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.”

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.

2nd Friday Art Night – REPtrospective at the Arkansas Rep

Whether you have a ticket to CHICAGO tonight or not, drop by Arkansas Repertory Theatre on Friday, March 8, between 5 – 8 p.m. to enjoy REPtrospective, the newest collection of local artwork displayed on our lobby walls.

Each featured artist in this collection has been a part of The Rep’s story and continues to support our future by donating a percentage of all artwork sold back to the theatre.

Razzle Dazzle and All that Jazz as CHICAGO opens at Arkansas Rep

Image may contain: indoorArkansas Repertory Theatre opens its 2019 Season with the Tony Award-winning production, 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 will direct and choreograph Chicago which runs Feb. 20-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.

Chicago has generous support from Cindy and Chip Murphy.

Tickets start at $20. Discounts are available for full-time students, season subscribers, seniors and military personnel. 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. Performances run Feb. 20-March 24. Low-priced previews run Feb. 20-21.

Today at Clinton School – the Arkansas Rep production of CHICAGO

Image may contain: indoorThe Arkansas Repertory Theatre works in partnership with the Clinton School of Public Service to participate in the UACS’s Distinguished Speaker Series, hosting educational panel discussions on various Rep productions.  Now that the Rep is back in production (!), this partnership is back in full force.

The latest in these takes place today, Thursday, February 21 at 12 noon at Sturgis Hall in Clinton Presidential Park.  It focuses on the Rep’s upcoming production of the Kander and Ebb musical Chicago.

Originally a play in the 1920s, it was adapted as a musical in 1974 and 1975 by John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Bob Fosse.  Opportunity knocks when a crime of passion earns Roxie Hart the kind of notoriety that slick-talking attorney Billy Flynn can exploit for her dreams of fame and his hunger for fortune. Roxie’s story captures the imaginations of newspaper readers and reporters who fall hook, line and sinker for Billy’s clever manipulation. Roxie quickly overshadows previous murderess, media darling, and fellow Cook County inmate – vaudevillian Velma Kelly.

Set in the Jazz Age, Kander and Ebb’s legendary, Tony Award-winning musical takes a tantalizing look at how the times may change, but the allure of fame remains a fundamental motivation for those willing to sacrifice their scruples for the spotlight.

The original Broadway production was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and ran for 936 performances. The 1996 Broadway revival is still running (9,251 performances as of this past Sunday) and won 6 Tony Awards.  The 2002 movie won 6 Oscars including Best Picture.

Join the Clinton School for a panel discussion about this production with Ron Hutchins, who is directing the production, and members of the cast and creative team.

The play opens officially on Friday evening and runs through Sunday, March 24.

A Shhhhhhhh-ICAGO Speakeasy Thursday Night at Rock Town Distillery

Shhhh…

Arkansas Rep is hosting a Chicago Speakeasy at Rock Town Distillery on Thursday, February 7, from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Admission is free, but you must know the password…

Speakeasy attendees will be the first to taste Rock Town’s all-new, Chicago-inspired drink, “All That Razz!” at half price. Cast members Rachel Perlman and Erik Joshua Clack will perform a few sets of tap dance to Jazz Age music.

Members of The Rep’s Young Professionals group, The 601 Club, receive a coupon for a free tour and tasting at Rock Town!

If you want to know the password — check with the LR Culture Vulture.

RSVP to krudolph@therep.org.
Event is open to attendees ages 21+.

2019 Season for Arkansas Rep is set

Arkansas Repertory Theatre, the state’s largest nonprofit professional theatre, announced its 2019 “Rebuild the Rep” Season. Beginning in February, the new season marks the return of The Rep after productions were suspended in April because of funding shortages.

“Storytelling will be our focus in 2019 at The Rep,” said Ruth Shepherd. “Our 2019 Season brings a diverse array of uniquely American stories.  We feel passionate about each and every one of these stories, and I am truly excited about the combination.”

The 2019 “Rebuild the Rep” season includes the following productions:

Chicago (Running February 20 to March 24, with opening night on February 22, 2019).
Director and choreographer Ron Hutchins makes a return to Arkansas Rep to helm this musical of murder, greed, corruption and show business. With a score by Fred Ebb and John Kander, this musical tells the story of Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly as well as lawyer Billy Flynn, reporter Mary Sunshine, and the other colorful characters from the 1920s.

Native Gardens (April 17 to May 5, with opening night on April 19, 2019)
Written by Karen Zacarias, this comedy is about
 a young, up-and-coming Latinx couple who 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!

Million Dollar Quartet (September 4 to October 6, with opening night on September 6, 2019)  On December 4, 1956, in the studios of Sun Records in Memphis, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis gathered to meet with legendary producer Sam Phillips. What happened next was pure rock and roll magic. The show has a collection of hit songs that includes “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Great Balls of Fire,” and “Hound Dog.”  The show is written by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux from an original idea by Mutrux.  Directed by original cast member Hunter Foster (a Tony-nominated actor), 

It’s a Wonderful Life:  A LIVE Radio Play (December 4 to 22, with opening night on December 6, 2019)
Back by popular demand, The Rep brings this holiday classic back to our stage to close the 2019 season. Ring in the holidays with an entertaining spin on a familiar holiday favorite. Set in a 1940s radio station on Christmas Eve, enjoy a live radio version of Frank Capra’s classic 1946 film as the actors on stage transform into dozens of characters from Bedford Falls. 

 

NEW IN 2019 – EDUCATION AT THE REP ON THE MAINSTAGE

Willy Wonka Jr. (June 21 to 30, 2019)
Adapted for the stage by Leslie Bricusse and Timothy A. McDonald, it features a score by Bricusse and Anthony Newley.  
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. 

SEASON SUBSCRIPTIONS
Season Subscriptions are on sale online or by calling the Box Office starting November 14. At a cost of $88 (for students) or $155 (for adults), a subscription to The Rep is the most economical way to see all of the productions included in the 2019 Season. There is also a Pay-Your-Age subscription option for young adults ages 22-40. Season subscriptions provide one ticket to each of the four productions. Tickets to Willy Wonka Jr. are sold separately. Single ticket sales open in January 2019.

For more information about Season Subscriptions, call the Box Office at (501) 378-0405, Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., or visit www.TheRep.org.

 

ARKANSAS REPERTORY 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. For more information, visit www.therep.org.