Cliff Baker, founder of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, died last week at the age of 70. Under his guidance, the Rep developed a national reputation for quality and engendered intense loyalty among theater lovers in the state.
After the Rep suspended operations in April in the wake of a financial crisis, Baker stepped in as interim artistic director. After fundraising and a new look at the budget, at what the Rep could and couldn’t do, the theater announced in August that it was resuming operation and planning new productions for 2019. “We’re not going to be ‘Rep Light,’” Baker said. “We’re going to be ‘Rep Lean.’ We’ve still got a bunch of money to raise, but I’m feeling good about things.”
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Also last week, former state Sen. Jon Woods was sentenced to 18 years in prison on corruption charges. Like Baker, Woods has gifts: He is smart — at least smart enough to devise clever kickback schemes — and, some said, charismatic.
But federal Judge Timothy Brooks noted that Woods had used his gifts to further his scams, cited the “depravity” of Woods’ heart and said, in explaining why he was sentencing the former Arkansas legislator to a lengthy prison term, “your mentality has evolved to the point that I think you have some serious criminal mentality issues” and might resume criminal behavior if he received a light sentence.
Woods didn’t testify in his own behalf, hasn’t accepted responsibility and plans to appeal his conviction.
Baker’s legacy will be one of love and gratitude and, we hope, a revitalized Arkansas Repertory Theatre.
Woods’ legacy? Well, that’s up to him, even now. We’re big believers in redemption — but don’t mistake us for patsies. A man with a contrite heart and a strong will can still do good in this world. If he wants to.