Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre

The Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre (AST) in Conway (Faulkner County) is Arkansas’s only professional Shakespeare theater company and is based at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA). Its mission is to enrich the community of central Arkansas through creating professional productions of William Shakespeare’s works and making them accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds.

The AST was founded on December 1, 2006. The main catalyst behind the creation of the theater was Rollin Potter, who became dean of Fine Arts at UCA in 2004 and had previously served as professor of music and founding director of the School of the Arts at California State University at Sacramento. Potter appreciated the important role of theatrical productions by college students but felt the need for a professional theater in central Arkansas, where there was so much talent available in the community. The first Arkansas Shakespeare Festival was held in June 2007.

Matt Chiorini, who is originally from California and holds an MFA in theater from Harvard University, was the founding producing artistic director, serving through the 2011 performance season. Mary Ruth Marotte, a professor of English at UCA, was the first executive director. Rebekah Scallet, an Arkansas native with an extensive theater background, became the producing artistic director in 2011. Both later became ex-officio AST board members. Several UCA faculty members became involved in running the AST. Paige Reynolds, a professor in the English department at UCA, has been involved in the AST since she began its dramaturgy program in 2008 and has performed in several of the productions. She became the AST’s dramaturgy director.

Since its inception, the AST has staged about four productions a season, including Shakespeare plays as well as a few non-Shakespearean musicals, such as Big River and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and productions geared toward children, such as a children’s production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest in 2012.

The AST has employed several local actors and production crew members, as well as a few Broadway, off-Broadway, and television actors and crew members. Its production outreach has increased greatly since its beginnings: a total of 2,700 people attended the AST’s productions in the 2007 season; in the 2012 season, that number reached 5,000. The AST’s annual Arkansas Shakespeare Festival was featured in the New York Times in 2011 and 2012. The AST’s performances take place during the summer and have been staged in the Donald W. Reynolds Performance Hall and on the lawn at UCA, at Hendrix Village in Conway, at Wildwood Park in Little Rock (Pulaski County), and at the Argenta Community Theater in North Little Rock (Pulaski County).

The AST has also done extensive outreach to educate the central Arkansas area about Shakespeare, including hosting a mock trial involving several state attorneys that was conducted in 2012 at the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park to determine whether or not Shakespeare penned the works that are attributed to him. The AST also has provided Shakespeare acting classes for young people.

The AST’s 2020 and 2021 seasons were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it returned in 2022, producing one show, Much Ado About Nothing, in partnership with the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County).

For additional information:
Harrison, Eric E. “Shakespeare Festival to Link 3 by the Bard, Musical Huck.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 7, 2012, p. 4E.

Rolf, Carol. “Local Actors Play Various Roles in Shakespeare Festival at UCA.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, River Valley & Ozark Edition, June 3, 2012. (accessed April 4, 2022).

Trieschmann, Werner. “The Show Must Go On.” Sync, June 15, 2011, pp. 10–11.

Darby Burdine
University of Central Arkansas


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