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At the most critical point in the Arkansas Repertory Theatre's 42-year history, the board of directors made a value-laden choice. On April 24 this year, they announced that they were suspending MainStage productions for an indeterminate time and laid off two-thirds of The Rep's production and administrative staff because of cash shortfalls.

But they also announced that they would continue their educational programs throughout the summer. They could have made a different choice, and we should all be glad they didn't.

The value of arts education for youth cannot be overstated. In theater arts classes, participants learn performance skills, but so much more. They build confidence, poise, public speaking, the ability to collaborate within a group, emotional intelligence, creative problem solving, self-control, and personal responsibility. All lifelong skills.

Theater education creates a sense of wonder and curiosity about other people, situations, and points of view. Theater might be described as an "empathy gym." Maybe that's a gym we should all visit more often these days.

Children from the Little Rock School District have been fortunate to participate in classes at The Rep and to attend MainStage productions for many years. Some children have even been performers on The Rep stage.

All of these experiences are life-enhancing and some are life-changing.

For example, one of The Rep's most involved and dedicated students, Dalton Carroll, a 2018 graduate of Parkview High School, first got involved with The Rep through the Little Rock School District Merit Scholarship program.

Nominated by his theater teacher, Spencer Sutterfield, Dalton was chosen to participate last summer at The Rep and has been involved since in ongoing classes and workshops. This summer, he worked as one of The Rep's interns, learning more about theater education and the creative process. Next year, he is headed to study theater at UCA.

There are dozens of stories like Dalton's. Tangible connections linking the classroom to the stage, and real-world opportunities.

The Rep is only two years into an education expansion, now offering year-round classes as well as outreach to schools and at other community sites. Since 2016, The Rep has reached approximately 7,500 youth each year through classes, camps, workshops at The Rep or in the community, and student matinees (with teacher study guides provided).

Specific classes include acting, musical theater, theater dance, tap dance, Shakespeare, voiceover acting, audition technique, technical theater, and improvisation. Rep visiting artists have provided workshops in stage combat, songwriting, circus arts, audition dance, hip-hop and song interpretation.

Here's the good news. Since April 24, community donations of a half-million dollars have enabled The Rep to pay off all vendor debt, and to begin to build for the future. Educational programs will continue throughout the fall, and an announcement is promised soon about plans to resume MainStage productions in the new year.

Having The Rep in our community has provided an opportunity for Central Arkansas' citizens, youth and adults, to experience theater at the highest level--at a level comparable to much larger cities.

Now is the time to step up and help rebuild this important institution. Through The Rep, we are all enriched in both mind and soul. Let's not take this important treasure for granted.

Please make a gift today. Every donation, no matter how small, will be matched up to $1 million by a grant from the Windgate Charitable Foundation.

Together we can protect this significant contributor to our region's continued education and development. Together we can get The Rep on sound footing again so that additional thousands of children and young adults can experience the value of arts education and attend performances.

And thousands of adults will be entertained, enlightened, and excited by those same performances.


Pamela Smith is communications director for the Little Rock School District.

Editorial on 08/10/2018

Print Headline: Theater for life

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