More Theater Is Better: ‘Next to Normal’ planned by fledgling company

More Theater Is Better: ‘Next to Normal’ planned by fledgling company

Shannon Miller sees “theater done well” as a daily imperative as essential as a good cup of coffee.

“I am pleased with the number of locations where I can get a cup of coffee or have my bike fixed in Bentonville,” says Miller, a technical director, scenic and lighting designer, master carpenter and sound engineer who came to Northwest Arkansas four years ago to “to help build Trike Theatre into a nationally recognized youth theater organization.” However, to enjoy live theater for adults, he says, “I have to drive, not bike, to Rogers, Springdale or Fayetteville.”

Interested volunteers like Sheila and Emma Martin have been trading hours worked for Trike Theatre for access to space and technical supplies for a fledgling Bentonville community theater company.
(Courtesy Photo)

“If you are a theater artist with a family and a job, traveling for the long hours required to make theater can be prohibitive,” Miller says, and he wondered if other people in Bentonville felt the same way.

“I started a Facebook group called Theatre Coffee and invited people I’ve met or worked with in the area to chat over coffee about a grassroots theater community in Bentonville,” he explains. “I set the group so anyone could add others they feel might share that interest. … Membership has grown to 189.”

One of those members is Taylor Dolan, who joined the Northwest Arkansas theater community in 2020, when she played Cinderella’s Stepmother in “Into the Woods.” The production turned out to be the final one at the Arts Center of the Ozarks in Springdale, so a year — and a pandemic — later, when she saw Miller’s request for suggestions for an inaugural show for a new theater company, she says she “shouted ‘Next to Normal’ into the abyss.”

The fledgling company has neither name nor home — although Miller says he hopes to build “a Bentonville Community Theatre that is a community of active participants rather than a venue.” But what they’re calling the “‘Next to Normal’ Project” does have auditions set for May 31 at Trike.

“We are using a combination of methods to fund this first production,” Dolan explains. “For every hour helping Trike, they are offering an hour in return for access to their space and technical supplies. We will also be launching a fundraiser with sponsorship benefits in May to cover the rest of the costs.”

“Those logistics are setting the goal for an eventual theater company,” Miller says.

Dolan comes to the project with a lifelong love of theater inspired by a production of “Ragtime” she saw in Houston when she was 7.

“Since then I have been in, maybe, 35 productions? I traveled a fair deal in my early 20s and lost my connection to theater,” she explains. “Fortunately, I found my way back when I was given the role of the Stepmother.

“‘Into the Woods’ was my introduction to community theater in Northwest Arkansas, so it will always be a part of my creative process here,” Dolan continues. “I certainly have a great many friends from the show who are auditioning for ‘Next to Normal,’ but it’s an open call, so anything could happen. Thus far, the creative team and technicians I have lined up are from entirely different Northwest Arkansas theater spheres.”

Shannon Miller (left) and Taylor Dolan are working together on a project that may give birth to a Bentonville community theater.
(Courtesy Photos)

Miller says his original goal was to “facilitate theater making in Bentonville. However, the community response seems to be more inclusive of a larger Northwest Arkansas theater community. That is influencing the conversation moving forward.

“I’ve lived in several successful communities with theater bringing people together like nothing else,” he says. “We like being entertained. We like being educated and informed. I think all communities benefit the most when we replace otherness with togetherness. Theater just does that. I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced anyone saying ‘There’s too much theater here.’ I can say that there is not enough theater in Bentonville.”




‘Next To Normal’


WHAT — “Next to Normal,” with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, explores how one suburban household copes with crisis and mental illness. Winner of three 2009 Tony Awards, including Best Musical Score, along with the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, “Next to Normal” was also chosen as “one of the year’s 10 best shows” by critics around the country, including The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone and The New York Times.

WHEN — 6 p.m. May 31

WHERE — Trike Theatre, 902 S.W. Second St. in Bentonville

HOW TO AUDITION — Prepare a specific song from the show, and be ready to do some cold readings, says Taylor Dolan. Email her at for sheet music.

HOW TO VOLUNTEER — Email Dolan or visit for updates.

Categories: Theater