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Part of Arkansas | Rep was local labor of love

Opinion-Guest writer

Part of Arkansas

Rep was local labor of love

By Mike Nichols Special to the Democrat-Gazette

This article was published April 30, 2018 at 2:10 a.m.

 

I have on my studio desk a quarter-inch scale model of the stage setting for God of Carnage. I designed the set for the last production of the 2017-2018 season at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre.

My carpenters and I would have built the set from lumber we bought from a local yard and held it together with screws and nails from a local hardware store. Some of the paint finishes would have come from paint ordered from New York or Los Angeles; most would be picked up down the street here in downtown. When the set was finished we would have loaded it on a trailer hooked to my Chevy pickup and made a few trips from State Street to the Rep building at Sixth and Main.

Just prior to the trip, I likely would have painted the stage floor to look like something it never was: oak planks, concrete, marble or dirt. I think this time would have been a deep gray tile, maybe with an area of carpet on top. Afterward we would install the set on stage where it would then be detailed and decorated by The Rep's resident props designer and lit by The Rep's resident lighting designer. The Rep's resident sound designer would provide for sound effects and incidental music, maybe a few cell-phone rings not inexplicably provided later by the coming audience who would be served by a resident staff in the box office, house management, and administrators and asked to please quiet their phones by the stage manager. Actors from New York dressed in costumes designed and built by resident costumers and under the eye of a local and institution founding director would have entered the set and sat in the chairs and faced into the light and spoke.

Instead what I have is a quarter-inch scale model of the stage setting for God of Carnage. I thought it was just a play, but that thought has been laid bare by the suspension of operations at The Rep.

With time on my hands, I write this because I want to thank the paper for the editorial that appeared in Thursday morning's edition, and to say I'm moved that Mr. Deering would take a minute from the bald extremities of the political world and lift his pen on The Rep's behalf. I want to thank the paper for all the coverage of our events and photos and reviews of our productions and for throwing in my name from time to time; my mom appreciated that.

But I also write to correct the long-standing assumption that The Rep is somehow a touring house. We are not. With the recent exception of Spamalot and a production of Fire on the Mountain a few years ago, The Rep staff has built from scratch every setting that has appeared on any of its stages since it began in 1976 as laid out in the opening scenario. I have been in charge of that aspect since I joined the staff in 1982 as the resident set designer and technical director and, could they speak, would gladly allow my back and knees to go on and on about the work over the past 36 years. Against those joints' better judgment, I was hoping to do it some more. And then along with my colleagues continue to do it some more until we handed it off to others behind us, who would then do it some more and continue to create living dramatic art on Main Street that provokes thought and curiosity and sometimes, especially sometimes, simply entertains.

I want to add my thanks to the thousands of people who have come out to see the productions, take the classes and enjoy the walls adorned with local artwork. There never would have been an Arkansas Rep without an audience of you. Those of us who work in the theater every day and lots of nights never would have been able to practice our art and craft which exists only when you are there to see it. Through your patronage you have enabled us to live in the community we serve, support local businesses and organizations, and train young artists and crafts people with the abilities to carry on beyond us. I have been fortunate to be able to work in the arts my entire working life in the state I dearly love, and about 50 miles from where I was born. I'd like to know that other folks can some day say that too.

Arkansas Rep belongs to Arkansas as sure as there's a tush hog in the briers and a crappie in the creek. We depend on your continued support. I'll close by thanking you for it in advance.

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Mike Nichols is the resident set designer/technical director for the Arkansas Repertory Theatre.

Editorial on 04/30/2018

Print Headline: Part of Arkansas

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