Really, no explanation is required. These are the people who have bubbled to the top in Northwest Arkansas in 2015. It's worth keeping your eye on them to see what they do next year!
- Jason Suel -- He's everywhere! He's everywhere! You'll see Jason Suel teaching acting at Arts Live Theatre; making Phunbags audiences laugh out loud; hosting a public access television show titled "Later With Jason Suel"; doing long-form comedy with Rodeo Book Club; fronting the band Ultra Suede; hosting events at the Walton Arts Center; and working as a national consultant for arts integration. Most recently, he's been named director of education and outreach for Trike Theatre in Bentonville. If you've never met him, you need to get out more!
• Sara Parnell Luetgens
• Justin & Virginia Scheuer
• Mark Landon Smith
• Missy Gipson
• John Rankine
• Sons of Otis Malone
• Zeek Taylor
• Eve Smith
• Amy Herzberg & Bob Ford
• Michael Riha
• Amber Perrodin
• Kyle Kellams
• Zach Denison
• Bryan Hembree
• Janet Alexander
Dana Idlet -- Nothing makes me happier on a personal level than including the daughter of Trout Fishing in America guitarist Ezra Idlet. But Dana is making her own splash outside Trout's pond. Working with her dad, his TFIA partner Keith Grimwood and Adams Collins, she formed the Glorious Birds last winter and released a CD in May. Since then, she's been on the road with the Birds, with friends like Amy Sue Berlin and on her own "pretty much nonstop." A new album is in the works after Christmas, then a new tour. Her favorite moment so far? Being piped out of the Summerfolk music festival in Canada by a 90-year-old bagpiper. "Everyone gave us a standing ovation and thanked us." As do we.
Jennifer McClory -- You'll never see Jennifer McClory on a stage unless she's been dragged there by one of the actors at Arkansas Public Theatre. But thanks to her, the theater company no longer rents all its costumes, as it has for many years, and it all started when Ed McClure, the productions chairman, "found out I could hem pants." She cemented her status when she created the ballgown for Anna in "The King and I" with $40 in bridesmaids' dresses purchased from Goodwill. McClory has been sewing since she was 10, she says, and had done hair, makeup and wardrobe for several indie films shot in Northwest Arkansas before APT snagged her services. She's also an author of titles like "Jump, Fall," "When the Lights Go Up" and "Exes, Gators, & the Death of that Fontenot Boy."
Kelly & Donna Mulhollan -- This husband-and-wife duo has been making music in Northwest Arkansas for years, but their real passion is changing the world. In the past, they've done a series of songs and shows about the White River ("Once a River"), and one about the Buffalo River ("Still a River") is coming up in 2016. But in the past year, they've been focused on a folk artist named Ed Stilley and the wisdom he carves into instruments made from scrap lumber. Kelly's book, "True Faith, True Light: The Devotional Art of Ed Stilley," was released in November by the University of Arkansas Press, and concerts will continue to pop up in support of it in 2016.
Sabine Schmidt -- German-born Sabine Schmidt isn't a photographer by training or trade. Neither has her partner Don House influenced her unduly. "She fell in love with the Ozarks and reached for photography as a way of expressing what she was seeing," he says. Along the way, Schmidt became part of one of House's projects -- a three-year investigation of the Wichita Mountains, a small and little known range that rises out of the plains of southwestern Oklahoma. The result was an exhibit, "We're Not Telling You Everything," on show in November at the Fayetteville Underground. In 2016, she plans to build her own studio; teach a workshop on American culinary culture at the annual conference of the German Literary Translators Conference in Wolfenbüttel, Germany, in June; take "We're Not Telling You Everything" to galleries and museums in Oklahoma; publish a book based on the exhibition; and work on a series on disappearing places in the Ozarks.
Erika Wilhite -- Just the subject of a Sunday Profile in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Wilhite is almost as busy as Jason Suel is. Five years ago, she founded Artist's Laboratory Theatre which, she says, has "been presenting handcrafted, community-centric theatrical performances in Northwest Arkansas" ever since. She's done theater composed by a bingo machine; theater in sheet forts; theater in alleys; and theater with prisoners. Now, she's adding a few theatrical traditions to the mix. Announced in November was a new membership program -- "your membership gets you exclusive access to behind-the-scenes news, Sunday Night Service recordings to your inbox, swag, Secret Theatre invites, parties and more" -- and has selected four new board members to build community ties.
Jenny McKnight -- It's not easy to come up with something that's never been done in Northwest Arkansas theater. But Jenny McKnight did. She set the University Theatre production of William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" in New Orleans -- and it was not only gorgeous but perfect. It didn't hurt that McKnight, a relatively new professor in the University of Arkansas theater department, honeymooned in New Orleans with her new husband, Grant Goodman, in January of this year. It didn't hurt Northwest Arkansas that Goodman, who played the title role in TheatreSquared's "Hamlet," introduced McKnight to the area. "I'll never completely give up acting. It's something I'd love to do until I physically and/or mentally can't anymore. I'm looking forward to playing some of the great theater roles for more mature women. But as my acting career progressed in Chicago, I began to do more and more teaching and mentoring of young student actors, and I discovered not only that I had a talent for it, but that I also really enjoyed it," she says. "I am happy to be able to pass along real-world knowledge and the practicalities of building a career as an artist." Watch for her involvement in the Prison Stories Project in February.
Eve Smith -- The visual arts director at the Arts Center of the Ozarks is right in the middle of Springdale's renaissance. She's brought wide-ranging exhibits and installations of contemporary art to the ACO galleries; created Sensory Iconoclasts, an intersection of art and food; is involved with a new grassroots art collective called Stitches, which debuted a light art installation downtown Dec. 12; and she's working on a three-day culinary street festival called Perfect Pairings. "And I have my own studio now, so you'll see a lot more out of me," she says, having moved to downtown Springdale herself.
Gina Gallina -- Her grandmother taught her to crochet. But Grandma would be shocked at what Gina Gallina has done with that knowledge. Gallina came out as the creator of unique yarn costumes at the White Street Walk -- with crocheted overalls. "Not only my weird friends liked it, everybody liked it," she says of her debut. "It kind of took off from there." Since then, she has crocheted an entire period French ball, complete with ballgowns and decor, and opened a shop in Eureka Springs to market her wares. "Right now, I'm just trying to fill up my shop with crazy stuff," she says. "I just want to take it to the limit." She's also teaching at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts and would like to do "a community patchwork mural" in downtown Eureka. "I need octopus arms for all the stuff I want to do!"
Bob Stevenson -- Even though this year's entry was the very traditional "All My Sons" by Arthur Miller, Bob Stevenson, director of the theater program at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, is known throughout the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival region for his ultra-contemporary, student-created plays. Look for him to return to the cutting edge as soon as he can get there!
NAN What's Up on 12/25/2015