43 years ago, Arkansas Rep opened first show: THE THREEPENNY OPERA

On November 11, 1976, the curtain went up on the first Arkansas Repertory Theatre production.  It was the Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht musical The Threepenny Opera.  Rep founder Cliff Baker directed the show and played the leading role of Macheath aka Mack the Knife.

Others in the cast included local attorney Herb Rule, Jean Lind, Theresa Glasscock, Connie Gordon and Guy Couch.  Byl Harriell was the technical director and production designer while Donia Crofton was the costume designer.

The production took place in the Rep’s home which was the converted former home of Hunter United Methodist Church on the eastern edge of MacArthur Park.  (Harriell’s business Bylites is now in that location.)

Baker had previously worked at the Arkansas Arts Center theatre when it was attached to a degree granting MFA program. He had also directed shows in other parts of Arkansas.  He returned to Little Rock and founded the Arkansas Philharmonic Theatre which performed in Hillcrest.  The Arkansas Repertory Theatre was a step forward with the establishment of a professional repertory company.

The first season of the Rep would include Company, Suddenly Last Summer, Marat/Sade, and Stop the World–I Want to Get Off. Season tickets for a total of seven shows were $30.

Baker served as Artistic Director of Arkansas Rep from 1976 until 1999.

Artober – Art that Changed Me. The 1937 Museum of Fine Arts Entrance

October is Arts and Humanities Month nationally and in Little Rock. Americans for the Arts has identified a different arts topic to be posted for each day in the month.  We end today with “Art That Changed Me.”

So many possibilities:  Oliver!, the first production I saw; reading The Comedy of Errors (first Shakespeare play I read); the Missouri State University production of The Normal Heart; seeing George Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island La Grand Jatte or a Jackson Pollock piece both at the Art Institute of Chicago; Diego Rivera’s Two Women in the Arkansas Arts Center collection; hearing David Belcher play the piano in Rhapsody in Blue or the Arkansas Symphony playing Firebird Suite; the list goes on an on.

I grew up with the arts. I grew up valuing the arts. Art has moved me, made me laugh, made me cry, made me think, pretty much my entire life. All art changes me in some fashion.

So, I’ll cheat and talk about Art that Changed Little Rock.  Again, many choices, but it is easier to be more objective about that.  With the recent re-exposure of the original 1937 facade of the Museum of Fine Arts, that made me think of photos of the original building which were sent to me by Lally Brown. She is a granddaughter of Nettie Robinson, who was the first (and longtime) director of the Museum of Fine Arts.

For many years, this facade was inside a gallery of the Arkansas Arts Center. I have long said this facade was one of my favorite pieces in the Arkansas Arts Center collection. Now, it will once again be a portal through which people will enter and experience the arts.

Photo from the collection of Lally Brown.

The Museum of Fine Arts changed Little Rock. It was the first cultural institution that was an art facility. It provided a place to take classes and started to inspire people to aspire for more and better art.  It served as the foundation for the Arkansas Arts Center and all that it has offered. Most of Little Rock’s performing and visual arts entities can trace their heritage to the Museum of Fine Arts.

It all started here.

Photo by the Arkansas Arts Center

 

Artober – Theatre. Arkansas Repertory Theatre experiences a reprise.

October is Arts and Humanities Month nationally and in Little Rock. Americans for the Arts has identified a different arts topic to be posted for each day in the month. The penultimate feature is Theatre.

At the age of four, my parents took me to the theatre. It was a production of Oliver! A year or two after that, I went to a play produced by the Arkansas Philharmonic Theatre in Hillcrest. (Neither of my parents can remember the title of that production.)

It was this theatre that gave rise, in 1976, to the Arkansas Repertory Theatre.  Cliff Fannin Baker was the founder.  He had first come to Arkansas in the 1960s to work with the theatre program of Arkansas Arts Center School of Art and Theatre. Once that disbanded in 1968, Baker continued to direct theatrical productions for a variety of community and education theatres throughout the state.

Opening on November 11, 1976, the Arkansas Repertory Theatre was Arkansas’ first non-profit professional theatre. It was housed in an old Methodist church building next to MacArthur Park.  Occasionally it would present performances in other spaces including the UA Little Rock theatre or the Arkansas Arts Center theatre.  By the mid 1980s, the Rep was outgrowing its original location.

In 1988, Arkansas Rep moved to Main Street and served as an anchor for a downtown redevelopment project.  While that project may not have taken hold, the Rep did.  Cliff continued to lead it for over a decade on Main Street until his retirement in 1999.  He was succeeded by Bob Hupp, who came to the Rep from Off Broadway’s Jean Cocteau Theatre.

Hupp led the theatre until 2016.  During that time, he also oversaw a refurbishment and renovation of the Rep’s facility on Main Street.  When he left to take over Syracuse Stage in 2016, Baker returned to the Rep to be the Interim Artistic Director.  A few months later, John Miller-Stephany from the Guthrie Theatre came to Arkansas Rep.

By 2018, Arkansas Rep was facing a mounting financial crisis brought on by lagging donations, weakened ticket sales, increasing production costs, and debt related to real estate the theatre owned.  In April 2018, the Rep suspended operations and most of the staff were laid off.

Baker returned again to be an artistic advisor during this period. He worked with two long-time Rep board members who were serving as volunteer staff: Bill Rector and Ruth Shepherd. The community rallied to “Save the Rep” and responded to some challenge matching gifts offered by the Windgate Foundation. In addition, the Rep was able to restructure the debt.

As Baker was starting to consider shows for a rejuvenated Rep, he died while in New York in September 2018.  The Rep pushed forward and announced four shows for the Rep’s “REPrise” season during calendar year 2019.  In January 2019, it was announced that former Rep actor and Tony winning producer Will Trice was coming back to his hometown to assume the role of Executive Artistic Director.

As the Rep is winding down the season of the four shows announced in November 2018, Trice has announced three new shows for the spring and summer of 2020. In September 2020, the Rep will return to the traditional autumn through summer season schedule.

While F. Scott Fitzgerald once observed that “there are no second acts in American lives,” thankfully that does not apply to the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. It is currently in Scene 1 of the Second Act.  Let us hope this act has many many more scenes.

Artober – Spotted. In two senses of the word, Ballet Arkansas dancers during ACANSA 2019

Image may contain: 7 people, people smiling, people sitting, shoes, child, shorts and outdoor

October is Arts and Humanities Month nationally and in Little Rock. Americans for the Arts has identified a different arts topic to be posted for each day in the month.  Today’s feature is “Spotted.”

Americans for the Arts does not define if that is the adjective or the past-tense verb.  But these photos of Ballet Arkansas dancers at the kick off of ACANSA 2019 fulfills both.

They were spotted (seen) performing in two alleys of the CALS Library Square campus.  And the dancers’ bodies became spotted as they used them to apply paint to four large canvases.

Image may contain: 1 personImage may contain: 1 person, standingImage may contain: one or more people, shorts and outdoorImage may contain: 3 people, people standing, shoes and childImage may contain: one or more people, people on stage, shoes and outdoor

Image may contain: 10 people, people smiling, people standingImage may contain: 11 people, including Mike Fothergill, people smiling, child

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people sittingImage may contain: 1 person

Big Boo!-seum Bash tonight

Sponsored by the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau (LRCVB), Big Boo!-seum Bash will take place Thursday, October 24, 2019, 5:30 PM – 8:30 PM. Hosted by the Greater Little Rock Museums and Attractions Consortium, the event will feature 14 partners at nine downtown attractions.

Big Boo!-seum Bash is a free, family-friendly event that provides people the opportunity to visit many of Little Rock’s museums and cultural attractions for a night of safe trick-or-treating and family fun and games. Visitors are encouraged to dress in Halloween costumes.

“The Big Boo!-seum Bash was created to provide the public free access to our great local museums and cultural attractions. It’s a great family-oriented event in secure locations that people of all ages enjoy,” said Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau President & CEO Gretchen Hall. “It’s a perfect time to visit an attraction possibly for the first time, or re-visit one that you haven’t been to in a while,” she added.

Prize Information:

Printed by Target Printing & Office Centre, game cards will be provided at each participating Boo!-seum location. Get your card stamped at each participating location to be eligible for prize drawings. Entry instructions are printed on the game cards. Prize entrants must be 18 years of age or younger. Prizes include:

  • Grand Prize – Electronic Tablet. Visitors must visit all nine locations to be eligible.
  • Second Prize – $100 gift card. Visitors must visit seven or more locations to be eligible.
  • Third Prize – Goody basket with items donated by LRCVB, NLRCVB and Boo!-seum Bash participants.
  • Social Media Prize – Special Boo!seum Goody basket. Entrants must tag #LRBooseum on Facebook and/or Instagram for drawing eligibility.

2019 Big Boo!-seum Participants Include:

  • Arkansas Arts CenterNEW location: Terry House Mansion, 411 E 7th St
    • Central Arkansas Library System will participate on-site
    • Central Arkansas Water will participate on-site
  • Heifer International – 1 World Ave
  • Historic Arkansas Museum – 200 E 3rd St
  • Little Rock Visitor Center at Historic Curran Hall – 615 E Capitol Ave
  • MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History – 503 E 9th St
    • Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum will participate on-site
  • Mosaic Templars Cultural Center – 9th St and Broadway
    • Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site will participate on-site
  • Museum of Discovery – 500 President Clinton Ave
    • Central Arkansas Library System will participate on-site
  • Old State House Museum – 300 W Markham St
    • Arkansas Secretary of State will participate on site
  • Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center – 602 President Clinton Ave