Learn about Arkansas Rep’s production of WILLY WONKA JR. at noon today at the Clinton School

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The new Arkansas Repertory Theatre production of Willy Wonka Jr. will be the focus of a noontime Clinton School program today (June 20).

The scrumdidilyumptious adventures of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory light up the stage this summer at The Rep. Featuring many of the enchanting songs from the 1971 film, generations of candy lovers will delight in this devilishly delicious adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic tale, brought to life by a company of young artists. Grab your golden ticket to see Willy Wonka Jr.!

The Rep’s Director of Education Anna Kimmell says, “We’re thrilled to showcase the amazing talent of our local young artists and offer both performance and training opportunities for generations to come here at The Rep.”

The production runs June 21 to June 30.

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

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ArtWorks returns to Arkansas Rep tonight

Arkansas Repertory Theatre will host its 31st annual ArtWorks auction on May 11 featuring artwork by local artists under age 40. The fundraiser also includes live music, an open bar and appetizers from local eateries.

Doors open at 6 p.m. with the live auction starting at 7 p.m. Tickets are $50 and may be purchased at TheRep.org, by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405 or at the door. To go along with the ‘under 40’ theme, attendees under age 40 can purchase tickets for $40.

“ArtWorks is always a really fun night that brings art enthusiasts together. This year, we are so excited to partner with these tremendously talented local artists – all who are under age 40,” said Susan Nichols, ArtWorks Coordinator. “We’re grateful for their donations and support of The Rep.”

This is the first major Rep fundraising event since the theatre began its 2019 “Rebuild the Rep” Season.

Special guest emcees will help present each piece of art. They include: Billy St. James (102.5 FM), Wess Moore (Fox 16), Donna Terrell (Fox 16), James Bobo (Rep board member) and Lance Restum (Arkansas Travelers).

Local eateries providing food and drinks include: Three Fold Noodles and Dumpling Co., Capers, Copper Grill, Golden Eagle of Arkansas, Allsopp & Chapple and Atlas Bar.

The artists with work up for auction include: Joshua Asante, Matt Bates, Trevor Bennett, Rhett Brinkley, Justin Bryant, Heather Canterbury, Matthew Castellano, Krystal Cornelius, Meagan E. Davis, Margo Duvall, John Funderburg, Robert Hinojosa, Jon Hodges, Phillip Rex Huddleston, Bethany Johnson, Layet Johnson, Kesha Lagniappe, Jack Lloyd, Rayna Mackey, Haley Naylor, Claire Nichols, Brandy Thomason McNair, Emily Parker, Jennifer Perren, Emma Presley, Adrian Quintanar, Haynes Riley, Nathaniel Roe, Lily Ryall, Sulac, Chris Swasta, Louis Watts, Eleanor Wheeler, DeQuan Fidel Whitley, Brian Wolf, Emily Moll Wood, Markeith Woods and Rachel Worthen.

§  Doors open at 6 p.m.; Live auction starts at 7 p.m.

§  Tickets are $50 ($40 for those under age 40) at the door, TheRep.org or (501) 378-0405

The Fifth Month offers the final five days to explore NATIVE GARDENS at Arkansas Rep

Tonight (Wednesday, May 1) through Sunday, May 5, are the final five days to experience Karen Zacarias’ hilarious comedy NATIVE GARDENS on the Arkansas Rep stage.

This hilarious new comedy features cultures and gardens clashing, which turns well-intentioned neighbors into feuding enemies.

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 cookout 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.

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.”

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.