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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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

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!

Neighbors: True Stories of Fences and Friendship – tonight presented by The Yarn and Arkansas Rep

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, hat, child, stripes and outdoor

Neighbors. We all have them. Perhaps we are separated by a fence, a street, a hallway, or a cubicle, but the question remains; “What makes a good neighbor?”

The upcoming Arkansas Repertory Theatre production Native Gardens explores this.  But before that takes, place, on April 5, The Rep and The Yarn will explore this question in a storytelling performance all about neighbors – what divides us and what connects us.

The program will take place from 7pm to 9pm at the Rep’s Main Street Annex (518 Main Street).

Join them to hear stories about funny, outrageous, sweet, or challenging neighbors, stories about someone who makes the place they live a better place to live, and more!

Spring classes for Arkansas Rep announced

Image may contain: textArkansas Repertory Theatre’s Education Department announces a four-week minimester of theatre classes this April for students ages 5+.

“Whether you’re new to The Rep or continuing your theatre studies, we’ve got something fun for everyone this April,” said Anna Kimmell, Director of Education. “We create a fun, high-energy creative environment where artists of all ages can learn, discover, and grow.”

Spring classes run April 1-29 and include training in musical theatre, improvisation, Shakespeare, theatre dance, tap dance, stage combat, and audition prep for students of all ages and abilities. Scholarships are available.

The Rep provides a professional and encouraging environment for artists of all ages and abilities. With new material every semester, classes can be taken multiple times.

Faculty members include Kimmell, TJ Medel, Kevin Brown, Courtney Baker, Molly Emerson, Joi Hester, Matt Boyce, and Stephen Stone.

Each year, The Rep reaches more than 7,500 Arkansas students through classes, workshops with guest artists, summer programs, community outreach, and the Student Matinee Program. More than $18,000 in scholarships were awarded in 2017-2018 to students for theatre training at The Rep.

The full class schedule, online registration and info on teaching artists can be found therep.org/education

Final Few Days for CHICAGO at Arkansas Rep

Image may contain: indoorThere are just a few performances (each with only a few seats) left in the Arkansas Repertory Theatre production of Chicago. 

The musical—book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse; music by John Kander; lyrics by Fred Ebb—is based on a play of the same name by Chicago Tribune reporter and playwright Maurine Dallas Watkins. Ron Hutchins directs and choreographs Chicago which runs through March 24. Tickets are available online at TheRep.org.

The story, set in the mid-1920s Jazz Age, follows the murder trial of Roxie Hart and her slick-talking attorney, Billy Flynn. Roxie quickly becomes the most popular celebrity in Chicago, dethroning fellow inmate Velma Kelly. This legendary musical takes a tantalizing look at how the allure of fame remains a fundamental motivation for those willing to sacrifice their scruples for the spotlight.

Chicago earned five Tony Awards, a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album, seven Drama Desk Awards and two Olivier Awards (for the British production).

The Arkansas Rep cast includes Adriana Milbrath, Daisy Hobbs, Felicia Dinwiddie, Christopher Johnstone, Matt Allen, Z. Spiegel, Matty Rickard, Erik Joshua Clack, Nicholas Karl Brown, Brian Earles, Anthony Bryant, Frederick Webb Jr., Madeleine Corliss, Joi Hester, Rachel Perlman, Sydney Ippolito, Allison Wilson and Sarita Crawford.

The design and creative team includes Trish Clark, costume designer; Lynda J. Kwallek, properties designer; Mike Nichols, resident set designer/technical director; Michael Rice, musical director; and Marty Vreeland, lighting designer. The production manager is Joshua Marchesi and the stage manager is Colin JB. Phillip T. Perez is the assistant stage manager.

Tickets may be purchased online at TheRep.org, by phone at (501) 378-0405 or by visiting the Box Office at 601 Main Street in Little Rock.