The Harrison square is arranged traditionally, with the courthouse in the middle surrounded by the type of quaint businesses one expects to find at a downtown: specialty stores, cafés and delis, a pharmacy, thrift and antique shops and the local newspaper, with the Hotel Seville right around the corner. A final important member of the lineup is the historic Lyric Theatre, an elegant old-fashioned theatre with a colorful marquee. I visited several years ago with my husband to see Casablanca for the first time, and we sat in the balcony. The building’s small dimensions, fashionable for its construction in the early 20th century and reasonable for a small town, created an intimate theatre experience. I could not imagine a more appropriate setting to experience the classic black and white film and hear the timeless line, “we’ll always have Paris.”
But we didn’t always have the Lyric Theatre. The historic building, originally opened in 1929 as a cinema to accommodate talkies, fell into disuse after its closure in the late seventies. For a period, the Lyric stood uncared for on the square, and the public lost the ability to visit and appreciate it. The Ozark Arts Council, a nonprofit organization that tasks itself with promoting the arts in Harrison, is responsible for reopening the theatre in 1999 and working to restore it since. They brought it back to life. The Lyric, which seats nearly four hundred, hosts plays, musicals, films and concerts. The building can also be rented for private parties, weddings and recitals.
In its mission to enrich the public through art, the Ozark Arts Council serves as the parent company for both Northark Drama, the drama program through North Arkansas College, and The Theatre Company, a local acting troupe. These two theatre groups are together producing William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a tragedy about a prince whose family, kingdom and ostensibly his sanity are taken from him by his uncle. That’s merely a brief summary, however; it will fall to the actors to depict the true complexity of the characters and plot for which Shakespeare is famous. These actors have years of experience, several with as many as 15 years in theatre, so we can trust them with the charge.
Photo Credit: Tavi Photography
Both the titular role of Prince Hamlet, played by Daniel Seay, and the role of Hamlet’s mother Queen Gertrude, portrayed by Julianna Stefanski, are performed by Harrison locals, and Korey Billington-Wood, who plays Horatio, is a Harrison resident. King Claudius (Bryan Miller) and Laertes (Matt Hamblin) are performed by Kansas City natives who currently reside in the Branson, Missouri area. Olivia Wolfe, who plays Ophelia, teaches Shakespeare to homeschooled teenagers in Mountain Home, and Dylan Gamble, who plays Polonius, manages his family’s business in Cotter, the Cotter Trout Dock.
Photo Credit: Tavi Photography
A delicate and assuredly subtle abridgment of Hamlet has occurred. Director Bekah Wilson explained that in trying to share Shakespeare previously in her career she found people disinterested and seemingly unable to comprehend Shakespeare’s archaic and verbose language. In order to appeal to a wide audience, the removal of lines that seemed superfluous to the narrative or character development was deemed prudent. The abridgment was achieved with assistance from Tim Coone, a professor of literature at North Arkansas College. While the play is abridged, the language of Shakespeare remains intact: we can look forward to the immortal phrases of the Bard, “alas, poor Yorick,” “to be, or not to be” and “get thee to a nunnery!”
If you have yet to be exposed to Hamlet, you can catch it at The Lyric Nov. 18-21 at 7 p.m. with $12 tickets. If you require an extra dose of Shakespeare, see Twelfth Night at the University of Arkansas Nov. 13-22.
Historic theatres need the public’s interest. These buildings have been victim to fire, repurposed or used infrequently to host festivals, but with our patronage and support, I hope we’ll always have these historic theatres:
Melba Theater in Batesville
The Royal Theatre in Benton
Ritz Civic Center in Blytheville
Crescent Theatre in Eureka Springs’s historic Crescent Hotel
The Gem Theatre in Heber Springs
Central Theater in Hot Springs
The Forum Civic Center & Theatre in Jonesboro
Arkansas Repertory Theatre in Little Rock
The Ritz Movie Theatre in Malvern
Kenda Drive-In in Marshall
Ouachita Little Theatre in Mena
The Rialto Community Arts Center in Morrilton
Collins Theatre in Paragould
The Imperial Dinner Theatre in Pocahontas
Arkansas Public Theatre in the Victory Theater in Rogers
Center on the Square and the Rialto in Searcy
King Opera House in Van Buren