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To say that Arkansas Repertory Theatre officials were shocked by the rejection of their grant request from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation would be an understatement.
The Rep sought $15 million to help pay for a move to a larger complex in downtown Little Rock, and it thought the project was just the thing the Reynolds Foundation would support. Many of the proponents for a new and better downtown Little Rock are Rep supporters, including Warren Stephens, whose father, Jack, was close friends with the foundation’s namesake.
Bob Hupp, the producing artistic director for the Rep since 2000, and his group spent three years preparing the grant request. But in November 2005, the Reynolds Foundation passed.
“We definitely won’t be going back in that direction,” said Hupp, noting that once a grant application is turned down by the foundation, it can’t be resubmitted.
But, Hupp said, the goal for the Rep is to remain a viable entity in downtown Little Rock. For now, it will make do with its space at 601 Main St., which houses its administrative offices, a main stage theater, its Second Stage — a small box theater on the third floor — and Club Mezz, a gathering spot for Rep patrons before and after shows.
“We’re working on our future,” Hupp said. “I have great hope that we’ll know something soon. But at this point we don’t have any new information. We’re exploring our options. We remain committed to downtown and we hope to resolve it as soon as we can.”
The Rep’s main theater seats 350 people. Hupp’s dream facility would maintain the intimate size but improve on acoustics and create a larger stage and production area. More room would allow the Rep to offer theater training year-round to a great number of students.
“We’ve grown so much in the last five or six years,” Hupp said. “We use every square foot of this building now.”
Patrons, too, need better “amenities,” Hupp said. “We work to create one-of-a-kind experiences when our audiences come down to the Rep, and we want that experience to translate to the lobbies, concessions and all the areas that are open to the public,” Hupp said.
The bustling activity by the Arkansas River would be a good spot for the theater, Hupp said. “I think that we could make a great contribution to the revitalization of downtown, particularly as that revitalization moves down Main Street, but for me, the most important thing is creating a facility that creates and supports our patrons and the artistic work we do.”
The proposal to the Reynolds Foundation said the new theater would have been built on what is now a parking lot on Main Street between Second and Third streets, a block owned by Stephens.
Hupp won’t talk about it, but sources indicate that Stephens property including the former Center Theater on Main between Fourth and Capitol is under study for conversion to a small theater for Arkansas Rep use.