Will Trice wants to provide Rep audiences with a ‘great night out’ | Rock Candy

Monday, January 7, 2019

Will Trice wants to provide Rep audiences with a ‘great night out’

Posted By on Mon, Jan 7, 2019 at 11:18 AM

click to enlarge REVIVAL OF THE REP: Will Trice, a Little Rock native, is the new executive artistic director of the Rep.
  • REVIVAL OF THE REP: Will Trice, a Little Rock native, is the new executive artistic director of the Rep.

In a return to his Central Arkansas roots, Will Trice will helm the revival of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre as executive artistic director, a newly created position that Trice says combines his business and consulting experience with his celebrated career as a Broadway producer.

Trice's producing work has won him three Tony Awards and five nominations — including awards for "All The Way," starring Bryan Cranston; the Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf"; and "Porgy and Bess," starring Audra McDonald. Speaking from his current home base in New York, Trice told us in a phone interview last week that this new position at The Rep is a combination of responsibilities for which he's uniquely suited.

“A lot of arts organizations have this sort of dual leadership model where there’s an artistic director and then there’s an executive director or a manager director,” Trice said. “I think for a lot of organizations, that makes sense, especially if they’re very large, but I think that model does present some difficulties because it’s always a conversation between the creative and the financial. If an organization is of a size that can accommodate a single person in that role, I think it actually helps for that thinking to be completely unified. It’s almost exactly like what I do now as a producer.”

Trice also said that artistic directors at other theaters often direct productions themselves, but since that’s not a foreseeable part of his purview, he’ll be able to take on managerial aspects as well.

As a Little Rock native, Trice said he’s looking forward to this move to his hometown, as it will allow him to “regularly see folks I would normally see every other holiday or something like that,” he said. “Some of my favorite folks in the world are there.”

The beginnings of Trice's theater career can be traced back to Central Arkansas, specifically to The Rep’s stage, where he appeared in 1994 as part of a production of Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers.”

“It is where I learned about professional theater and almost [about] what it meant to be professional in anything,” he said. “It’s cheesy to say it feels destined, but there’s something lovely and poetic about it, but at the same time completely unexpected.”

Trice said this new position was developed after he initially reached out to The Rep during its suspension of operations last April.

“[I was] just sort of offering up help in any way, as a thought partner to Cliff [Baker] and to Ruth Shepherd, [but] very general, like, 'Is there anything I can do to help?' Like everyone in the community, I didn’t want to see the institution go down. As those conversations continued, they morphed into discussing something long term. So it sort of happened organically.”

Trice said he’s been consulting with The Rep’s board for the past few weeks, and while he was hesitant to share specifics on his guiding principles for the theater, he did reveal a new mantra at the heart of his goals for the revival. “I will say that on a very fundamental level, it’s about a great night out and providing people with a really entertaining evening, which can take a lot of shapes,” he said. “Those experiences can look very different, but the fundamental is a great reason to get out of the house.”

Trice is slated to assume his role at The Rep in August, and said he and his husband, John Pettengill, are currently house hunting. Trice's initial goals, he said, will be to establish relationships with audiences and the community.

“In the first six months, it’s about tackling my learning curve and building relationships with the staff, the board, the supporters and the audiences, getting to know the audiences a little bit better,” he said. “Yes, I spent the first 18 years of my life there, but that was 20 something years ago. It’s a lot of the same people, but it’s a lot of new people, and so finding out who they are and what they like and what they might like. That all takes time to learn. And establishing a lot of those relationships, like with the other arts leaders and community leaders in town, that’s the biggest goal initially.”

When asked if one of those relationships may potentially be with the Arkansas Cinema Society, which was founded by Little Rock-born filmmaker Jeff Nichols, a friend of Trice’s, Trice wasn't specific, but said he’s looking forward to partnerships of all kinds.

“I hope The Rep partners in some way or another with every arts organization that’s in town,” he said. “I would say that I certainly see that as being part of my mission. Who knows what those partnerships look like at this point? But our town is too small, with such great, large arts organizations, for us not to all be in it together somehow. A lot of times, the most unlikely of those partnerships can wind up producing the coolest events.”

Trice said he and his husband are ready for a new chapter after living in New York for the past 15 years, and while they’ve been talking about a move back to the South for a while, he couldn’t have predicted that this is how it would take place.

“Life’s funny that way,” he said. “In retrospect, it looks like it was all planned out and completely obvious, and in real time, in actuality, it was lovely and random.”

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