Searcy transplant settles into dream job

By Emily Van Zandt Originally Published December 2, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated November 30, 2012 at 11:45 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Rickae Boyd, standing by new chairs for the Center for the Square theater in Searcy, has settled into her dream job.

— It took nearly 25 years, but Rickae Boyd finally has a job in the industry she loves.

In love with theater since third grade, Boyd was named executive director of Performing Arts Center on the Square in Searcy in August. The job, she said, was worth the wait.

“I absolutely love it,” Boyd said. “It’s the group of people here; they’re absolutely amazing. They jump in and do anything, anytime, just to keep the theater going.”

Born in Las Vegas and raised in Pine Bluff, Boyd fell in love with Searcy while on a work trip nine years ago.

“Pine Bluff had gotten so rough that I looked for a space that was the anti-Pine Bluff,” Boyd said. She found what she was looking for in Searcy.

When she first read about the Performing Arts Center on the Square — more simply known in Searcy as Center on the Square — Boyd was surprised that a town so small would have its own well-received community theater. Knowing it was there was a big reason behind her decision to settle in the town in 1998. Once she moved, Boyd quickly began landing roles with the company and eventually added more responsibility by joining Center on the Square’s board of directors.

“I have made a lot of amazing friends through this theater,” Boyd said. “The funniest thing is, nobody wants to leave after the show’s over. They all just want to keep hanging out with each other. You spend all that time rehearsing and being backstage together for hours, and you still don’t want to leave. It’s kind of a second home.”

While growing up in Pine Bluff, Boyd became heavily involved in her high school theater program. The group spent hours after school working on plays. Her interest in being on stage didn’t come as a big surprise to her family.

“It went with my personality,” Boyd said. “I’m very outgoing, very silly, always playing dressup and making my cousins and siblings put on plays with me.”

By the time she left for college at the University of Central Arkansas, Boyd had set her mind on a theater major. Her

father, a police officer in Pine Bluff, had more practical ideas.

“When I started college, my father made me double-major in theater and English,” Boyd said. “He wanted me to be an English teacher, but all I wanted to do was help with the plays. At that point, I enjoyed acting and singing, but I really wanted to be a director.”

Something about being in control — maybe bossing a few people around — appealed to Boyd, and she began

directing shows at her school. After she graduated in 1988, she decided to pursue a master’s degree. But the timing wasn’t quite right, so she headed back to Searcy to do work managing apartment complexes. A decade later, fed up with the line of work she was in, Boyd headed to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to get a master’s degree in business.

Though she had hoped to get a job in the booming tech industry once she graduated with her master’s in 1998, the dot-com bubble had burst, and it was back to work with apartment complexes. For the next several years, Boyd worked at Hastings, then for a book publisher. In 2008, as the economy took a turn for the worse, Boyd found herself unemployed.

“I did some theater work, tried to keep myself entertained, but it was really difficult,” Boyd said. “I applied for over 300 jobs and went on 70-something interviews.”

The struggle makes her job now even more sweet. After being turned down for the job of artistic director with the theater, Boyd begged to be let on the board of directors, hoping to get more involved. Once on the board, staff turnover meant the theater needed help with bills and office work, so Boyd moved into the role of interim executive director. In August, the role became official.

Center on the Square does six or seven shows per year, with most of the shows being dinner shows. As executive director, Boyd has a big hand in helping run the children’s theater program, Land O’Frost’s KidStage. The program has sessions in the spring, fall and summer for kids from second through 12th grades.

“Last semester we had 44 kids, …17 younger and 27 older, which is pretty amazing,” Boyd said.

Many of the students in the program go on to act in shows in the main theater after their semester is over. Center on the Square does a mix of musicals and straight plays, with most of the productions leaning toward comedy. Each year the theater does an actor’s showcase, typically a drama, that provides tougher material for the actors.

“We have a talent list of about 300,” Boyd said. “People come to act from Searcy, Conway, Heber Springs, … all over the place.”

Boyd credits the theater’s popularity among local actors to the enthusiasm of their audience

members. As a nonprofit, the majority of funding for the theater actually comes from show ticket sales. The theater has a main core of patrons who like to come to every production, but Boyd says the theater also sees a growing number of college-age patrons, many from Harding, beginning to buy tickets. It’s a trend she’d like to see continue.

“I see us really growing in the next few years,” Boyd said, “the quality of shows, the variety of our audience, the number of our performances [all] growing].”

Soon, the theater will have fancy new digs to help aid in that growth. In August, Center on the Square’s board of directors decided it was time for a new venue. Located just a few doors down from its former space, the new theater space at 219 W. Arch opened Nov. 30 for opening night of A Christmas Carol.

Just a week before the show opened, Boyd stood in the theater lobby. There was still no front door, no refrigerator for the catering company. The theater seats were piled outside on the sidewalk. But Boyd wasn’t nervous about the unfinished work. She knew it would get done.

“The board has put in an amazing amount of volunteer hours on the project,” Boyd said. “Two weeks ago, I was incredibly scared, but all of a sudden things have just started happening.”

Though she’s sure there will be a few bumps in the road as things get started in the new home, Boyd said she’ll feel at peace once the first meal is served during A Christmas Carol. Boyd also hopes the new theater will encourage community members who have never seen one of its shows to get involved with Center on the Square.

“It’s everything we wanted before,” Boyd said. “It’s got better sound, better lights, better air conditioning, better everything. If people haven’t seen us before, now is the time to come.”

Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or evanzandt@arkansasonline.com.

Staff Writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at 501-399-3688 or emily@syncweekly.com.

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