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Arkansas Repertory Theatre suspends operations, cancels final production

The Rep in downtown Little Rock is suspending operations (Photo courtesy: Arkansas Repertory Theatre)

The Arkansas Repertory Theatre in downtown Little Rock announced Tuesday that it is suspending operations and will not complete its final production of the season.

Brian Bush, the nonprofit theatre's chairman of the board, said in a news release that several years of declining ticket sales and a "change in the theatre landscape in Little Rock" have pushed the The Rep toward closure. He also said The Rep has not met projections for charitable donations.

"Our community is on the verge of losing an amazing arts organization and tremendous asset to our city," Bush said. "Closing The Rep will have a devastating impact on the redevelopment of Main Street and the creative corridor."

The news release says that John Miller-Stephany, the theatre's producing artistic director since 2016, is set to step down from the position May 8 along with most staffers. The release says that "only a few critical staff members" will continue working to run the theatre's summer education program this year. The theatre will still host its annual Artworks auction on Saturday and a Ballet Arkansas production May 4-6.

All operations are scheduled to cease Aug. 3.

Justin Pike, the artistic director at the Studio Theater in Little Rock, said The Rep was a place that inspired his passion.

"That was actually the first local theater I knew anything about," Pike said. "It's like our community's gold standard of theater."

The future of The Rep is "under evaluation," according to the release. The theatre said Ruth Shepherd, the board's chairman-elect, is leading an effort by current and former board members to raise money for the theatre and "conceptualize a reimagined Arkansas Repertory Theatre."

“It was devastating to vote to suspend operations and cancel the final show of our season," Shepherd said, "but we just don’t have the money right now."

The Rep, located at the historic Galloway Building at 601 Main St., raised more than $5.4 million in 2011 to upgrade its lighting, build new concession stands, install new windows and expand theatre capacity to 377 seats. The theatre staged six productions per year. Recent productions include Mamma Mia!, A Christmas Story, Monty Python's Spamalot and Windfall, which was directed by actor Jason Alexander.

The theatre said those who bought tickets to God of Carnage, the now-canceled final production of the 2017-18 season, can receive a tax receipt letter for the value of the tickets.

The Rep is shutting down as another theatre in downtown Little Rock finds new life. The Robinson Center, which was built in 1939, closed in 2014 for an extensive renovation and expansion that cost more than $70 million. It re-opened in November 2016 and scheduled a slate of big-name productions including The Lion King, Jersey Boys and Finding Neverland.

The Rep has staged more than 350 productions since it opened in 1976. Shepherd said the theatre was longer able to "produce at the level in which Arkansas audiences have come to expect." Doing so, she said, would have dragged the theatre further into debt.

"That said, I think this community loves The Rep and understands the value of having a professional theatre that produces work here for Arkansans," Shepherd said. "Therefore, I hope that everyone who cares will step up and write a check and offer to help reimagine what The Rep can be in our community and state.”



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