Please Take Your Seats: WAC joyfully welcomes patrons for 30th anniversary season

Please Take Your Seats: WAC joyfully welcomes patrons for 30th anniversary season

As the programming team approached building the 2021-22 season at the Walton Arts Center with cautious optimism, the first priority on their minds was previous artist commitments. How many pre-pandemic bookings could be honored as things begin to reopen? Travel restrictions, particularly international, have prevented some rebookings, but Executive Producer and Vice President of Programming Scott Galbraith admits the staff are otherwise thrilled with how many contracts were reissued.

Looking to a thematic guiding principle for the WAC’s full season back, Galbraith reveals the team leaned heavily into one of the institution’s core values: relevance.

“It’s huge,” WAC Public Relations Director Jennifer Wilson says of the venue’s success at staying open and keeping most full-time staff through the pandemic. “The organizations that we’re working with, the tours that we’re working with now, most of the places that they’re going to play have been shut down, have not been operational. So when they start coming to us, and we’re like, ‘OK, we’ve done stuff throughout this, we’ve kept operational, we’ve still been presenting,’ that floors them, because that’s really unheard of. That was not something that was done for the most part throughout this. So that’s our leadership’s commitment to staying engaged, and trying to fill the needs that we could fill in the ways that we could fill them, but not leaving a void in the community at a time which was dark anyway. It really forced us to be creative in what we presented and how we presented during that time.”

“The pandemic created space for some important realizations around racial equity and social justice,” he begins. “This coming season, roughly 56% of our shows will feature artists of color, with 14% featuring LGBTQ artists and/or subject matter. And several shows speak to topical issues of the day, including voting rights, LGBTQ self-acceptance and support, immigration stories, and misinformation in government and media. Not all our shows have weighty subject matter, of course, but we’re excited to be embracing such relevant concepts.”

Contracts and availability were also more dependent this year than ever on access, adds Jennifer Ross, WAC programming director. So many of the arts center’s partner organizations across the country, including agencies that facilitate artist relations, were forced to close due to the pandemic.

“We’re at a point now where things are starting to settle in and settle down. But I think there’s also going to be a bit of a dearth of work, perhaps, over the next couple of years, as agents and agencies start back to work, get back on their feet, find the artists again,” Ross explains. “I think we may be missing a little bit over the next year and a half or two years until everything starts rolling again.”

Ross and Galbraith already have eyes out to the 2023-24 season as they sketch out the coming few years, but they also know large touring productions will be one of the first things to shut down if the fallout from the spread of viral variants continues on its current trajectory.

“Here we are again,” Ross says with disappointment. The full 2021-22 season has been announced, and build-your-own subscription packages are on sale, but organizers are beginning to worry over how many of these shows and performances Northwest Arkansas will actually get to see.

“Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom” is a new musical filled with traditional and original gospel and freedom songs, that tells the true story of Lynda Blackmon, the youngest person to walk from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in the Voting Rights March in 1965. The show is part of the 10×10 Arts Series Feb. 3. (Courtesy Photo)

“Tell people to vaccinate themselves,” Ross pleads. “That’s how we get out of this mess. And it’s so important — not only for Walton Arts Center, but for restaurants on Dickson Street, for our town that people say they love. If you love our town, go get the vaccine.”

A tentative hope wins out, though, that the WAC’s 30th anniversary season (official date is April 26, 2022) will happen in its entirety and that Fayetteville will once again welcome musicians, dancers, acrobats, comedians and storytellers from around the world to share the joy of live performance with audiences. Here, we break down the full schedule of the WAC’s seven resident series, in addition to the already-announced Proctor & Gamble Broadway Series.

Several ticket packages for individual series are available for purchase already at 443-5600 or Create-your-own subscriptions are also available. Individual tickets for most performances are on sale as of Aug. 17, with the exception of “Hamilton.”

Unilever Starrlight Jazz Club

Sept. 19 — Huntertones

Oct. 22 — Jane Bunnett and Maqueque

“Jane Bunnett is a five-time Juno Award winner and three-time Grammy Award nominee,” shares Robert Ginsburg, WAC jazz curator. “Her ability to embrace and showcase the rhythms and culture of Cuba is groundbreaking, including her work with the group Maqueque, which evolved from a project to mentor and record young Cuban female musicians into one of the top groups on the Afro-Cuban jazz scene.”

Dec. 10 — Samara Joy

With a voice as smooth as velvet, Samara Joy’s star seems to rise with each performance. The 2019 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition winner released her debut, self-titled album July 9 and, at 21 years old, is emerging as a powerful vocalist on the cusp of international fame. She performs as part of the Starrlight Jazz Series Dec. 10. (Courtesy Photo)

Feb. 18, 2022 — Sullivan Fortner Trio

March 5, 2022 — Clark Gibson Quintet

This “super group” as Ginsburg puts its, is made up of Clark Gibson on alto sax, Sean Jones on trumpet, Michael Dease on trombone, Pat Bianchi on Hammond B3 and Lewis Nash on drums.

10×10 Series

The 10×10 Arts Series has become an established and beloved tradition at the WAC. The series offers arts lovers the opportunity to “dip a toe in the water,” as WAC President and CEO Peter Lane once put it, to try out a different art form than they may be familiar with. Tickets to each of the 10 performances are available for $10 apiece, making the exploration an affordable and more accessible experience.

Oct. 7 — “The Truth Has Changed”

Coming off the challenges of the pandemic-induced closure and cancellations presented “an opening for us to maybe present some things that we might not have in the past,” Ross says. She points to journalist Josh Fox’s one-man show “The Truth Has Changed,” which traces the arc of misinformation and propaganda in America from Sept. 11, 2001, to the present. “I think it’s going to be hard for a lot of people to watch. I think it could re-upset some people because of what he’s going to bring to the fore.”

Nov. 18 — Cirque Mechanics’ “Birdhouse Factory”

Jan. 28, 2022 — “it gets better”

Two shows on the 10×10 Arts Series — CONTRA-TIEMPO’s “joyUS justUS” (pictured) and “it gets better” — will have a residency component and engage different community groups. “joyUS justUS” will “focus on the heritage and joy behind the music and dance styles in the show,”

Galbraith reveals that he first learned about the “it gets better” performance in the aftermath of the 2016 PULSE nightclub shooting when he was living in Orlando and helping to facilitate community healing.

“It’s an inspiring and life-affirming event, filled with music and theater that centers stories of LGBTQ youth,” he shares. “More importantly, both [this and ‘joyUS justUS’] are derived from real-life stories. The unofficial mantra of Mosaix (the WAC’s multi-cultural festival and celebration) is ‘nothing about us without us,’ and these two shows really embody that priority.”

Feb. 3, 2022 — “Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom”

Feb. 17, 2022 — Invoke’s “The Adventures of Prince Achmed”

April 5, 2022 — TRIVENI: Zakir Hussain with Kala Ramnath and Jayanthi Kumaresh

April 7, 2022 — Joey Alexander Trio

April 16, 2022 — CONTRA-TIEMPO “joyUS justUS”

“I first saw ‘joyUS justUS’ at a booking conference, probably three years ago, and I immediately said, ‘We’re doing this!’” Galbraith enthuses. “The show is an infectious blend of joy, cultural pride, and the fundamentals of humanity — such as family and community — all woven together through exuberant dance.”

April 29, 2022 — Mingus Big Band

May 24, 2022 — Artosphere Festival Orchestra 10×10 Concert

American rocker and singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge makes her WAC debut Oct. 10 as part of the Land O’Lakes Concert Series. The Grammy Award winner is known for her confessional lyrics, her raspy, smoky vocals, and for her gay and lesbian activism. Limited tickets remain and are expected to sell out. (Courtesy Photo)

Land O’Lakes Concert Series

Oct. 10 — Melissa Etheridge

Nov. 12 — RAIN — A Tribute to The Beatles: The Best of Abbey Road Live!

Dec. 8 — Asleep at the Wheel

Nine-time Grammy Award-winning country/Western swing group Asleep at the Wheel will celebrate both their 50th anniversary and the holiday season with this December show.

April 10, 2022 — Tower of Power

May 2, 2022 — Mat Kearney

“Mat Kearney has been out sort of on the road since 2004 … so he’s had some music out there for a really long time,” Ross says, noting the singer-songwriter’s multiple listings on Billboard Top 200, weekly rock and Christian music charts. “What I really like about Mat’s music is that he’s just a great songwriter. His musical hero is Paul Simon, and like Paul Simon, he likes for each one of his albums to have a different sound. So he’s done everything from a real sort of country-fied album, to like a hip hop-sounding album with EDM and that sort of thing. He’s just a very interesting musician.”

West Street Live

Canadian-born, U.S.-raised folk artist Ray Bonneville came up from Louisiana in 2011 to meet some fellow artists, and ended up performing in and winning the Ozark Blues Challenge at George’s Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville, earning him a spot at the 2012 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn. He won the solo/duo competition representing the Ozarks, and now he’s back in Fayetteville Dec. 9 as part of the WAC’s West Street Live Series. (Courtesy Photo)

Four of the five performances on this year’s West Street Live Series feature singer-songwriters making their Walton Arts Center debut. Only Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem are returning for this series that highlights the art of the songwriting craft.

“West Street Live is special because we’re able to experience the music and the musician in such an intimate atmosphere,” Ross shares.

Oct. 21 — Wild Ponies

“They are both from the Carolinas, and they have a really broad and bold approach to Appalachian music,” Ross explains of husband-and-wife folk duo Doug and Telisha Williams. “They have lyrics that draw on family heirlooms. Doug’s grandfather wrote a book of poetry 70 years ago, and some of their music actually comes from that book of poetry. They create really powerful music [and] their songwriting is fantastic.”

Dec. 9 — Ray Bonneville

Feb. 19, 2022 — American Patchwork Quartet

“They’re on a mission to reclaim the immigrant soul of American roots music,” Ross begins of American Patchwork Quartet. “It’s fantastic music because what they do is they take traditional songs like ‘Shenandoah,’ and [vocalist] Falu Shah, as she’s singing, she will incorporate some of those Indian sounds and vocalizations into traditional music. … And it is haunting and gorgeous, and reminds you that we are a country of immigrants. It’s just fantastic and fun, and their musicianship is off the charts.”

March 4, 2022 — Darrell Scott

May 5, 2022 — Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem

Coca-Cola Night Out Series

Nov. 8 — A Conversation with Hasan Minhaj

Author, humorist and public speaker Fran Lebowitz — dubbed by The New Yorker “the patron saint of staying home and doing nothing” — has earned an Emmy nomination for her documentary series “Pretend It’s a City,” released on Netflix in January. On Feb. 4, the WAC will host “An Evening with Fran Lebowitz” on the Night Out Series: an evening split between an interview with KUAF’s Kyle Kellams, and Lebowitz taking audience questions. (Courtesy Photo/Cybele Malinowski)

Comedian and TV personality Hasan Minhaj was originally set to visit the WAC in March of 2020, the same night as the White House Correspondents Dinner that he was later invited to host. His first rescheduling saw him headlining the WAC’s inaugural Mosaix Festival in April of 2020. There was another rescheduling to last fall, but hopefully the fourth time’s the charm for Minhaj to visit in conversation with Heena Patel, founder and CEO of Mela Arts Connect, producer and artistic director of Bollywood Boulevard.

Nov. 11 — The Glenn Miller Orchestra

Feb. 4, 2022 — A Conversation with Fran Liebowitz

March 3, 2022 — Circa’s “Sacre”

June 24-26, 2022 — “A Chorus Line”

The Tony Award-winning smash “A Chorus Line” last played at the WAC in the venue’s sixth year — during its 1997-98 season. These four performances will launch the musical’s Asian tour after the production completes its teching process in Fayetteville.

Arkansas BlueCross Blue Shield

Family Fun Series

Dec. 12 — WAC + SoNA: “The Snowman: A Family Concert”

Dec. 23 — “Polar Express”

April 28, 2022 — Popovich Comedy Pet Theater

“One of the shows on this series that is also on the Colgate Classroom Series is the Popovich Comedy Pet Theater,” shares Sallie Zazal, director of learning and engagement. “There are more than 30 pets in the show, and what’s really great is each one has been rescued from an animal shelter. I love how they say ‘Each animal is given a new “leash” on life.’ So I think that’s going to be a really fun, escapism kind of thing for our audiences.”

June 3-4, 2022 — “Madagascar: The Musical”

Kids Series

“I don’t think that we fully understand the impacts that the pandemic has had on children,” Zazal poses. So, she explains, a big movement right now is social emotional learning, and that was top-of-mind for Zazal as she was programming the Colgate Classroom Series, as well as the family and children’s programming in the WAC’s public season.

“That was a strong consideration of mine — how can I help students realize their inner strength, and their worth? A lot of these kids, they need those social interactions; that is such an important part of growth. And when you’re homeschooling, when you’re forced into that, you no longer have those. So also bringing about that method of communication, and how can they express themselves? And after a year and a half of being pent up, what can they do with their voices?”

Jan. 22 & 29, 2022 — Trike Theatre’s “Digging Up Arkansas”

“Digging Up Arkansas” integrates Arkansas history with on-stage storytelling that, up to now, has only been part of the WAC’s educational programming for visiting school groups. These January performances will be the first public version of the program.

April 18, 2022 — “The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Eric Carle Favorites”

April 25-26, 2022 — Glass Half Full Theatre’s “Cenicienta: A Bilingual Cinderella”

Glass Half Full Theatre brings “Cenicienta: A Bilingual Cinderella” to the WAC April 25-26 as part of the Kids Series. In this one-woman, modern retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale, “she has to learn how to stand up for herself and work to create the future she wants to see for herself because her dreams are so big,” explains Sallie Zazal, director of learning and engagement. The show is aimed at lower-to-upper elementary-aged children, so audiences who are not bilingual can still pick up on the story very easily, Zazal promises. (Courtesy Photo)

May 3, 2022 — Manuel Cinema’s “Leonardo & Sam”

“This is a little bit different from the previous works we have had of theirs where this is really focused for our youngest of audiences,” Zazel says of Manuel Cinema. Sam is the most scaredy-cat kid in the whole world, and Leonardo is a terrible monster who can’t scare anyone in this tale based on Mo Williams’ beloved children’s book. “It just talks about being friends against all odds. Even when you feel so controlled by your fears, getting past that and getting to know each other and finding that inner commonality.”

Non-series Offerings

Oct. 19 — Joe Bonamassa

Oct. 23 — Raj Suresh: “4,000 Days”

April 9, 2022 — VoiceJam A Capella Festival Competition

May 27, 2022 — Artosphere Festival Orchestra Finale Concert

“I want to just put a word of thanks out to our community for their support during the time of crisis,” Ross says in closing, with visible emotion. “To all the big funders and the little funders and the people who donated their tickets back and stuck with us. I just started reflecting on what all has happened since March of 2020, and it’s been super hard. But knowing that we’ve had so much support from the community — knowing that we’ve had over 200 people who never donated to Walton Arts Center before, send us something — because they see the value in this organization in our region.

“We’re still here, and we want to be here. We want to reflect our community and the needs of our community. And we hope that our being able to do what we did over the past 15 months shows our community our commitment, and our own need to be here and to remain part of the fabric of Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas.”


WAC 2021-22

Broadway Season

• “Come From Away”* — Oct. 26-31

• “Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”* — Nov. 30-Dec. 5

• “Mean Girls”* — Dec. 14-19

• “An Officer and a Gentleman”* — Jan. 4-9, 2022

• “Hamilton” — March 22-April 3, 2022

• “Fiddler on the Roof” — May 10-15, 2022

*Arkansas premiere

Categories: Cover Story