Paparazzi Picks

Paparazzi Picks

Movers and shakers worth watching in 2018

It was a whim.

We thought it would be fun to spotlight some of the people we expected to change the Northwest Arkansas arts scene in 2014. Readers liked it. And here we are, five years later.

There is no fixed list of selection criteria. The people to watch in 2018 are those we think are making a difference and likely to continue to in the new year ahead, this time selected by Free Weekly staffers Jocelyn Murphy, Lara Hightower and editor Becca Martin-Brown.

We salute you, movers and shakers! Without you, Northwest Arkansas would be culturally so much poorer.

(Please note: The order is random. So no one “beat” anyone else!)

Mark Landon Smith

Mark Landon Smith

Mark Landon Smith has a way of making things happen — for himself and for others. The executive director of Arts Live Theatre in Fayetteville, Phunbags Improv group ensemble member and Northwest Arkansas actor had worked his way into producing and casting independent films when he had an epiphany.

“I had been casting theater for years, but I realized what I really wanted to do was establish a casting agency — the kind of agency I would like to have as an actor,” says Smith. “I have a really good eye for who to bring into the room — who fits what role, that sort of thing.”

And when Smith decides he wants something, he makes it happen. He created the Actors Casting Agency in 2013 and hit the ground running.

“It was very easy, because I was already so well-connected in the artistic community,” says Smith. “I knew all the really outstanding actors, producers and directors in theater, and there was a good reaction from those people who were so happy to get this type of resource in the area.”

Smith says he had a clear idea of what kind of agency he wanted to create from the very beginning.

“The biggest learning curve was educating other directors, producers and actors about what their options are in this area,” he says. “We really don’t ‘hustle.’ When I went into this, I decided that I wanted my business claim to be that people would discover us by our reputation, and that has worked out well. We’re a boutique agency — we top out at a little over 100 actors. That way, you really have the opportunity to hone in on specific actors and plug them into projects. You get to know these people personally.”

With the burgeoning film industry in Northwest Arkansas — both the Bentonville Film Fest and the Fayetteville Film Fest are flourishing, and the next season of HBO’s “True Detective” will be filmed in Fayetteville — and the corporate opportunities in the area because of large companies like Walmart and Tyson Foods, Smith says opportunities for his actors have been plentiful.

“I worked as producer and casting director for ‘Valley Inn,’ as well as ‘Man in the Trunk’ and ‘Parker’s Anchor’,” says Smith. “I was also a producer on ‘Mayfly,’ and we did some casting for that, as well as ‘Neopolitan.’ We do a lot of Walmart work, and we just did an online comedy series for Sam’s Club that is coming out soon. We cast ‘Door in the Woods’ and helped on ‘F.R.E.D.I.’. ‘Riot Act,’ which recently filmed here, used seven of our actors.”

Smith says there are several projects on the horizon that have to stay under wraps for now, but it’s obvious that he’ll be staying busy for the foreseeable future.

“It’s pretty easy, though,” he says. “I’m so passionate about my work, it doesn’t seem like work to me.”

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Michael Myers

Michael Myers

Michael Myers popped on to the theater scene in the River Valley as a teenager working backstage with director Missy Gipson at the Young Actors Guild.

“Michael is one of those rare people that you want in your life as much as you want him in your show,” Gipson says. “He’s a generous person as an actor and as a human. And he’s still not at the peak of his potential!”

Since moving to Northwest Arkansas, Myers has blown the top out of half a dozen coveted roles for Arkansas Public Theatre — the Emcee in “Cabaret,” Bert in “Mary Poppins,” Lucas in “The Addams Family,” Igor in “Young Frankenstein,” the Boy George character in “The Wedding Singer,” Dr. Frank N. Furter in “The Rocky Horror Show” — prompting someone in the audience to ask, “How did they make Tim Curry young again?” — in addition to playing Ren in November in “Footloose,” the first show for Gipson’s new Pilot Arts theater company, based in Fayetteville.

“I enjoyed being real in ‘Footloose,’” he told Gipson recently. “That is something that is difficult for me to do on stage. Exposing authentic emotions comfortably in front of other people. And dancing is always a thing.”

Myers says his dream productions include “Jekyll and Hyde,” “A Chorus Line,” “Les Miserables,” “Pippin,” “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Company.” Let’s see who provides the vehicles in 2018!

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Halley Mayo

Halley Mayo

Halley Mayo is going places.

Which is not to say that the University of Arkansas MFA theater student and Fayetteville native hasn’t already been places — after graduating from Hendrix College, she gave New York City living a try before moving briefly to Chicago.

“I hated it,” she confesses of New York. “It takes so much energy to just live there. To commute to work, you have to deal with so many people, but it can also feel very lonely. Even though you’re surrounded by so many people, no one acknowledges you. And then I tried Chicago, too, and that didn’t work, either.”

When her father fell ill back in Arkansas, Mayo says she took it as a sign that it was time to return to her home state, at least for a little while.

“I didn’t want my career to stagnate, so I thought I should try to do the program at the University of Arkansas,” she says. “I grew up working with [T2 co-founder] Amy [Herzberg], I loved working with her, and so I thought that would be the best thing for me.”

Show-stopping, scene-stealing performances in “Fun Home” at TheatreSquared and “Avenue Q” at the University Theatre this year confirm that Mayo is, indeed, where she’s supposed to be — which wasn’t a foregone conclusion, to hear her tell it.

“[At Hendrix,] I tried to do anything but theater in school and ended up declaring my major at 4:59 p.m. the last day I could,” she says. She had this hesitation despite the fact that she had been involved in theater since she was 12 through organizations like Arts Live Theatre in Fayetteville and Arts Center of the Ozarks in Springdale. “I was raised by parents that were so great and told me I could do anything I wanted, but they were also very practical. I had so many interests in school — I was really drawn to religion and history. But, ultimately, I couldn’t imagine myself having a career as a professor or museum curator, which is what I thought I could do with one of those majors. It’s not easy to make a living as an actor, but I could picture that.

“I just couldn’t escape theater.”

She got her first professional acting job at Arkansas Shakespeare the day after she graduated.

“That made me think, ‘This is what I should be doing — this is great,’” she says.

Mayo will be appearing on the TheatreSquared stage again in January and February in “The Humans.” She’s almost exactly halfway through her graduate program at the UA, and, currently, she’s unsure what comes next.

“I grew up thinking I was a city girl,” she says. “I grew up outside of the Fayetteville city limits, and, now that I’m an adult, I love Fayetteville and appreciate what it has to offer. It’s really important for me to be somewhere I feel comfortable and happy, and I think the work will come. I might stay in Fayetteville a little longer. I’m sort of open for whatever happens.”

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John Jeter

Fort Smith Symphony conductor John Jeter

In 2016, John Jeter celebrated his 20th anniversary year with the Fort Smith Symphony, one he calls “a blast — but very tiring.”

In 2017, he announced a season that explains why his tenure as music director has elevated the orchestra to sold-out status and national renown. In 2018, the symphony will once again be recording for Naxos Records. This time, it will be the music of Arkansan Florence Price (1887-1953).

Jeter points out that the concert, which takes place on May 12, before the recording sessions, will also be the first time Price’s Symphony No. 4 in D Minor (1945) has “ever been performed, ever.” The sheet music was copied from a handwritten manuscript in Special Collections at the University of Arkansas.

He’s also particularly excited about involving two regional bands in a performance on April 21. The Crumbs will perform “Fort Smith heritage songs” — “String ‘Em Up,” “Wave,” “Horses One, Pistols Three” — and the Ben Miller Band will present its own unique “Ozark stomp” classics in a celebration of Fort Smith’s bicentennial.

“We’re sort of the unofficial official concert for a year of stuff the city’s doing,” Jeter says. “And we’ll perform a world premiere work — ‘Good Night Fort Smith’ — that is the official commissioned work for the anniversary.”

“One of the things I really like about the coming season is there’s a tendency to think what’s better is what’s far away — from a big city, from a foreign country,” Jeter says. “The grass is always greener if it’s not from here. I’ve always loved bringing in international soloists, etc., but I really like featuring the regional bands and the whole concert celebrating a native Arkansan in May. I know a lot of orchestras in their own states don’t do a lot of that, and they should.”

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Samuel Lopez

Samuel Lopez

Springdale’s Samuel Lopez has been expressing himself through various artistic mediums since he was a child. He says growing up in an artistic family facilitated that, and, by the time he was a teenager, he was well-versed in visual and musical arts and was a prolific writer. He was also energetic about giving others the opportunity to create and present art to the Springdale community, and, at the tender age of 17, he created Stitches — a group that seeks to provide “a conscious development of our youth through service projects and all mediums of art.”

“‘Stitches’ is a community of entrepreneurs — artistic young people with a passion for their community and helping to improve it,” says Lopez. “We’re trying to help others understand our culture through art and have fun while doing it.” The group currently has a home on Emma Avenue in downtown Springdale at “The Station,” thanks to Stitches supporter Mike Gilbert and The Jones Trust, which facilitated the move for the group.

But it’s not just about creating art for Lopez — it’s about communicating with his community and making positive changes through that communication. In 2017, Lopez expanded his reach when he got involved with the Latinx Youth Theatre Project, a collaboration between University of Arkansas and Northwest Arkansas Community College faculty members and Springdale youth. Though Lopez had been involved in many art forms over the years, theater was still uncharted territory.

“David Jolliffe was speaking during a panel for EngageNWA about the opportunity to get a group of high school students and young college students to write a theater piece,” says Lopez. “It sounded like a chance to bring together people and really bring out a story to the community. When the opportunity presents itself to do something you’re not comfortable with, something for the community, you should take it.”

Latinx presented its first production, “Follow Me @TioSam,” after a months-long period of workshopping and collaboration. The script follows the ups and downs of a Latino artist facing discrimination in his community and familial hardships. The story was drawn from the personal stories of Lopez and the other young Latinx artists who participated in the project. The play was performed at Crystal Bridges, Arts Center of the Ozarks, Northwest Arkansas Community College — as well as Northwest Arkansas’ professional theater, TheatreSquared, during its New Play Festival. It was an impressive debut for the young company.

“I loved it,” says Lopez of his first experience in theater. “I don’t get nervous — I get a little butterfly sensation, but it feels good. Being able to be a part of a group and telling our story through theater and writing — I’ve seen the impact it has. I would love to continue with it.

“We’re in development for a new play that will be performed in April,” says Lopez. “We have plans to go to Chicago this summer. Little by little, things keep popping up.”

Lopez also contributes to “Outta City Limits,” a podcast created by his close friend, Manny Velasco, and stays active in other ways, outside of the arts.

“I do peace marches, anything that gathers people together,” he says. “I’m planning on doing everything in my lifetime I can to make things go well. The best outcome is to have a change in not just my life but to change peoples’s lives for the better in the community.

“We all have a story to tell. We’re all human. Those are the stories I can help convey.”

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Jeannie Hulen

Jeannie Hulen

When artist Jeannie Hulen arrived at the University of Arkansas art department as an associate professor of ceramics in 2002, she immediately focused on getting the department a new ceramics studio. Within two years, that goal had been accomplished.

It was a small sign of what Hulen was capable of. Hulen became chairwoman of the department in 2010, and, this fall, the university made, in quick succession, a series of announcements that boosted the UA’s profile among art schools into the stratosphere: First, that the former art department was transitioning into the UA School of Art; next, that the School of Art was receiving $120 million from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation — the largest gift of its kind ever given to an art school — and, last, that the Windgate Charitable Foundation was awarding a $40 million gift.

And, by all accounts, Hulen had a lot to do with that.

“The chair, who had been chair for most of the time I was there, she was tired,” says Hulen. “And she said, ‘It’s yours,’ and the dean at the time, really, all the deans, were really supportive of what I was doing. … Bill Schwab was really supportive of me, and a lot of people said, ‘What you’ve done with ceramics, you need to do with the rest of the department.’ And I thought, ‘Well, I might as well try.’ The worst thing that could happen was that I would go back to teaching and research.”

Hulen had a clear vision of where she wanted the department to go.

“I had an internal checklist of what we had to do, and one was to change our visibility in the community, both on campus and off campus,” she says. “Get people who know what we’re doing, make sure the gallery was ever present as a resource, hire a new gallery director, start to get engaged in public arts on campus. I just said ‘yes’ to everything that was coming through our door, even the small things. And then people started to recognize us as valuable and started to talk about what our facilities needs were.”

Hulen says the Windgate Charitable Foundation gift is earmarked for facilities use, while the Walton Family gift is to be used in three major areas: financial support for School of Art students, community outreach and public service and expanding graduate program and degree offerings. Hulen says the money will increase access to a college education for students across Arkansas.

“$5o million of the grant from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation goes to student scholarship, and we have a mandate to make sure that we’re reaching out to underrepresented groups, as well as lower socioeconomic people throughout Arkansas, and boosting how many people get to the University of Arkansas,” she says. The art department gave out $10,000 in scholarship money this year, while the School of Art will give out $500,000 in undergraduate scholarships next year. Graduate students — who will increase in number from about 20 to about 75 next year — will receive a tuition-free education supplemented by a stipend.

Hulen now carries the titles of interim director of the School of Art and associate dean of fine arts and is excited about the new responsibilities those titles hold. There’s still a lot of work to be done, she says, and she has high hopes for what the future might bring — and credits the collaboration of the fine arts community at the UA for the success of the past and the potential of the future.

“We’ve hired amazing faculty, we’ve put through so many amazing students who have gone on to graduate school and come back and are building their own studios in the community,” says Hulen. “All I’ve been doing is saying ‘yes’ to all of these great people and trying to connect them to people who can help them make great things happen. You can’t do these things alone.

“I think we’re just at the precipice for something even greater. We just started.”

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Leigh Wood

Leigh Wood

KUAF membership director and announcer Leigh Wood had never performed in front of a live audience when she decided to launch “That’s What She Said,” a story-telling collective, with her friend, Amber Forbus.

“I was really nervous,” she says of their first show, in October of 2015. “We started with just friends and family, in a very small group. It was more intimate and easier to do.”

Forbus brought the idea to her friend Wood when she returned from living in North Carolina, where a storytelling group she had discovered thrived.

“She thought, ‘My friends are just as funny, and their stories are just as good as those in North Carolina,’ so she approached me, and I said, ‘Sure.’ We reached out to our friends who we thought were funny and great storytellers and it’s kind of grown from there.”

Now in the middle of their third season, Wood and Forbus have ample evidence that their instincts were right on the mark. Their shows regularly sell out.

“Amber and I have been delightfully surprised at the reaction that it’s received,” says Wood. “We feel like, obviously, there was a niche here — there was something that was missing. When Amber got here and was looking for it, there were obviously people looking for the same thing.”

The very personal stories told by the members of the group are (mostly) non-fiction and (mostly) humorous and revolve around a theme — such as “Horrible Bosses,” “Strippers” and “Freshman Year” — that are so evocative, they seem immediately universal. Wood confirms that audiences usually find the stories highly relatable.

“Even if we shared something embarrassing, people sometimes come up and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I did the same thing,’” says Wood. “It’s great to share that moment where you’re not the only person who has done something so horribly embarrassing.”

Wood has made another contribution to Northwest Arkansas’ entertainment scene by hosting and producing KUAF’s “Vinyl Hour,” a program that celebrates the purist’s love of the classic format.

“We often feature a guest host, somebody from the community who brings records from their collection, and we play songs and talk about their collection and music in general,” says Wood.

“Vinyl Hour” airs on Sundays at 5 p.m. on KUAF 3, the station’s digital signal. You can catch the next “That’s What She Said” show at 8 p.m. Jan. 13 at Sunrise Stage in Fayetteville. Though the group tapered off on performances this season — Wood says that the performances are a second, sometimes third, job for most group members — they’re hoping to expand their reach next year.

“We’ve been saying this for a year and are determined to make it happen,” she says. “We want to start doing shows in Benton County and Eureka and in Central Arkansas, either Little Rock or Hot Springs or both. We feel like it’s time, and we’re ready to expand beyond Fayetteville.”

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Houston Hughes

Houston Hughes

On the final Saturday of every month (except December) you can attend a variety show featuring Northwest Arkansas singers, comedians, poets, musicians, dancers and just about any other type of performance art — completely free. Since 2013, internationally recognized slam poet Houston Hughes has organized — and served as slam master for — Last Saturday Fayetteville to give artists a stage and audiences free entertainment while hopefully being exposed to something new.

“You’re going to be entertained so you have nothing to lose by coming to a show,” he says, “and if you don’t like what’s going on on stage, something else will be on in a few minutes.”

The variety show has moved around a lot — from the Fayetteville Underground to the now-gone stage at Ryleigh’s to one-offs here and there — but found a more permanent home in 2017 at the Fayetteville American Legion. The primary objective of Last Saturday is to bring together different art forms, but the other goal is to grow the slam poetry scene. Hughes says when he moved to Fayetteville, the sphere where slams existed was completely self-indulgent.

“Slams were very insular. We were doing poems for other people who wanted to do poems, so there was no impetus for us to get better or reach out to a broader audience,” Hughes reveals. “Now, most of our audience has never seen slam before or are coming back for the artist, not for slam. A lot of times, they’re blown away by how raw and in-your-face it is, but also how good the writing can be.”

Each Last Saturday event includes a Word War where poets perform in an audience-judged competition — motivating poets to improve their work. Performers from these challenges have gone on to represent Northwest Arkansas at the Women of the World Poetry Slam three of the past four years and at the Individual World Poetry Slam. To further promote growth in prestige and talent for the region, Hughes lends his knowledge and experience to a writing club — a free round-table critique for poets and musicians — as well as offers writing lessons and workshops in both schools and the community.

“There’s the selfish aspect of if I don’t get more people involved in this, it’s going to die out,” he admits. But promoting slam’s contribution to the artistic community is about more than Hughes’ own vision. “Slam is doing its best to be progressive, and as it moves forward, is becoming more [an outlet for] marginalized voices — for anybody who needs to be able to shout something cathartic. I’m a big fan of using slam to help you figure out your own world view, and I think people better themselves in the process of writing poems.”

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Daniel Hintz

Daniel Hintz

How does our food and culinary scene contribute to a larger conversation about place and who we are as a region? That’s the biggest question Daniel Hintz was considering in 2017. Founder and CEO of the Velocity Group, an urban planning and experience design firm in Bentonville, Hintz considers himself a “citizen provocateur and community cheerleader” for the Northwest Arkansas culinary scene — spreading word and excitement over the growth and potential of the area. And in the past year, he set in motion a new culinary ambassador program that aims to connect our regional scene with similarly developing areas.

“The culinary ambassador program is larger than just chefs — it’s the concept of connecting up those in the food industry whether they’re chefs, innovative farmers, food technologists — [and] I think what you’re beginning to see is this [pursuit of] exchanging ideas with folks all over the world,” Hintz reveals.

Ahead of the Roots Festival in August, three area chefs and a student from the Brightwater culinary institute traveled with Hintz to Milwaukee to participate in the first “cultural and expertise exchange” of the ambassador program. They visited some 30 locations in four days, including breweries and distilleries, a shop owned by a female butcher, and James Beard Awards nominee Justin Carlisle’s restaurant Ardent. Carlisle was one of the featured guest chefs at this year’s Roots Festival, bringing the exchange full-circle.

“The culinary program was not necessarily about the Velocity Group doing it, we were just thinking of one more way to extend what was already going on,” Hintz says in reference to the collaborative work already happening through Roots, BITE NW Arkansas, Brightwater and the Bentonville Chef Alliance. “My hope in 2018 is we start to see a more aligned strategy [of] leveraging that collective wisdom and collective network. That’s where I think the power is.”

Hintz says chef Carlisle has already expressed interest in connecting with Brightwater, and other relationships are being established through the other entities in the food economy. The next step is to continue that positive impact, but also to expand the conversation and involve some institutional backing in order to capitalize on these systems in a way that builds capacity in our local scene, he says.

“I want to be able to create bigger conversation. We can’t stop experimenting. We have to be hungry — literally and figuratively — all the time.”

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Willi Carlisle

Willi Carlisle

Willi Carlisle Goehring — Goehring dropped for his stage name — just wants to make weird plays. And continue his more “normal” musical performances. And to be known and to know others.

“I wake up happy every day, even when I make mistakes, and it’s a damn pleasure to be on planet Earth with everybody,” the multi-instrumentalist and performer says of what he wants others to know about him as an artist.

Carlisle spent much of 2017 touring his musical performances as well as the one-man operetta he authored — titled “There Ain’t No More!” — wherein he portrays a dying folk singer through songs, jokes, political plot points and non-linear storytelling. Though “some people can’t believe you could do more than one thing in this life,” Carlisle says it’s been “so far, so good” at making his living as a folk singer/theater artist.

“I think folk singing is one of those things that is liberal in that it’s an art and conservative insofar as it’s based on legacies,” he shares. “I continue to make the distinction between my own original [songs] and folk songs so that I make sure I honor the ghosts.

“It is really a joy to say, ‘I learned this song from, who learned it from, who learned it from,’” Carlisle goes on. “To bring up that lineage I think champions the oddness of the material, and brings up a lot of the historical polemics that drives me to make things at all.”

Carlisle is back in Northwest Arkansas for a short time, but then that drive has him tackling ambitious new ventures in 2018: A house concert tour on the East Coast, a Canadian and possible European tour over the summer, a new album and the debut of the one-woman play he is writing. With exciting new projects and tours on the horizon, Carlisle’s wish to share his storytelling, his experimentation and the lineages of folk culture and traditions with wider audiences has a strong foundation going into the new year.

“It’s better to be strange, but you also want to be understood,” he muses. “I want to attach myself to interesting projects that are interdisciplinary, because I guess that’s what being a folk singer to me is: it’s interdisciplinary.”


FYI

2017

Stephen Caldwell

Jenni Taylor Swain

Laura Shatkus

Kholoud Sawaf

Mike Shirkey

Katy Henriksen

Joseph Farmer

Hannah Withers

Morgan Hicks

Kat Robinson


2016

Jason Suel

Dana Idlet

Jennifer McClory

Kelly & Donna Mulhollan

Sabine Schmidt

Erika Wilhite

Jenny McKnight

Eve Smith

Gina Gallina

Bob Stevenson


2015

Sara Parnell Luetgens

Justin & Virginia Scheuer

Mark Landon Smith

Missy Gipson

John Rankine

Sons of Otis Malone


2014

Zeek Taylor

Eve Smith

Amy Herzberg & Bob Ford

Michael Riha

Amber Perrodin

Kyle Kellams

Zach Denison

Bryan Hembree

Janet Alexander

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