48 Hours with Mattie D

In June 2006, I had the privilege of seeing Matt DeCample at work during a weekend of the 48 Hour Film Project.

I was allowed to tag along to take photos and document the experience of the 48 Hour Film Project process. (Photos which I cannot seem to find, but are tucked away somewhere on a disc to be found in time.)

We were gathered at the Public Theatre space for a brief pep talk before Matt and Drake Mann went to the drawing. It was there that the team would learn its Genre, the character’s name, the prop, and the line of dialogue that had to be included in the film.

In their absence, someone had cracked, “I don’t care what genre we get, as long as it isn’t Action. I mean how do you shoot and edit an action film in 48 hours?”  So of course when Matt and Drake walked in — the genre was Action.

Matt was so clearly in his element. Just a look at him and one could tell that the wheels were turning in his mind. He led the group through brainstorming.  I don’t remember who actually came up with the final idea, but I suspect it was Matt.

The Action genre was to be played out in an office. A worker had only a few minutes to get a fax sent (remember it was 2006) and had to dodge a number of obstacles along the way in order to get it done.

And we were off!

Matt was the screenwriter — and to play one of the distractions, an impatient boyfriend who kept calling the office worker as she was trying to finish her task.  Chris Cranford was the director, cinematographer, and editor. Seeing Matt and Chris, two guys who loved films, talk in a kind of short-hand was entertaining.  The opening credits stripped across books in a law library in a manner similar to the opening of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest – something that Matt and Chris thought not only would be fun to create but would also add a layer to the movie evoking a Hitchcokian tone.

We broke around 1 in the morning. Matt went to work on the script.

A few hours later we gathered in a downtown law firm. Matt had about half the script written and the rest outlined. It was enough that Chris could map out the shots and start the filming.

As is the case with any film, there are always adjustments that need to be made. Matt was unfazed. When not needed for a scene, he was often set up in an office typing away at the script. Or he was helping the camera crew. Or he was entertaining everyone with a wry observation about something.

Throughout the 48 Hours Matt was very much the man with the plan for the project. He did not lead from the front or the top, however, He led from the center of the pack in a collaborative and encouraging manner — because that was Matt.

I don’t think he slept any the weekend.  He did not intrude on the editing or scoring processes (Buddy Habig created an original score which added immensely to the film), he contributed insight and was a sounding board. And quite frankly, he just reveled in the entire process and the somewhat absurdity of what was being undertaken. He loved every second of it.

I cannot remember everyone who was in the film. (I tried to find it on YouTube, but the earliest films from Little Rock were 2007.)  I do remember the late, great Fran Austin played the overbearing boss whose demand set the scenario in motion.  Ruth Shepherd played the overeager office manager trying to get everyone to sign a greeting card. She popped up several times as an obstacle. Once she handed the card to me in an uncredited cameo of my right hand.

But the person who pops up in my mind the most is Mattie D. I am sure when I find those photos again I will see him in many of them. He seemed to be everywhere.

And just like with everything he undertook whether in his professional career or as an avocation – he was always completely Mattie D.

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18 Cultural Events from 2018 – Arkansas Rep announces pause in operations

In April the Arkansas Rep announced it was immediately suspending operations. It cancelled the final production of the season and laid off much of its staff.  The 2018-2019 season which had been announced only weeks earlier was also cancelled.

The financial woes were a result of lagging ticket sales and donations coupled with raising expenses and mounting debt. The Rep had four pieces of real estate which caused a financial strain on the organization.

Longtime Rep Board members Ruth Shepherd and Bill Rector stepped in as unpaid practically full-time staff members to help run the theatre.  Rep founder Cliff Baker served as an artistic advisor.

A rally in early May, organized by Skip Rutherford, Stacy Sells, and others, not only raised some money for the Rep, but also rallied spirits.  Later in May, the Windgate Foundation announced a challenge match program for the Rep.

The Rep Board also worked to shore up its finances by selling off one of its properties and consolidating the debt.

Throughout the summer, a skeleton crew on staff continued to work.  The summer education programming continued which kept a literal sense of excitement going in the Rep’s facilities. (Kudos to Anna Fraley Kimmell and her merry band of cohorts!) By August, the Rep announced it had achieved some of its milestones and would be moving forward with announcing a 2019 season.  In November 2018, the plans for the 2019 season were announced.  More announcements about Rep staffing are forthcoming.

Just as the Rep was making headway, founder Cliff Baker fell ill and shortly thereafter died. There will be a separate entry about that later in this chronological countdown.

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.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: OVATION! in 1999

Upon his retirement (the first time) from Arkansas Rep, founder and artistic director Cliff Fannin Baker was feted with a special performance celebrating his career with the Rep.  The entire evening was called “Ovation!” and included a pre-performance reception, a special revue celebrating Cliff’s career, and a performance of As Bees in Honey Drown, which Cliff directed.

Ruth Shepherd and Helen Buchanan co-chaired the evening, which took place on September 21, 1999.  Jana Beard was involved in the conception and direction of the performance.

The program started with a welcome from Mimi Dortch, the first Rep Board chair; Bill Rector, a former Rep Board chair who had been instrumental in the move to the Rep’s Main Street location; and Carol Corley, who was the 1999-2000 Rep Board chair.

The performers included Michael Davis, Don Bolinger, Shannon Farmer, Vivian Morrison Norman, Candyce Hinkle, Debbie Rawn, Jana Beard, Debbie Weber, Mary Twedt Cantrell, Mark Johnson, Judy Blue., Jean Lind, and Phyllis Blumenfeld.

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton sent a videotaped message that was played and followed by a video which highlighted Cliff’s career.  Lt. Governor Winthrop Rockefeller presented Cliff with the 1999 Governor’s Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement.  Also that evening, longtime Rep staffers Lynn Frazier and Guy Couch were presented with Cliff Fanning Baker Awards for extraordinary service to the Rep.

After a brief intermission, the evening continued with As Bees in Honey Drown. The show was directed by Cliff and was the final show of the Cliff Fannin Baker era (Part I).

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 1985 World Premiere of THE GOOD WOMAN OF SETZUAN

The Arkansas Repertory Theatre set the American regional theatre world abuzz with its world premiere of a musical version of Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Woman of Setzuan.

Director Cliff Fannin Baker received many telephone calls from his colleagues who were surprised that the Brecht estate had given its authorization for a musicalization to a small professional theatre in Little Rock.

The songs were written by Arkansas native Michael Rice using as a libretto the Eric Bentley translation of the original Brecht work. Rice also served as music director, leading a seven member orchestra as it played the nineteen songs he wrote.

As director, Baker used many Brechtian techniques to stay true to the story. These included music, neon signs, and non-traditional costuming for some of the characters.  Speaking of costumes, Little Rock fashion designer Connie Fails designed the clothing for the production.

Others on the creative team included Michael R. Smith (a set that was described as “dazzling, trashily opulent”) and Kathy Gray.

The title character was played by Vivian Morrison (now Vivian Norman). Other leading roles were played by Mark Johnson, Terry Sneed, Dianne Tack, and Mychael McMillan (in drag).  Playing a trio of gods were Ronald J. Aulgur, Scott Edmonds, and Candyce Hinkle. Others in the cast included Jean Lind, Ruth Shepherd, Kathryn Pryor, Judy Trice, Carol Ann Connor (now McAdams), Ginny Pace, and Jeff Bailey.

The production took place at the Arkansas Arts Center Theatre instead of the Rep’s facility on 11th Street.  With a cast of twenty and extensive set changes, the production needed more space than the Rep’s home could accommodate.

The Good Woman of Setzuan opened on June 13 and ran through June 22.

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