18 Cultural Events from 2018 – Death of Cliff Fannin Baker

On September 6, 2018, Arkansas Rep founder Cliff Fannin Baker died after suffering a brain aneurism a week earlier in New York.

Patrons and actors from the Rep’s earliest days up to the current effort to reopen the Rep were in shock by the news. From the time the news about his hospitalization was announced on September 2, friends and fans alike came together to share their thoughts, love, prayers, bright lights, etc. in a wish for his recovery.

A memorial service was held in October at the Rep. It featured remarks from longtime colleagues as well as music by Vivian Morrison (accompanied by composer Michael Rice) in a song from PAGEANT and members of the cast of SISTER ACT, the last show Cliff directed at Arkansas Rep.

Cliff founded the Rep in 1976 and led it until 1999. He oversaw it as it went from a small group of actors in an abandoned church into a professional theatre. After retiring from the Rep, he would come back every season or so to direct a production.

Below are excerpts from what I wrote about Cliff upon the news of his death.

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.

[In 1976], 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.

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.

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

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 2017’s SISTER ACT

Based on the 1990s film of the same name, Sister Act marked Cliff Fannin Baker’s final directing assignment at Arkansas Rep.

No one knew it at the time, which is just as well. It was a joyous uplifting experience which was what Cliff would have wanted people to have for his final Rep show.

The show was selected by Bob Hupp to be part of the transition season after his departure. Baker had previously indicated interest in directing the show if Hupp ever programmed it for the Rep.

So from January 24, 2017 through March 5, 2017, Baker’s production filled the Rep.  It had originally been set to end on February 26 but was extended a week.

The cast was led by Soara-Joye Ross with Tracy Bidleman, Erica Lutstig, Susan J. Jacks, Jennie Boone, Patrick Clanton, Monte J. Howell, Cornelius Davis, Ton Castellanos, and Darryl Winslow. Little Rock favorites in the cast included Vivian Norman, Kathryn Pryor, Jay Clark, Monica Robinson, Kelley Ponder, Erin Martinez Warner, Zachary Meyers, and Taylor Quick. KATV’s Alyson Courtney made a cameo as a 1970s TV reporter.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 1999’s AS BEES IN HONEY DROWN

A comedy about truth and trust, deception and decisions, Douglas Carter Beane’s As Bees in Honey Drown marked the first production of the 1999-2000 season for Arkansas Repertory Theatre.  It also signified the transition between Rep founder Cliff Fannin Baker and Bob Hupp as artistic director.

Baker directed this very dark comedy set in a sleek, modern late 1990s Manhattan. A fast-paced and almost cinematic feeling was abetted by Mike Nichols’ set design of rotating panels.

The cast was led by Jonna McElrath (who had appeared in Angels in America and other productions at the Rep) and John Houfe (Rep’s The Three Musketeers).  Mark Waterman, Angie Gilbert and Lakeetra Gilbert were also in the cast.

Baker would booked his post-Artistic Director career at the Rep with Douglas Carter Beane projects. While his first show post-retirement was As Bees in Honey Drown, his final was Sister Act which featured a revised libretto by Beane.

Little Rock Look Back: Arkansas Rep’s First Show

rep-firstOn November 11, 1976, the curtain went up on the first Arkansas Repertory Theatre production.  It was the Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht musical The Threepenny Opera.  Rep founder Cliff Baker directed the show and played the leading role of Macheath aka Mack the Knife.

Others in the cast included local attorney Herb Rule, Jean Lind, Theresa Glasscock, Connie Gordon and Guy Couch.  Byl Harriell was the technical director and production designer while Donia Crofton was the costume designer.

The production took place in the Rep’s home which was the converted former home of Hunter United Methodist Church on the eastern edge of MacArthur Park.  (Harriell’s business Bylites is now in that location.)

Baker had previously worked at the Arkansas Arts Center theatre when it was attached to a degree granting MFA program. He had also directed shows in other parts of Arkansas.  He returned to Little Rock and founded the Arkansas Philharmonic Theatre which performed in Hillcrest.  The Arkansas Repertory Theatre was a step forward with the establishment of a professional repertory company.

The first season of the Rep would include Company, Suddenly Last Summer, Marat/Sade, and Stop the World–I Want to Get Off. Season tickets for a total of seven shows were $30.

Baker served as Artistic Director of Arkansas Rep from 1976 until 1999.  Earlier this year, he stepped in as Interim Artistic Director between the tenures of Bob Hupp and John Miller-Stephany.  He is currently preparing to direct Sister Act for the Rep in January 2017.

 

Arkansas Heritage Month – Cliff Baker

cliffCliff Fannin Baker is one of only two people to have been recognized with two Governor’s Arts Awards. He was honored at the first awards in 1991 with an Individual Artist Award and in 1999 with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

He has nearly a half-century of work in the professional theatre.   He was the Founder of Arkansas Repertory Theatre in 1976. He previously was associated with a professional theatre at the Arkansas Arts Center in the 1960s and the Arkansas Philharmonic Theatre in the 1970s prior to his founding the Rep.

Baker has directed over 200 productions of every genre in cities as far flung as Beijing (Peking University) to Portland Center Stage, from Houston’s Alley Theatre to the Theatre of the Open Eye in New York. He has a particular passion for new plays, having directed or produced over thirty world and regional premieres.

For five years, he served as Creative Director of Wildwood Park for the Arts. When not directing, he is a corporate leadership consultant for Goss-Reid Associates in New York. Baker is a member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers and the Dramatists Guild.

Baker will return to the Arkansas Rep in July to be the Interim Artistic Director while a replacement for Bob Hupp is being selected.  He will also serve as the production director for Sister Act in the Rep’s 2016-2017 season.

Community Theatre of Little Rock announces 2014-2015 season

ctlrThe Community Theatre of Little Rock has recently announced their 59th Season, which has been given the theme “The Sinners and Saints Season.”

The season kicks off on August 22 with a one weekend only series of one acts.  Directed by Liz Turner, Lisa Luyet, Mark Troillett and Chris Boggs, the one acts are: “The Actor’s Nightmare” by Christopher Durang, “Private Wars” by James McLure, “Ways and Means” by Noel Coward and “30 Minutes to Charlie” by Nick Zagone.

In October, N. Richard Nash’s classic play The Rainmaker will be performed from October 3 through 19.  For the holidays the musical Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical by Dan Goggins will take the stage from November 28 through December 20.  The backstage thriller Rehearsal for Murder kicks off 2015 from February 13 through March 1.

A new play will be premiered.  Written and directed by S. Christopher Boggs, The Winning Numbers will play from April 24 through 26.  The season will conclude with the musical Sister Act from June 5 through 28.

The Community Theatre of Little Rock now performs at the new Studio Theatre in downtown Little Rock.