour Printing building in downtown Little Rock.  For more information, call 501-940-4646 or visit thestudiotheatre.org and on Facebook .

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Little Rock Look Back: Jim Dailey – LR’s 71st Mayor

cityoflr_img_board_dailyOn July 31, 1942, future Little Rock Mayor Dalton James “Jim” Dailey, Jr. was born to Dalton and Ellen Dailey.  After graduating from Little Rock Catholic High School, he attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.  He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. He joined his father in the family business, Dailey’s Office Furniture.

In 1974, Dailey was elected to the City of Little Rock Board of Directors.  He served one four-year term. The last two years of that term, he was the Vice Mayor of Little Rock.

Following that term, he remained engaged in civic activities including serving in leadership capacities in community campaigns.  He also served as president of the National Office Products Association – the first Arkansan to do so.  Dailey also served as the founding chair of Leadership Greater Little Rock.

In 1988, Dailey was elected to return to the City Board.  He was reelected in 1992.  Dailey served as Vice Mayor in 1991 and 1992.  In January 1993, he was chosen by his fellow City Directors to serve a two year term as Mayor.  Under his leadership, the Future-Little Rock goal-setting process took place.

Following a voter-approved change to the City structure, the position of Mayor was changed to be elected by the people while maintaining the City Manager form of government.  On January 1, 1995, Jim Dailey was sworn in as the first popularly-elected Mayor of the City of Little Rock in over 38 years.

cityoflr_img_mayor_01Dailey has served on the Board of Directors for the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, Metroplan, Communities in Schools, Arkansas BioVentures and New Futures for Youth. He was appointed to the National League of Cities Board of Directors and the Municipalities in Transition on Public Finance.

As Mayor, he served as Chair of the Intergovernmental Advisory Committee of the Federal Communications Commission. He was also a member of the United States Conference of Mayor’s Communications Task Force.  He also served as president of the Arkansas Municipal League in 2002 and 2003.

While he was Mayor of Little Rock, he was a strong proponent of the development of the River Market and worked to locate the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock.  He also worked to increase public safety support.  He also oversaw the establishment of Central Arkansas Water, the development of downtown headquarters for Acxiom Corporation and Heifer International, and the creation of Prevention, Intervention and Treatment programs.  In addition, he was instrumental in leading the efforts for the 40th anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High in 1997.

Mayor Dailey was re-elected in 1998 and 2002.  His fourteen years as Mayor of Little Rock set a longevity record.  Upon his retirement the City’s fitness center was renamed the Jim Dailey Fitness and Aquatic Center.  This was in recognition of his lifelong interest in wellness activities.

Since leaving office, he has continued his civic involvement by serving as a member of the Little Rock Airport Commission which oversees the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport. He is also involved in commercial real estate.

Since 1965, he has been married to the former Patti Murphy.  They have four children and six grandchildren.


Phone Home – E.T. Closes Out the 2014 Movies in the Park Season

MitP10 ETThe 10th anniversary season of Movies in the Park closes out with the 1982 classic E.T.  Steven Spielberg’s tale of an extraterrestrial who is trying to get home has been a hit since it debuted.

The film stars Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore and Robert McNaughton as three siblings who befriend the creature. Dee Wallace is their mom.  Others in the cast include Peter Coyote and C. Thomas Howell.

Bring the Reese’s Pieces, ride your bicycle and plan for a magical evening of glowing fingertips, amazement and the uttering of the name “Elliott.”

E. T. was nominated for nine Oscars including Best Picture.  It took home four trophies: Sound, Visual Effects, Sound Effects Editing and Score. The latter award went to John Williams for yet another iconic masterpiece.

Now in its 10th season, Movies in the Park is a free outdoor film series at the First Security Amphitheater in Riverfront Park.  The move starts at dark (around 8:30).

Movies in the Park has grown to a season of eight films per year, on average, reaching audiences of up to 7,000 people. It’s a staple event in Central Arkansas. Communities from across the state, and the country, have reached out for guidance as they have tried to implement similar programs in the own communities.

Since 2008, the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau has been managing Movies in the Park.


Little Rock Look Back: Actor and author Ben Piazza

BdP book photo

BDP LRHS

Actor-director-playwright-author Ben Piazza was born on July 30, 1933, in Little Rock.  Piazza graduated from Little Rock High School in 1951 as valedictorian. He also had starred in the senior play that year (The Man Who Came to Dinner) and edited the literary magazine.

Keeping the Tiger as his mascot, Piazza attended college at Princeton University.  While there he continued acting, including an appearance in a Theatre Intime production of Othello.  Following his 1955 graduation, he moved to New York City and studied at the Actor’s Studio.

BDP PU

Piazza was an understudy in the 1956 play, Too Late the Phalarope at the Belasco Theatre.  In February 1958, he starred in Winesburg, Ohio sharing the National (now Nederlander) Theatre stage with James Whitmore, Dorothy McGuire, and Leon Ames. Other cast members included Claudia McNeil (who originated the part of Lena in A Raisin in the Sun) and Sandra Church (who originated the part of Gypsy Rose Lee in Gypsy).

In April 1959, Piazza starred in Kataki at the Ambassador Theatre. This two actor play also featured Sessue Hayakawa, who played a Japanese soldier who spoke only his native language.  Therefore, Piazza’s part was largely a very lengthy monologue.  For his performance, Piazza received one of the 1959 Theatre World Awards.

As the 1960s dawned, Piazza joined a small cadre of actors who had achieved status on Broadway who then also returned to acting Off Broadway.  Colleen Dewhurst, George C. Scott, and James Earl Jones were others in this select group who helped establish Off Broadway as an entity in itself, instead of being just a farm team for Broadway.

Piazza started the 1960s on Broadway starring at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in A Second Stringwith Shirley Booth, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Nina Foch, Cathleen Nesbitt, and Carrie Nye.   Following that, he started his association with Edward Albee by appearing as the title character inThe American Dream.  That play opened at the York Playhouse in January 1961.  Later that year, he appeared in Albee’s The Zoo Story opposite original cast member William Daniels at the East End Theatre.

piazza

Also in 1961 Piazza starred in several plays during a South American tour sponsored by the American Repertory Company.  He played Christopher Isherwood in I Am a Cameraand Chance Wayne in Sweet Bird of Youth.  In 1962, he starred in a series of plays at the Cherry Lane Theatre.  Piazza returned to Broadway to star along with Jane Fonda and Dyan Cannon in The Fun Couple at the Lyceum Theatre. This play had a troubled rehearsal period, which was documented in a short film about Jane Fonda.

Ben Piazza stayed on Broadway and returned to Albee in February 1963.  He took over the role of Nick in the original run of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? when original actor George Grizzard left to play Hamlet at the Guthrie Theatre.  (He had participated in earlier readings of the play prior to it being mounted on Broadway.)

This play was at the Billy Rose Theatre, which marked a return for Piazza. He had acted at this theatre when it was the National while doing Winseburg.  Piazza played Nick for the remainder of the run and acted with Uta Hagen, Arthur Hill, fellow Arkansan Melinda Dillon, Eileen Fulton, Nancy Kelly, Mercedes McCambridge, Rochelle Oliver and Sheppard Strudwick.

Exact and Very Strange cover

During the run of this show, Piazza’s novel The Exact and Very Strange Truth was published.  It is a fictionalized account of his growing up in Little Rock during the 1930s and 1940s.  The book is filled with references to Centennial Elementary, Westside Junior High, Central High School, Immanuel Baptist Church and various stores and shops in Little Rock during that era.  The Piazza Shoe Store, located on Main Street, was called Gallanti’s.

Following Virginia Woolf, he starred in The Zoo Story at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 1965.  In August of 1967, his play The Sunday Agreement premiered at LaMaMa.  This was Piazza’s first playwright output to be professionally staged.

As Sunday Agreement was opening, Piazza was in rehearsal for his next Broadway opening. He appeared with Alfred Drake in The Song of the Grasshopper in September 1967.  In 1968, he returned to Albee and starred in The Death of Bessie Smith and The Zoo Story in repertory on Broadway at the Billy Rose Theatre.

Later that season, in March 1969, a double bill of his one-acts: Lime Green/Khaki Blue opened at the Provincetown Playhouse.  It was directed by future Tony nominee Peter Masterson and starred Louise Lasser, Robert Walden (who starred in the 2013 production of Death of a Salesman at Arkansas Repertory Theatre), Clinton Allmon and Dolores Dorn-Heft, to whom Piazza was married at the time.

Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, Piazza toured in many plays nationally and internationally. He also appeared in major regional theatres as an actor and a director.  During this time period he was in productions of Bus Stop, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, You Know I Can’t Hear You when the Water’s Running  and Savages.  In 1970, he starred as Stanley Kowalski in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire in New Orleans.  As the 1970s progressed, he turned his focus to television and movies.

BDP early

Piazza’s film debut was in a 1959 Canadian film called The Dangerous Age. That same year, his Hollywood film debut came opposite Gary Cooper, Karl Malden, Maria Schell and George C. Scott in The Hanging Tree.  Though he received positive reviews for his performances, Piazza chose to return to New York and perform in stage and TV productions.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he appeared in a number of TV shows including Studio One, Kraft Theatre, Zane Grey Theatre, The Naked City and Dick Powell Theatre.  He had a recurring role during one season of Ben Casey and appeared on the soap opera Love of Life.

In the 1970s, he starred in the films Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon; The Candy Snatchers and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.  He also starred as the City Councilman who recruits Walter Matthau to coach a baseball team in The Bad News Bears.

Among his numerous TV appearances in the 1970s were The Waltons, Mannix, Switch, Barnaby Jones, Gunsmoke, Mod Squad and Lou Grant (where he was reunited with Walden).

BDP final

In the 1980s, he appeared in The Blues Brothers, The Rockford Files, Barney Miller, Hart to Hart, Family Ties, The Winds of War, Dallas, Dynasty, Too Close for Comfort, The A Team, Saint Elsewhere, Santa Barbara, The Facts of Life, Mr. Belvedere, Moonlighting and Matlock.

Piazza’s final big screen appearance was in the 1991 film Guilty by Suspicion.  He played studio head Darryl Zanuck in this Robert DeNiro-Annette Bening tale of Hollywood during the Red scare.

Ben Piazza died on September 7, 1991.


A Work of Art continues today with Minors in Music playing Jazz in the River Market

DSCF8695Minors in Music, the high school and college jazz musician program of Art Porter Music Education will be performing at the River Market today at noon in a free concert.  Yesterday, they kicked off the 2014 A Work of Art with a preview at City Hall.

The students are under the direction of Dr. Danny Fletcher.

 


Art Porter Music Education week kicks off today at City Hall

Art Porter weekToday at noon at City Hall, the City of Little Rock will host an event introducing the 2014 “A Work of Art” Jazz Week. The kickoff features the first concert of a week-long series of awe-inspiring performances. The agenda includes the introduction of the 2014 Art Porter Music Education scholarship recipient, a performance by the students from the “Minors of Music” program and details on the concerts scheduled for the rest of the week.

“A Work of Art” is the primary fundraiser for the Art Porter Music Education scholarship program. All proceeds from the week-long fundraiser benefit the scholarship fund. “A Work of Art” is held the first week of August in observance of the birth month of Art Porter, Jr. Attendees enjoy a week of unique educational experiences by an impressive group of local artists, music students and national recording artists.

Ticket information is available at artporter.org.


Little Rock Look Back: Plans for new City Hall go on trial

The 1906 plans for City Hall with the Municipal Auditorium on the left portion.

The 1906 plans for City Hall with the Municipal Auditorium on the left portion.

The Little Rock City Council approved Charles Thompson’s plans for a new city hall, auditorium and jail on July 9, 1906, by the adoption of Resolution 281 and Ordinance 1,295.  This did not set well with the powers that be at the Arkansas Gazette.  A lawsuit was filed against the City. The lead plaintiff was J. N. Heiskell, the owner and editor of the Gazette.  From July 24 through July 27, the Arkansas Gazette featured stories and editorials on its front page decrying the action.  (It most likely stems from the fact that the editor was trying to get the City Council to construct a public library.  He ostensibly felt that money spent on a new city hall and auditorium would divert funds from construction of a library.)

In response to the lawsuit, a temporary restraining order was issued on July 24 stopping the City from any further action on the new building plans until the trial had taken place.  The plaintiffs’ four main points were that state law did not authorize a city government to construct an auditorium, that the contract exceeded the amount authorized by the City Council, that the City did not own the land on which the city hall and auditorium would be built, and that “the city of Little Rock now has a city hall sufficient for all necessary purposes.”

The trial started on Friday, July 27, 1906.  Among the legal team for the plaintiffs were J. H. Harrod and former Arkansas Governor Daniel Webster Jones.  The City’s legal team included City Attorney W. Burt Brooks joined by three attorneys from prominent Little Rock families: former City Attorney Ashley Cockrill, John Fletcher and Thomas Mehaffy.

The trial began on a Friday, continued on Saturday (!) and concluded on a Monday.

Architect Frank W. Gibb (who had applied for but not been selected to design the new city hall and auditorium) was called as a witness by the prosecution.  He stated that, based on his review, the capacity for the auditorium would be between 1,700 and 2,000.  This was used to bolster claims by the plaintiffs that the auditorium, if built, would be insufficient to the meet the needs offered by proponents.  Mr. Gibb also estimated that the auditorium wing was about forty-two percent of the cost for the entire project.  He was asked by the defense about the adequacy of the existing City Hall.  The architect replied that the current seat of municipal government was not large enough to meet all the present needs.

Mayor Lenon was the only defense witness; in his testimony he addressed the inadequacies of the current City Hall which echoed the points raised by Mr. Gibb. The mayor also detailed the purchase of the land for the new project.  While the plaintiffs charged the city had not purchased the land, Mayor Lenon pointed out the land was under contract.  He further stated that the work was done through a third party for fear that if the land owners had known the city was the interested buyer, the price might have been inflated by the potential sellers.

Next up were the closing arguments.  More on those and the verdict next week.