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The Drama in Us All: The Arkansas Repertory Theater

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The Arkansas Rep’s actors, designers, and directors gift us with a powerful glimpse of others’ lives as we endeavor to live our own more wholly.

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Imagine sitting in the Phoenix Theater in London, only a few rows back from the stage, captivated by the play Blood Brothers. The musical by Willy Russell is the story of two brothers, twins, separated at birth. By curtain’s end (spoiler alert) when death prevailed, I stood with my husband Bill to give our Bravo! Applause! The only problem was how overwhelmed I was with emotion, and I didn’t know what to do with it.

Why? I had found myself identifying with this mother. Because across the Atlantic Ocean, in the center of America in our sweet town in Arkansas, I had been keeping what the British call “a stiff upper lip.” Our family was facing the reality of two of our sons in possible life and death situations. One son, 24, had been diagnosed with brain cancer seven months before. Another son who had signed up for the National Guard had just completed his basic training.

Yet, it was during this play I was able to step out of my present circumstances and realize I had been merely existing in automaton mode. This play on life had the power to stir up what I had buried deep, so I could feel again, choose to refuel to face life fully again. Great art does that—it evokes emotions and broadens us if we let it. In its midst, stoic facades crack and we’re lifted up and away so we can face forward with a new perspective, more focused, thus, strengthened and revived as a result.

That’s why during our travels, Bill and I take the opportunity to attend theater productions in cities large and small. Except I have to say, we don’t have to travel far. That’s because right here, smack dab in the middle of our grand state, I have laughed and cried and sung (only in my heart and mind, of course) to powerful productions at the Arkansas Repertory Theater in Little Rock.

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Whether it’s a date night for the two of us, an evening with our grown children and grandchildren or watching a nephew perform, Bill and I have experienced classic and contemporary plays—musicals, comedies, and dramas—only an hour from our house. Over the years we’ve often pulled out our collection of Playbills and remembered our evenings enjoying such plays as My Fair Lady, The King and I, Doubt, God’s Man from Texas, The Phantom of the Opera. The Rep even made a one-man show compelling in Looking over the President’s Shoulders.   

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For my husband’s birthday one year, two of our grandchildren gifted us a night enjoying A Christmas Carol with them. For a granddaughter’s birthday gift, more memorable moments were added when I saw Mary Poppins with her, her mother and brother.

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Knowing how we love The Rep, my husband’s nurse and his receptionist gave us gift certificates to The Rep for several Christmas gifts. And was it Clybourne Park we drove through a snowstorm to enjoy? Gratefully we were also using a gift certificate to stay overnight at The Empress down the street.

Artistic irony occurred one Saturday afternoon before Bill and I drove to Little Rock for The Rep’s newest production. We had dropped by my art room at the school where I taught, and Bill pointed to a poster of Romare Bearden’s painting Pittsburgh Memories that I had mounted at the front of the class.

“That’s not art!” Bill decided aloud.

Granted, Bill prefers artwork like Rembrandt’s and Caravaggio’s paintings, and I had to agree with him Bearden’s piece was simplistic and childlike, much like a shape project younger ages might create. I had to disagree with him though that the painting wasn’t art. My point was proven only hours later. (And, yes, I have almost engraved it in stone how right I was.)

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That evening we attended The Rep’s production of August Wilson’s play Fences. Keep in mind Wilson was awarded two Pulitzer Prizes as a playwright. In the Playbill’s biography, Wilson describes how artist Romare Bearden was one of the four major inspirational influences in his life. What are the odds?

Expressions of art inspire other expressions of art. And aren’t our lives works of art?

The Arkansas Rep’s actors—many who are guest artists with an impressive list of performances and theaters—work together with a tremendous production team of designers and directors, gifting us with a powerful glimpse of others’ lives as we endeavor to live our own more wholly. Their summer children and youth programs inspired our nephew Robert Frost as he gained experience with these professionals, majoring in theater, and now pursuing his directing and acting career.

Firmly established since 1976, The Rep is the largest nonprofit professional theater company in Arkansas. They are entrenched into Arkansas’ grand landscape. Discover more about their many programs, productions, community events and directions at TheRep.org. (Box Office: 501-378-0405; Toll-free: 866-6THEREP) Then experience the fun and laughter, the deep and enlightening, collecting your Playbills for memory’s sake.

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Ann Elizabeth Robertson, a member of Arkansas Women Bloggers, retired from teaching English, journalism and art to write, paint and grandparent with leisure. Favorite excursions include traveling anywhere with her husband Bill, especially visiting art museums, large and small. Writings and artwork can be seen at her website The Art of Lovely Living (www.annelizabethrobertson.com).

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