After four years as founding producing artistic director of the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, Matt Chiorini has moved away, but he’s not really gone.
Chiorini moved to Syracuse, N.Y., over the summer to take a position as assistant professor of theatre at Le Moyne College, a small Jesuit school. But he will return to Conway, at least for a year, as artistic director of AST in 2011.
Mary Ruth Marotte, assistant professor of English at UCA, has taken on Chiorini’s development and marketing duties in her new role as executive director.
"This upcoming year, Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre will have two very strong leaders at the helm," said Dr. Rollin Potter, dean of UCA’s College of Fine Arts and Communication. "On the artistic side, Matt Chiorini returns with all of the talent and energy that has moved AST into a true level of excellence. In Dr. Marotte, we have a visionary executive who will bring AST’s strategic plans in development and promotion to fruition. This is the best of all worlds."
As artistic director, Chiorini will be responsible for the shows, schedule and hiring of artists.
He said it was difficult to leave AST.
"Though I feel a very real sense of ownership over it, I also have been feeling lately that it’s gone about as far as I’m able to take it," Chiorini said. "I’ve worked hard to get it up and running and at a high level very quickly, and now it’s ready for new energy and some fresh leadership and ideas."
After the 2010 season, he spent the rest of the summer seeing Shakespeare productions at other festivals.
"For a small town in Arkansas, we’ve got one of the better festivals around," he said. "I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished and hope to stay involved in the future."
He said several people approached Marotte about stepping into his role after he announced he was leaving.
"She asked me what I thought about it, and I thought it would be a great idea, but she’d probably still need someone to choose the season and the artists and run the artistic operations of the festival — all the things that I most enjoyed doing anyway," he said. "We ran the idea by Dean Potter, who had just begun a search for a full-time replacement, and this seemed like a good interim solution while they search for the next leader of AST."
Chiorini said Marotte had been "a big engine behind the scenes for years."
"A lot of our success is due to her tenacity and resourcefulness," he said. "She cares about this company and what it does for our region and from the beginning has put her weight behind it. She has connections all over Conway and in Little Rock, and I have no doubt that she will work tirelessly to continue our momentum.
"Whoever takes over as the artistic director will be lucky to have her handling the development and fundraising in the future."
Marotte, a native Arkansan, grew up in Little Rock and graduated from Central High School and Hendrix College. She earned a Master’s degree in English from UCA and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Tennessee. After spending several years in Tennessee and Palo Alto, Calif., she returned to Arkansas five years ago and has been involved with AST since its inception.
"As soon as I heard that UCA had hired someone to start a Shakespeare Theatre in Conway, I wanted to meet that person," she said. "I had been to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival several times, had visited Stratford, and was thrilled with what such a festival might bring to Conway.
"What I found in Matt was an energetic, magnetic personality intent on bringing fine professional theatre to Conway."
Chorini asked her to serve on the AST board, and since then she’s been involved in every aspect of the festival, particularly special events and the membership campaign.
"Though my role has clearly changed as I’ve taken on the executive duties of AST, my role has always been to promote the festival in the region," Marotte said. "I probably don’t have any conversation in which AST doesn’t find a way in, both because of my passion for the theatre and because of the way I see AST fitting into a sort of cultural renaissance happening in Conway.
"We are a community poised to become a center for arts and culture in the region, without a doubt."
She said she and Chiorini communicated by phone and e-mail daily.
"He’s a friend, and that helps, but we are equally desirous that this festival continue to grow and thrive," she said. "I trust completely Matt’s artistic acumen, and he trusts my instincts when it comes to tactical strategy. That mutual trust, I believe, is critical and will ensure success.
"This dual role is necessary, simply because there is so much work to be done."
She echoes Chiorini’s vision of AST as a cultural and artistic destination that comes to define Conway in the same way the American Shakespeare Center defines Staunton, Va.
"It makes good sense, really, that AST happens here in Conway — in a university town that has a population that has come to expect excellence in the performing arts," she said. "With artistic renewal comes economic stimulation. AST will play a large role in making that happen for Conway."
For more information about the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, visit www.arkshakes.com.