Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
The Wizard of Oz, with a cast of over 50 local and regional performers, brought the curtain up on the new $2.5 million Imperial Dinner Theatre Dec. 11. Both the state-of-the-art facilities and professional performance won rave reviews from the opening night audience.
Following more than two years of planning and construction, the new theater/studio complex is being hailed as one of the top live performance venues in the state. The 18,000 square-foot structure houses the Studio for the Arts in the educational wing; plus a commercial kitchen, tiered dining area that seats up to 200 guests, and a Broadway-sized stage with a 50-foot "fly tower" for storing backdrops.
The backstage area also features a garage-door entrance for bringing large items and live animals directly onto the stage. "When we perform Grease, we will drive a '57 Chevy right into the scene," Executive Director Andee Evers said.
Built exclusively with donations, volunteer labor and grants from many sources, Evers points out that some work remains before the complex is actually completed. "We are still providing opportunities for tax-deductible donations," she noted. Interested persons may contribute in several ways, from joining the exclusive Premiere Circle, which ensures a lifetime opening night ticket to each new show, to placing a name plaque on a theater seat. Hank and Mike McNabb and Dick Trammel donated the theater site property.
Established in 1987 and predating the theater, the Studio for the Arts currently has 200 students from a 125-mile radius around Pocahontas, including several from southern Missouri. The new facilities offer two dance studios with suspended floors, music and dressing rooms, waiting area for parents, and other accommodations. The larger dance floor is the same size as the main stage, which enables simultaneous rehearsals.
The studio offers classes in drama, voice, ballet, jazz, clogging and art, with many open to all ages. "The students raised money for their own sound system in the educational wing," Evers added. "We wouldn't be here if not for volunteers and strong believers in the arts." Plaques honoring persons and organizations that made special efforts during the fund-raising drive are located in the lobby area and in the main theater.
Show dates for the Wizard of Oz are weekends through Jan. 23. Reservations are required and may be secured by calling 870-892-0030. Group discounts (20 or more) are available. Show tickets, without dinner, may also be reserved in advance.
Over 100 costumes were handcrafted on site for the Oz production, which will feature seven sets or locales, designed by Kelly Grooms, who also directs the play. Scott Ide designed pyrotechnics used in the current show. The next production, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, will debut on Feb. 5.
The Imperial Dinner Theatre grew out of the Studio for the Arts with a group of drama students known as the "Imperial Players." Even today, the Players form the nucleus of virtually every production. In 1994, the Studio for the Arts purchased and restored an abandoned 1940 movie theater in downtown Pocahontas. Utilizing volunteer labor and local contributions, the old theater opened as the Imperial Theatre in mid-1995. Dance, art, and drama classes were taught in the basement. The old movie house served until the new facilities were ready.
The "Bootstrap" Henry Award, given by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism for achieving significant success on limited finances, was presented to the Imperial Dinner Theatre in 2004 during the 30th annual Governor's Conference on Tourism.
Located off U.S. 67 at the intersection with Arkansas 304 East, the Imperial Dinner Theatre provides uptown family entertainment in a rural setting.