Tag Archives: Ruth Shepherd

An Appreciation of Cliff Fannin Baker

Two times Cliff Baker declined to hire me.

The first was, upon reflection, a “what the hell he thinking even interviewing me I was nowhere qualified for that job?!” situation.

The second time I had three interviews. Met the entire staff. And at the last minute some board members wanted to restructure staffing and go another direction.

I was disappointed. But because it was Cliff, I was not bitter.

I mean, that elfin grin. Those sparkling eyes. You could tell there were fifty-thousand ideas going through his mind at once. He was an encourager and a dreamer.

Cliff Baker willed Arkansas Rep into existence.  He had a merry band of players to join him.  But in the end, it was his vision, his determination, his blood, his sweat, and his tears that made the dream a reality.

The genesis for the Rep predates even the Arkansas Philharmonic Theatre. It goes back to the theatre program of the Arkansas Arts Center during its degree granting days.  Cliff worked with Dugald MacArthur who led the dramatic arts section during most of the four years the school existed.   Cliff was part of Of Prisons and Men, the environmental staging production of a new play which was critical of the Arkansas prison system.  It was aborted due partially to the involvement of actual inmates in the production (to the dismay of some in prison leadership system). Though not publicly stated, there was also some discomfort with the tone and tenor of the play.

Earlier this year, Cliff and I talked about this play.  Sometime over the years, he had lost his papers on it.  But longtime Arts Center trustee Jeane Hamilton had hers and gave them to Cliff.   As the theatre production was cancelled and later the entire degree granting program dropped for budget reasons, Jeane had encouraged Cliff to keep dreaming of theatre for Little Rock.  When Mimi Dortch was helping Cliff launch the Rep, Jeane was excited to join in.  (And it was Jeane who recruited Ruth Shepherd to become involved with the Rep.)

I was fascinated to hear Cliff talk about the visits to the prison, the rehearsal process, and the disappointment for the way it ended.  But fifty years later, it was just one stop on his career providing anecdotes from his youthful baptism into the Little Rock theatrical scene.

As a child, I was taken to a production at Cliff’s Arkansas Philharmonic Theatre in Hillcrest.  I could not tell you what it was, nor do my parents remember.  One of my babysitters was in the play.  I may not remember the play or the plot (I was five or six), but I vividly remember the cramped space. There was an electricity to it.  And it showed that theatre did not have to take place in a large auditorium.

The next year, the Arkansas Rep was born in an abandoned church space adjacent to MacArthur Park.  Operating for the first few years as a true repertory company, the same core cadre acted, sold tickets, built sets, and cleaned the building. What Cliff was creating in Little Rock was rare at the time.  Professional theatre did not exist in cities of its size.

My first personal interaction with Cliff was at Arkansas Governor’s School.  They were touring the musical Quilters to campus.  Since I was in Drama at AGS, Cliff and some cast members visited with us.  I don’t remember anything profound he said, but I remember him treating this group of 21 seventeen-year olds with respect.  Later that evening, the light board was not cooperating. So the show actually started with only house lights until the light board started functioning.  Before the show, Cliff gave brief remarks about the show.  He apologized for the technical glitch, but “the show must go on.”  About 15 minutes into it, the theatrical lighting appeared.

Over the years, I saw many shows he directed. Cliff was at home in so many different styles of theatre.

Perhaps one of my favorite Cliff memories was a decade or so back when the Rep produced A Chorus Line. I and some friends were at an event which involved a behind-the-scenes talk about the production.  By this point, Cliff had been retired from the Rep (the first time) for several years but was directing the production.  He and I were sitting at the same table.  A friend of mine who was relatively new to town quite innocently asked, “So what is your connection to the Rep?”  I just about did a Danny Thomas spit take to the drink I was sipping.  Cliff very humbly said, “Well, I have been involved since the first days of it and am now back directing this show.”  He was not upset that someone did not know who he was. He was actually very glad to see many new people continuing to be involved with the Rep.

The Cliff stories keep coming back as I write this. We all have them. He had the ability to make people feel connected, to make you feel you were the most important person in the room.  It was that gift that made him a good director, actor, producer, and fundraiser.

My last conversation with Cliff was on the opening night of Gridiron.  We had chatted earlier in the evening.  Then after the show, I saw he and Guy, right after I had passed Herb Rule.  The three of them played the key male roles in the Rep’s first production: The Threepenny Opera. I teased Cliff that it was time for a revival of that production. He smiled and said, “It was such a fun show to do.” We shook hands and parted ways. I knew he needed to work the room. This was a space filled with people who wanted to support the Rep as it refreshed itself.

When the announcement of the Rep suspending operations was made in April, one of my first thoughts was, quite selfishly, “Damn, I won’t be able to see a Cliff Baker God of Carnage.”  It was the show I had most been anticipating from this season.  As the Rep was working to plan for a new season, I was hopeful that Cliff would be able to mount that production in the new season.  A very dark comedy, it is reminiscent of some of his best work.  Alas, just as the Rep is on the cusp of a new phase, Cliff won’t be there to direct.

But Cliff WILL be there.  He will always be a part of the Rep. It is more than him, but it is very much him.

For the rest of us – those who are left to mourn, to support Guy, to face life after Cliff, I keep thinking of a line from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  In it, he said, “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work.” And there is much unfinished work.  The Rep needs to return to regular programming to be sure.  But it is more than that.  We need to all redouble our efforts to exhibit the compassion, the passion, the wit, and the sincerity he showed. To inspire others to be their best whether in the arts or whatever field they choose.

Cliff Fannin Baker was a Pied Piper, and we were all glad to follow along.


Arkansas Rep announces news about Rep founder Cliff Baker

Arkansas Repertory Theatre board chair Ruth Shepherd announced today (September 2) that Rep Founder Cliff Fannin Baker is in the hospital in New York City.

On Monday, August 27, while participating in a corporate workshop, Cliff collapsed and was rushed to the hospital where he received surgery due to an intercranial brain hemorrhage.

Shepherd said, “Members of The Rep board, staff and all who love Cliff are praying for his recovery. His spouse Guy Couch, also a long time Rep employee, is with him. We ask that all respect their privacy at this difficult time.”

Since April 24, when The Rep announced suspension of MainStage productions, Baker has been serving as an artistic advisor and has been very involved in planning for the re-opening of a new season at The Rep in 2019.

orationes pistorum retrudi iussit in praeceps


Arkansas Rep reports much progress as they continues steps to their Next Stage

Two months since the Arkansas Repertory Theatre announced it would suspend productions due to significant cash flow issues, fiscal year end reports show significant progress being made in efforts to save the state’s largest nonprofit, professional theatre.

“As of June 30, The Rep is now current with all of its trade vendors and has secured operations and current staff through August 14,” said Ruth Shepherd, Rep board chair and interim leadership team member.

Reporting an emergency deficit of $750,000, The Rep Board of Directors decided earlier this year to suspend productions, resulting in the layoff of two-thirds of its administrative and artistic staff, as well as the cancellation of the final show of the theatre’s 2017-2018 season.

Now concentrating on rebounding from the current financial crisis, Rep leadership has pledged to reassess, refocus and revision a theatre which is professional, affordable and sustainable. The board of directors has appointed an interim leadership team consisting of Shepherd, fellow board member Bill Rector and Rep founding artistic director Cliff Baker.

Since “going dark” on April 24, The Rep has received almost 900 gifts totaling more than $422,000 and has secured two challenge grants – one from the John and Robyn Horn Foundation and another from the Windgate Charitable Foundation – valued collectively at $1,025,000.

The theatre has also finalized the sale of Peachtree Apartments, a 16-unit complex used for actor housing that has been among The Rep’s real estate holdings for more than 30 years. Proceeds from the sale will effectively cut The Rep’s property debt “almost in half,” according to Rep interim leadership team member Bill Rector, who negotiated the sale for The Rep with Rick Freeling of RPM Group representing buyers Mark Brown and Jill Judy. The sale closed on June 20.

Shepherd said a steering committee comprised of more than 60 community and business leaders are working with the Rep Board of Directors to develop a plan targeted for presentation in mid-August for the future of the 42-year-old beloved Arkansas cultural institution.

“Continuing campaign goals include creating board-directed funds such as operating and facilities reserve funds and a subscription escrow,” said Shepherd. “Such funds will enable The Rep to operate with a more fiscally sound business model moving forward. At this point, every gift to The Rep is about our future.”

“So, while the news is good, it is not yet great,” said Shepherd. “There is still a lot of hard work to be done, but we are certainly feeling more confident that with the continued support of our audiences and community, we will ultimately come out of this unfortunate situation with a stronger and more resilient 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.

Future of The Rep focus of Clinton School program today at 12 noon

Arkansas Repertory Theatre is the state’s largest nonprofit professional theatre and one of the most critically acclaimed performing arts organizations in the region.

Since The Rep announced it was suspending operations on April 24, a groundswell of support has emerged from the community. Volunteers hosted a Rally for the Rep on May 1 directly in front of the theatre.

Ruth Shepherd has been involved with The Rep for more than 40 years. Shepherd first served as chair of Friends of The Rep before joining the theatre’s staff for three years as Development Director in the 1980s. She chaired the committee that hired Bob Hupp, who served as producing/artistic director for 17 years, and was serving as chair-elect when the theatre announced its plans to go dark on April 24.

Shepherd, along with long-time board member Bill Rector and Rep founder Cliff Baker, are serving as an Interim Leadership Team as The Rep reimagines itself to be Arkansas’ Theatre that is professional, affordable, and sustainable.

All Clinton School Speaker Series events are free and open to the public.

Repertorium Praeter Theatrum

An Update on Plans to #SaveTheRep!

Since the Arkansas Repertory Theatre made the announcement on April 24, 2018, that the theatre were suspending operations, several important steps have been taken.

Overall, they can be summarized by the mantra which is guiding the Rep leadership during this time:  PROFESSIONAL, AFFORDABLE, & SUSTAINABLE.

  • Within just the first few weeks since the news broke, the Rep has received more than 550 gifts totaling almost $220,000.  Every dollar given right now is being matched by the Windgate Charitable Foundation, and monthly and multi-year pledges make it possible to be even more generous with giving.
  • The Rep Board has appointed a volunteer Interim Leadership Team consisting of Rep founder Cliff Baker and Rep board members Bill Rector and Ruth Shepherd.
  • The Rep has formed an “Our Next Act” Steering Committee of board and community leaders who are examining every facet of Rep operations and make recommendations to The Rep Board for action. The aim is to have a plan by mid-August about how to reopen The Rep after this brief intermission.
  • The theatre is in the process of selling the building which was used as actor housing.  That will reduce our property debt by nearly half.  There are many more options for housing actors downtown near the Rep than there were when those apartments were originally acquired.
  • The Rep is planning community listening sessions to get Little Rock’s best thinking and ideas. Check soon on the Rep’s website to learn how you can participate.  (Also, make plans to attend the Clinton School presentation on the future of the Rep featuring Ruth Shepherd on Thursday, June 7 at 12 noon at Sturgis Hall.)
  • The education programs will continue throughout the summer with programming for rising K-12 students. There are still a few slots left, so check the education section of the Rep’s website for class information.

While much progress has been made, the work is far from over.  The Rep still needs support from the public, financial and otherwise.

Repertorium Praeter Theatrum

2 Grants worth more than $1 Million Offered to Arkansas Rep

Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s Board of Directors has announced that they have received two matching grants worth more than one million dollars to fund The Rep’s Our Next Act campaign.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled about these challenge grants. They make it possible for those who love The Rep to double their gift!” Ruth Shepherd, Board Chair-Elect said. “With these gifts the Windgate and John & Robyn Horn Foundations have said loud and clear, ‘We believe in the future of a re-designed Rep.’ So now we need everyone to help us earn that match.”

The John & Robyn Horn Foundation •
The John & Robyn Horn Foundation approved a challenge grant of $25,000 designated for “General Support.”

Windgate Charitable Foundation •
The Arkansas Repertory Theatre received a challenge grant today for $1,000,000. • “I am pleased to notify you that the Board of the Windgate Charitable Foundation has approved a grant of $1,000,000, with an enclosed grant payment of $75,000 for operating needs,” said John E. Brown III, Executive Director of the Windgate Charitable Foundation. The balance of $925,000 is offered as a challenge grant for the Our Next Act Campaign. John E. Brown III concluded his letter, “We wish you great success in the coming year.”

Board Chair, Brian Bush said, “We are incredibly grateful to the Windgate Charitable Foundation and the John & Robyn Horn Foundation. This gives our public campaign the start that we’ve needed.”

48 Hour Film Project Awards Tonight

48HFP logoThe Little Rock Film Festival’s 48 Hour Film Project is nearly wrapped for 2013. This year was a whirlwind of anticipation, anxiety, excitement, and energy as the 31 teams produced short cinematic treasures in only 48 Hours. The audiences guffawed, gasped, and sometimes groaned before selecting their Top 10 favorites of the screening nights.

The following films will be playing at the Best Of Screening and Awards Ceremony tonight at 7pm at Wildwood Park for the Arts. The lineup in no particular order as voted by the audiences are:

  • La Grande Fete by Flokati Films (Operetta)
  • Surprise Party by AndrewMFilms (Comedy)
  • Vacation by Something Clever (Vacation or Holiday Film)
  • Abattoir by Team Bearshark (Buddy Film)
  • The Door by The Immaculate Production (Thriller/Suspense)
  • The Plumbmeler by Altered Egos (Martial Arts)
  • Last Chance Romance by Domino Pictures (Dark Comedy)
  • Drain by Raymond Roquello and His Orchestra (Found Footage)
  • The Third Save by Whiffle Powder Productions (Superhero)
  • Deuces! by Clever Alibi Productions (Mystery).

In addition to playing the Top 10 Audience favorites at the Award Ceremony we will also announce and award the Best Film of Little Rock that will go on to represent the city at the national competition for the 48 Hour Film Project in Hollywood! The nominations were very difficult for the judges this year who will remain anonymous until after the ceremony and I don’t envy them because there were so many great films.

The nominations for the awards are as follows:

Best Film

  • Abbatoir Team Bearshark (Joshua Harrison)
  • La Grande Fete Flokati Films (Johnnie Brannon)
  • Surprise Party AndrewMFilms (Andrew McMurray)
  • Metafloor Fort Smith Film Mafia (Jeff Carter)

Best Directing

  • Abbatoir Team Bearshark (Joshua Harrison)
  • Surprise Party AndrewMFilms (Andrew McMurray)
  • Miss Otis Regrets Down River Productions (David Bogard)
  • Now You See Me Grundle Productions (Kelly Griffin)

Best Story

  • Abbatoir Team Bearshark (Joshua Harrison, John Schol, Matthew Maguire)
  • Last Chance Romance Domino Pictures (Lauren Walker)
  • Miss Otis Regrets Down River Productions (Jim Linsley, Wanda Linsley, Jim Jolly, David Bogard, Sherri Andrews, Ruth Shepherd)
  • Surprise Party AndrewMFilms (Andrew McMurry, Matthew McMurry, Joe Ochterbeck, Austin Blunk, Garrett Whitehead, Spencer Waldner)

Best Actor

  • Now You See Me Grundle Productions (Jay Morgan)
  • Drain Raymond Roquello and his Orchestra (Mike Brabender)
  • Surprise Party AndrewMFilms (Austin Blunk)
  • Shillelagh Dirty Gnome Productions (Ed Lowry)

Best Actress

  • The Door The Immaculate Production (Holly Mary Anne Hall)
  • Community Cove Filmmakers Corner (Keshia Walton)
  • La Grande Fete Flokati Films (Karen Clark)
  • Dateable Evan Pierce Productions (Rachel Jarchow)

Best Cinematography

  • Last Chance Romance Domino Pictures (Brent Walker)
  • MetaFloor Fort Smith Film Mafia (Charlie Ryan)
  • Abbatoir Team Bearshark (Joshua Harrison)
  • Drain Raymond Roquello and His Orchestra (Charlie Brady)

Best Editing

  • Abbatoir Team Bearshark (Joshua Harrison)
  • Drain Raymond Roquello and His Orchestra (Charlie Brady)
  • Metafloor Fort Smith Film Mafia (Charlie Ryan)
  • Vacation Something Clever (Jack Turner, Lorenzo Balderas, Drew Brown)

Best Music

  • La Grande Fete Flokati Films (Sam Clark et al.)
  • Dateable Evan Pierce Productions (Jonathan Glisson)
  • Forever and Again One of Many (Various)
  • Abbatoir Team Bearshark (Matthew Cronk, Luke Fain)

Best use of Prop

  • Shillelagh Dirty Gnome Productions
  • Community Cove FilmMakers Corner
  • La Grande Fete Flokati Films

Best use of Line of Dialogue

  • Now You See Me Grundle Productions
  • Plumb Out of Luck Heads or Tales
  • Tai Chi Child The Movie: The Movie die katze und die hunde

Best use of Character

  • Dateable Evan Pierce Productions
  • Scheit Happens Kaleidoscope Media
  • Halloween Revenge Reel J

More information about the films and the 48 Hour Film Project including where you can get tickets for the Awards Show can be found at http://www.48hourfilm.com/littlerock. You can also email littlerock@48hourfilm.com for more info.