Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Creative Class 2016: Thomas Alexander

cc16-alexanderOctober is National Arts & Humanities Month. So the Culture Vulture returns to daily postings by featuring each day a member of the 2016 Creative Class.  First up is the youngest member, Thomas Alexander.

While still a student at Hendrix College, Thomas is currently serving as Interim Director of Music and Organist at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.  This past summer he was an Organ Scholar at Christ Church in downtown Little Rock.  An accomplished organist (who creates outstanding improvisational pieces on the organ) and choral director, he is the founder and director of the Compline service at Hendrix.  In addition to being a full-time student at Hendrix, where he is a junior, he serves on the Executive Council of Province VII of the Episcopal Church (which encompasses Arkansas and part or all of six other states).

 

 


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2016-2017 ASO season starts with UNESCO Artist for Peace Elisso Bolkvadze

ASO NewThe Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Philip Mann, Music Director and Conductor, presents the first concert of the 2016-2017 season with Opening Night: Mozart, Schubert & Mayhem, Saturday, October 1st at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, October 2nd at 3:00 p.m. at the Maumelle Performing Arts Center. The concert will include ASO Composer of the Year Stephanie Berg’s Ravish and Mayhem, Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 featuring Richard Sheppard Arnold Artist of Distinction, Elisso Bolkvadze, recently named a UNESCO Artist for Peace. The Masterworks Series is sponsored by the Stella Boyle Smith Trust.

Concert Conversations – All concert ticket holders are invited to a pre-concert lecture an hour before each Masterworks concert. These talks feature insights from the Maestro and guest artists, and feature musical examples to enrich the concert experience.

Shuttle service is available – The ASO provides shuttle service from Second Presbyterian Church in Pleasant Valley to the Maumelle Performing Arts Center and back after the concert. For more information and to purchase fare, please visit http://www.ArkansasSymphony.org/shuttle.

Tickets are $14, $39, $55, and $67; active duty military and student tickets are $10 and can be purchased online at http://www.ArkansasSymphony.org; at the Maumelle Performing Arts Center box office beginning 90 minutes prior to a concert; or by phone at 501-666-1761, ext. 100. All Arkansas students grades K-12 are admitted to Sunday’s matinee free of charge with the purchase of an adult ticket using the Entergy Kids’ Ticket, downloadable at http://www.arkansassymphony.org/freekids.

 Artists

Philip Mann, conductor 
Elisso Bolkvadze, piano – Richard Sheppard Arnold Artist of Distinction
Stephanie Berg – Arkansas Symphony Orchestra Composer of the Year

 

Program

Stephanie Berg — Ravish and Mayhem
Mozart — Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K 467
Schubert — Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, D 485

 

Program Notes:
Mozart’s Concerto No. 21 was part of the “golden dozen” concerti produced when the composer relocated to Vienna. Known for being deeper and more mature, these pieces were premiered by Mozart himself and later served as inspiration for such romantic titans as Beethoven and Brahms.

About Arkansas Symphony Orchestra

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra celebrates its 50th season in 2016-2017, under the leadership of Music Director Philip Mann. ASO is the resident orchestra of Robinson Center Music Hall, and performs more than sixty concerts each year for more than 165,000 people through its Stella Boyle Smith Masterworks Series, ACXIOM Pops LIVE! Series, River Rhapsodies Chamber Music Series, Intimate Neghborhood Concerts, and numerous concerts performed around the state of Arkansas, in addition to serving central Arkansas through numerous community outreach programs and bringing live symphonic music education to over 26,000 school children and over 200 schools.


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Little Rock Look Back: Razorback Football Launches War Memorial Stadium

wms1948-first-gameIn honor of the Arkansas Razorbacks taking on Alcorn State today in Little Rock, a look back at the first football game (or event of any kind) at War Memorial Stadium.

On September 18, 1948, the Hogs took on Abilene Christian and won the game by a score of 40 to 6.  It was the first game of the season, and the Razorbacks went into the game ranked #13. They maintained that ranking for four weeks before falling out of national standings.  The team ended up with a season record of five wins and five losses. Playing four of their games at War Memorial that season, they were two and two in Little Rock. They were one and two in Fayetteville and amassed a 2-1 record on the road.

Dedication ceremony in 1948. Photo courtesy of the War Memorial Stadium Commission.

Dedication ceremony in 1948. Photo courtesy of the War Memorial Stadium Commission.

Prior to the game, the stadium was dedicated to the veterans of World War I and World War II in a ceremony led by former Razorback standout and Medal of Honor recipient Maurice “Footsie” Britt.  Though he would later be known for entering politics and becoming Arkansas’ first Republican Lieutenant Governor, in his college days he was known statewide as an outstanding Razorback football and baseball athlete.  During World War II, his bravery and courage allowed him to become first person in American history to earn all the army’s top awards, including the Medal of Honor, while fighting in a single war.

Also participating in the opening ceremony were a mass of high school marching bands from across the state. Reports indicate up to forty bands were on the field to play the National Anthem as part of the event.

The construction of the stadium had been a dream of Governor Ben T. Laney. He had encouraged the Arkansas General Assembly to create the stadium during the 1947 session.  In August of 1947, Little Rock was chosen as the location over Hot Springs and North Little Rock. West Memphis had abandoned its bid when it was unable to secure the necessary financial pledges.  Construction started in 1947 and continued up until opening day.  On the day of the game, newspaper photos showed heavy equipment grading the parking lot prior to paving.  Though it had been Laney’s dream, with the passing of the guard, a newspaper photo on the day after the dedication focused on the incoming governor, Sid McMath.  Because Arkansas was such a Democratic heavy state, the paper referred to him as Governor-designate even though it was six weeks prior to the 1948 General Election when he would face off against C. R. Black.  McMath won the race with 89.4% of the vote.


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Little Rock Look Back: Central & Hall Football at 2-0

lrchs-lrhhsAfter two weeks of prep gridiron (that is high school football to those who don’t write like a 1950s inky wretch), Little Rock Central and Little Rock Hall are both posting records of 2 wins and 0 losses.  This feat has not been achieved in quite a while.

How long?  37 seasons!  It was 1979, the last time that the Tigers and Warriors were both out of the gate at 2-0.

1979

Jimmy Carter was in the White House. Bill Clinton was in his first term as Governor. First Lady Hillary Rodham was several months pregnant with Chelsea. Hall High and Razorback standout Webb Hubbell was Mayor of Little Rock.  The City’s population was in the 150,000s (it would be 159,151 after the 1980 census).  Little Rock had an area of approximately 80 square miles.  (Today it is approximately 200,000 citizens over 122 square miles.)

Lou Holtz was coaching the Arkansas Razorbacks in the Southwest Conference.  Harry Hall was in his first season as Commissioner of the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference.  Rex Nelson was a student at Ouachita.  Paul Eells was in his second year with KATV, while Dave Woodman was finishing his first decade at KARK.  Gary Hogan was anchoring sports for KTHV.  Hogs football games were broadcast on KAAY radio.  While Bob Buice and Jim Elder were ruling the airwaves at KARN, Craig O’Neill was dominating mornings at KLAZ.

Orville Henry, Jim Bailey, and Wadie Moore covered college and high school sports for the Arkansas Gazette.  The Arkansas Democrat had switched to morning delivery and hired John Robert Starr as editor.  Both papers carried ads for Kempners, Golds, M.M. Cohn, Skaggs Albertsons, Minute Man, Union National Bank, Commercial National Bank, Worthen National Bank, and First National Bank.

Metrocentre Mall existed with bricked over streets on Main and Capitol. The Grady Manning Hotel and Hotel Marion still stood (though in their twilight days before their February 1980 date with demolition.)

So a lot has changed since Central and Hall previously achieved this.  In the interval, Central has been 2-0 a dozen times and Hall has achieved that a brace. But the schools never managed it during the same season.  Three times the schools both managed 1-1 seasons and seven times they each started at 0-2.

The 1979 Warriors were helmed by C. W. Keopple, who would lead the team from the 1960s into the 1980s winning four conference/state titles. (When your conference is statewide, winning one got you the other.)  Bernie Cox was in his fifth season as the Tigers’ mentor, with two state championships already under his belt, five more would be in his future.

The teams stayed tied through the fourth week. But in the fifth week, while Central won, Hall lost to Parkview by a score of 7-0.  The following week, the Warriors rebounded, while the Tigers settled for a 0 to 0 tie with Ole Main.  Weeks seven through ten saw both teams notching another win each week.  This set up a Thanksgiving Day classic with the state’s top two teams facing off.  Central was slightly favored, but season records seldom carried any weight when the two cross-town rivals played on Thanksgiving afternoon.  In an upset, Hall bested Central by a score of 17 to 0.

From 1987 to 1990, the second game of the season was the Hall-Central matchup, which meant that it would have been impossible to both start with a 2-0 record.  This second week matchup was made necessary by the fact that not only could the two teams no longer face off on Thanksgiving after 1982, but the two schools were not in the same conference from 1983 through 2000. So the faceoff was early in the season, during the non-conference portion.

Due to subsequent restructurings by the Arkansas Activities Association, the two schools have not played a football game since 2005.  The bell from the “Battle of the Bell” which was supposed to replace the pageantry and intense rivalry of the Thanksgiving Day matchups, sat forlornly and largely forgotten in the trophy case at Central following the 2005 edition which Central won by a score of 24 to 7.  (That season Central started at 0-2 on the way to a 5-5 record and Hall started at 1-1 on the way to a 3-7 record.)  UPDATE: As noted in a comment on this piece, the Bell has now been refurbished and sits proudly at Quigley Stadium.  Thank you Belinda Stilwell for the information!

Who knows how the 2016 season will turn out for these two teams?  In the past 2-0 has led both to State Championships and to a 6-4 record.  But for two schools that have struggled in the past few seasons, to start with a 2-0 record is quite an accomplishment. For both to start with that record is remarkable.

 

While the blog hiatus and a restructuring continue, this was a bit of history that needed mentioning.


John Miller-Stephany named new Producing Artistic Director of Arkansas Rep

John Miller-StephanyArkansas Repertory Theatre announced today that John Miller-Stephany has been named the theatre’s new Producing Artistic Director. He assumes his new role in mid-October. The announcement by Board Chair Brian Bush ends an extensive national search.

John Miller-Stephany has worked at some of the most significant theatres in the country,” said Bush. “He is without a doubt the right leader for our organization at this point in our history. His leadership ensures a bright future for The Rep.”

“I’m tremendously excited and deeply honored to be appointed Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s next Producing Artistic Director,” said Miller-Stephany. “By all accounts – and from my personal observations over the past few months – The Rep is one of the most vibrant cultural organizations in Arkansas. I’m thrilled to join the greater Little Rock community and to work alongside my new neighbors and colleagues as together we write the next chapter in the life of this remarkable theatre.”

Miller-Stephany has enjoyed a distinguished career as a director, administrator, educator and non-profit theatre producer. From 1996 to 2015, he was Artistic Administrator and Associate Artistic Director of The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minn. From 1989 to 1996, he was Associate Producer of The Acting Company in New York City.

“Because of the vital role non-profit, professional theatres play in the life of their communities, I have proudly dedicated my career to serving them,” said Miller-Stephany.

At the Guthrie, he held a key leadership position during several major transitions and over a period of unprecedented growth. From 1997 to 2015, the theatre more than doubled its budget, going from $11 million in 1997 to $27 million in 2015. He was instrumental in the artistic development of the company, helping to guide more than 200 productions from their inception through their final performances.

Founded in 1963, The Guthrie Theater has been recognized as one of the most successful resident theatres in the country, receiving the 1982 Tony Award for Best Regional Theatre. With an annual audience of 400,000, the theatre focuses largely on classic productions. Miller-Stephany’s productions of The Music Man, Jane Eyre and 1776 are three of the top ten highest grossing productions in the history of the Guthrie.

“While I have loved living in the Twin Cities, and am deeply grateful for all of the opportunities I’ve enjoyed at the Guthrie, I’m very eager to make a new home in Little Rock and to provide leadership for The Rep,” said Miller-Stephany.  “I believe that my experiences working with one of America’s largest resident theatres have given me insights about programming, education and community engagement that will serve The Rep well.”

As an educator, Miller-Stephany has conducted classes and workshops with students at many levels including professional, college, conservatory, high school and avocational.

Miller-Stephany’s directing credits at the Guthrie include To Kill A Mockingbird, The Music Man, Born Yesterday, Roman Holiday, Charley’s Aunt, God of Carnage, A Streetcar Named Desire, When We Are Married, Jane Eyre, 1776, The Constant Wife, She Loves Me, The Night of the Iguana, Wintertime, Merrily We Roll Along, To Fool the Eye, and Sweeney Todd. He has also directed 10X10 (Barrington Stage Company), The Odd Couple (Geva Theatre/Cape Playhouse), Little Shop of Horrors (St. Louis MUNY), Queens of Burlesque (History Theater), The Poetry of Pizza (Mixed Blood Theatre), Biloxi Blues (Theatre L’Homme Dieu), Farm Boys (History Theater), and Murder by Poe (The Acting Company). He was the Associate Producer of the 1995 Broadway revival of The School of Scandal, directed by Gerald Freedman, co-produced by the National Actors Theatre and The Acting Company.

Miller-Stephany’s appointment follows a national search conducted by David Mallette of Management Consultants for the Arts. The search committee included members of The Rep’s Board of Directors, community representatives, and The Rep’s managing director Michael McCurdy.

Miller-Stephany will become the third artistic leader in The Rep’s 40-year history. He assumes his new role in October, succeeding Bob Hupp (1999-2016) and Founding Artistic Director Cliff Baker (1976-1999), who is currently serving as Interim Producing Artistic Director.

Ben composite


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Little Rock Look Back: Ben Piazza

Ben compositeActor-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.

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.

piazzaPiazza started the 1960s on Broadway starring at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in A Second String with 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 in The 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.

 

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 appearing in Winesburg. 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 inThe 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.