“THE MESSAGE was loud and clear as soon as we went dark, [on April 24 last year]: This theater is important,” says Ruth Shepherd, who, along with fellow board member Bill Rector, has been serving as the Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s interim leadership.
You’ve likely heard the story: how the beloved 42-year-old theater on Little Rock’s Main Street suspended operations midseason last year, citing a deficit of $750,000 that needed to be rectified in order to keep the playhouse afloat. How a rallying cry resulted in more than $1 million being raised from the public, $950,000 of which was matched by grants from the John & Robyn Horn Foundation and the Windgate Charitable Foundation. How, with only $850,000 left to raise, the ongoing “Our Next Act” capital campaign is steadily closing in on its goal to ensure the theater’s long-term financial stability.
But a lot more has gone into saving this cultural institution than just fundraising. “Last summer, we did a lot of listening,” Ruth says. A series of focus groups and town halls, along with lots of emails and phone calls, revealed one key point: “We needed to be sure that we were more relevant in the community and that the mission of the theater is not to do great theater for us. The mission is to do great theater for our community.”
Ready for The Rep’s return? Here’s what else Ruth says you need to know:
Something for Everyone:
The 2019 season features two musicals—kicking off with Chicago, followed later in the season by Million Dollar Quartet—a new play by Karen Zacarías called Native Gardens, a junior production of Willy Wonka and the family-friendly holiday show It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.
No More Debbie Downers:
“I think that this particular season is exactly what our community was asking for: It’s good theater. It’s good, hearty, meaty plays, but you’re not going to be depressed by any of them.”
A New Artistic Vision:
Little Rock native and three-time-Tony-award-winning producer Will Trice will lead The Rep’s next act as the theater’s executive artistic director.
More Fresh Faces on the Way:
Coming from California’s South Coast Repertory, Josh Marchesi has recently been hired as The Rep’s new production manager. But there are still several more positions to fill, including that of the theater’s managing director.
The Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s 2019 season opens with Chicago on Feb. 20. Visit therep.org for tickets.