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story.lead_photo.caption Members of The Ken Theatre League Inc. board Billie King, from left, Betty Thompson, Lisa Chappell and Mary Wimpy are some of the people behind the effort to make the theater into a regional arts center. With its not-for-profit status, the Ken Theatre League will seek grants that will enable it to provide workshops, clinics and classes to supplement educational and artistic opportunities for youth in the region. - Photo by Rusty Hubbard

McCRORY — The arts can bring people together, draw shy performers out of their shells and unify communities. That is why members of one group in McCrory are thrilled about officially owning The Ken Theatre downtown.

“So many people in this area don’t have access to theater in Little Rock or Memphis,” said Betty Thompson, a member of The Ken Theatre League Inc. board. “I think it’s important to us to give kids the opportunity to act, sing, dance and raise their self-esteem.”

The Ken Theatre on East Second Street was built in the 1950s and named after the original owner’s son. The theater operated until the late 1970s, then fell into disrepair. In the early 2000s, some individuals came in and restored the theater. In June 2007, the theater opened for its first show in decades, and with that success, The Ken Theatre League Inc. came into existence. The nonprofit has been operating the theater for three years, and last month the league officially took ownership of the building.

In the time The Ken Theatre League Inc. has operated the theater, league president Lisa Chappell said, she has heard numerous stories of people being able to experience the arts in a way they had not previously been able to do without traveling.

After a summer camp one year, a man stopped one of the nonprofit’s board members in the community to thank The Ken Theatre League Inc. for giving his granddaughters — who love to dance — the opportunity to take dance lessons through the camp. Other children have been able to make friends and stand up in front of crowds because of the musical opportunities presented at the theater.

Chappell said the nonprofit tries to bring in two to three big shows or bands each year and is finishing up a summer concert series that featured rock ’n’ roll band Strangelove and bluegrass band Flyin Blind.

Additionally, the theater has played host to art shows, poetry readings and plays, including one based on the book Tommy the Turtle, written by local author Jerry King.

“It was sold out, standing room only,” said Billie King, Jerry’s wife and vice president of The Ken Theatre League Inc. “Fifty-two kids got to be in the play. They just love performing. Anything they can do — walk down the aisle and be a duck. Those lights are addicting.”

“I think it’s unified our community — which is the whole county,” Thompson said, “and it’s bridged social barriers and racial barriers. It’s just brought a unity to the area.”

Now that The Ken Theatre League Inc. owns the building, Thompson said, the league’s members have more time and resources to focus on the shows and programs they want to implement.

At 7 p.m. Saturday, the Ken Theatre will host Gospel Explosion, featuring choirs from Morning Star, Bald Knob, Newport and Pleasant Grove. Tickets are $5, and there will be a chance to donate items for the school backpack program.

At 3 p.m. Oct. 4, a tribute to former McCrory Jaguars football coach Joe Dan Hart will take place at the theater. Tickets are $10 and include a chili supper. More than 30 former players have said they will come out to pay tribute to Hart.

Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or

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