2015 In Memoriam – Dugald MacArthur

1515 MacArthur

In these final days of 2015, we pause to look back at 15 who influenced Little Rock’s cultural scene who left us in 2015.

Though his contributions to Arkansas’ theatre scene are now largely forgotten, Dugald MacArthur played a pivotal role in establishing professional theatre in Arkansas.

A native of Birmingham, Alabama, he received a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth and an MBA from Harvard.  He did not enjoy the corporate world. After seeing an innovative theatrical production, he enrolled at Baylor and received a master’s degree.

After graduating from Baylor, he was hired by Winthrop Rockefeller to come to Little Rock and establish a professional theatre program at the Arkansas Arts Center. One of the people who participated in that program was Cliff Baker, who would go on to found the Arkansas Repertory Theatre a few years later.  In a remembrance after MacArthur died, Baker recalled, “He opened my eyes to directing. He will forever have a very special place in my heart!”

MacArthur was interested in using theatre to explore social issues. This would ultimately lead to his exit from Arkansas.  At the Arts Center, he created a play that explored problems with the prison system in Arkansas.  As Mr. Rockefeller was by now Governor Rockefeller and in charge of the prisons, this did not — needless to say — sit well with some members of the Arts Center board and the greater Little Rock business community.  Before the show opened, the production was cancelled.  (It eventually was repurposed into the movie Brubaker starring Robert Redford.)

MacArthur left Arkansas to lead the Theatre program at San Francisco State University. He later helped found the California Institute of the Arts before taking over the MFA program at Temple University, from which he would retire after 25 years.  Everywhere he went, he was lauded for his teaching, directing and mentoring. In 2009, he was honored with a Barrymore Award in for Lifetime Achievement.