Theaters Add to Region's Quality of Life, Contribute to Economy

Fayetteville’s TheatreSquared this month announced its Season 9 schedule for the professional performances it will put on in Northwest Arkansas.

The new season’s five shows include new plays such as “One Man, Two Guvnors” as well as long-familiar offerings such as “Around the World in 80 Days." The intimate theater itself puts those show’s front-row fans just 3 feet from the stage. Even the back row is just 15 feet away.

It’s one of several theaters in Northwest Arkansas where professional actors and community volunteers put on dozens of performances each year, enhancing quality of life in the region. Northwest Arkansas has an impressive mix of small venues like TheatreSquared and the Rogers Little Theater to large facilities such as Fayetteville’s Walton Arts Center, where an audience of 1,200 can be seated in its largest auditorium.

Springdale, meanwhile, boasts the Arts Center of the Ozarks, which offers theater classes, workshops and performance art and dinner theater. The University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arts Live Theatre in Fayetteville, Trike Theatre in Bentonville and Sager Creek Arts Center in Siloam Springs contribute to the array of theater offerings in Benton and Washington counties.

A 2012 study commissioned by the Walton Arts Center, the Bentonville/Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce and the Northwest Arkansas Council showed nonprofit arts and culture venues and their audiences contributed about $45.5 million annually in economic benefit. The study, which was conducted by Americans for the Arts, found that the venues and the attendance they attract provide the equivalent of nearly 1,500 jobs and about $4 million in government revenue.

"The vibrancy of a region's arts opportunities can be as strong a measure of quality of life as cost of living or employment,” said Martin Miller, executive director of TheatreSquared. “I moved to Northwest Arkansas the same week that the Walton Arts Center broke ground in 1991, and since then, the pace of change has been remarkable. In live theatre alone — from community pillars like Rogers Little Theatre, to touring venues like the Walton Arts Center, to professional companies like TheatreSquared — it's amazing what you can choose to do on any given Saturday these days.”

The list of theater productions planned over the next several months is impressive.

The Walton Arts Center has announced its 2014-15 Broadway series, starting with “Nice Work if You Can Get It” (Oct. 21-26) followed by four other Broadway shows in early 2015.

The 29th season at Rogers Little Theater will including eight shows at the Victory Theater in downtown Rogers, including “Fiddler of the Roof” (September), “A Christmas Story” (December) and “Legally Blonde” (February 2015).

The Arts Center of the Ozarks, which was established in 1967, hasn’t yet announced its full schedule, but revealed it will kick off its 2014-15 season with “The Sound of Music” on July 11-20. The center’s performances occur from July to April.

“Nothing speaks more to the quality of life than the arts,” said Harry Blundell, the Springdale theater’s director. “Our theaters in Northwest Arkansas are in constant dialogue within our communities to continually bring the best of what we are as individuals to the whole of what we celebrate as Northwest Arkansas.”