Little Rock Look Back: Arkansas Arts Center produces first play at its theatre

The Arts Center Theatre view from the stage in 1963

On May 3, 1963, at 8:30 pm, the curtain rose as the Arkansas Arts Center produced its first show in its own theatre.  Though the building would not be officially dedicated until later in May (more about that later), programming had been taking place in the facility for several months.

In December 1962, a community theatre production was the first play in the Arkansas Arts Center theatre.  Over the ensuing months, it would play host to a variety of concerts and performances.  At the time, the Arkansas Arts Center planned to use the theatre as a house for its own productions (one series geared to adults, the other series geared to kids), other shows produced by Little Rock organizations, and touring shows which might be too small for Robinson Auditorium.

Friday, May 3, 1963, was a momentous evening, as the Arkansas Arts Center presented Rumpelstiltskin.  (Since the theatre space has been focused on children’s theatre since the late 1970s, it seems prescient that the first AAC produced play was a children’s production some fifteen years earlier.)

The production was overseen Joseph N. Carner, who was the theatre director.  It was his hope that the Arts Center plays geared toward children would also encourage other groups throughout the state to produce plays specifically for younger audiences.  Margaret Davies Carner, who taught speech at Little Rock University, directed the play.  She also taught drama classes at the Arts Center.

The cast included Garry White as the title character with Dell Blaine, Michael Hosman, Lesie Smith, Tom Abraham, Dickie Atchison, Butch Lashee, henry Fletcher, Charles McRaven, Ann Thomson, Dannette Joe Baker, Sallie Penn, Paul Motes, Leslie Newell, and Robin Hosman.

In addition to a Friday night performance, there were 2:30 matinees on Saturday and Sunday that were geared toward children’s audiences.

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