My wife, Becky, and I saw “Mamma Mia!” three weeks ago, not having any idea that the announcement that shocked us all was just ahead. As usual, we left amazed at the ability of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre to stage a production of Broadway quality. I’ve never been to a show there that wasn’t superbly presented in every respect. No compromises. No corners cut. The Rep has consistently produced shows at a level with theaters in much larger cities. It has always set Little Rock apart as a quality place to live and do business.
Now, to think we might lose it doesn’t seem real. It must be a temporary problem, right? Just a short-term setback. Evidently not. It sounds like The Rep means it. The theater will close down forever unless the city responds. I’ve heard a little grumbling that there should have been more notice to the community. Personally, I’m glad The Rep did it this way. We needed a wake-up call, a slap in the face. People are paying attention; they’re really concerned. That’s what is needed.
The Rep has been around since 1976 and is the largest nonprofit resident professional theater in Arkansas. It hosts over 200 performances a year attended by over 70,000 people. Think about what that does for area restaurants. It has long been a downtown anchor and sits at one end of the Creative Corridor. It stood proudly and ably at Sixth and Main streets when there was little other investment nearby.
Consider what has joined the theater on Main Street just in the last few years. Places to eat: Bruno’s, Samantha’s, Soul Fish, Brewski’s Pub, Blue Sail Coffee, Three Fold. Places to live: the Mann Lofts, Mulberry Flats, Main Street Lofts. New places for business innovation: the Little Rock Technology Park.
Right down the street, SoMa is exploding with new development. A new AC Hotel by Marriott is under construction nearby on Capitol Avenue. The Arkansas Arts Center’s expansion plans are inspiring and will transform that institution into something more special than it already is. To the east of Main are the Dust Bowl, Fassler Hall and the new Hilton Garden Inn. The East Village, with Cathead’s Diner, a new school, more apartments and a corporate headquarters, is emerging as a totally new neighborhood.
There is virtually no part of downtown Little Rock that isn’t taking part in the exciting renaissance that started almost 20 years ago. Downtown is more vibrant than it has been in decades. Why shouldn’t quality live theater be a significant part of it? Of course, it should, but the community has to care enough to keep it going.
The Rep has been one of the bright shining stars of our arts culture. Importantly, it has provided a competitive edge when recruiting business and talent to Arkansas. It attracts people in all stations of life — millennials, empty nesters, young professionals — who want to live in a dynamic community with a bright future.
The bottom line is that The Rep is critical to our city’s cultural and arts development, but it is also vital to our economic development.
We must support the future of The Rep, but first, we must make sure that there is a Rep. Now is the time for the area’s citizens to step up and donate to the Save The Rep campaign with gifts of all sizes. No donation is too small.
What’s encouraging and hopeful is that every donation will be matched dollar-for-dollar by a grant from two generous foundations to a total of over $1 million. Please show your support for The Rep by making a donation to this important and beloved cultural institution.
Rett Tucker is co-chairman of Newmark Moses Tucker Partners. Email him at RTucker@MosesTucker.com.