On September 6, 2018, Arkansas Rep founder Cliff Fannin Baker died after suffering a brain aneurism a week earlier in New York.
Patrons and actors from the Rep’s earliest days up to the current effort to reopen the Rep were in shock by the news. From the time the news about his hospitalization was announced on September 2, friends and fans alike came together to share their thoughts, love, prayers, bright lights, etc. in a wish for his recovery.
A memorial service was held in October at the Rep. It featured remarks from longtime colleagues as well as music by Vivian Morrison (accompanied by composer Michael Rice) in a song from PAGEANT and members of the cast of SISTER ACT, the last show Cliff directed at Arkansas Rep.
Cliff founded the Rep in 1976 and led it until 1999. He oversaw it as it went from a small group of actors in an abandoned church into a professional theatre. After retiring from the Rep, he would come back every season or so to direct a production.
Below are excerpts from what I wrote about Cliff upon the news of his death.
Cliff Baker willed Arkansas Rep into existence. He had a merry band of players to join him. But in the end, it was his vision, his determination, his blood, his sweat, and his tears that made the dream a reality.
[In 1976], the Arkansas Rep was born in an abandoned church space adjacent to MacArthur Park. Operating for the first few years as a true repertory company, the same core cadre acted, sold tickets, built sets, and cleaned the building. What Cliff was creating in Little Rock was rare at the time. Professional theatre did not exist in cities of its size.
He had the ability to make people feel connected, to make you feel you were the most important person in the room. It was that gift that made him a good director, actor, producer, and fundraiser.
….Alas, just as the Rep is on the cusp of a new phase, Cliff won’t be there to direct. But Cliff WILL be there. He will always be a part of the Rep. It is more than him, but it is very much him… Cliff Fannin Baker was a Pied Piper, and we were all glad to follow along.