Collected: May 7 event introduces new theater company

Collected: May 7 event introduces new theater company
LARA JO HIGHTOWER/Special to the Free Weekly

Executive Director Rachel Mills and Artistic Director Stephanie Whitcomb say the idea for Theatre Collective of Northwest Arkansas was incubated where all great ideas should be born: a party.

“Our dear friend Kailey Erwin wanted to get a group of people together and put on a show,” recalls Whitcomb. “And so we got together at the holidays, we had a little party, had some food, and had a brainstorming session.”

By the next day, she says, they were all asking each other two questions: Why stop at one event? Why couldn’t this be a brand-new theater company?

After all, the group of friends was made up of experienced performers and production crew. Whitcomb has been involved in community theater since 1994, when she was cast in an Arts Center of the Ozarks production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” Mills’ theater experience started when she was in kindergarten, cast as a reindeer tasked with keeping Santa Claus buckled in safely to his sleigh. Both have been in numerous productions — and have worked behind the scenes — at several local theater companies, even serving on the board.

And although they give glowing recommendations for the theaters they’ve lent their time and support to, Mills says she felt like there was definitely room for one more.

“People like performing with Arkansas Public Theatre, like performing with Arts One,” she says. But sometimes it feels like if you’re not in the one show that’s happening right now, you’re not really getting to do anything. And so the idea of creating the opportunity for even more art and performance in the area was really appealing.”

“Our goal is really to get anyone who wants to be involved in theater in any capacity to come play with us,” says Whitcomb. “‘Theatre Collective of Northwest Arkansas’ is really the best name for our group, because we do want to be a collective. One thing that sets us apart from other organizations is that our members have a direct hand in choosing the programming that we end up doing.”

That programming, the duo agree, will include full productions, musical revues, maybe even festivals — they’re keeping all options open and hoping to provide some opportunities that are not currently available on the community theater scene.

Their first production is coming up fast: “Collected” will be an evening of musical performances with a few theatrical monologues and poetry readings thrown in. Performed as part of the “Sunday Night Social” programming at TheatreSquared, the evening will be free and family friendly.

“We’ve got such a wide range of funny, uptempo numbers and ballads,” says Mills. “Our musical director and accompanist Kailey [Erwin] is also performing, so she’s getting to show off her skill and talent, as well. And we’re all going to do a couple of group numbers to celebrate the sense of collaboration.”

TheatreSquared’s Sunday Night Social event happens once a month and is free and open to the public. The programming is eclectic and has, in the past, included spoken word performances, musical concerts, children’s theater, stand-up comedy, drag shows, and play readings.

“Sunday Night Social is part of T2’s community-driven mission,” says Mills, who also serves as T2’s Ticketing and CRM Director. “Having low barriers to access was really important to us — we wanted to get as many people involved in the audience as possible. Also, TheatreSquared is really well-established, it’s a familiar place to invite people to, and the space itself is wonderful and welcoming and open.”

‘“There’s so much freedom that comes with it, too, because T2 doesn’t say, ‘Hey, you have to do this,’” adds Whitcomb. “They say, ‘Hey, we want to give you a performance opportunity.’ And our group kind of ran with that. The freedom for a performer to say, ‘Hey, I can choose to sing any song that I want, or any monologue that I want to do … maybe I’ll sing a song from that dream role that I don’t know if I’ll ever get to play.’ That gives you the opportunity and the freedom to express yourself.”



An Evening Of Theater

WHEN — 5-7 p.m. May 7

WHERE — The Commons at TheatreSquared in Fayetteville

COST — Free

INFO — Visit Theatre Collective of Northwest Arkansas on Facebook

Categories: Cover Story