UA theater season expands in scope, space

UA theater season expands in scope, space

‘More Relevant’


It’s been a big year for University Theatre. In its 2017-18 season at the University of Arkansas, the student performance company opened a black box theater on the downtown square; hosted the Arkansas premiere of Theatre For One, including seven original works by both local and national writers; and held the first ArkType Festival of New Works, which included the world premiere of three new full-length plays by faculty and MFA playwriting candidates, as well as original 10 minute plays by UA undergraduate students, a new one-person-show and a performance by LatinX Theatre.


Oh, and it’s not University Theatre anymore — unless you’re talking about the performing hall on campus. It’s the UA Department of Theater. But it’s still led by Michael Riha, who is now in his fifth year as chairman. During that time, he says, he hopes the theater department — which can claim a raft of talented graduates who are working in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and elsewhere — has become “more relevant” to both incoming students, to companies around the country and to the community.

Courtesy Photo
“Life Is a Dream” was produced by the UA department of theater in February 2018 and featured Cody Sheldon.

“Our mission is to continue to train the next generation of artists,” he says. “A lot of them come back and make Northwest Arkansas their home and do things like start Trike Theatre, get involved where they can have a voice, a position in the arts community here. We are helping create artists who can take Northwest Arkansas and other parts of the country to the next level of contemporary theater.”

But Riha is by no means ready to rest on his laurels. He wants to reach out to Northwest Arkansas high school students — both so they can learn and so his grad students can teach.

“It used to be community involvement meant matinee productions of ‘Macbeth’ for students,” he says. “But we’re looking at ways to bring our theater to them or create theater out of their stories. LatinX and (faculty member) Michael Landman really making that a priority is hugely important, and we’ll be working to do more community involvement — to become more relevant to the theater conversation in Northwest Arkansas.

“What we’ve tried to do moving forward really falls under a couple of different goals,” says Riha, whose expertise is in technical theater. “And one of them is to introduce our students and patrons to the new [black box] space with a pretty active season down on the square, so we’re doing a six-show season in 2018-19 with four of them at the Global Campus.”

The season, as always, is designed to meet the needs of both undergraduate students and graduate students in acting, directing, playwriting, costume design, scene design and lighting design master’s programs. It opens with “Clybourne Park” by Bruce Norris, inspired by “A Raisin in the Sun.” On stage, it asks what makes a neighborhood a home. Back stage, it asks how to show through the set design the gentrification of that neighborhood over 50 years. It will be performed at University Theater on campus.

Next is “She Kills Monsters” by Qui Nguyen, whose recent “Vietgone” was staged at TheatreSquared. This show, says Riha, takes a young woman on an adventure when she finds her late sister’s Dungeons & Dragons books. It is, he says, for the geek in everyone — and is perfectly suited to the intimate UA Black Box Theater on the square.

“Top Girls” by Carol Churchill, also in the Black Box Theater, considers what it takes for a woman to succeed in a man’s world.

After Christmas, the theater department turns to a classic — which will be presented in a most untraditional way. Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” will have a smaller cast and likely a modern-day setting to introduce students to the Bard in a relatable way. Staged at the Black Box Theater, it will be directed by Steven Marzolf.

Michael Riha, chairman of the University of Arkansas theater department, speaks to visitors at the new UA Black Box Theater on the Fayetteville square. The new space expands the scope of UA productions.

No. 5, “Topdog/Underdog” by Susan-Lori Parks, is described as a “darkly comic contemporary fable about two brothers haunted by their past. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

And finally, the company returns to its on-campus home for “A Little Night Music,” Stephen Sondheim’s charming musical masterpiece about one hilarious night and a tangled web of love.

While all this is happening, Riha will be busy with his next goal — winning National Association of Schools of Theatre accreditation for the department. That, he says, will elevate the program one more notch on the national scale.



UA Theater

2018-19 Season

Sept. 28-Oct. 7 — “Clybourne Park” by Bruce Norris, University Theater on campus

Oct. 19-28 — “She Kills Monsters” by Qui Nguyen, UA Black Box Theater on the square

Nov. 9-18 — “Top Girls” by Carol Churchill, Black Box

Feb. 1-10 — “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare, Black Box

March 1-10 — “Topdog/Underdog” by Susan-Lori Parks, Black Box

April 5-14 — “A Little Night Music” by Stephen Sondheim, University Theater on campus

TICKETS — Pick four, five or six shows for a season subscription

INFO — 575-4752 or

Categories: 'Tis the Season