Better Together

Better Together

Photo credit/Wesley Hitt
By working with theater companies in both Fort Smith (YAG) and Fayetteville (Pilot Arts), Missy Gipson’s reach extends from the River Valley to Northwest Arkansas.

Theater partnerships expand reach for local companies

Be It Resolved

Northwest Arkansas theater companies are figuring out how to multiply — not divide — audiences to maximize their reach.

The Past

For decades, Northwest Arkansas has had a wealth of live theater options, more than is average for an area its size, which culminated in the addition of the professional regional theater TheatreSquared in 2005. Though the area’s population continues to grow, competing for audiences can sometimes be tough.

The Present

Enter the age of partnerships: Area theaters of all sizes have figured out that joining forces can help them boost their signal. Take Fayetteville’s theater for children, Arts Live, which partnered with Springdale’s Arts Center of the Ozarks for the spring production of “My Son Pinocchio.”

“Partnering with ACO gives Arts Live additional visibility and a broader reach into the Northwest Arkansas region and communities,” says Arts Live Executive Director Mark Landon Smith. “Creative partnerships are vital to the artistic community. A sharing of information, resources and ideas keeps the creative arts vibrant.”

“This is a very important relationship to the ACO,” says Kathleen Trotter, its executive director. “We promote their great work in the Springdale community, and they offer kids the opportunity to experience live theater as participants and families to enjoy quality entertainment.”

Meanwhile, Trike Theatre, a children’s theater based in Bentonville, took its show on the road this year, moving south to Fayetteville to perform on the Starr Theatre stage at the Walton Arts Center. The move was a result of a shift in their pre-existing relationship with the Walton Arts Center, says Kassie Misiewicz, a founder of the theater and its current artistic director. Since Trike’s inception in 2007, Misiewicz and Trike have been a part of the WAC’s SmART Residency, a program that helps teachers learn to incorporate the arts in their curriculum.

Courtesy Photo
Arts Live Theatre partnered with the Arts Center of the Ozarks to bring their production of “My Son Pinocchio” to the Northwest Arkansas area.

“We were coming up on our 10th season, ready to launch and really start producing mainstage theater, and Laura [Goodwin, WAC’s vice president for learning and engagement] said, ‘Why don’t you do two shows here?’” says Misiewicz. “We’re all working together to create this and have this synergy to help these productions happen.”

Trike’s production of “Charlotte’s Web” ran for three weeks at the WAC, and sold out for both school shows and public performances. The next production at the WAC, “Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse,” will run for two weekends in April. Trike also continues its touring production “Digging Up Arkansas” in collaboration with the WAC.

“We’re getting 10 times the audience through our partnership with the WAC,” says Misiewicz. “In the past few years, we were doing youth theater shows in the fall and the spring and reaching, probably, about 400 people in the audience. Now we’ve gone from reaching 400 people to reaching 4,000 — that is so huge to us as a growing theater.”

Fort Smith’s Missy Gipson is doubling the theater ground she’s covering as both the executive director at Fort Smith’s Young Actors Guild and the founder and executive director of the Fayetteville-based Pilot Arts, a community theater that focuses on established and new musicals. The theater’s first show, “Footloose,” was performed at Fayetteville’s Drake Field and included 34 performers and 850 audience members.

Gipson says each company has a compelling mission that keeps her engaged.

“At Pilot Arts, we aim to tell stories about being a human and what it’s like to live this life, with the aftertaste of joy and hope,” she says. “What better way to do this than a musical?

“The Young Actors Guild is all about inspiring kids to love the art in themselves and, hopefully, encourage a bit of risk and bravery along the way. YAG’s commitment to keeping our productions free to kids is why I drive that drive. It has opened a lot of life opportunities up to our kids.”

The Future

When you’ve got a good thing going, why quit?

“We are very grateful to Kathleen Trotter, the current ACO executive director, for her enthusiasm for partnering with ALT as we explore additional partnership opportunities through productions, classes, special events and outreach,” says Smith of Arts Live’s future prospects.

Misiewicz and Trike are currently considering scripts to propose for the 2017-18 season in partnership with the WAC.

“They’ve already penciled in dates for us,” she says.

“Pilot’s second show is at the end of April and the YAG has a fun 2018 season, so it will be a year filled with theater,” says Gipson.

— Lara Hightower


Up Next

Arts Live Theatre

‘Animal Farm’

Jan. 25-28


Trike Theatre

‘Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse’

April 13-14 & 20-21


Pilot Arts

Pilot Arts has classes for kids and adults enrolling now.

Categories: Family Friendly