‘Big Fish’ For Small Fry: Young Actors Guild finds meaning in musical

‘Big Fish’ For Small Fry: Young Actors Guild finds meaning in musical
LARA JO HIGHTOWER/Special to the Free Weekly

On June 2 and 3, a huge field on the outskirts of Prairie Grove will hold the largest selection of open-air flea market booths in the Northwest Arkansas area. From polished antiques to funky vintage treasures to rusty farm finds, shoppers should be rewarded with just about anything they’re looking for at the Junk Ranch, which boasts 150 vendors and more than 200 booths.

We asked a few vendors what they’re bringing to the event, how they got involved in junking, and what their best find ever was.

Don Wilkinson

Don Wilkinson found his way to junking the way a lot of vendors do: he kept finding great stuff while shopping for his own collection of vintage Speas Vinegar bottles. So when he retired in his mid-50s after 35 years with the Arkansas Highway Department, he threw his hat into the flea market ring and got a booth at one of the largest flea markets in the country in Canton, Texas. After 10 years of selling at Canton, he moved up to an even bigger venue — Round Top, Texas, the Holy Grail of flea markets.

“It was a lot of work on my part,” he says. “We would haul seven or eight trailer loads down between shows, store them, and then we’d go down and set up and stay two weeks, selling. We sold to people from everywhere — California and everywhere. They got to buying from me, and they actually got to buying too much. It became too much of a job, and age took over.”

Wilkinson is 85 now, and he was thrilled when the Junk Ranch opened up so near his home in Mountainburg. Though the main product he sells are chicken laying houses — he estimates he’s sold around 30,000 over the course of his junking career — the booth he runs with his son is an eclectic mix of auction, estate and farm sale finds.

Wilkinson’s best find ever was deceptively simple: a box full of old bottle caps.

“I told my wife, ‘I found the Holy Grail,’” he remembers. “They were unused, cork-lined Dr Pepper bottle caps from 1907. The first bottle caps ever used on a Dr Pepper bottle.”

When he put them on eBay, he says, “people went crazy.”

Stacey Murphy

The Weathered Pearl

Stacey Murphy’s relationship with the Junk Ranch started off as a shopper.

“I loved the eclectic mix of old, used, collectible items and the vendor inspired pieces! I thought to myself, ‘I could do this,’” she recalls. “I applied the next year, and junk has been my livelihood ever since.”

Murphy advises yard sale shoppers to look for the signs with a torn piece of cardboard with the word “sale” scribbled across it as a marker.

“Often these sales are not advertised on social media, so it increases your chances of finding a hidden treasure,” she says.

She also hits the widely advertised sales, like the Oklahoma 100-mile Yard Sale. That’s where she found her favorite find: a 13-foot late 1800s banquet table discovered in a barn in Cleveland, Okla.

“I have done several shows all over Oklahoma and Arkansas, and I would say what sets the Junk Ranch apart from the others is the venue itself, the friendly vendors, the amazing shoppers, but most of all how well [Junk Ranch founders] Amy [Daniels] and Julie [Speed] have it organized,” Murphy says.

Tracy Davis

Rusty Heart Relics

“I have always loved old things as long as I can remember,” says Tracy Davis of Rusty Heart Relics. “My mama had an eye for the ornate and passed it along to me. We spent many a weekend traveling the roads for that elusive treasure.”

For her booth, she stocks a wide variety of items.

“I love vintage and antique garden items, primitive and antique furniture, and holiday decor,” she says. “I loved MCM before it was cool.”

Her favorite find is an antique child’s bedroom suite she found at the famed Texas flea market Round Top.

“It is a beautiful faded robin’s egg blue with a painted design, and it’s to die for,” she says.

Davis has had a love affair with the Junk Ranch since the first year.

“From the live music and food trucks to the mountains of treasures and lovely vendors, I knew this was the show that I wanted to be a part of,” she says. “Amy and Julie are the best and treat us like family.”



Junk Ranch

WHEN — 9 a.m.-3 pm. June 2; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. June 3; tickets go on sale at 8 a.m.

WHERE — 11195 Centerpoint Church Road in Prairie Grove

COST — $10

INFO — thejunkranch.net

When you ask Missy Gipson, the executive director of the Fort Smith Young Actors Guild, why she chose the musical “Big Fish” for the first show back since the global pandemic, she quotes the lyrics from one of the musical’s songs called “How it Ends”: “It ends with sons/It ends with wives/It ends with knowing when the pavement bends, we find our lives./So let it come/And let me go./Show me the waves/And let them flow./It all ends well/This much, I know.’

“I love that idea of nothing is straightforward,” says Gipson, “that the path bends and breaks but always ends up bringing us somewhere — sometimes where we want to be, and, sometimes, a place we didn’t know we would end up, but that usually ends up working out in some fashion. It feels a bit fitting for how we have all had to adapt to the twists and turns of the past year. We actually were supposed to produce ‘Big Fish’ in summer 2020 but ended up delaying it until this year. I think it resonates in a different way this summer — maybe hits a bit deeper.”

The musical version of “Big Fish” is based on the 1998 book by Daniel Wallace, which was also made into a movie in 2003. It was directed by Tim Burton, who said of the plot, “’Big Fish’ is about what’s real and what’s fantastic, what’s true and what’s not true, what’s partially true, and how, in the end, it’s all true.” It tells the story of a former traveling salesman named Edward Bloom, teller of tall tales and the father of Will, who is becoming a father himself. The plot grapples with the themes of mortality, truth versus fiction, parenthood versus childhood and, ultimately, strives to answer the big question of what is most important in life — surely one of the reasons Gipson thought it was so perfectly suited to the current times. The Broadway production of the show featured elaborate, showy stagecraft, but without a Broadway budget, Gipson says the YAG has found a way around expensive technical requirements.

“I love the spectacle of the Broadway production of ‘Big Fish’ but not the budget — ha! We are placing our production on the boardwalks of the gulf of Alabama. We will have some technical elements that we are creatively staging, but we are really focusing on the storytelling done by our actors. They are quite good at it. We also have an exceptional lighting designer, Steven Sellers, who is an important part of creating the scenic world of ‘Big Fish’.”

Like most performing arts organizations, the Young Actors Guild has been largely shuttered for the past 15 months, save for a few online projects they produced. Gipson says returning to in-person performing has been a joyful experience.

“It feels right! It’s wonderful to be in a room with a bunch of talented young artists doing what they love to do, what we all love to do. Quite of few of our area schools’ arts programs were at a standstill, so to see these kids do something that sparks their joy is very rewarding.”

Audition turnout was one big clue that area kids were ready to get back to work on stage.

Braxton DeLude plays young Will Bloom, and Reece McDaniel is Will Bloom in the Young Actors Guild production of “Big Fish.” (Courtesy Photo/Kristen Hancock)

“We weren’t sure what to expect at auditions, but were pleasantly surprised at the amount of kids that auditioned,” Gipson says. “They were (and are) so excited to be dreaming, imagining and creating together again. I, personally, love the heart in this show, and the fact that this story is the first one we are telling together after the world stopped is pretty special. They all have ideas and are willing to pitch in wherever, whether it’s on stage or off. It’s a true team effort.”

With a cast of 40 kids, Gipson has her work cut out for her as director.

“I think it’s the same for both types of rooms, whether adults or kids: Give value to their ideas, explain expectations but also give them the tools to reach them and listen to each other,” Gipson says. “Also, be willing to be silly and ridiculous and admit when you don’t know something. Our team tries to make sure it feels like a safe space to be themselves, and, once we have that energy, we set high goals, and go after them together.”


‘Big Fish’

WHEN — 7 p.m. July 22-24 and 2 p.m. July 24-25

WHERE — Young Actors Guild at the Alma Performing Arts Center, 103 E. Main St., Alma

COST — $12-$15

INFO — 632-2129

Categories: Family Friendly