HAIR shone in on Robinson Auditorium starting on January 18, 1972

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-eight 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. 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 Emily Miller offered a succinct, two word response. “Oh, Dear!”

In the end, the production of Hair at Robinson would not be the first performance of that musical 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–the equivalent of $12.23 to $51.99 in 2020 dollars) 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 and differently focused days in Little Rock.

Virginia San Fratello is tonight’s June Freeman Lecture Series presenter

Related imageArchitecture and Design Network (ADN) continues its 2019/2020 June Freeman lecture series with a lecture entitled “Borderwall as Architecure” with Virginia San Fratello, founding partner of Real San Fratello.

The program will begin at 6pm tonight (January 14) following a 5:30pm reception at the Windgate Center for Art+Design on the UA Little Rock campus.

San Fratello draws, builds, 3D prints, teaches, and writes about architecture and interior design as a cultural endeavor deeply influenced by craft traditions and contemporary technologies.  She is a founding partner in the Oakland based make-tank Emerging Objects. Wired magazine writes of their innovations, “while others busy themselves trying to prove that it’s possible to 3-D print a house, Rael and San Fratello are occupied with trying to design one people would actually want to live in”.

She also speculates about the social agency of design, particularly along the borderlands between the USA and Mexico, in her studio RAEL SAN FRATELLO. You can see her drawings, models, and objects in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Virginia San Fratello will discuss the long-term project, Borderwall as Architecture, an important re-examination of what the 700 miles of physical barrier that divides the United States of America from the United Mexican States is, and could be. It is both a protest against the wall and a projection about its future. She will present a series of propositions suggesting that the nearly seven hundred miles of wall is an opportunity for cultural and social development along the border that encourages its conceptual and physical dismantling, the lecture will take the audience on a journey along a wall that cuts through a “third nation” — the Divided States of America.

On the way the transformative effects of the wall on people, animals, and the natural and built landscape are exposed and interrogated through the story of people who, on both sides of the border, transform the wall, challenging its existence in remarkably creative ways. Coupled with these real-life accounts are counterproposals for the wall, created by Virginia’s studio, that reimagine, hyperbolize, or question the wall and its construction, cost, performance, and meaning. Virginia proposes that despite the intended use of the wall, which is to keep people out and away, the wall is instead an attractor, engaging both sides in a common dialogue.

ADN lectures are free and open to the public. No reservations are required.  Thank you to our presenting sponsor Malmstrom White and our title sponsors Terracon and Evo Business Environments. Supporters of ADN include the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, the University of Arkansas Little Rock Windgate Center of Art + Design, the Central Section of the Arkansas Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the Arkansas Art Center and friends in the community.  For additional information contact  ArchDesignNetwork@gmail.com.

19 LR Cultural Touchstones in 2019. Part 2: Changes at the Arkansas Arts Center, ASO and UA Little Rock

As the look back to 19 cultural occurrences in 2019 continues, this entry looks at personnel and location changes.

4. Groundbreaking for reimagined Arkansas Arts Center on first day of tenure for new executive director, Dr. Victoria Ramirez.  October 1, 2019, was a red-letter day for the Arkansas Arts Center.  Not only was it the first day for new executive director, Dr. Victoria Ramirez, but it was also the ground-breaking for the award-winning reimagining of the Arkansas Arts Center.

Dr. Ramirez was hired in August 2019 to take over the leadership of the Arkansas Arts Center. She came from the El Paso Museum of Art, where she has been Director. Previously she has worked at museums in Austin, Houston, Washington DC as well as Georgia and Virginia. Since October 1, she has hit the ground running with meetings and almost daily visits to the construction site.

In June and August 2019, the AAC paid farewell to its previous building in MacArthur Park in a series of events. In August, the staff and museum school moved to facilities in the Riverdale section of Little Rock which will be its home until the reimagined (and largely newly constructed) facility is reopened in 2022.  The AAC continues to offer programming, largely in conjunction with the Central Arkansas Library System and the Clinton Presidential Center.

One last AAC note of mention: in December 2019, Bradley Anderson stepped down after FORTY years as artistic director of the Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre.  In his typical lowkey fashion, he eschewed a public tribute, but was feted by the staff.  Mayor Frank Scott, Jr., honored him with a proclamation, as well.

5.  Philip Mann steps down as Music Director of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra; Geoffrey Robson is Interim Music Director.  After nearly a decade on the podium of the ASO, Philip Mann left the organization in May 2019.  He was honored by the Board and musicians at final concerts in Robinson Center and the I.N.C. series.  Associate Music Director Geoffrey Robson was named as the Interim Music Director.

While he is conducting many of the concert for the ASO this season, he is sharing the podium with a variety of guest conductors.  Some of the guest conductors may be candidates for the permanent post.  In deference to those who would prefer to keep their interest under wraps, the ASO is conducting (pun intended) this search more privately than in previous efforts.  All of the guest conductors (whether a candidate or not) are being given a chance to interact with audience members.  So far, audience response to the concerts and guest conductors has been overwhelmingly positive.

The ASO has not publicly announced a timeline for naming the next permanent music director.  In the meantime, Robson and Executive Director Christina Littlejohn, along with ASO Board members and staff, continue to present an aggressive concert and outreach schedule.  Another ASO personnel change of note, longtime ASO supporter Ellen M. Gray was named an Honorary Lifetime Member of the ASO Board this year. She joins a very select few who have been granted this designation.

Image result for ua little rock logo6.  A new Chancellor and new arts Dean at UA Little Rock.  While not specifically a cultural institution, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock is definitely a player in the City’s arts environment.  2019 saw Dr. Christy Drale, a longtime university administrator, assuming the helm as the Chancellor of UA Little Rock.  She has been a valued supporter of the university’s arts, cultural and heritage offerings throughout her tenure.

While she is faced with making deep cuts at the university due to declining enrollment and the accompanying decrease in funding, it is highly unlikely that she will make knee-jerk cuts to arts funding first, which has often been the case in the past not only at this university but at many others.

Likewise, Dr. Sarah Beth Estes was permanently named Dean of Arts, Letters, and Sciences at UA Little Rock in the summer of 2019. She had previously held the position in the interim and has been a faculty member and administrator at UA Little Rock since 2006.  Dean Estes has been a vocal advocate for cross-discipline collaborations within the university as well as the importance of UA Little Rock as a community asset.

Image result for ualr public radio7 – Comings and Goings at UA Little Rock Public Radio.  KUAR and KLRE, the public radio stations at UA Little Rock saw some personnel changes of their own this year.  After leading the station as Interim General Manager for several years, Nathan Vandiver was named General Manager in December. He started at the stations in 2009 as an intern while he was a student at UA Little Rock.  From 2013 to 2016, he was program manager for UA Little Rock Public Radio before assuming the title of Interim G.M. following the death of Ben Fry.

Longtime Arts Scene host Ann Nicholson retired from the station in the fall of 2019. A British national, she was raised in India, Scotland, and England. She moved to Canada in the 1950s and the US in the 1960s. She and her late husband moved to Little Rock in the 1970s, upon which she quickly ensconced herself in the arts community. In 1985, she started hosting Arts Scene on UA Little Rock Public Radio. Since then, she has interviewed hundreds of artists, musicians, authors, and performers about projects in Little Rock.

UA Little Rock reporter Daniel Breen is conducting the Arts Scene interviews now. A graduate of Little Rock Central High School and UA LIttle Rock, Breen is an avid fan of the music scene and the arts in general in Little Rock.

51 years since first full-length, locally produced THE NUTCRACKER was presented in Little Rock at Robinson Auditorium

In December 1968:

  • the final stretch of Interstate 40 between Little Rock and Memphis was completed. (Little did anyone know that milestone merely meant work would change from construction to non-stop reconstruction.)
  • Talks were underway about merging private Little Rock University with the University of Arkansas system (which would be finalized in the summer of 1969).
  • On the TV on December 19, “The Little Drummer Boy” TV special was being shown for the first time.  Also, Arkansan Glen Campbell was one of the guest stars on Bob Hope’s Christmas TV special.

For those who did not sit at home watching TV, at Robinson Auditorium on December 19 and 20, 1968, the nascent Little Rock Civic Ballet (a forerunner to today’s Ballet Arkansas) presented its first production of THE NUTCRACKER.

Under the direction and choreography of D. Cater Cranford, this production featured 135 performers, a fifty piece orchestra under the direction of Vasilios Priakos, and the largest number of stagehands in Robinson Auditorium’s history.  The production cost $25,000 to mount.  That would be the equivalent of just over $184,775 in 2019.

A large portion of the money went to renting sets from Dallas for the production. The costumes were designed and sewn by Cranford.  He also appeared as Drosselmeyer in the production.  His wife Lorraine, assisted with the choreography and also appeared on stage.

Though most of the dancers were local, the leading roles were danced by Bill Martin-Viscont, Nathalie Krassovak, Linda DiBona, Margo Dean and Carl Tressler.  Some of the dancers who had rehearsed for the production were unable to participate due to several cast members coming down with flu in the days immediately prior to the production.

The production sold out both public performances as well as the daytime matinee for school children.  The dress rehearsal on December 18 was opened up for children with disabilities to attend.

Though The Nutcracker has not been presented in Little Rock every year since 1968, it has certainly been on stage most of the years since then.  The overwhelming response to this production set the stage for it to become a much-loved holiday tradition in the city.

Dr. John Kirk discusses impact of Urban Renewal efforts on race and housing in LR at tonight’s QQA Preservation Conversation

The latest Quapaw Quarter Association’s Preservation Conversations will take place tonight, December 12, at 6:00pm, with a 5:30pm reception.  Dr. John Kirk will discuss “Race and Housing: How Urban Renewal Changed the Landscapes of Little Rock.”

Join the QQA to hear Dr. John Kirk, George W. Donaghey Distinguished Professor of History and director of the Anderson Institute on Race and Ethnicity at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock share findings of his research on the impact of Urban Renewal policies on Little Rock’s built environment.

Dr. John A. Kirk is the George W. Donaghey Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. His research focuses primarily on the history of the civil rights movement. He has published eight books and his ninth, an edited and annotated collection of primary documents titled The Civil Rights Movement: A Documentary Reader (New York: Wiley) will be published in early 2020.

Kirk has also published in a wide variety of journals, edited book collections, newspapers, and magazines, and he has held a number of grants and fellowships in both Europe and the United States, including at the Roosevelt Study Centre (Middleburg, The Netherlands), the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library (Boston), and the Rockefeller Archive Center (New York).

The event is free and open to the public, but space is limited. It will be in the Mixing Room at the Old Paint Factory in the East Village, 1306 East 6th Street. Please RSVP here:.

Parking: There is parking directly in front of the doors that are marked “live”, “print”, “meet.” If those spots are taken. park in the parking lot to the right. There is also street parking in front of the building.

Entrance: Enter the event space through the door facing 6th Street marked “Meet.”