The Arkansas Repertory Theatre is shaking up its performance schedule and its management structure to create “a revitalized approach that will continue our tradition of high-quality mainstage productions, coupled with a deepened focus on community programming to enhance our mission,” according to a letter to patrons and supporters.
Beginning in 2024, the theater’s mainstage production season will shift from its school-year, September-May schedule, to May-August. The summer 2024 lineup remains to be announced at a later date, but expect the Rep to stage three or four productions, dramatic plays and musicals.
In between, September through April, the theater will “broaden its community outreach and civic engagement programming,” according to the letter, with a focus on education, civic engagement and community programming.
Details are still in the planning stages, the letter says, but the goal is “to build new relationships with new audiences” and supporting “a more gifted and inventive Central Arkansas, in addition to opening up new potential funding opportunities.”
Potential focus areas will include “traditional theatrical and musical instruction; support for classroom teachers; partnerships with related organizations with limited space or resources; community events and conversation facilitating; [and] promotion and development of performing artists and writers with local roots.”
“This scheduling shift will give us the capacity to broaden our programming in ways we’ve dreamed of for a long time — inside and outside our walls, deepening existing partnerships and forming new ones with the many amazing local organizations doing work in these areas,” said Will Trice, currently the theater’s executive artistic director.
Discussions on the change have been at various stages since a Rep board subcommittee started considering it in 2018, Trice said, and intensified during the theater’s 2020-21 suspension during the covid-19 pandemic.
According to the letter, the change is consistent with the structures of other non-profit theaters around the country, comes after “careful study of our historic operations and industry trends, as well as conversations with community leaders,” and has had the unanimous support of the Rep board.
“It’s a more sustainable model, a more comprehensive move in a more strategic direction,” Trice explained.
“We’re making a bold move to increase the added-value we can bring to our community, as well as a move to increase our financial stability,” added Rep Board Chairman Tim Gauger in the news release. “Progressive theaters across the country are doing the same.”
Meanwhile, the Rep is splitting its management.
Trice, a Little Rock native and former Tony-winning Broadway producer whom the theater hired in 2019, will take on the new title of executive director, focusing on administration, finance, and marketing.
The theater is bringing in as interim artistic director Ken-Matt Martin, a Little Rock native who began his theater experience as an intern with the Repertory Theatre while he was a student at Parkview High School and who has gone on to direct and produce at theaters across the country. He’ll work on producing the 2024 summer mainstage season and other theatrical projects while the Rep opens a formal search for a permanent artistic director.
The Rep will also add a community programming director, who will oversee the theater’s expanded education and civic engagement efforts.
“Will and I have been close colleagues and confidantes for some time,” Martin said Wednesday. “We’ve had conversations, formal and informal, on developments at the Rep for several years.”
Martin said he started his route to becoming a theater professional with a field trip to the Rep while a seventh grader at Horace Mann Middle School. He attended the theater’s Summer Musical Theatre Initiative while in high school and the first couple of summers coming home from college.
He was scheduled to direct a production of James Baldwin’s “Amen Corner” in 2020 before the pandemic put pause to the Rep’s schedule for 18 months. He had successfully produced and directed a production at the Pyramid Theatre Company in Des Moines, Iowa, of which he was the co-founder and where he served as executive director until 2018.
He has also served as producing director at Williamstown (Mass.) Theatre Festival, where his tenure included the transfers to Broadway of two productions — “The Sound Inside” and “Grand Horizons.” And he has served as associate producer at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, where he co-created its Future Labs program. He was recently appointed interim artistic director of Baltimore Center Stage and in the coming season is poised to direct world premieres at Flint (Mich.) Rep, Mosaic Theater in Washington, D.C., and the Olney (Md.) Theatre Center.
Martin won’t go into specifics about his plans for summer 2024, but he said that the Rep, while probably doing fewer mainstage productions, will still offer more programming as a whole, including co-productions with other groups, something the Rep has done in the past but could be expected to do more of in the future, and one-off performances in all sorts of artistic genres — including music, dance and poetry — by other organizations both from within and outside the state. “Expect to see more reasons to come to the building,” he said.
“Our space is a great asset,” Trice added.
The changes represent a new “stage” in the theater’s evolution over the last five years, starting with the 2018 suspension of operations due to lagging fundraising and ticket sales that resulted in the Rep going dark for several months.
A massive fundraising campaign representing overwhelming community support brought the Rep back for a limited 2019-20 season, just in time for the covid-19 epidemic that started in the in the spring of 2020 to put a spoke in its resurrection.
Full operations resumed in 2021. The theater has managed to “significantly reduce” its expenses “while continuing to create the high-caliber professional theater our community deserves,” the letter to patrons notes. “The Rep is in a strong financial position as it approaches the close of its current season.”