BEHIND THE BUSINESS: Volunteers keep Pocket Theatre running smoothly
James Kendall, former president of the board of the Hot Springs Pocket Community Theatre, has spent the past four years raising community awareness of the theater and its dedicated group of volunteers.
“Most of Hot Springs has never heard of us,” Kendall said in a recent interview.
“So that’s something that we’re really working on changing, whether it be through social media, whatever marketing platforms that we can find word-of-mouth … just trying to get our name out there because we have a reputation for doing stellar performances, our set, our quality of acting, the quality of shows, our reputation is that when you go see a show at the Pocket Theatre, you’re going to see a good show,” said Kendall, who does a speech before every show letting the audience know about the theater’s background.
Kendall and Tami Kendall, president of the Pocket Community Theatre board, noted they have no paid employees; all are volunteers.
“We have volunteers for each show. Each show is different. So, the year before, we plan and do like our directors, and they submit scripts, and then everybody kind of gets a certain excitement about the different shows. And so you just have different groups that show up for the different ones that they want to be involved in, and everybody shows up and volunteers,” Tami Kendall said.
ames Kendall said the theater, located at 170 Ravine St., has six main stage shows a year.
“And then we will have youth programs. We’ve developed a reader’s theater, which we’re starting to schedule more of those shows. So as far as the pocket theater being open, it really just depends on what we have going on, from a show perspective. We don’t really have regular business hours throughout the day,” he said.
In 2022, the theater will have a show every month, which incorporates the reader’s theater and the youth program, plus the six main stage shows.
The Pocket Theatre was created in 1991 and has been at its Ravine Street location for 16 years. Prior to that, it was located at the former skating rink on Higdon Ferry Road and under a tent outside of the former Hot Springs factory outlet mall.
James Kendall said it takes a strong group of dedicated volunteers who love theater to run a thriving theater.
“The board of directors are all volunteers — the directors, the actors. So in order to run this, it takes a strong community theater group — actors, directors, volunteers, and it takes really good name recognition,” James Kendall said.
“So when we look at our shows, we look at strong shows with name recognition because if we do a show nobody has heard of, nobody is going to come see it. So it’s very important for us when we’re looking at the schedule for next year that we look from a perspective of what do the people in Garland County want to see,” he said.
“It takes a lot of heart; you have to love this place. We have a lot of people that come into certain shows that they like, and they do great, and they want to be on stage, and then that show is over, and you never see him again. So there’s always those seasonal people that come and go with the show,” Tami Kendall said.
“But there’s always the ones that just have that spark and that heart for theater that they just come back again and again and help and do everything from take the garbage out to move the chairs. So it just takes people that love it, and we love this building, and we love the people that come here, and I can’t imagine my life without it,” she said.
James Kendall said the Pocket Theatre has a volunteer group of 125. Over the past five years, they have grown from probably 20 to 125, noting the theater is where he met Tami in a production of “Sweeney Todd.”
Tami Kendall said “Sweeney Todd” was the show that saved the theater. They were negative in the bank account, noting that people were about to volunteer to pay the light bill because they had no money.
“We had put it before the board. Some of the young people that were visiting the board meetings had put it up for grabs. And at that time, the board wasn’t fully on board. They were like, no, we don’t want to do shows like that, and we don’t think anybody will come. And so we kind of pulled their arm and talked them into it. And that first night of auditions for ‘Sweeney Todd’ was a full audience of people wanting to audition,” she said.
“We sold every night of ‘Sweeney Todd’ out, and so we were able to have a little in the bank and kind of get that together. And then we just went right into the next one and the next one. So we’ve had a really good run,” Tami Kendall said.
James Kendall said 2019 was the theater’s best year due to the production of “Chicago.”
“The feedback we got from the community was, ‘You guys were as good as any professional group than we have ever seen.’ And so we had the momentum from that show going into 2020. We had an amazing schedule in 2020. And then it got all shut down. But luckily, the success of ‘Chicago’ financially helped us survive 2020,” he said. “We lost about $50,000 in revenue in 2020, which for a nonprofit community theater is a tremendous amount of money.”
Tami Kendall said the theater has one of the bigger stages in Arkansas for community theater, noting most theaters in Arkansas have small venues.
In 2022, the Pocket Theatre will present “The Odd Couple,” “Little Women,” “Steel Magnolias,” “The Music Man,” “A Christmas Story” and “Death of a Salesman.”