Cuttin’ Loose

Cuttin’ Loose

Fate can intervene when it’s least expected. Missy Speer Gipson knows that now.

Gipson already had a job she loves as executive director of the Young Actors Guild in Fort Smith, a nationally recognized youth theater company that is free to participants. She also has three children, ages 3, 7 and 9, and a husband, Chase Gipson, with whom she plays music as Chase Missy.

But the idea of a company devoted solely to producing musical theater had been “incubating” for about five years, she says. And all of a sudden, all the dominoes lined up to take it from something she’d like to do “one day” to “today.”

Pilot Arts was named to conjure up images of adventure, Gipson explains. The fact that the company calls Drake Field in Fayetteville home is pure serendipity — the name really did come first — as was being able to cast one of the region’s busiest actors in the lead of a nostalgic and still relevant musical, “Footloose.”

“There are so many parallels between Ren and myself,” says Michael Myers, most recently seen as Dr. Frank N. Furter in the Arkansas Public Theatre production of “The Rocky Horror Show” and previously on stage there as the Emcee in “Cabaret.” “Many of the roles I’ve played are larger than life, so there’s no place in them for actual reality most of the time. But Ren is really a younger, more defiant Michael Myers.”

“Footloose,” for anyone unfamiliar with the 1984 Kevin Bacon movie, is the story of a teenager who moves to Bomont, a Midwestern town where dancing is literally against the law, the preacher is the final authority on any question and music — the Rev. Moore believes — is the root of most, if not all, evil.

But Ren convinces his classmates that music is a celebration — and the preacher’s daughter Ariel (played at Pilot Arts by Taylor Edwards) helps him argue his case with verses from the Bible.

“Ecclesiastes assures us… that there is a time for every purpose under heaven. A time to laugh… and a time to weep. A time to mourn… and there is a time to dance,” Ren tells the city council. “And there was a time for this law, but not anymore. See, this is our time to dance. It is our way of celebrating life.”

The theme suits Gipson’s goals perfectly. Musical theater, she says, is a celebration, just as is this show.



WHEN — 7 p.m. Nov. 10; 2 & 7 p.m. Nov. 11

WHERE — Arkansas Air and Military Museum at Drake Field in Fayetteville

COST — $10-$15


BONUS — There will be a 1980s after-party Nov. 10 at an additional cost of $20.

“All the teens in this story want to do is get together and celebrate living and being together,” she says. “That’s exactly what we’re doing with Pilot Arts in our community — engaging and connecting. And why start small?”

Gipson’s cast includes 34 people from age 9 into their 50s. They also range in experience levels from Myers to first-time actors and from lighting designer Austin T. Womack, who spent the past two years designing for Disney, to music director Rebecca McBride, who is doing her first big show after years of teaching and performing.

“People are learning to read music,” she marvels, “learning to sing parts for the first time! I love the challenge. But when you hear it gel? That’s just almost magical.”

Gipson says she hopes one day Pilot Arts will be a professional company, able to produce not only tried-and-true musicals but new ones. Now, “it’s more of a community theater. There are so many great local performers, and I want to give them a space to create.”

For Myers, “Footloose” is a chance to “be vulnerable as opposed to hiding behind a character. The opportunity to be authentic and genuine is one, brilliant, because that’s where some really beautiful moments happen, and two, it’s helping me to grow and be a little more … more vulnerable with the outside world.”

Categories: Entertainment, Theater