Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Central to Creativity – Kathryn Pryor

While she may be a successful attorney by day, Kathryn Pryor, is also an accomplished singer and actor.

Having grown up appearing on stage (including starring in productions while a student at Central High School), it is no surprise she continues to appear in productions throughout Central Arkansas.

In 2016, she reprised her role of Hillary Clinton in the biennial political spoof Gridiron.   Earlier this year, she appeared in Arkansas Rep’s production of SISTER ACT.   Over the years she has also played leading roles on various Little Rock stages in GYPSY, CABARET, SWEENEY TODD, COMPANY, VICTOR/VICTORIA, SOUTH PACIFIC, and MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG.  

In addition, she has appeared in New York in a cabaret act with her brother Will Trice. For the 2015 edition of the Arkansas Arts Center’s Tabriz, she and Will reprised their act.

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Little Rock Look Back: Ben Piazza

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.

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

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 l

anguage.  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.

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.

 

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.

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


Open Studios Little Rock today

oslr_logo_goldred_ac-lineThe City of Little Rock Arts+Culture Commission is thrilled to announce its first-ever Open Studios Little Rock.

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 10, gain exclusive access to 30 artist studios and cultural institutions that will open their doors and give you a firsthand look at their creative process. The lineup of studios visits includes artists working in the visual and performing arts, plus cultural institutions that will open their respective studios for guided tours and demonstrations.

Referred to as a city-wide exhibition, Open Studios gives you unparalleled access to artists living and working in Little Rock. Studio visits are free and open to the public.
To plan your Open Studio visits:

  • Download the Open Studios map (click here)
  • Visit the Open Studios Welcome Booth in the Creative Corridor the day of the event. Complimentary coffee and doughnuts will be provided, plus the opportunity to tour two participating studios – Matt McCleod Fine Art and Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s Education Annex. The Welcome Booth will be located in front of Matt McLeod Fine Art, 108 West 6th Street, 72201.

Artists who are unable to welcome the public into their studios will showcase their work at the Alternative Space hosted at the West Central Community Center, 8616 Colonel Glenn Road, 72204.

During Open Studios, the colorful “Open Studio” signs will alert you to Open Studio spaces.

SALES

Sales are handled by each artist and we do not take a percentage. You may sell prints, other artistic projects and commission customized work for the future. It is suggested that you are equipped to accept credit cards.

Participating Artists (as of 5.15.2017)

  • Adrian Quintanar Pottery
  • Catherine Rodgers Contemporary Art
  • Co-Op Art
  • Elizabeth Weber
  • Felice Farrell
  • Gary Cawood
  • Glenda McCune
  • Ike Garlington
  • Jeff Horton
  • Jennifer Cox Coleman
  • Jennifer Perren
  • Jerry Phillips’ Studio
  • Jimmy Parks
  • Linda Ferstl Watercolors
  • Little Rock Violin Shop
  • Marisa Cook
  • Maritza and Terry Bean Artists
  • Mary Pat Tate
  • Matt McLeod Fine Art
  • MichaelWardArt
  • Michael Warrick
  • New Deal Studios and Gallery, featuring the work of Jeff Waddle
  • Ruth Pasquine
  • Sandy Furrer, Certified Scottish Country Dance Teacher
  • Sandra Sell

Participating Cultural Institutions:

  • Arkansas Arts Center
  • Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s Education Annex
  • Mosaic Templars Cultural Center featuring the work of Nina Robinson


Arkansas Gives today from 8am to 8pm

If you are like me, you’ve been receiving notifications about Arkansas Gives Day for months.  Well, today is the day!  From 8am until 8pm, you can help grow the love for Arkansas’s nonprofit organizations by making a donation to the charity of your choice.  The event is sponsored by the Arkansas Community Foundation.

As a special incentive to give, each gift made through ArkansasGives on April 6, 2017, will be matched with additional bonus dollars; the more you give, the more bonus dollars your favorite charity will receive.

Nonprofit organizations and other tax-exempt charitable organizations may participate if they:

  • Are headquartered in Arkansas or have a base of operations in Arkansas.
  • Have 501(c)(3) tax exempt status under IRS code AND are qualified as a 509(a)(1), (a)(2) or (a)(3) organization or as a private operating foundation.

The minimum amount is $25; there is no maximum amount you may give. You may designate up to 10 charities per transaction.

Accepted Forms of Payment: Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express credit cards online.
You will receive an email receipt of your gift; please retain it for tax purposes. Unless you choose to remain anonymous, your donor information will be sent to the nonprofits to which you give.

Here is a list of cultural organizations which offer services within the boundaries of the City of Little Rock.

 

There are MANY MANY MANY other worthy nonprofits which are participating. But since this is a culture blog, only the cultural institutions are listed.  But please consider visiting the website and perusing the entire list.


Comedies, Dramas and Musicals mark the 2017-18 season at Arkansas Rep

ark repA Southern story that is a favorite, a modern take on a classic comedy, a new musical based on a timeless Christmas tale, a contemporary drama of familial relationships, a joyous romp of a musical, a darkly comic tale of manners (without the manners), and a biting look at the madness of the holidays compose the 42nd season of the Arkansas Rep!

Under the leadership of new Producing Artistic Director John Miller-Stephany, the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, the state’s largest nonprofit professional theatre, announced its 2017-18 Season.

Beginning in August, the new season exemplifies The Rep’s mission of producing diverse work of the highest artistic standards for its Arkansas audience.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Aug. 23 – Sept. 10, 2017; Opening Night on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017
By Rebecca Gilman | Based on the novel by Carson McCullers
Directed by John Miller-Stephany

Based on Carson McCullers’ celebrated debut novel, this haunting Southern drama tells the story of a handful of misfits in a 1930s Georgia mill town. Deaf-mute John Singer becomes confidant and confessor to four of the town’s most colorful eccentrics, forever changing their lives by his sympathetic and gentle presence. Rebecca Gilman’s poignant adaptation for the stage captures all of the loss and longing of the original novel and combines it with a graceful theatricality.

 

The School for Lies
Oct. 11 – 29, 2017; Opening Night on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017
By David Ives | Adapted from The Misanthrope by Molière

Based upon Molière’s classic 17th Century comedy, The Misanthrope, The School for Lies feels surprisingly relevant as it exposes the hypocrisies of polite high society with a sharp wit and even sharper observations about human nature. Comic master David Ives (All in the Timing, Venus in Fur, Is He Dead?) adapts this wicked farce for contemporary audiences, contrasting the high-brow characters with low-brow humor and employing present-day language that breathes fresh air into this rollicking satire.

 

The Gift of the Magi
Nov. 29 – Dec. 24, 2017; Opening Night on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017
A new musical by Jeffrey Hatcher, Maggie-Kate Coleman and Andrew Cooke
Directed by John Miller-Stephany

The Arkansas Repertory Theatre is proud to present the world premiere of a new chamber musical based upon O. Henry’s beloved holiday story. Unwrap a new tradition in this tender tale of love and sacrifice, told with fresh intimacy on The Rep stage. Acclaimed playwright Jeffrey Hatcher (Compleat Female Stage Beauty, Tuesdays with Morrie, Three Viewings) is joined by composer Andrew Cooke and 2017 Jonathan Larson Grant recipient Maggie-Kate Coleman (lyricist).

 

The Call
Jan. 24 – Feb. 11, 2018; Opening Night on Friday, Jan. 26, 2018
By Tanya Barfield

Annie and Peter are a childless couple in their late 30s who have decided to adopt a baby from Africa. But when they receive some surprising news about their potential bundle of joy, anxiety and doubt threaten to tear their world apart. Middle-class cultural sensibilities and global divisions come crashing in on their comfortable existence as they are forced to confront their own preconceived notions about what makes a family a family. As they reach out to friends and neighbors for advice, Annie and Peter become mired in indecision and second thoughts.

 

Mamma Mia!
March 14 – April 8, 2018; Opening Night on Friday, March 16, 2018
Music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus
Some songs with Stif Anderson | Additional material by Martin Koch
Book by Catherine Johnson
Directed by John Miller-Stephany

Young bride-to-be Sophie desperately wants her father to walk her down the aisle. But there’s a catch – she’s not sure which of her mother’s old flames is “the one.” So, she invites all three, hoping she’ll learn the truth, which unleashes an out-of-control flood of memories – and irresistible pop music – into all of their lives.

 

God of Carnage
June 6 – 24, 2018; Opening Night on Friday, June 8, 2018
By Yasmina Reza | Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Cliff Fannin Baker

A simple playground scuffle between their young sons thrusts two sets of affluent parents into an uproarious maelstrom of epic proportions. As they meet to provide a positive example of conflict resolution, what begins as a civil conversation over cocktails and canapés soon devolves into a juvenile war of words and unexpected ferocity.   Winner of three Tony Awards, including Best Play, God of Carnage is a contemporary comedy of manners – minus the manners. From the fertile imagination of playwright Yasmina Reza (Art) comes this hilarious and terrifying descent into the heart of darkness – a searingly dark comedy for uncertain times.

 

PRODUCTION AT THE BLACK BOX THEATRE, The Rep Annex, 518 Main Street
New this Season, The Rep will run concurrent productions throughout the Christmas holiday. With the productions running on different stages and at staggered curtain times, patrons are encouraged to see both productions back-to-back.

 

The Santaland Diaries
Dec. 6 – 24, 2017; Opening Night on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017
By David Sedaris

Crumpet is just your average department store Christmas Elf. He’s your average, every day, chain-smoking, martini-swilling, foul-mouthed, Santa-denying department store Christmas Elf. What starts out as a mundane seasonal job to pay the bills becomes a darkly absurd quest through the grey and slush-filled streets of New York City at Christmastime. If the holidays make you feel more like Scrooge than Cratchit, more Grinch than Cindy Lou Who, more Abominable Snow Monster than Rudolph, then The Santaland Diaries is the perfect show for you!

 

Season Subscriptions are on sale now and start at $132, making subscribing to The Rep the most economical way to see all of the productions included in the 2017-18 Season.

 

For more information on Season Subscriptions, call The Rep’s Box Office at (501) 378-0405, Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., or visit http://www.TheRep.org.


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Black History Month – Lawrence Hamilton and Robinson Center

LawrenceHamiltonAnother notable former Little Rock performing artist who is memorialized at Robinson Center is Lawrence Hamilton.

The son of the Dr. Oscar and Mae Dell Hamilton, he was born in the small southwest Arkansas town of Foreman With an interest in music stemming from childhood, Hamilton earned a music scholarship to attend Henderson State University in Arkadelphia where he studied piano and voice He graduated in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in music education.

From Arkansas, Hamilton traveled to Florida to work as a performer at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida where he would meet talent manager, Tommy Molinaro. This fateful meeting would prove to be a life-changing encounter, as Molinaro would invite Hamilton to come to New York to audition for the famed actor/director Geoffrey Holder. This marked the beginning of Hamilton’s bold and creative career in the performing arts, leading to performances on Broadway and on tours in Sophisticated Ladies, The Wiz,Uptown – Its Hot, Porgy and Bess, Big River, Play On!, and Jelly’s Last Jam among others. Perhaps his crowning achievement was starring in Ragtime.

Hamilton has been a member of the Southern Ballet Theater, Brooklyn Dance Theater, Ballet Tap USA, and the Arkansas Opera Theater He has performed in concert with the legendary Lena Horne at the White House for President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan, and at the Vatican for Pope John Paul II. Hamilton’s career also led to a stint as musical director for the renowned opera legend Jessye Norman, as well as vocal coach/arranger for the pop group New Kids on the Block

Upon his return to Arkansas, Hamilton served for several years as director of choral music at Philander Smith College. He also appeared in several plays at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre and made numerous appearances on the stage of Robinson Center with the Arkansas Symphony and other groups.  In addition, he performed at countless concerts, benefits and galas throughout Arkansas.  In 2003, he was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.  In 2008, he was appointed to the Little Rock Mayor’s Task Force on Tourism.

Hamilton died in New York in April 2014 due to complications from surgery.  Just weeks prior to the surgery, he had appeared in August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson in Cape Fear, North Carolina.  He had also starred in that play at Arkansas Rep a few years earlier.


A CHRISTMAS STORY opens tonight at Arkansas Rep.

All Ralphie Parker wants for Christmas is an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time. All his parents can say in response? “You’ll shoot your eye out!”

Based upon the memoirs of Jean Shepherd, the 1983 film A Christmas Story has become a modern holiday classic. This winter, relive your favorite moments from the movie as they come to life onstage at Arkansas Repertory Theatre.  The play was adapted by Philip Grecian.  The play opens tonight and runs through December 25.

Enjoy Ralphie’s hilarious misadventures as his family struggles to enjoy an All-American Christmas on the brink of World War II. Armed with an overactive imagination and the wide-eyed optimism of childhood, he creates fantastic schemes to guarantee that he will find a BB gun under the tree, which backfire with hysterical results.

Bullies, his salty Old Man, even a store Santa, all conspire to prevent Ralphie from attaining his heart’s desire in this bittersweet, quirky slice of life from a more innocent time. In the end, nothing can defeat the spirit of Christmas when you are surrounded by a family who loves you, warts and all.

“We’ve got a wonderful present to wrap up and put under the tree this year at The Rep,” said Director Mark Shanahan. “Audiences will be delighted as this classic Christmas tale comes to life in a uniquely theatrical way. A Christmas Story transports us to the bygone era of the 1940s and the recollections of a family Christmas like no other. Full of wit, imagination and heartfelt nostalgia, A Christmas Story is a holiday gift you’ll remember all year-round.”

The Rep triple-dog dares you to keep a straight face at A Christmas Story. This raucous, heartwarming yuletide favorite will have the whole family rolling in the aisles. It is not for the fra-gee-lay of heart!