31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 1999’s DRACULA

The Rep went batty in February 1999 when it presented Steven Dietz’s retelling of Bram Stoker’s DRACULA.

Directed by Brad Mooy, the show starred Vincent Lamberti as the titular Count.

Others in the cast were Joy Schiebel, Christopher Zorker, Eva Kaminsky, Ronald J. Aulgur, David Heckel, Colly Carver, Stephanie Crenshaw, Lakeetra Gilbert, Paula Isbell, and Daryl D. Minefee.  All in the cast except Schiebel had previously appeared in shows for the Rep.

The angular set was designed by Mike Nichols. The costumes (including a velour cape lined in purple satin) were designed by Patricia Martin. David Neville provided the lighting design, while Ryan C. Mansfield was the sound designer.

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31 Days of Arkansas Rep: PETER PAN in 1994

Peter Pan flew into the window of the Darling’s nursery in December 1994 on the Arkansas Rep stage.  With a cast of thirty-six, Peter Pan was one of the Rep’s larger productions.

Directed by Brad Mooy, the production featured Steve Wilkerson in the title role. It gained some national press attention, because the role is usually played by women, so Wilkerson’s casting was a bit of a novelty.

Others in the cast were Ed Romanoff, Angie Ohren, Dustin Alford, Matthew Block, Peggy Billo, Tanya Duggar, Gary Taggart, Angie Foresman, and Linda Sue Sanders. The Lost Boys were played by Adam Napper, Bernie Baskin, James Knight, Brian Jones, Kale Ludwig, and Kyle Ludwig.

The pirates were played by Mark Hansen, Joel Gordon, Derek Reid, Shannon E. Farmer, Tony D. Owens Jr., DeJon Mayes, Kenneth Elins, Matt Patton, Eric Harrison and Tom Kagy. Taking on the roles of the indians were Suzan Hart, Rusty Miller, Mikel Brown, Ryan Martine, Patrick McNally, Christina Boatwright, Leslie Goodwin, Tori Petrus and Dennis Glasscock.

Glasscock was the production’s choreographer. Flying for Pan and others was created by Foy, the same firm which was responsible for Mary Martin’s flying in the role on Broadway in 1954. Hans Stiritz was the musical director, Mike Nichols was set designer, and Don Bolinger provided costume design.

The production was so successful, it was nearly sold out before it opened.  Two years later, the Rep reprised it.  There were some different design elements as well as a largely different cast. Wilkerson returned as did Ohren, Dugger, Gordon, Knight, Napper, Alford,  Petrus, and Kagy.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: ANGELS IN AMERICA (1996 and 1997)

In 1996, the Arkansas Rep presented Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: Millennium Approaches.  It was one of seven professional theatres granted the rights to do the show that season.  The production ran from February 29 to March 17 of that year.

Directed by Brad Mooy, the production came about due to lobbying of the Broadway producers by Rep Artistic Director Cliff Baker.  There was skepticism in New York as to how Little Rock audiences would respond. And, to be honest, there was skepticism in Little Rock, too.  But the rights were granted, and Little Rock embraced the play.

The next season, the Rep brought Part I back to be joined by Part II for the opportunity experience a theatrical marathon.  The Rep’s production was unprecedented in Little Rock. It was not just a rarity for the Rep, such an undertaking had never been done by any theatre in town.

Directed by Brad Mooy, the 1997 dual production required five weeks of rehearsals (more than the usual amount).  Six of the eight actors from the 1996 production returned for the second go around.

As it had been in 1996, the cast was led by Rep favorite Steve Wilkerson. Others in the cast were Caitlin Hart, Jo Anne Robinson, Jonathan Lamer, Jonna McElrath and Ray Ford. The two new additions were Christopher Swan and Ken Kramer.  They played the roles which Barry Stewart Mann and Fred Baker had played the prior year.

The design team included Mike Nichols (sets), Don Bolinger (costumes), David Neville (lighting), Melissa Wakefield (properties), Rob Milburn (sound), and ZFX Inc. (flying).

The Twenty-First Day of the Month of September: A Remembrance of LITTLE SHOP at Arkansas Rep

Because it is referenced in the script, September 21 is “Little Shop of Horrors” day.  That brought back memories of productions I have seen and in which I have been involved.

But it also brought back a memory of a production I nearly did not get to see.  In September 1996, the Arkansas Repertory Theatre was preparing to open its season with LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.  When horror struck.

During the Wednesday, September 4, preview performance, actor Kaleo Griffith injured himself severely enough that surgery would be required. He had no understudy.  The show was set to open on Friday, September 6.  The September 5 preview and opening night were cancelled.

Rep Founder/Artistic Director Cliff Baker, production director Brad Mooy and Rep staff sprang into action to try to find someone who could play the part on short notice. Howard Pinhasik, who had played the part before and was available, arrived in Little Rock, rehearsed with the cast, and the show opened one day late on Saturday, September 7.

Others in the cast were Joseph Conz, Kathrynne Haack, Tim Reynolds, David Johnson, Ericka Cooper, Tracey Lee and Tammi Phillips

The show played the rest of its run through September 29, 1996, without incident.  Well other than people getting fed to a talking plant every night.

Pulitzers Play Little Rock: ANGELS IN AMERICA at Arkansas Rep

AIA RepTwenty-five years ago (1993), Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: Millennium Approaches won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It was joined on Broadway in late 1993 with its second half Angels in America: Perestroika.

In 1996, the Arkansas Rep presented Angels in America: Millennium Approaches.  The next season, the Rep brought Part I back to be joined by Part II for the opportunity experience a theatrical marathon.  (The show is currently revived on Broadway and again offering audience members the chance to see both parts in one day.)

The Rep’s production was unprecedented in Little Rock. It was not just a rarity for the Rep, such an undertaking had never been done by any theatre in town.

Directed by Brad Mooy, the 1997 dual production required five weeks of rehearsals (more than the usual amount).  Six of the eight actors from the 1996 production returned for the second go around.

As it had been in 1996, the cast was led by Rep favorite Steve Wilkerson. Others in the cast were Caitlin Hart, Jo Anne Robinson, Jonathan Lamer, Jonna McElrath and Ray Ford. The two new additions were Christopher Swan and Ken Kramer.

The design team included Mike Nichols (sets), Don Bolinger (costumes), David Neville (lighting), Melissa Wakefield (properties), Rob Milburn (sound), and ZFX Inc. (flying).

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the first Pulitzer Prize for Drama being given. To pay tribute to 100 years of the Pulitzer for Drama, each day this month a different Little Rock production of a Pulitzer Prize winning play will be highlighted.  Many of these titles have been produced numerous times.  This look will veer from high school to national tours in an attempt to give a glimpse into Little Rock’s breadth and depth of theatrical history.

2016 Arkansas Literary Festival dates and lineup announced

ALF 2016_textPrestigious award-winners, screenwriters, comedians, an expert witness, artists, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet are among the diverse roster of presenters who will be providing sessions at the thirteenth annual Arkansas Literary Festival, April 14-17, 2016. The Central Arkansas Library System’s Main Library campus and many other Little Rock venues are the sites for a stimulating mix of sessions, panels, special events, performances, workshops, presentations, opportunities to meet authors, book sales, and book signings. Most events are free and open to the public.
     The Arkansas Literary Festival, the premier gathering of readers and writers in Arkansas, will include more than 80 presenters including featured authors from approximately 24 different states and guests hailing from Canada, England, Russia, and Singapore. Each year, several of the attending authors have not visited Little Rock, Arkansas, or even the South.
     Presenters come from a wide range of backgrounds including: journalist, documentary filmmaker, economist, editor, microbiologist, national bank examiner, essayist, photographer, sports reporter, psychological examiner, musician, actress, reporter, and professor. One is co-producing Keanu Reeves’ new television show and writing an adaptation of his own book for Warner Bros. and Bradley Cooper.
     Special events for adults during the Festival include a cocktail reception with the authors, a tour of the Governor’s Mansion gardens with a wine and cheese reception, an escape room, and Readers’ Map of Arkansas launch party. Panels and sessions include genres and topics such as literary fiction, barbecue, Monopoly, female rocket scientists, travel, graphic novels, science fiction, classic literature, and a story told in playing cards.
     Children’s special events include a session by Nikki Grimes, activity hour, concert by the Kinders, and the play How the Camel Got His Hump. based on Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. Festival sessions for children will take place at both the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library and Learning Center, 4800 10th Street, and the Youth Services Department at the Main Library, 100 Rock Street. Special events for teens include North Little Rock High School Readers Theater, a teen poetry competition, and a panel with three authors of books for young adults.
     Through the Writers In The Schools (WITS) initiative, the Festival will provide presentations by several authors for central Arkansas elementary, middle, and senior high schools and area colleges.
     Author! Author!, a cocktail reception with the authors, will be Friday, April 15, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance and $40 at the door, and go on sale at ArkansasLiteraryFestival.org beginning Monday, March 15.
     This year’s Festival authors have won an impressive number and variety of distinguished awards and fellowships including: Pulitzer Prize, James Beard Award, PEN/Hemingway Award, Hugo Award, Coretta Scott King Award, Will Eisner Comic Industry Award, National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” Honoree, Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, Dashiell Hammett Prize, Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection, National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Fulbright Fellowship, Guggenheim Fellowship, Houghton Mifflen Literary Fellowship, Arkansas Arts Council Fellowship.
     The work of this year’s Festival authors has been featured in notable publications including: New York Times, Details, McSweeney’s Quarterly, Forbes, the Paris Review, theHuffington Post, Women’s Health, Gourmet Magazine, the New Republic, the Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian, the Daily Telegraph UK, VICE, the New Yorker, Harper’s, the Atlantic, Slate, Time, Popular Science, Salon, the Best American Travel Writing, Outside Magazine, Esquire, USA Today, Reader’s Digest, Best American Essays, Best American Short Stories, Penthouse, the Nation, Best American Poetry, the Washington Post, Town & Country, the Economist, the Christian Science Monitor, National Geographic, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Rolling Stone, GQ, Sports Illustrated, and Vogue
     The Literary Festival is presented by the Central Arkansas Library System. Sponsors include Arkansas Humanities Council, Friends of Central Arkansas Library System (FOCAL), Clinton Presidential Center, Fred K. Darragh Jr. Foundation, KUAR FM 89.1, ProSmartPrinting.com, Rebsamen Fund, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Arkansas Times, Gibbs Elementary School, Hendrix-Murphy Foundation Programs in Literature and Language, MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, Museum of Discovery, Otter Creek Elementary School, UALR Department of English, Windstream, Arkansas Library Association, Christ Episcopal Church, East Harding Construction, Hampton Inn, Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center, Henderson State University, Hendrix College Project Pericles Program, University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center, Greater Little Rock Council of Garden Clubs, Capital Hotel, City of Little Rock, Et Alia Press, Consulate General of Israel to the Southwest, Literacy Action of Central Arkansas, Mayor Mark Stodola, Mollie Savage Memorial/CALS, North Little Rock High School, Plum Street Publishers, Inc., Pyramid Art Books & Custom Framing/Hearne Fine Art, Sibling Rivalry Press, Stickyz Rock ‘N’ Roll Chicken Shack, UALR Department of Rhetoric and Writing, and Whole Hog. The Arkansas Literary Festival is supported in part by funds from the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
     The Festival’s mission is to encourage the development of a more literate populace. A group of dedicated volunteers assists Festival Coordinator Brad Mooy with planning the Festival. Committee chairs include Kevin Brockmeier, Talent Committee; Susan Santa Cruz, Festival Guides; and Amy Bradley-Hole, Moderators.
     Visit the Festival Facebook and Twitter pages to get the latest news about the Festival. For more information about the 2016 Arkansas Literary Festival, visit ArkansasLiteraryFestival.org, or contact Brad Mooy at bmooy@cals.org or 918-3098. For information on volunteering at the Festival, contact Angela Delaney at adelaney@cals.org or 918-3095.

2015 In Memoriam – Sandy Baskin

In these final days of 2015, we pause to look back at 15 who influenced Little Rock’s cultural scene who left us in 2015.

So, let’s pretend we’re sitting in the back of Vino’s, where so many actors, musicians and rats have sort of tried to be tolerant of one another through the years, where so many beers have been slung and guitar picks (and sometimes prosthetic body parts) flung.  It’s here where Red Octopus Theatre Company first found its home and fan base, and it’s here where founder Christy Ward and former member/performer Jennifer Pierce Mathus thought it best to base our virtual tribute to the late Sandy Baskin, longtime Red Octopus director and Little Rock actress.

1515 BaskinJPM:  Hi, Christy Ward.  Smells like home in here.

CW:  Ah, yes!  Stale beer and gutter punks!  The scent of the season!

JPM:  It should be a seasonal candle.  You know, I can never call you by just your first name. That’s because of Sandy. And it’s like one word, really, especially when you speak at Sandy Baskin speed. You know what?  Let’s just pretend Sandy is running late and talk about her…..so, how did you meet Sandy?

CW: I met her one night at the “Honky Hut”, which is what we called the house Brooks Caruthers, Greg Hinspeter and various other lived in. I’d moved back from San Francisco, a year or two before. Brad Mooy, Amy Gross-Mason (both of whom where interns at The Rep) and I had just started Red Octopus and had put up a few one-acts–I had wanted to do something a little different from the work I’d done with Reponde Capite, and Brad and Amy wanted to have a little creative freedom aside from their day jobs. I knew Amy in college. We wanted a different kind of audience than the other theatres. We loved theatre and we wanted to get a younger audience who might not otherwise go see a play. So, we got a couple of nights at Vino’s, which had just opened. Allan Vennis, Henry Lee and, oh, that other guy, all owned it. So we formed Red Octopus. I wanted it to be called Little Miss Priss’ Theatre of Impertinence. But for brevity’s sake, we named it after Brad’s super cute kitchen table! We’d put on two shows, and they had played fantastically. I was really energized by the whole thing, and was planning my next show, an original piece, with music called “The Big, Big, City.” It was the first script I ever wrote. Sandy sat down next to me on the couch, and introduced herself to me. She said our mutual friend told her she should meet me, since I was doing shows at music venues, she was a theatre person, and we were both cool and funny. The friend said that, not me…

JPM: But you were….

CW: …and by the end of the night, Sandy was assistant director and firmly entrenched in RO.  I saw her pretty much every day for about ten years after that. (laughs)

So, Jennifer! I understand you’ve also done a bit of acting! Can you give me a brief idea of why you are qualified to talk about Sandy Baskin and her contributions to theatre in Arkansas?

JPM:  Am I qualified to talk about Sandy?  I guess, after 13-ish years spent either on stage with her or in collaboration with Red Octopus, I can say that Sandy Baskin kept the independent spirit alive in theater in Arkansas.  And she particularly demanded that audiences have respect for comedy in all forms. Like, she almost had a “live free or die” approach to her art.  The whole “f*** ‘em if they can’t take a joke” thing.  Her life’s work informed so many aspiring actors and comedy writers; she inspired artists to think and try and grow. At least, that’s what she did for me. And I have, as you know, appeared in a J.G. Wentworth commercial, so clearly I have developed a highly-refined approach to our craft. *throws pretend scarf over shoulder*

CW:  I see! You seem pretty qualified.  Sandy was not a founding member of Red Octopus, but she joined the company very early on and remained the driving force behind it until she passed away this year. So, what do you think Sandy brought to the table, what was it about her that drew people to the company, that kept them excited and willing to bust their asses for no monetary reward?

1515 Baskin2JPM: What I saw through the years, as newer company members would come into the group, the newbies wanted to make her laugh. They saw her as the leader of the “cool kids” theater gang, and they wanted that stamp of approval, as actors and writers. If they could crack her up, especially if they could make her break in scene, then they kinda felt like they’d graduated. It was the same with me when I started–it’s one of the reasons I baaaaarely wrote, because I thought much of what I wrote wasn’t funny enough for your or Sandy’s or Jason Gregory’s standards. It had to be good; it had to kill. Because nearly all of her sketches killed.  So many of the sketches she wrote back then are still being performed today.

And after all the “old heads” left, why do you think she cared so much about keeping RO going?

CW:  I think she just really loved comedy and her family. I don’t think she could’ve moved and left her family behind. But I don’t think she was capable of not doing shows either. I can’t imagine her doing anything else. If there had never been a Red Octopus, she would’ve wound up starting up something else like it. She found her thing. It worked perfectly with her life. She was very lucky, and I’m sure she would agree.  And I feel, as an actress, she was outstanding working in the genre of sketch comedy.

JPM: Totally. As an actor, she was completely built for comedy.  Warp-speed speech pattern, big volume, fantastic expressions, great tits. And I can say that because I’m a guy. (laughs) Sandy was a dynamo onstage and had impeccable comedic timing. Plus, she had this vintage Hollywood “look” and a kind of Lucille Ball approach. She should’ve had her own variety show.

CW: She was an encyclopedia of pop culture, from the 1920’s on. And I am not. She loved changing lyrics to songs and putting music in where ever humanly possible. And me, not so much. How did Sandy influence you as an artist?

JPM:  I can’t even begin to explain. Red Octopus was my MFA program in acting, with an emphasis in comedy. Sandy’s direction and collaboration shaped everything for me.  What do you remember most when you think of her?

CW: Laughing. And a million other things that usually ended in laughing.

JPM:  Working with her onstage was like working with someone who should’ve been on Saturday Night Live. And it was the scariest and yet safest place to be, being on stage with her.

Favorite performance of Sandy’s, go.

CW:  Vivace. Hands down the best thing she ever did. She was so fun to watch in comedy, I can’t pick one. But Vivace was a drama. It was a big stretch for her. I wanted it to be very realistic. It was very Method. I think we all went a little crazy maybe, but she was great. Really great.

Who do you think were Sandy’s major influences?

JPM:  Oh, God!  Offhand?  Tom Waits, Broadway, 1960s TV commercials, film noir, Laugh-In, Shakespeare, Valley of the Dolls, Burns and Allen, West Side Story, you, Jason Gregory.

Your favorite performance together, go.

CW:  We Have No Shame. Two woman show. So much fun. As we say today, we gave zero f*cks.

JPM:  And here’s something:  Sandy was always well aware of her femininity but still maintained a punk sort of feminist position when it came to characters and sketch themes and ideas. How do you think she found that balance?

CW:  She and I were total 3rd Wave Feminists. Sexuality and sex were fun things that were ours. She did what she wanted. Just because she was pretty, didn’t mean she was demure or stupid, and she enjoyed making that point. And she enjoyed flirting.

What was your favorite thing she wrote?

JPM:  This has been killing me since we lost her, because my favorite thing she wrote, I can’t remember the show title!  It actually wasn’t a comedy, though I loved all of her comedic writing. No, this was a two-man dramedy she wrote, starring me and Jason Gregory, a Burns-and-Allen riff that told the story of Sandy’s dear friend who developed a degenerative brain disorder and died. Gregory played the lead role, and I was basically playing the role of Sandy. It was a beautiful, heartbreaking tribute to love and loss. We rehearsed it for weeks, really intensive actor-y type work to find the characters and deliver beautifully nuanced performances. Sandy directed, and she was brilliant. And no one actually saw the show. Well, Kathy Strause saw it and maybe two other people. Because RO had at that point been doing sketch comedy full stop, throwing a heavier theatrical piece at our audience didn’t really work. I think we closed the show after two days of empty seats. And now, I’m the only one left who remembers it. God, this is a terribly depressing answer!  She would actually make fun of this answer. *dries eyes, blows nose in pretend scarf*

JPM:  How did she enrich the cultural life of this state?  What is Sandy’s legacy?  And are we really asking these questions?  Because this all still seems a bit unreal, to me.

CW:  I want Little Rock and the world to know, but mostly Little Rock, that Sandy Baskin was a major force in creating the underground culture of the city since the 90’s. This city loves live comedy, because of her. Little Rock had a sort of cultural Golden Age in the 90’s, and it was more shiny, and fun, because of her presence both on and off stage. She was a true talent who could have worked in any writer’s room in the country, and we were lucky to have had her. That’s all I have to say about that.

JPM:  Agreed.

CW:  Any final thoughts you want to share?

JPM:  I loved that Dumb Whore.  And it’s too bad if you don’t get the joke. I secretly hope Scott gets letters of protest for the use of that language.  Because that would thrill Sandy.