Artober – On My Bookshelf – Cultural Policy, Fiction about the South, Family Heirlooms

October is Arts and Humanities Month nationally and in Little Rock. Americans for the Arts has identified a different arts topic to be posted for each day in the month. Today’s topic is “On My Bookshelf.”

I love books.  I have thousands. I have not read them all, but I’ve read most of them.

These are from my grandfather Alvin Moses Carter’s set of encyclopedias. They were in his house for decades. Now they are in my office at work, where they sit near his steamer trunk. He died three years before I was born, but I feel connected to him when I see these items every day.

Also in my office are some books on cultural policy and history.  I’ve had the opportunity to meet Frohnmayer, Alexander,and Florida and discuss their books with them.

At home, I have books everywhere. I once tried to group them by subject and put in alphabetical order, but there were just too many, and they have to fit in a variety of spaces. These paper backs are on shelves that were built in my apartment when a doorway was filled in. Two of these books served as inspiration for Broadway musicals in 1949, each with heroines from Little Rock.

These two books face forward on one of my bookshelves (hiding some reference books).  Little Rock native Ben Piazza’s book is a fictionalized account of his childhood. He wrote it while appearing in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on Broadway. The other book is an oral history of Angels in America and is one of the best books I have read about theatre and history in a long time.

Rock The Tonys: Tony Award winners at The Rep

Will Trice at the 2014 Tony Awards

The 72nd Tony Awards take place on Sunday, June 10 at Radio City Music Hall (broadcast on CBS).

Over the years, the Arkansas Repertory Theatre has had several Tony winner work on stage and backstage.

Among these are:

Jason Alexander – In 1989, he won the Tony Award for Actor in a Musical for Jerome Robbins’ Broadway. The play Windfall, which closed the Rep’s 2015-2016 season, was directed by Alexander.

Bill Berloni – One of the 2011 Tony Honors went to Berloni, who has made a career out of training animals for the stage. It started with the original 1977 Tony winning Annie. He put his skills to work at the Arkansas Rep in 2013 for the musical Because of Winn Dixie.

Cleavant Derricks – The 1982 Tony ceremony recognized Derricks with the Featured Actor in a Musical award for his role as James “Thunder” Earley in the original production of Dreamgirls. 31 years later he appeared in the Arkansas Rep production of Treasure Island.

Remmel Dickinson – As a producer, Dickinson has won Tony Awards in 2009 for The Norman Conquests (Revival of a Play), Memphis (Musical) and War Horse (Play). In 2014, he produced Memphis at the Rep.

Ann Duquesnay – At the 50th Tony Awards in 1996, Ms Duquesnay won the Featured Actress in a Musical for Bring in ‘da Noise/Bring in ‘da Funk. (She was also nominated for contributing to the show’s score.). In 1999, she starred at the Rep in Cookin’ at the Cookery: The Music and Times of Alberta Hunter.

Peter Schneider – The 1998 Tony for Best Musical went to The Lion King. Peter Schneider was the Disney executive who led the effort to produce it. In 2013, he directed Pal Joey at the Arkansas Rep.

Will Trice – In 1994, Trice appeared on the Rep stage as a young actor in the production of Lost in Yonkers. As an adult, he has received Tony Awards as a Broadway producer, including: Porgy and Bess (2012 Revival of a Musical), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (2013 Play Revival) and All the Way (2014 Play). He has received five additional producing nominations.

In addition, both Tony winning actress Jane Alexander and Tony winning producer Rocco Landesman each appeared on the Arkansas Rep stage as chair of the National Endowment for the Arts in conjunction with appearances in Little Rock.

The fact that the Arkansas Repertory Theatre has been able to work with theatre artists of this calibre is a testament to the quality of work it has produced.  Giving the opportunity for Arkansas audiences to have this interaction without leaving the state is one of the values of the Rep.

Repertorium Praeter Theatrum

Black History Month Spotlight: Henry Shead

bhm shedHenry Wallace Shead, Sr., better known as “Shed” was born in Fordyce, Arkansas, on March 31, 1941.  He was raised in Little Rock, the son of a reverend, Henry Arthur Shead.  At the tender age of six, Henry was introduced to the keyboards by his mother, Willie LeBethel, who immediately recognized his natural talent. Henry’s mother saw to it that her son had piano lessons, while his father’s church provided the place for his early public performances.

At the start of his career, he performed regularly on a local American Bandstand-type TV show called Center Stage. He also became a fixture at the Little Rock Country Club. He made his mark playing in intimate settings as a solo artist, dazzling listeners with his absolute mastery of the piano, singing in that slightly raspy, yet smooth sounding baritone voice. Shead was awarded a scholarship to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, and majored in music while entertaining around the area. Henry met his wife, Jeanette Mazique, while attending college in Pine Bluff. They married in January of 1964 and had four children.

He became a high school choral director and music teacher, all the while continuing to work in local nightspots like the Drummer‘s Club in Little Rock. In 1971, he moved to Los Angeles where he made his acting debut appearing with Henry Fonda, Richard Dreyfuss and Jane Alexander in William Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life. He wrote and arranged music for stage plays and television, sang the title song for a United Artist film, did studio work on a Johnny Mathis album, and recorded for the Liberty/United Artists and Cream labels.

Shed created national radio jingles and appeared on network television with Dinah Shore, Johnny Carson and Jerry Lewis. He has also performed at parties for the Rockefellers, Pearl Bailey, The Carpenters, President Lyndon Johnson, President Bill Clinton, Henry Mancini, Sergio Mendes, hotelier Peter Morton, Ed McMahon and Barbra Streisand.

In Las Vegas, the city where he lived since 1974, Shed entertained at most of the major hotels, with long engagements at the Aladdin, Stardust, Hacienda, MGM Grand, Caesar’s Palace and Sahara. In 1977, the Henry Shead Band with Denise Clemente was voted Las Vegas’ Best Lounge Act of the Year. His last long-term run was at AJ’s Steakhouse at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, retiring in 2007. In October 2006, he was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.

He died on October 5, 2012 in Las Vegas and is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Hollywood CA.

For more on Henry Shead and other inductees into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, visit the permanent exhibit at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. That museum is an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.


ROCKing the TONYS – Jane Alexander and James Earl Jones

Rock the Tonys

Jones and Alexander in 2012. Photo by Bruce Gilkas

Jones and Alexander in 2012. Photo by Bruce Gilkas

Jane Alexander and James Earl Jones

Little Rock connection: Alexander visited Little Rock when she was head of the National Endowment for the Arts in the Clinton Administration. Jones has appeared with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and at UCA’s Public Appearance Series.

Alexander and Jones in THE GREAT WHITE HOPE. Photo by Fletcher Drake, courtesy of Arena Stage

Alexander and Jones in THE GREAT WHITE HOPE. Photo by Fletcher Drake, courtesy of Arena Stage

Tony Awards connection: Alexander and Jones both received Tony Awards on April 20, 1969 (45 years ago today) for their performances in The Great White Hope. Jones also received a 1987 Tony for his performance in Fences. Both have received numerous other Tony nominations. Alexander served as co-host of the 1979 Tony Awards ceremony. She and Jones have each made several appearances as presenters at Tony ceremonies.