The Gridiron Show is a satirical musical production that makes good-natured fun of prominent people in politics, business, the judiciary, and the legal profession. It is presented biennially in Little Rock (Pulaski County) by Gridiron Productions, Inc., a nonprofit corporation composed of lawyers and others associated with the legal profession. All cast members are either lawyers or connected to the legal profession by employment, family ties, or friendship, and all are unpaid. The director, choreographer, musical director, and band are paid professionals. The script is written by a group called the Clandestine Committee.
The Gridiron Show was first presented in 1916 by members of what was then the Little Rock Bar Association at a Gridiron luncheon. The luncheon was held either annually or biennially throughout the 1920s. The Gridiron was suspended during the Great Depression of the 1930s and during World War II, when many lawyers were engaged in the war effort. After the war, a group of Pulaski County lawyers revived the show, and it has been presented biennially since 1947.
The year 1964 was a watershed year for the Gridiron Show. Until then, the Gridiron had been an all-male, all-lawyer production. Griffin Smith, co-producer and writer of the show and a great lover of Broadway musical theater, had the vision to expand the Gridiron Show into a full-scale musical comedy. Smith employed the Gridiron Show’s first professional director, choreographer, and musical director. In those days, there were few women lawyers, but to present a musical comedy the Gridiron needed female performers. Smith solved the problem by inviting wives and other women who had some connection to the legal profession to join the cast. The modern cast has women who are lawyers, as well having as non-lawyers of both genders who are connected with the legal profession in some way.
The Gridiron Show was presented in the ballroom of the Marion Hotel until 1968. By then, it had become apparent that the Gridiron’s expanded format demanded a true theatrical venue. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the show was presented in several auditoriums, including those at what is now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Hall High School, and the Arkansas Arts Center (now the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts). The Arkansas Repertory Theatre began staging the production in 1990. The Rep provides stage management, lights, sound, and sets, as well as managing ticket sales.
The Gridiron Show experienced several tenuous years after Griffin Smith retired from writing and producing it in 1988, but it survived with various volunteers writing, producing, and directing. In 1996, Jana Beard, who had been a dancer in the Gridiron since 1978 and choreographer since 1990, became director. That same year, Judge Mary McGowan assumed the position of producer. The Gridiron Show has had the same musical director, Lori Eisner, since 1982. Some cast members have appeared in Gridirons for more than forty years, and every show adds new talent.
From 1947 until 2012, the Gridiron Show was sponsored by the Pulaski County Bar Association. In 2014, Gridiron Productions, Inc., began presenting the show. Proceeds are used to support education through the performing arts and to promote congeniality, civility, and interaction among the members of the legal profession, law students, and others in law-related fields.
For additional information:
Adkisson, Knowles. “Law Revue.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 2, 2016, pp. 1E, 6E.
Gridiron Archives. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas. Finding aid online at http://arstudies.contentdm.oclc.org/utils/findingaidfull/collection/findingaids/id/5167/searchterm/gridiron (accessed September 8, 2020).
Scudder, John. “Lawyers Make Most of Chance to Get Back at Judges.” Arkansas Democrat, May 2, 1947, p. 6.
Smittle, Stephanie. “A Century of Satire.” Arkansas Times, August 4, 2016, pp. 26–27. Online at http://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/gridiron-a-century-of-satire/Content?oid=4520385 (accessed September 8, 2020).
Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated: 02/02/2021