Think Conway is a cultural backwater? Think again.
The University of Central Arkansas and Hendrix College sponsor performance and lecture series that are comparable to those in major metropolitan areas. Consider some of the recent events that have taken place in Conway. If you stayed in Little Rock, you would have missed them.
In September 2000, Ray Charles headlined the inaugural concert at the Donald W. Reynolds Performance Hall on the UCA campus. Jazz singer Dianne Reeves performed there two weeks after she won a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocalist, in February 2001. Hendrix has a free concert series that has brought in the likes of Taj Mahal, Gillian Welch, and Lucinda Williams. UCA also has hosted Three Mo’ Tenors and Wynton Marsalis, and in 2005, it will present the final performance of a 13-city national tour by virtuoso bassist Edgar Meyer and virtuoso mandolinist Chris Thile from Nickel Creek.
Hendrix’s theater offerings are free, and they run the gamut from student plays to national touring productions, such as those by the National Theatre of the Deaf. Recent performances include William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” “Alice in Bed” by Susan Sontag, and the Sam Shepard play “Suicide in B-Flat.” The artistic director of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Bob Hupp, will direct “Metamorphoses” by Mary Zimmerman there in February 2005.
Conway is leaps and bounds ahead of Little Rock in this category, with both UCA and Hendrix hosting impressive dance ensembles. Some recent visitors to the Hendrix campus include David Dorfman Dance, Ballet Hispanico, Pilobolus Dance Company, North Carolina Dance Theatre, and Stephen Petronio Dance. UCA presents modern dance every season, highlighted in the past by Gregory Hines, Parsons Dance, Ailey II and MOMIX: Opus Cactus. Complexions, a multi-ethnic modern company from New York, will be there next April.
UCA received a lot of attention this year when it hosted lectures by conservative commentator Ann Coulter and liberal filmmaker Michael Moore before the elections. Hendrix, through its Hendrix-Murphy Foundation, has sponsored talks by Arun Gandhi (grandson of Mahatma Gandhi), as well as a wide array of world-renowned literary figures, such as Maya Angelou, Seamus Heaney, Allen Ginsberg, Ellen Gilchrist, Barry Lopez, Tim O’Brien, and Stephen Greenblatt (whose new biography of Shakespeare, “Will in the World,” is a finalist for the National Book Award).