Tonight in New York City, a new play starts previews. It is entitled Little Rock and is written and directed by Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj.
Eleven years ago, Maharaj was in a residency at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre creating It Happened in Little Rock, which was performed at the Rep in September 2007. It was their contribution the community events commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High.
Though Maharaj’s current production is different from the 2007 Rep production, it was inspired by his time in Little Rock and the connections he made during his residency.
Here is the official description of Little Rock:
LITTLE ROCK tells the riveting true story of the Little Rock Nine, the first black students to attend their city’s formerly segregated central high school. What began as their quest for a better education soon became a national crisis, igniting the passions of a divided country and sparking a historic fight for justice in the Jim Crow South.
On the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement, a changing world watched as these nine children from Arkansas battled for their rights with only a book and pencil.
The cast includes Rebekah Brockman, Justin Cunningham, Charlie Hudson III, Ashley Robinson, Stephanie Umoh (who starred in the Arkansas Rep production of Pal Joey), Shanice Williams, Peter O’Connor, Damian Jermaine Thompson (who starred in the Arkansas Rep productions of The Whipping Man and the Scottish Play), Kea Trevett and Anita Welch.
The production officially opens on June 6 and is scheduled for a limited run through September 8.
This production illustrates why theatre is important and Arkansas Repertory Theatre specifically is important. One, theatre is a chance to explore and explain moments from our past and present. The Rep saw a role it could play in telling a variety of stories and perspectives while molding a narrative about events in 1957 and progress that had been made (or not) since then.
Additionally, it is important that the Arkansas Repertory Theatre provided an artistic home for a playwright and director to learn. In addition to working on It Happened in Little Rock, over the years Maharaj directed A Raisin in the Sun, Dreamgirls, and Intimate Apparel for Arkansas Rep. It was through his experiences in Little Rock in 2004 and 2006, that he was inspired to collaborate with Bob Hupp, Leslie Golden and the Rep staff on It Happened in Little Rock. Developing a play is not easy, cheap, or quick. It is vital to the future of theatre to have artistic homes which can support these initiatives.
As the Arkansas Rep is preparing for its “Next Act” it is important to remember the impact it has had artistically and as an agent for community conversation on not only Little Rock but the state of Arkansas. Sometimes theatre sparks ideas that no other art-form can, or no amount of reading or listening to speeches can.
Repertorium Praeter Theatrum
UPDATE – on the afternoon of May 30, the producer announced that due to some technical difficulties, the production was being delayed a few days.