Located at the corner of 7th and Chester streets in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the Weekend Theater has roots that go back to 1991 when its founders produced plays in a local church. In 1993, it began occupying its own two-story building at 1001 West 7th Street in Little Rock. Plays and musicals are performed on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in an intimate, eighty-seat atmosphere. The Weekend Theater calls itself a nonprofit theatrical community that produces socially significant plays for central Arkansas.
The Weekend Theater consists of volunteers who work at day jobs during the week and perform only on weekends. According to its credo, the group attempts “to be a true community of people dedicated to the teaching, learning and practice of kindness, respect and honor. In short, we hope to practice ‘community,’ the coming together into a oneness.”
Fans of the Weekend Theater praise its New York–type character as a community playhouse, with the black box theater downstairs and apartments upstairs, as well as eateries and small businesses nearby. Aside from its ambiance, the Weekend Theater is known for its eclectic mix of about ten productions annually, with popular entertainment such as a well-known musical comedy one month trading places with a thought-provoking drama the next. The Weekend Theater tends to select plays of social significance, in which people learn by being conscious of such things as cruelty, suffering, and insensitivity.
During its premiere season in 1993–1994, there were two Weekend Theater productions, Torch Song Trilogy and Talley’s Folly. It increased the number of productions the following season by presenting Death and the Maiden, Rags, Whose Life Is It Anyway, Gingham Dog, and the musical Falsettos. Over the years, the Weekend Theater has produced such shows as A Chorus Line, Angels in America, Cabaret, The Crucible, Driving Miss Daisy, Elephant Man, Enemy of the People, Inherit the Wind, La Cage Aux Folles, A Raisin in the Sun, Rent, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, Six Degrees of Separation, Sweeney Todd, Torch Song Trilogy, Victor/Victoria, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
Its 2020–2021 season was canceled due to COVID-19, but the group came back in 2021–2022 with popular productions including Arsenic and Old Lace, It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple (Female Version), and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In 2023, it produced the play Sugar in Our Wounds, described as “the story of Black Americans and their oppression, their struggle, their strength and their love [which] is the story of America.” It had seven sold-out performances plus a three-show extension, allowing it to be presented into Black History Month.
Much of the Weekend Theater’s ethos originated with its founder, Dr. Ralph Hyman, an LGBTQ+ activist who was the first openly gay candidate for the Arkansas General Assembly. In 1991, Hyman and a group of local actors and friends felt that there was a need in central Arkansas for a theater focusing on socially conscious productions. At first, they presented plays at the Unitarian Universalist Church. Two years later, they officially created the Weekend Theater in downtown Little Rock.
Under Hyman’s leadership as artistic director for more than two decades, the volunteers of the Weekend Theater produced over 200 different plays and musicals, averaging ten productions a year. Hyman, who was a practicing psychologist in Little Rock, alone directed over fifty productions and acted in forty shows.
In 2014, Hyman stepped down as the theater’s artistic director after twenty-three years, although he continued as an advisor to the group as well as serving as director for several shows. Retiring from his counseling practice in 2015, Hyman and his life partner, civil rights attorney Mark Burnette, moved to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. There, they created the Boutique Community Theatre, described as a performance art venue “dedicated to facilitating artistic and cultural opportunities by locals, for locals.” Hyman continued to direct theatrical productions there.
For additional information:
Ralph A. Hyman Papers (MC 1798). Special Collections. University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The Weekend Theater. https://www.weekendtheater.org/ (accessed July 21, 2023).
Garland County Historical Society
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