A Rep-trospective

It was one year ago today, on April 24, 2018, that the Arkansas Repertory Theatre announced it was cancelling its last production of the season and suspending operations.

Most of its fans were in shock.  Some had heard rumblings that not everything was copasetic financially.

As supporters worked through the stages of grief, they asked: “How had this happened?” “Is there a path forward?” “What can we do to Save the Rep?”

In the coming days it was confirmed that the situation had not happened overnight. As with many other businesses and people, the Rep had been living off of future proceeds. And when those failed to materialize from ticket sales and donations, something drastic had to be done.

And many things were done.

After the decision to suspend operations and lay off most of the staff (with the remaining staff having no assurances of continued employment come Labor Day), longtime supporters Ruth Shepherd and Bill Rector stepped in as part of a volunteer interim leadership team.  Together with Board members and other supporters they were able to map out a strategy to stem financial losses which gave the organization a modicum of breathing room in order to assess more permanent next steps. (Incidentally, Rector’s father performed much the same function for the Arkansas Arts Center fifty years earlier in 1968 when it had faced a similar situation.)

Rep founder Cliff Fannin Baker stepped in to as interim artistic director to help determine options for moving forward, provided that finances stabilized.

The John & Robyn Horn Foundation approved a challenge grant of $25,000 designated for “General Support” and the Windgate Charitable Foundation provided a challenge grant for $1,000,000, with an initial payment of $75,000 for operating needs. Unlike some challenge grants, Windgate did not withhold payment until the entire $1,000,000 had been raised.

Community leaders including Skip Rutherford and Stacy Sells staged a “Save the Rep” rally which drew hundreds of people to Main Street on a sweltering May evening and raised money for the Rep.

Education offerings continued at the Rep’s annex on Main Street and, in fact, were expanded under the leadership of Anna Fraley Kimmell.

One of the Rep’s problems had been it owned four properties which made it real estate rich, but cash poor.  In August, the Rep sold an apartment building used to house visiting actors.  The sale cut the property debt in half and offered some much-needed financial assets.  Also that month, the biennial Gridiron show pledged all of its proceeds to support the Rep.

Focus groups and community meetings garnered input from patrons throughout Central Arkansas.

Then, just as it appeared the Rep was hitting its stride on the way to renewal, the unthinkable happened.  Baker suffered an aneurysm and died a few days later.  In addition to working on setting the season, he was set to direct the first show of the rebooted Arkansas Rep.

Through grief, the Rep continued to push forward.  In November, the new season was announced. It would be four shows plus a youth show running throughout 2019.  A few weeks later, the Rep’s new leadership was announced.

Tony winning Broadway producer Will Trice, a Little Rock native who acted on the Rep’s stage in the 1990s as a teenager, would become the theatre’s Executive Artistic Director.  While he won’t be in Little Rock as a full-time resident until the summer, he is already on the job as he splits his time between New York City and Little Rock.  The staff is gradually getting built out, as well.

Native Gardens opened last week as the second production of the season (following February’s run of Chicago).

Whither Arkansas Rep in the future?

Long-term financial stability is still a goal, not yet a guaranteed reality.  Finances are in better shape, to be certain.  But the fact remains – theatre is expensive. Even though the Rep has a leaner structure, there are basic levels that cost.  There still is the ever-present balancing act of offering productions that audiences will want to see yet are economically feasible.

The influx of money that was given over the past year must be maintained…and grown. Each year! There is not an apartment building to sell for $750,000 this year.  While there are ticket sales, unlike this time last year, those sales are not pure profit. And the profit margin on musicals is traditionally smaller than on plays.

Audiences cannot lapse into the “Arkansas Rep has reopened, all crises averted” fallacy.  Their attendance, their money, their passion, their excitement, their word of mouth, their money (yes it is that crucial that it bears repeating) is needed.  In non-profit theatre, ticket sales NEVER cover all the costs. This applies to Rep, for certain. And while no dollar amount is too small, moving it forward will require people to increase their investment.

And the Rep’s financial need is not occurring in a vacuum. Major cultural institutions and smaller organizations are also needing financial support.  Area universities are struggling because of declines in student enrollment (due partially to dropping birth rates two decades ago) so they need increased donations to sustain operations. Few large Arkansas-based businesses are able to provide substantial contributions.

When it comes to the Rep and other cultural entities, it cannot be either/or. It must be a both/and mentality.

So…. Where is Arkansas Rep today?

Certainly better off than it was a year ago.

It has defied the odds and come back from the suspension of operations. Many, if not most, theatres that take a pause never resume.

There is a lot of work left to do. But with a collective effort, it is possible.

To quote from Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize winning Angels in America, which the Rep produced in the 1990s, “The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come. … More Life. The Great Work Begins.”

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Shake a Spear, or What You Will on Shakespeare’s Birthday

Today is the traditional birthday of William Shakespeare. It seems a good chance to preview the 2019 Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre season.

The lineup includes: The Comedy of Errors (the first Shakespeare play I ever read), The Scottish Play (sorry, but I don’t want to invoke the curse so I won’t write or say the title), as well as a streamlined version of Romeo and Juliet for families.  Also on tap, in the non-Shakespeare musical slot is Guys and Dolls.

Here is more about each show.
The Comedy of Errors
A tragic shipwreck, two sets of twins divided at birth, mistaken identities, and unrequited love provide the perfect recipe for fun in this Shakespearean farce. The fates bring the brothers and their long-lost father Aegeon together in the land of Ephesus with hilarious results.
Outside on the lawn at UCA – Performances June 7, 8, 9, 23, 26, 29, and July 4

Guys and Dolls
A Musical Fable of Broadway
Based on a Story and Characters of Damon Runyon
Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser
Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows
High-rolling gambler Sky Masterson never took a bet he couldn’t win, until he met the no-nonsense Sarah Brown, a mission worker set on redeeming the sinners of Broadway. While fellow gambler Nathan Detroit has his own hands full with his fourteen year engagement to Miss Adelaide. It’s the audience who wins in this delightful musical of love and luck!
On-stage in Reynolds Performance Hall – Performances June 15, 16, 23, 25, 28, 30 (twice), and July 2, 4, and 6.

[The Scottish Play]
Brave warrior The Thane of Cawdor emerges victorious from battle to be greeted by three witches who hail him as the future king of Scotland. What follows is a dizzying descent into political machinations, murder, and madness.
On-stage in Reynolds Performance Hall.  Performances are June 21, 22, 27, 29 and July 3, 5, and 7.

Family Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet
The fighting families of Montague and Capulet put their feud before their children’s happiness in Shakespeare’s classic tale of “star-crossed” young love, reimagined for audiences of all ages in this one-hour adaptation.
On-stage in Reynolds Performance Hall.  Also available to tour.  Performances are June 26, 28, 29 and July 2 and 4.

Mary Ruth Marotte is the Executive Director and Rebekah Scallet is the Producing Artistic Director.

Go Native – comedy NATIVE GARDENS on Arkansas Rep stage through May 5

A hilarious new comedy where cultures and gardens clash, turning well-intentioned neighbors into feuding enemies, is up next in Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s 2019 Season.Native Gardens, by Karen Zacarías, runs April 17-May 5. Tickets are available at TheRep.org.

“This hilarious comedy is going to have all the staples of a Rep production including a beautiful set and great acting,” said Karen Rudolph, Director of Marketing & Audience Engagement. “Spring is here, gardens are blooming and the community is ready to laugh. This play will deliver.”

In Native Gardens, Pablo, a rising attorney, and doctoral candidate Tania, his pregnant wife, have purchased a home next to Frank and Virginia, a D.C. couple with a prize-worthy English garden. But an impending barbeque for Pablo’s colleagues and a dispute over a long-standing fence line soon spiral into a border dispute, exposing both couples’ notions of race, taste, class, and privilege.

The Arkansas Rep cast includes Rachel Harker (Virginia Butley), Kurt Zischke (Frank Butley), Aurora Leonard (Tania Del Valle) and Gabriel Pena (Pablo Del Valle).

Little Rock native Steve Broadnax III is the play’s director. The design and creative team includes Holly Payne, costume designer; Lynda J. Kwallek, properties designer; Mike Nichols, resident set designer/technical director; and Yael Lubetzky, lighting designer. The production manager is Joshua Marchesi and the stage manager is Colin JB.

Zacarías is one of the most produced playwrights in the nation. She is one of the inaugural Resident Playwrights at Arena Stage in Washington D.C, and is a core founder of the LATINX THEATRE COMMONS. She is founder of Young Playwrights’ Theater, an award-winning company that teaches playwriting in public schools in Washington D.C.

Tickets start at $20. Discounts are available for full-time students, season subscribers, seniors and military personnel. For complete information, visit TheRep.org.

Today at Clinton School, the Arkansas Rep production of NATIVE GARDENS

The new Arkansas Repertory Theatre production of Karen Zacarias’ Native Gardens will be the focus of a noontime Clinton School program today (April 18).

What makes a good neighbor?

When a young, up-and-coming Latinx couple move in next door to an older, well-established white couple, everything is downright neighborly until it’s discovered that the fence separating their backyards is over the property line — a property line that cuts right through a prize-winning flowerbed! Cultures and generations clash with comedic results in this hip and hysterical new play written by one of the nation’s leading Latina playwrights, Karen Zacarias.

Audiences will love this sidesplitting contemporary comedy that critics have called a “‘woke’ DICK VAN DYKE SHOW for the stage.”

Zacarias is one of the most produced playwrights in the nation. She is one of the inaugural Resident Playwrights at Arena Stage in Washington D.C, and is a core founder of the LATINX THEATRE COMMONS. She is founder of Young Playwrights’ Theater, an award-winning company that teaches playwriting in public schools in Washington D.C.

All Clinton School Speaker Series events are free and open to the public. Reserve your seats by emailing publicprograms@clintonschool.uasys.edu or by calling (501) 683-5239

You cannot spell Pulitzer without LIT

The 2019 Pulitzer Prizes are announced later today.  Over the years, there have been several Pulitzer winners with connections to Little Rock.

In 1939,  Little Rock native John Gould Fletcher, a scion of a politically prominent family, won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for his work Selected Poems.  He appears to be the first Pulitzer Prize winner with Little Rock connections.

The 1950 Pulitzer Prize for Drama went to South Pacific. With a leading lady who is from Little Rock, this Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Joshua Logan musical explores race against the backdrop of World War II.  It is based on James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific, which won the 1948 Pulitzer for Fiction. (Because it was a collection of interrelated short stories, the category was changed from Novel to Fiction from that year onward.)  But in the Michener book, Forbush is not from Little Rock.

The Arkansas Gazette made Pulitzer history in 1958 by winning both the Public Service and Editorial prizes in the same year. This was the first time that one organization had received both awards in the same year.  These were for the coverage of and response to the 1957 integration of Central High School by the Little Rock Nine.  J. N. Heiskell was the paper’s owner and editor, while Harry Ashmore led the editorial page.  Relman Morin of the Associated Press received the Pulitzer for National Reporting for his coverage of the events at Central.  Apparently Will Counts of the Arkansas Democrat was the jurors’ choice to receive the Pulitzer for Photography. But the Board opted to give the prize to another photographer.  Some speculate that the Pulitzer Board did not want to give four prizes in the same year for the same story.

Current Little Rock resident Paul Greenberg won the 1969 Pulitzer for Editorial Writing.  at the time, he worked for the Pine Bluff Commercial.   In 1986, he was a finalist in the same category.  Greenberg moved to Little Rock to join the staff of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 1992.  While no longer the Editorial Page Editor, Greenberg continues to write columns for the newspaper.

Former Little Rock resident Richard Ford received the 1996 Pulitzer for Fiction for his novel Independence Day.  As a young boy of eight, and for several years after, Ford spent much time at Little Rock’s Marion Hotel with his grandparents.  In making the presentation, the Pulitzer Board noted it was, “A visionary account of American life, Independence Day reveals a man and country with unflinching comedy and the specter of hope and even permanence…”

The Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2001 went to David Auburn.  A 1987 graduate of Hall High School, Auburn was recognized for his play Proof.  The Pulitzer Board described Proof thus: “This poignant drama about love and reconciliation unfolds on the back porch of a house settled in a suburban university town, that is, like David Auburn’s writing, both simple and elegant.”  Auburn also served as a 2014 juror for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  While a student in Little Rock, Auburn participated in theatre at the Arkansas Arts Center.

HMS PINAFORE at Wildwood Park this weekend

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Wildwood Park for the Arts and Praeclara have joined forces once again to bring Gilbert & Sullivan’s rollicking operetta, H.M.S. Pinafore to the Cabe Theatre Stage this weekend. Come enjoy this vibrant and exciting update of one of theatre’s most beloved stage productions with us before seats run out!
Ralph and Josephine are star-crossed lovers bent on marriage whether or not Josephine’s father – or her current suitor, none other than the Admiral of the Royal Navy – approve or not. The crew and the Admiral’s retinue of sisters, cousins, and aunts help Ralph and Josephine with their plans even as the nefarious Dick Dead-Eye plots to sabotage the happy couple. But not all is as it seems, and the officers and crew of the H.M.S. Pinafore are in for a number of surprises – as are our audiences!
Performances are at 7:30pm tonight (April 12) and Saturday (April 13) as well as at 3pm on Sunday, April 14.

Rep Brings Neighbors Together for Salsa Night

In the spirit of its next production, Native Gardens, Arkansas Repertory Theatre is bringing neighbors together for a Salsa Night on April 11 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Cranford Co in downtown Little Rock.

At this mix-and-mingle event, guests can learn dance moves from Latin Dance instructors Rick and Sarah Pinedo, enjoy complimentary drinks and snacks, and put their new salsa skills to use on the dance floor. Singles and couples are welcome.

“Latin dance is used during transitions in Native Gardens, so we thought our patrons might have fun trying a little salsa themselves,” said Anna Kimmell, The Rep’s director of education. “Plus, Native Gardens is a play about bringing different groups of people together. We hope this event does that.”

Admission is $5 at the door or free for The Rep’s 601 Club members and $75+ donors.

SALSA NIGHT EVENT DETAILS

Thursday, April 11
5:30-7:30 p.m.

Cranford Co.
512 Main St., Little Rock

RSVP encouraged but not required: krudolph@therep.org
Ages 21+ welcome!