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The Argenta Community Theater celebrates opening 

Clinton, Steenburgen in town to pay tribute to 'unique model'.

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Argenta Community Theater co-founders Vincent Insalaco and Judy Tenenbaum, who celebrate the grand opening of the theater with a weekend of events beginning on Thursday, want one thing to be clear: They do not have an agenda.

Which is to say, the philanthropists and arts advocates are not opening a rival to The Rep on the north side of the river. Their newly restored space at 405 Main St. in downtown North Little Rock has excellent acoustics, a state-of-the-art sound system and sight-lines from the front door all the way to the stage, and Insalaco and Tenenbaum are passionate about theater. But their vision can't be pigeonholed into the dramatic arts alone. In fact, it can't be pigeonholed at all. Instead, perhaps the best way to think about the theater is from outside: ACT is a blank slate waiting for the community to fill it in.

But that's not to say that Insalaco and Tenenbaum are merely taking an "if you build it, they will come" tack. Rather, they've created a non-profit model they expect to be self-sustaining and that, as far as they know, is wholly unique.

To generate income, the building will serve as a multi-purpose facility for rent, equipped just as readily to host benefit dinners (accommodating nearly 250 people) and cocktail parties (300) as to stage national touring stage shows, concerts and film screenings. That money will in turn go into arts-geared scholarships and grants aimed at other non-profits and low-to-moderate income people of all ages.

Already, they've rented the theater to the Little Rock Film Festival, both for its festival and for Arkansas Film Society events, scheduled to begin on a monthly basis starting in April; to the Arkansas Shakespeare Festival for a North Little Rock run of one of its plays; to Pulaski Tech for its theater productions, and to both Ballet Arkansas and the Festival Ballet of Arkansas. The Argenta United Methodist Church already meets in the theater every Sunday. The church, Pulaski Tech and the Little Rock Film Festival are renting office space in the building as well. According to Insalaco, the Laman Library and The Rep plan to stage events and performances at ACT. Tenenbaum is hopeful that the theater can develop a partnership with the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville.

The renovation of the building, donated originally by Judy Tenenbaum's ex-husband, Harold Tenenbaum, has been a $2.8 million project; Insalaco said that somewhere between 60 percent to 70 percent has already been paid off. He and Tenenbaum said they hope to pay off the project within a year through donations and rentals. Insalaco said they will find a way to "strike a balance financially" in the early going between paying off the building and developing the grant program.

ACT strikes a balance with its opening festivities as well. On Thursday, the theater partners with the Little Rock Film Festival and the Oxford American to present "Scene One," a free event available on a first-come-first-serve basis to those who pick up tickets at the theater from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday or Thursday. A reception begins at 6:30 p.m., followed by a the screening of the acclaimed new indie film "Small Town Murder Songs," with Philip Martin moderating. Friday is "Scene Two," an invitation-only dinner and dedication of the Sally Riggs Insalaco Theater, named for Insalaco's late wife, who had a national and international career as a dancer and choreographer. The Opening Act Gala, on Saturday, is a $150-per-person event that will be attended by former President Bill Clinton, Mary Steenburgen, Harry Thomason, Joey Lauren Adams, Gov. Mike and Ginger Beebe, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays and Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola. The gala, which will close down Main Street, will include a reception and a formal dinner, and performances by Lawrence Hamilton, Arkansas Festival Ballet and Ballet Arkansas and a keynote address by Clinton.

For more information, visit argentacommunitytheater.org.

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