LR Culture Vulture turns 7

The Little Rock Culture Vulture debuted on Saturday, October 1, 2011, to kick off Arts & Humanities Month.

The first feature was on the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, which was kicking off its 2011-2012 season that evening.  The program consisted of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A, Op. 90, Rossini’s, Overture to The Italian Girl in Algiers, Puccini’s Chrysanthemums and Respighi’s Pines of Rome.  In addition to the orchestra musicians, there was an organ on stage for this concert.

Since then, there have been 10,107 persons/places/things “tagged” in the blog.  This is the 3,773rd entry. (The symmetry to the number is purely coincidental–or is it?)  It has been viewed over 288,600 times, and over 400 readers have made comments.  It is apparently also a reference on Wikipedia.

The most popular pieces have been about Little Rock history and about people in Little Rock.

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Pulitzers Play Little Rock: A CHORUS LINE on the UALR stage

IMG_0274In April 1975 A Chorus Line premiered Off Broadway before transferring to Broadway in July 1975. In 1976, it became only the fifth musical to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Whereas the composer of the first musical to win the Pulitzer was not honored (apparently because he only wrote music, not actual words), with A Chorus Line’s citation, the Pulitzers recognized not only librettists James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, lyricist Edward Kleban, and composer Marvin Hamlisch, but also Michael Bennett who conceived the project and steered its development.

In October 1985, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock became one of the first non-professional organizations to ever perform  A Chorus Line.  The theatre department was planning on producing Chicago, but dropped that show when rights for A Chorus Line became available.  (Chicago was on Broadway at the same time as A Chorus Line and was often overshadowed by it.)

In preparation for the show, UALR (as it was then known) conducted a dance workshop in August 1985 conducted by alum Kerry Kennedy, who had appeared in the national and international tours of the show.  After the workshop, auditions were held and the rehearsal process started.

Many familiar names in the Little Rock theatre scene from the 1970s to the present were involved in A Chorus Line.  The production was directed by Carolyn Curry, choreographed by Dot Callanen, and music directed by Lori Loree.  Jay Jagim provided the scenic and lighting design, while Joy Breckenridge was costume designer.

The cast was led by Tom Crone as Zach, the director of the show within the show, and Janet Ford as Cassie.  Other performers included Lee Borchert, Sara Cole, Missy Cook, Greg Donaldson, Jo Bocage Few, Dennis Glasscock, Leslie Hall (who joined the cast two weeks before opening), John Hartman, William R Holloway, Shawn Lynnette Jackson, Traci Presley, Joey Stocks, Allison Streepey, Joe Terry, Kevin Trippe, and Scarlet White.

Rounding out the company were Paula A. Barr, Kelly Bascue, Melanie Cameron, Caran Curry, Leigh Anne Embrey, James Finch, Tijuana McKnight, Leah McSpadden, Rick Riley, Karissa Rushing, and Curtis B. Tate.

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the first Pulitzer Prize for Drama being given. To pay tribute to 100 years of the Pulitzer for Drama, each day this month a different Little Rock production of a Pulitzer Prize winning play will be highlighted.  Many of these titles have been produced numerous times.  This look will veer from high school to national tours in an attempt to give a glimpse into Little Rock’s breadth and depth of theatrical history.

Pulitzers play Little Rock – UA Little Rock’s THE FLICK in 2017

In 2UA Little Rock Flick014, Annie Baker’s The Flick won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The play mixes dialogue with long moments of no spoken words as the characters perform tasks on stage.

It is set in a run-down Massachusetts movie theatre and focuses on three millennials as they endure modern-day situations of race, class, and economy, all while working as underpaid employees.  The three actors are tasked with performing the cleaning of the set, just as the characters would be doing in between showings.  The original production received mixed reviews and sharply divided the audiences who saw it.  Feelings that were expressed ranged from brilliant to boring.

In February 2017, UA Little Rock’s Theatre and Dance Department presented the play.  It may have been the first production of it in Arkansas, it was certainly the first in Little Rock.  Giving the students the chance to work on such a new and challenging play is an example of the value of educational theatre.

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the first Pulitzer Prize for Drama being given. To pay tribute to 100 years of the Pulitzer for Drama, each day this month a different Little Rock production of a Pulitzer Prize winning play will be highlighted.  Many of these titles have been produced numerous times.  This look will veer from high school to national tours in an attempt to give a glimpse into Little Rock’s breadth and depth of theatrical history.

Little Rock Look Back: HAIR’s Sun Shines In to Robinson Auditorium

Ad for the original production of HAIR in Little Rock. Note the ticket prices. And that they could be purchased at Moses Music Shops.

Ad for the original production of HAIR in Little Rock. Note the ticket prices. And that they could be purchased at Moses Music Shops.

Forty-six years ago today, on January 18, 1972, the musical Hair settled in for a week-long run at Robinson Auditorium.  The saga to bring the national tour to Little Rock had actually begun eleven months earlier.

In February 1971, a young Little Rock attorney named Phil Kaplan petitioned the Little Rock Board of Censors to see if it would allow a production of Hair to play in the city. He was asking on behalf of a client who was interested in bringing a national tour to Arkansas’ capital city. The show, which had opened on Broadway to great acclaim in April 1968 after an Off Broadway run in 1967, was known for containing a nude scene as well for a script which was fairly liberally sprinkled with four-letter words. The Censors stated they could not offer an opinion without having seen a production.

By July 1971, Kaplan and his client (who by then had been identified as Southwest Productions) were seeking permission for a January 1972 booking of Hair from the City’s Auditorium Commission which was charged with overseeing operations at Robinson Auditorium. At its July meeting, the Commissioners voted against allowing Hair because of its “brief nude scene” and “bawdy language.”

Kaplan decried the decision. He stated that the body couldn’t “sit in censorship of legitimate theatrical productions.” He noted courts had held that Hair  could be produced and that the Auditorium Commission, as an agent for the State, “clearly can’t exercise prior censorship.” He proffered that if the production was obscene it would be a matter for law enforcement not the Auditorium Commission.

The Commission countered that they had an opinion from City Attorney Joseph Kemp stating they had the authority. One of the Commissioners, Mrs. Grady Miller (sister-in-law of the building’s namesake the late Senator Robinson, she had served on the Commission since 1940), expressed her concern that allowing Hair would open the door to other productions such as Oh! Calcutta!

On July 26, 1971, Southwest Productions filed suit against the Auditorium Commission. Four days later there was a hearing before federal Judge G. Thomas Eisele. At that hearing, Auditorium Commission member Lee Rogers read aloud excerpts from the script he found objectionable. Under questioning from Kaplan, a recent touring production of Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite was discussed. That play has adultery as a central theme of one of its acts. Rogers admitted he found the play funny, and that since the adultery did not take place on stage, he did not object to it. Among those testifying in favor of it was Robert Reddington, who was director of performing arts at the Arkansas Arts Center.

Judge Eisele offered a ruling on August 11 which compelled the Auditorium Commission to allow Hair to be performed. Prior to the ruling, some of the Auditorium Commissioners had publicly stated that if they had to allow Hair, they would close it after the first performance on the grounds of obscenity. To combat this, Judge Eisele stated that the Commission had to allow Hair to perform the entire six day engagement it sought.

Upon hearing of the Judge’s ruling, Commissioner Miller offered a succinct, two word response. “Oh, Dear!”

In the end, the production of Hair at Robinson would not be the first performance in the state.  The tour came through Fayetteville for two performances in October 1971 at Barnhill Arena.

On January 18, 1972, Hair played the first of its 8 performances over 6 days at Robinson Auditorium.  In his review the next day, the Arkansas Gazette’s Bill Lewis noted that Hair “threw out all it had to offer” and that Little Rock had survived.

The ads promoting the production carried the tagline “Arkansas will never be the same.”  Tickets (from $2 all the way up to $8.50) could be purchased at Moses Melody Shops both downtown and in “The Mall” (meaning Park Plaza). That business is gone from downtown, but the scion of that family, Jimmy Moses, is actively involved in building downtown through countless projects. His sons are carrying on the family tradition too.

Little Rock was by no means unique in trying to stop productions of Hair.  St. Louis, Birmingham, Los Angeles, Tallahassee, Boston, Atlanta, Charlotte NC, West Palm Beach, Oklahoma City, Mobile and Chattanooga all tried unsuccessfully to stop performances in their public auditoriums.  Despite Judge Eisele’s ruling against the City of Little Rock, members of the Fort Smith City Council also tried to stop a production later in 1972 in that city. This was despite warnings from City staff that there was not legal standing.

Within a few years, the Board of Censors of the City of Little Rock would be dissolved (as similar bodies also were disappearing across the US). Likewise, the Auditorium Commission was discontinued before Hair even opened with its duties being taken over by the Advertising and Promotion Commission and the Convention & Visitors Bureau staff.  This was not connected to the Hair decision; it was, instead, related to expanding convention facilities in Robinson and the new adjacent hotel.  Regardless of the reasons for their demise, both bygone bodies were vestiges of earlier, simpler and differently focused days in Little Rock.

Little Rock Look Back: The Sun shines in as HAIR plays Robinson Center

Ad for the original production of HAIR in Little Rock. Note the ticket prices. And that they could be purchased at Moses Music Shops.

Ad for the original production of HAIR in Little Rock. Note the ticket prices. And that they could be purchased at Moses Music Shops.

Forty-five years ago today, on January 18, 1972, the musical Hair settled in for a week-long run at Robinson Auditorium.  The saga to bring the national tour to Little Rock had actually begun eleven months earlier.

In February 1971, a young Little Rock attorney named Phil Kaplan petitioned the Little Rock Board of Censors to see if it would allow a production of Hair to play in the city. He was asking on behalf of a client who was interested in bringing a national tour to Arkansas’ capital city. The show, which had opened on Broadway to great acclaim in April 1968 after an Off Broadway run in 1967, was known for containing a nude scene as well for a script which was fairly liberally sprinkled with four-letter words. The Censors stated they could not offer an opinion without having seen a production.

By July 1971, Kaplan and his client (who by then had been identified as Southwest Productions) were seeking permission for a January 1972 booking of Hair from the City’s Auditorium Commission which was charged with overseeing operations at Robinson Auditorium. At its July meeting, the Commissioners voted against allowing Hair because of its “brief nude scene” and “bawdy language.”

Kaplan decried the decision. He stated that the body couldn’t “sit in censorship of legitimate theatrical productions.” He noted courts had held that Hair  could be produced and that the Auditorium Commission, as an agent for the State, “clearly can’t exercise prior censorship.” He proffered that if the production was obscene it would be a matter for law enforcement not the Auditorium Commission.

The Commission countered that they had an opinion from City Attorney Joseph Kemp stating they had the authority. One of the Commissioners, Mrs. Grady Miller (sister-in-law of the building’s namesake the late Senator Robinson, she had served on the Commission since 1940), expressed her concern that allowing Hair would open the door to other productions such as Oh! Calcutta!

On July 26, 1971, Southwest Productions filed suit against the Auditorium Commission. Four days later there was a hearing before federal Judge G. Thomas Eisele. At that hearing, Auditorium Commission member Lee Rogers read aloud excerpts from the script he found objectionable. Under questioning from Kaplan, a recent touring production of Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite was discussed. That play has adultery as a central theme of one of its acts. Rogers admitted he found the play funny, and that since the adultery did not take place on stage, he did not object to it. Among those testifying in favor of it was Robert Reddington, who was director of performing arts at the Arkansas Arts Center.

Judge Eisele offered a ruling on August 11 which compelled the Auditorium Commission to allow Hair to be performed. Prior to the ruling, some of the Auditorium Commissioners had publicly stated that if they had to allow Hair, they would close it after the first performance on the grounds of obscenity. To combat this, Judge Eisele stated that the Commission had to allow Hair to perform the entire six day engagement it sought.

Upon hearing of the Judge’s ruling, Commissioner Miller offered a succinct, two word response. “Oh, Dear!”

In the end, the production of Hair at Robinson would not be the first performance in the state.  The tour came through Fayetteville for two performances in October 1971 at Barnhill Arena.

On January 18, 1972, Hair played the first of its 8 performances over 6 days at Robinson Auditorium.  In his review the next day, the Arkansas Gazette’s Bill Lewis noted that Hair “threw out all it had to offer” and that Little Rock had survived.

The ads promoting the production carried the tagline “Arkansas will never be the same.”  Tickets (from $2 all the way up to $8.50) could be purchased at Moses Melody Shops both downtown and in “The Mall” (meaning Park Plaza). That business is gone from downtown, but the scion of that family, Jimmy Moses, is actively involved in building downtown through countless projects. His sons are carrying on the family tradition too.

Little Rock was by no means unique in trying to stop productions of Hair.  St. Louis, Birmingham, Los Angeles, Tallahassee, Boston, Atlanta, Charlotte NC, West Palm Beach, Oklahoma City, Mobile and Chattanooga all tried unsuccessfully to stop performances in their public auditoriums.  Despite Judge Eisele’s ruling against the City of Little Rock, members of the Fort Smith City Council also tried to stop a production later in 1972 in that city. This was despite warnings from City staff that there was not legal standing.

Within a few years, the Board of Censors of the City of Little Rock would be dissolved (as similar bodies also were disappearing across the US). Likewise, the Auditorium Commission was discontinued before Hair even opened with its duties being taken over by the Advertising and Promotion Commission and the Convention & Visitors Bureau staff.  This was not connected to the Hair decision; it was, instead, related to expanding convention facilities in Robinson and the new adjacent hotel.  Regardless of the reasons for their demise, both bygone bodies were vestiges of earlier, simpler and differently focused days in Little Rock.

Creative Class 2016: Ruth Shepherd

cc16-shepherdThough Arts & Humanities Month ended yesterday, today is a bonus for the Creative Class 2016.  Ruth D. Shepherd has spent her career utilizing the arts and creativity to spread joy, messages of hope, and to change hearts and minds.

She is “retiring” later this year after having served as Director of Just Communities of Arkansas since 2000.  Though she will leave that post, her work in Little Rock and Arkansas will continue.

In her other careers, she has been a school teacher and worked in various non-profits.  She is probably most closely identified with the Arkansas Repertory Theatre having served as a volunteer, staff member, and Board member off and on for most of its 40 years of existence.  She has also served as Tabriz co-chair for the Arkansas Arts Center.

Ruth has graced several Little Rock stages including UALR (where she was in Hair), Community Theatre of Little Rock, the Weekend Theatre, and the Phoenix Theatre among others.  The Culture Vulture’s favorite performance was her riveting portrayal of a frustrated and frustrating matriarch in Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women.

While wrapping up her current role with JCA, she is busy putting the finishing touches on next Sunday’s Walk for CommUNITY.  It is not too late to sign up.  For more information on that and other JCA projects and programs, visit their website.

Creative Class 2016: Yslan Hicks

cc16-hicksYslan Hicks has dressed hundreds of people in all sorts of clothing.  As a theatrical costume designer and educator, she has worked throughout the United States.  She is currently an Associate Professor and Interim Department Chair for the UALR Theatre and Dance Department.

Yslan has design credits that include productions at UALR, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Lincoln Center Institute in New York City, the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Portland Center Stage in Oregon, the Old Globe in San Diego and Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, Mass. As an artistic associate at Lifeline Theatre in Chicago, she has designed a number of literary adaptations including Dracula, Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre.

Her work with the Arkansas Rep spans over two decades.  Among her recent productions are The Whipping Man, Clybourne Park, and Gee’s Bend.  In addition to UALR, she has served on the faculties of the University of Tulsa and Tulane University. Yslan is a member of United Scenic Artists, Local 829.

Yslan is also an in-demand speaker.  Most recently, she has given a series of talks for the Central Arkansas Library System on the history of fashion. Among her topics have been Downton Abbey and bridal dresses.