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The professionalism and originality of the Arkansas Arts Center Children's Theatre is often wasted on the young.

OK, wasted is an overstatement. Surely many kids in the audience appreciate the first-rate productions staged by the theater's talented casts and crews. But it's likely that many of the adults--playing their self-appointed roles as good parents attempting to expose their kids to a world beyond video games--are enjoying the quality and entertainment value of those productions as well.

So why not allow them--and the rest of us--to have a night out at a nationally recognized theatrical company (recognized by The Drama League as one of the best regional theater companies in America) without the distracting if charming company of little ones?

Recently, while sitting in my office editing one of Richard Mason's columns for the Perspective section, I got an email from AAC associate director John Isner, inviting me to just such an event.

Adult Night is presented now and then in association with productions that tend to be nostalgic draws for grownups. "I think the last time we did this was Goosebumps [Oct. 27-Nov. 12, 2017)] and before that it was School House Rock [March 4-25, 2016]," Isner said.

Admission to the 21-and-over event is $10 for AAC members, $20 for others. Doors open at 6 p.m.

This was intriguing, as I often review AAC productions. Writing reviews is a relatively painless way to earn freelance bucks, but requires paying absolute attention to details such as costumes, dialogue (many of the productions are written specifically for the AAC), music, and audience reaction, then bolting out the door to assemble a coherent review on deadline. That means I don't get to stick around for the opening night's post-show gathering with cookies, punch, and a meet-and-greet with the cast.

Watching a production under deadline pressure is not the same as kicking back among fellow theater lovers with 21-and-over drinks, snacks, games and the opportunity to roam around the Museum Shop before the show.

So off we went to Adult Night, where we encountered a noisy crowd of like-minded guests gathered outside the theater entrance. On offer was decent wine, Strongbow apple hard cider, local craft beers, and a goofy lineup of snacks including Funyuns onion-flavored rings, goldfish, pretzels, vanilla Oreos, Gummi rings, and foil-wrapped chocolate coins and eggs (now I know what to serve when a hobbit is coming over for dinner).

Although we didn't come dressed as our favorite hobbit character for a chance to win a prize (my favorite is Tom Bombadil's pony Fatty Lumpkin, whose appearance would be difficult to duplicate), we were happy that our friend Sharon Colton, in a long platinum wig, gleaming homemade crown, and flowing white gown, won first place as J.R.R. Tolkien's royal elf Lady Galadriel. "It was a splendid evening!" she later wrote on Facebook, especially since the stylish production of The Hobbit was highly engaging--the stunning shadow-puppet scene won't soon be forgotten.

More evenings like this, please.

So what's going to happen when the AAC begins its extensive renovation and expansion in September? Children's Theatre Restaged, that's what. The Hobbit was the last main-stage production in the current MacArthur Park building, with productions in the completed theater to commence in fall 2022.

In the meantime, the theater's touring capacity will expand its travel to schools, community centers and libraries, along with staging public productions and performances at the AAC's temporary location in Riverdale and elsewhere.

The 1029-2020 touring season will include Wynken, Blynken and Nod: A Play for the Very Young (Sept. 24-Nov. 1), A Christmas Carol (Nov. 12-Dec. 20), The Arkansas Story Porch (Jan. 14-Feb. 28) and The Wind in the Willows (April 7-May 15). I'll probably be reviewing some of these shows, wherever they'll be performed.

And I hope that Adult Night continues to give grownups more fun-filled access to the best of regional theater over the next couple of years.

Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.

Editorial on 06/09/2019

Print Headline: KAREN MARTIN: A seat at the kids' table

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