Friday Feature — The Lantern Theatre

This is one of a series of posts where I feature local businesses or organizations that I believe are working to better Conway, Arkansas. I wanted to sit down with each of them and hear their story.

I’m going to be embarrassingly honest, I drive past The Lantern Theatre all the time, but didn’t know what it was. I found them on Facebook, but I wanted to meet the person in charge, so I reached out to Trent Reese. He met me at the theatre on a Thursday afternoon. The space was historic, open, and warm. We chatted about his background, the history of the theatre, and the volunteers that make The Lantern Theatre possible. I’d like to share some of our conversation with you.

Me: How did you get involved in the Lantern Theatre?

Trent: Well, Conway Community Arts has been around for over 40 years and The Lantern Theatre has had this space in downtown Conway for 5 years I believe. After getting my Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Central Missouri, I came back to Arkansas looking for ways to continue getting involved in the arts, specifically the theatre. I interviewed for a director position during the 2013 season and received a production. Shortly after, I attended a board meeting and was asked to join. Then I was asked to become Vice President and August will be my one year anniversary of being President. It’s been a whirlwind five years, but I love it!

Me: What’s your favorite production that you’ve been apart of?

Trent: My favorite is really sentimental for me. We did the Normal Heart last year. It’s just an extremely powerful play. It’s about the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, set in New York in the early 80’s. They’re trying to force this change…of people saving lives. I had just read an article about a woman from Little Rock visiting hospital patients during that time. Reading that article and then being involved in the show, was just really powerful. There are a lot of other great ones, but that was probably the most meaningful.

Me: If someone wants to see a show, what do they need to do?

Trent: We have tickets for the entire season available online or you can buy them at the door. We also have a Student Rush ticket. If we’re not sold out for that evening, we will offer students $5 tickets at the door. Our productions are listed online.

Me: What’s one of your favorite accomplishments within the theatre?

Trent: There is an organization called AACT (American Association of Community Theatres) and there is a State, Regional, and National festival. In 2015, we were able to advance all the way to the National festival, the only theatre in Arkansas history to ever have done that. That was so much fun!

“At The Lantern Theatre, we make theatre accessible to the central Arkansas community in order to cultivate growth and connections within the diverse human population.”

Me: Where do you see The Lantern Theatre going?

Trent: Our next big step is being able to pay the people involved. Right now it’s all volunteer work, so everything goes back into the theatre. Our next goal would be hiring an Artistic Director and also an Executive Director. We’re very happy with the amount of shows we’re doing. We have 8–10 shows a season, which is huge. We’re also happy to provide an eclectic season. We have everything from a musical comedy to a dark drama. We just want to be able to support our artists.

Me: Where do you think Conway is headed?

Trent: I can tell Conway is getting younger. Part of that is just the natural progression of life, though I can say our audience is getting much younger. I see the Downtown area becoming much more artistic, much more unified and exciting. Even since I’ve been back in Arkansas, the area has really boomed. Our town is family-oriented and believes in education [City of Colleges] but we struggle to retain college graduates. If they stay and invest in our economy, I think it sets Conway up for success.

The Lantern Theatre is always looking for volunteers. If you would like to help, please email their volunteer coordinator, Christina Williams, at dcewilliams@aol.com. You can also find out more information on performances and community-involvement by visiting their Facebook page here. Thank you Trent for sitting down with me and sharing your passion for the arts. I’m thankful The Lantern Theatre has a place in our small town.

Jessica Rutherford is a Conway native who uses her customer service background to provide a customized experience for each of her clients. If you are looking to buy, sell, rent, or invest in real estate, let her be your neighborhood agent. To see the difference, call today at 501.908.0037 or email jessicarutherford@kw.com.