Tag Archives: Arkansas Repertory Theatre

Education at The Rep announces Fall Classes

It is August.  The month the Rep is supposed to announce plans for its future.

While no white smoke has emerged from the chimney yet, the Rep’s Education branch did kick off the week with a big announcement.

We will move forward with Fall Classes at The Rep for students ages kindergarten through adult! Be on the lookout for the full schedule, announced very soon.

Thank you for your energy and support. We are thrilled for the opportunity to continue our mission of sharing theatre with Arkansas students of all ages.

This portends a continuation of the Rep and should be harbinger for a positive announcement for future plans.

Stay tuned….

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Ben Piazza – born in LR 85 years ago

Actor-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.

Piazza attended college at Princeton University and graduated in 1955.  While there he continued acting, including an appearance in a Theatre Intime production of Othello.

In February 1958, he starred in Winesburg, Ohio sharing the National (now Nederlander) Theatre stage with James Whitmore, Dorothy McGuire, and Leon Ames. In April 1959, Piazza starred in Kataki at the Ambassador Theatre.  For his performance, Piazza received one of the 1959 Theatre World Awards.

Piazza 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.

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.)

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.

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, West Side 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.

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, his one-acts: Lime Green/Khaki Blue opened at the Provincetown Playhouse.  Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, Piazza toured in many plays nationally and internationally. As the 1970s progressed, he turned his focus to television and movies.

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.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he appeared in a number of TV shows.  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 . 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.

In November 2016, a room at the Robinson Conference Center was dedicated to his memory.

Arkansas Rep reports much progress as they continues steps to their Next Stage

Two months since the Arkansas Repertory Theatre announced it would suspend productions due to significant cash flow issues, fiscal year end reports show significant progress being made in efforts to save the state’s largest nonprofit, professional theatre.

“As of June 30, The Rep is now current with all of its trade vendors and has secured operations and current staff through August 14,” said Ruth Shepherd, Rep board chair and interim leadership team member.

Reporting an emergency deficit of $750,000, The Rep Board of Directors decided earlier this year to suspend productions, resulting in the layoff of two-thirds of its administrative and artistic staff, as well as the cancellation of the final show of the theatre’s 2017-2018 season.

Now concentrating on rebounding from the current financial crisis, Rep leadership has pledged to reassess, refocus and revision a theatre which is professional, affordable and sustainable. The board of directors has appointed an interim leadership team consisting of Shepherd, fellow board member Bill Rector and Rep founding artistic director Cliff Baker.

Since “going dark” on April 24, The Rep has received almost 900 gifts totaling more than $422,000 and has secured two challenge grants – one from the John and Robyn Horn Foundation and another from the Windgate Charitable Foundation – valued collectively at $1,025,000.

The theatre has also finalized the sale of Peachtree Apartments, a 16-unit complex used for actor housing that has been among The Rep’s real estate holdings for more than 30 years. Proceeds from the sale will effectively cut The Rep’s property debt “almost in half,” according to Rep interim leadership team member Bill Rector, who negotiated the sale for The Rep with Rick Freeling of RPM Group representing buyers Mark Brown and Jill Judy. The sale closed on June 20.

Shepherd said a steering committee comprised of more than 60 community and business leaders are working with the Rep Board of Directors to develop a plan targeted for presentation in mid-August for the future of the 42-year-old beloved Arkansas cultural institution.

“Continuing campaign goals include creating board-directed funds such as operating and facilities reserve funds and a subscription escrow,” said Shepherd. “Such funds will enable The Rep to operate with a more fiscally sound business model moving forward. At this point, every gift to The Rep is about our future.”

“So, while the news is good, it is not yet great,” said Shepherd. “There is still a lot of hard work to be done, but we are certainly feeling more confident that with the continued support of our audiences and community, we will ultimately come out of this unfortunate situation with a stronger and more resilient theatre.”

Arkansas Repertory Theatre was founded in 1976 with a mission to produce a diverse body of work intended to illuminate the human condition through great storytelling and is the largest non-profit professional theatre company in the state. Having produced more than 350 shows (including 40 world premieres), the 377-seat theatre is located in downtown Little Rock where it serves as the anchor of the city’s Creative Corridor.

New Off Broadway play LITTLE ROCK opens tonight in NYC

Tonight in New York City, the new play Little Rock, about the events in 1957, officially opens.

Written and directed by Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj, eleven years ago, he was in a residency at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre.  During that time, he created 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.

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.

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Future of The Rep focus of Clinton School program today at 12 noon

Arkansas Repertory Theatre is the state’s largest nonprofit professional theatre and one of the most critically acclaimed performing arts organizations in the region.

Since The Rep announced it was suspending operations on April 24, a groundswell of support has emerged from the community. Volunteers hosted a Rally for the Rep on May 1 directly in front of the theatre.

Ruth Shepherd has been involved with The Rep for more than 40 years. Shepherd first served as chair of Friends of The Rep before joining the theatre’s staff for three years as Development Director in the 1980s. She chaired the committee that hired Bob Hupp, who served as producing/artistic director for 17 years, and was serving as chair-elect when the theatre announced its plans to go dark on April 24.

Shepherd, along with long-time board member Bill Rector and Rep founder Cliff Baker, are serving as an Interim Leadership Team as The Rep reimagines itself to be Arkansas’ Theatre that is professional, affordable, and sustainable.

All Clinton School Speaker Series events are free and open to the public.

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Rock The Tonys: Tony Award winners at The Rep

Will Trice at the 2014 Tony Awards

The 72nd Tony Awards take place on Sunday, June 10 at Radio City Music Hall (broadcast on CBS).

Over the years, the Arkansas Repertory Theatre has had several Tony winner work on stage and backstage.

Among these are:

Jason Alexander – In 1989, he won the Tony Award for Actor in a Musical for Jerome Robbins’ Broadway. The play Windfall, which closed the Rep’s 2015-2016 season, was directed by Alexander.

Bill Berloni – One of the 2011 Tony Honors went to Berloni, who has made a career out of training animals for the stage. It started with the original 1977 Tony winning Annie. He put his skills to work at the Arkansas Rep in 2013 for the musical Because of Winn Dixie.

Cleavant Derricks – The 1982 Tony ceremony recognized Derricks with the Featured Actor in a Musical award for his role as James “Thunder” Earley in the original production of Dreamgirls. 31 years later he appeared in the Arkansas Rep production of Treasure Island.

Remmel Dickinson – As a producer, Dickinson has won Tony Awards in 2009 for The Norman Conquests (Revival of a Play), Memphis (Musical) and War Horse (Play). In 2014, he produced Memphis at the Rep.

Ann Duquesnay – At the 50th Tony Awards in 1996, Ms Duquesnay won the Featured Actress in a Musical for Bring in ‘da Noise/Bring in ‘da Funk. (She was also nominated for contributing to the show’s score.). In 1999, she starred at the Rep in Cookin’ at the Cookery: The Music and Times of Alberta Hunter.

Peter Schneider – The 1998 Tony for Best Musical went to The Lion King. Peter Schneider was the Disney executive who led the effort to produce it. In 2013, he directed Pal Joey at the Arkansas Rep.

Will Trice – In 1994, Trice appeared on the Rep stage as a young actor in the production of Lost in Yonkers. As an adult, he has received Tony Awards as a Broadway producer, including: Porgy and Bess (2012 Revival of a Musical), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (2013 Play Revival) and All the Way (2014 Play). He has received five additional producing nominations.

In addition, both Tony winning actress Jane Alexander and Tony winning producer Rocco Landesman each appeared on the Arkansas Rep stage as chair of the National Endowment for the Arts in conjunction with appearances in Little Rock.

The fact that the Arkansas Repertory Theatre has been able to work with theatre artists of this calibre is a testament to the quality of work it has produced.  Giving the opportunity for Arkansas audiences to have this interaction without leaving the state is one of the values of the Rep.

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Rocking the Tony Awards – Past Tony nominees at Arkansas Rep

Photo by Peter Kramer/ Getty Images Entertainment

The 72nd Tony Awards take place on Sunday, June 10 at Radio City Music Hall (broadcast on CBS).

Over the years, the Arkansas Repertory Theatre has had several Tony nominees work on stage and backstage.

Among these are:

Julie Andrews, who headlined a 2002 fundraiser for Arkansas Rep.  That evening she shared stories about her life and career.  A two-time Tony Award host, she has been nominated three times for Actress in a Musical: My Fair Lady (1957), Camelot (1961) and Victor/Victoria (1996).

Jane Lanier, who choreographed Ring of Fire at Arkansas Rep.  In 1989, she was nominated as Featured Actress in a Musical for her work in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.  

Mercedes McCambridge, who appeared in ‘night, Mother at the Rep in the spring of 1986.  She was nominated as Featured Actress in a Play for The Love Suicide at Schofield Barracks for the 1972 awards.

Austin Pendleton, who directed A Loss of Roses at Arkansas Rep.  After appearing in the original cast of Tony winning Best Musical Fiddler on the Roof, he later received a Tony nomination for directing the 1981 revival of The Little Foxes which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Maureen Stapleton.

Jane Summerhays, who starred in the Arkansas Rep production of A Loss of Roses.  In 1987, she was nominated for Featured Actress in a Musical for Me and My Girl.

John Tartaglia, who directed 2013’s Because of Winn Dixie.  He was nominated for the 2004 Tony for Actor in a Musical for his performance in Avenue Q.

Japhy Weideman, who was the Rep’s lighting designer in the early 2000’s.  While he was at the Rep, he lit several shows including The Grapes of Wrath, All My Sons and God’s Man in Texas.  He has received Tony nominations for lighting design for his work on The Nance (2013), Of Mice and Men (2014), Airline Highway (2015), The Visit (2015), and Dear Evan Hansen (2017).

The fact that the Arkansas Repertory Theatre has been able to work with theatre artists of this calibre is a testament to the quality of work it has produced.  Giving the opportunity for Arkansas audiences to have this interaction without leaving the state is one of the values of the Rep.

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