Thoughts from the outgoing Artistic Director

Artistic Director Matt Chiorini
Artistic Director Matt Chiorini

It’s a great group (as always) and I’m thrilled to be working with such an amazing group of artists.  I’ve been a theatre producer for 10 years now and I’ve found that the single most important consideration in putting together a company or cast or staff or team is whether or not they’re someone I’d like to hang out with.  Talent and hard work are pretty important too, but if people get along and will put aside egos and temperament and show up every day happy to work alongside the other folks, then the rest will follow.  We spend an inordinate amount of time together assembling this festival, and it’s pretty vital that we’re not spending all of our time resolving disputes or assuaging bruised egos.  It’s a privilege to do this for a living (however modest that living may be!) and it’s good to be with people who are happy in their work and looking forward to sharing it with the best audience in Arkansas (that’s you.)

Time is moving so fast.  I think that’s something people are supposed to say when they have kids.  “It goes so fast.” I’m sure all new parents hear that advice more than any other: “It goes so fast.” And also: “Never check the babys diaper with your finger.” I feel that way about this festival.  (Not the diaper part, the “it goes so fast” part).  It’s amazing to think that opening is right around the corner. After over a year of plotting and scheming and scheduling and fine-tuning with no small amount of hair-pulling and head-scratching we’re almost there!  I’m always surprised that the months of preparation leading up to the festival seem to drag on and on but once the beast is finally in motion it moves at an alarming speed. Just a few short weeks ago (May 16th to be exact) our interns and technicians arrived and began working full days of building, sewing, wiring, and littering Conway with yard signs.  A few short days after that (May 23 to be exact) all of the actors and directors landed in town and began rehearsals.  The production office is open from 8am until 1030pm 6 days a week.  Actors are in 2 and sometimes 3 rehearsals per day, and when not in rehearsal, many are studying lines, reviewing choreography, or picking up a paint brush. The shops are humming with activity, costumes are flying all over the place, and set pieces are moving over to Reynolds as soon as the paint is dry.  We’ve walked around the Hendrix Village Green and the Argenta Community Theatre (our two new As You Like It venues) multiple times measuring and remeasuring things.  Basically, it’s business as usual at AST; moving at lightning speed to create something hopefully extraordinary.

What strikes me most this year is the efficiency with which we’re becoming able to do our work.  There are still kinks in the system (working around Dixie Band Camp every year is always a joy) but we’re getting better and better at keeping this behemoth moving forward and running smoothly.  As you can imagine, rehearsing, building, and performing 4 productions (including a musical!) requires a tremendous amount of logistical strategizing and every year this remarkable team seems to get a little bit better at making the most of our days and anticipating the thousand little problems that constantly pop up.  Our first-year artists are settled in and working hard in a supportive and efficient environment, and I’m immensely proud of our team of veterans who have labored to make it so. It really takes me aback to watch these many various cogs and gears moving independently, all working towards the same opening nights which will arrive shudderingly soon. If “shudderingly” is a word, which I suspect it is not. My spell checker doesn’t think so. It all just happens so fast.

I had the pleasure of watching 4 of our first run-throughs last week.  Each director has their show blocked and up and running (in only around 40 hours of rehearsal!) and they’re looking great.  Othello is intense and compelling and I think the concept that director David Alford has for the show is something really original and thought-provoking.  As You Like It is a comedy kaleidescope, constantly changing in front of your eyes.  Fearless actors and beautiful music combine to make a delirious evening of romance and revelry.  (Feel free to use that line, management). It’s a lot of fun and a great way to introduce ourselves to some new audiences.  Not knowing much about musicals, I’ve really enjoyed watching “Joseph” come together.  Of all of our shows, it’s the one that people are most likely to sneak in the back of the theatre and watch a bit of rehearsal.  The energy is infectious and it’s impossible not to be swept up by Dennis’s joyful and expressive choreography and some great performances.  Some of these voices absolutely melt me every time.  Tortoise and the Hare is a ton of fun, and director Scott Wooten and I spent some time on our day off yesterday writing the opening and closing numbers of the song to book end the show.  My kids are going to love this one.  Now we have a mad dash over the next few weeks to work in the costumes, sound, lights, set, and all the other accoutrements that will make your evening at the theatre that much more memorable and then it’s all over and the process starts all over again for next year.  But it’s great to see that at this stage of the festival the foundations of each show are firmly in place and it’s fun to close your eyes and imagine the next layers of goodies that will make the show even better.

I’ll miss this festival and all the folks that have built it.  I’m jealous of everyone who will get to take part in its next iteration, both onstage and off, and know that our audience is going to love what’s coming next.  After 5 seasons, this thing has finally caught it’s own momentum and is headed confidently and quickly into some pretty amazing directions.  It’s been a pleasure these past years to get it rolling and now as I watch it start to finally roll away, I’m as excited as anyone to see where it ends up.  This is going to be a great festival, likely our best yet, and I’m sure that the best is still yet to come.  See you at the shows!