The Argenta Community Theater, one of the region's newest performing arts venues, will soon host its first ever in-house show, a production of "Cabaret" that has already sold out its four-night run July 25 through 28. Theater founder Vincent Insalaco wanted to bring back the idea of a summer musical, a tradition he cherishes from his past, he said. The musical, set in pre-WWII Berlin, is a show with a strong message that "almost seems to be relevant again," Insalaco said. The musical is about German naivete about the rise of Nazi intolerance; as the violence grows, the caberet performers blissfully proclaim that "Life is a cabaret, old chum."
The production has already drawn numerous community members to help with the performance, from acting to preparing the set. The program is 36 pages, to accommodate the almost 100 names on the thank-you list, Insalaco said. "Every day there's a new face that shows up," he said.
One of the community members involved with the production is Bob Hupp, producing artistic director of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, who was asked to direct. "I wanted to be a part of the project because I believe in the mission of the Agenta Community Theater and because I believe very strongly in what Vincent Insalaco and Judy Tenenbaum are doing there at Argenta Community Theater," Hupp said. Tenenbaum co-founded the theater with Insalaco.
The ACT is not North Little Rock's version of The Rep, Insalaco stressed. ACT is a community theater. "I mean everyone here is volunteering. That's what community theater is," Insalaco said.
Despite the production's being a volunteer-only project, there has been no lack of talent in the theater. "The Little Rock-North Little Rock metropolitan area is very culturally rich, and we have a remarkable resource in how many talented performers there are in our area," Hupp said, acknowledging that many of the actors have other jobs and this is something people are doing in their free time. "Nobody, not a single person — myself, the actors — nobody's getting paid. And that's what the community theater is all about, is doing it for the love of the process and the love of the art form," he said.
Hupp compared the experience of directing at the ACT to that of The Rep: "In terms of how we approach the work, and my expectations, and the work of the people involved, I wouldn't say that there's a huge difference," he said.
Even the casting process, which took place in January, never ceased to amaze the crew with the wealth of raw talent that came forward, Insalaco said. He noted a particular character that he feared would have to be cut from the script because it is such a pivotal, precise role. "And all of a sudden this kid walked in and nailed it," said Insalaco, recalling the firm reassurance he had in that moment that the play was meant to happen.
Auditions drew a diverse array of actors, from experienced actors to those who had only been in school performances, an element of community theater that adds to the "collaborative effort," Insalaco said. "We are the Argenta Community Theater, which means we are going to do community theater, but we are also a theater that belongs to the community," he said.
"For the arts to thrive, the arts have to be strong at every level, at the community level, at the semi-professional level and the professional level," Hupp said. "The arts thrive because they're strong from the ground up, and we really see that in Central Arkansas. There is an interest for the arts, there is support for the arts and there are people who love being a part of the arts, and those are all the ingredients you need to have a thriving arts scene."
The mission of the Argenta Community Theater is to educate the community of the importance of the arts. "It comes from the belief that a microphone, a script, a paintbrush, is just as important as a baseball or a football," Insalaco said, "it's about getting the community to understand that the arts can be an integral part of a child's learning process." It's no coincidence that the theater is right next to the THEA Foundation, whose mission is to promote the arts in education, he said. Profits from "Cabaret" will be used for grants and scholarships in the community, Insalaco said.
The Theater is just one drop in the bucket, Insalaco said, "but it's our drop in the bucket."
Next summer, the Argenta Community Theater will produce "Jesus Christ Superstar." In addition to being a show with a powerful message, it is an homage to Insalaco's late wife, Sally Riggs, who was in the original production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" in London when she worked for Andrew Lloyd Webber. "It's a great show that needs to be done here locally, and I think it will capture a lot of people's attention," Insalaco said.