WAC getting industry recognition it deserves

WAC getting industry recognition it deserves



The Walton Arts Center has played a starring role in Northwest Arkansas’ entertainment scene since its opening more than two and a half decades ago. But something has been stirring behind the scenes at the performance venue in the last several years.

The industry is taking notice of an arts ambassador willing to be daring with its catalog while also investing in its community.

“They’re presenting at the same level as every major market. It’s a Herculean achievement, and it’s really extraordinary,” enthuses Orin Wolf, president of NETworks Presentations.

NETworks is the production touring company behind shows like “Les Miserables,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “The King and I,” “Finding Neverland” and The Blue Man Group. The company has brought 25 shows to the WAC since the 2010-11 season. But more significantly, NETworks continues to collaborate with WAC in bringing shows to complete their tech process in Fayetteville and launch tours from Northwest Arkansas.

This year alone, the company brought the revival of “Falsettos” and the brand new Blue Man Group show “Speechless” to Fayetteville for the teching process. This is the time before a tour embarks when a company finalizes the technical elements of the show — the blocking, the set pieces — and works out the kinks of moving a performance from city to city. It’s also a time when a company brings dozens of people to town for weeks at a time, which creates a huge economic impact for the city.

“‘Falsettos’ was an intimate, very delicate piece of a theater that we had to build very carefully in Fayetteville. And the writer and director of the show when it was done originally on Broadway more than 20 years ago, James Lapine, actually came to Fayetteville to direct the first national tour of this revival,” Wolf explains.

“I don’t know how many people in Fayetteville know that or appreciate that, but what an achievement.

“Then, you take a step forward a few months, and we’re bringing in Blue Man, which was this very large production, which had an immense amount of technology, where we had technicians and designers flying in and out from literally all over the world in order to put up this robust, technically driven piece of entertainment,” he goes on. “The Walton Arts Center was able to be elastic in its ability to bring our people in.”

WAC has been teching and launching tours since 1997, with “Speechless” marking the venue’s 11th. While it may not be a new feat for the center, Wolf asserts something has changed in the last half decade as the WAC’s reputation continues to catapult its industry standing.

“This season, there’s two Tony Award-winning musicals that are coming in on their very first year of touring into a market where, five years ago, that that wouldn’t have happened,” Wolf demonstrates. The real work, he notes, is in building up a loyal subscription base. Large, brand-name shows may drive single ticket sales, but they don’t sustain a community’s artistic endeavors, he explains.

“By doing that, that’s when you can actually broaden the experience of what audiences in Fayetteville may expect when they come to see a piece of theater,” Wolf insists. “And I think there’s just no better example of that being done successfully than in Fayetteville.”

The applause for bringing the WAC to such a point goes to the leadership, Wolf assures. It’s the willingness to take a risk on new or quirky or challenging works and find an audience for them that makes Walton Arts Center a real ambassador for the arts.

“They’re investing in themselves. They’re investing in the community,” Wolf concludes. “I want to make sure the audiences understand how hard that is and appreciate how fortunate they are to live in a town that has an arts center that’s as progressive and that’s as daring as the Walton Arts Center. It’s a real gift to present that kind of content.”



Coming Soon

Those two Tony Award-winners Wolf mentions are coming to WAC straight from their Broadway debut. “Once on This Island” (2/11-16) is the 2018 Tony winner for Best Revival, and “The Band’s Visit” (5/19-23) is the 2018 winner for Best Musical.

Categories: Theater