Conway is a city of colleges and commerce, but unknown to many is that it is the home of theater.
Conway Community Arts Association (CCAA) is a nonprofit organization thriving in downtown. Its mission "is to contribute to the artistic culture of the community through engaging theatrical experiences." Under the auspices of the CCAA, is the Lantern Theatre. Situated at 1021 Van Ronkle St., the Lantern Theatre has become a staple of art and culture for over 40 years.
The Lantern Theatre, "Gives a community of adults the ability to express themselves through the theater arts," said Trent Reese, vice president at CCAA.
Although, the Conway Community Arts Association began by hosting several events across a wide variety of artistic platforms, theater became its niche. Out of this specialization came the Lantern Theatre. With the downtown Conway location, the theater building seems to be a long-standing establishment, but it has only been in the area for three years.
"Before the Lantern Theatre was established, we were a gypsy group. We would go from venue to venue. When we got the Lantern space we had a home where everyone knew where to go for every show," said Liz Parker, current CCAA treasurer.
Parker explained that the physical space has helped a lot. "People know where to find us," said Parker.
Since opening, the Lantern has hosted over 20 plays and has boasted several sold-out nights. "It’s our loyal patrons and sponsors that keep us going," said Parker.
"The Lantern is a small venue, which gives us so much room to grow as an actor and have creative freedom. Every voice counts at the Lantern," said Laura Brinker, past Lantern actress.
A unique aspect of the Lantern Theatre is show selection. It offers two categories of plays, main stage plays, such as "The Odd Couple," written by Neil Simon and a second category, Late Night at the Lantern, featuring plays such as "Rabbit Hole" by David Lindsay-Abaire.
Late Night is geared toward a younger audience. We deal with more mature themes in our late night productions," said Reese.
Although these two categories differ, Reese said, "They are both equally important to the Lantern. We reach all audiences and no matter the material we are always striving to push the audience to think."
The growth of The Lantern has been amazing. "In a year we have gone from four scheduled shows to nine. We created our Saturday Shorts program to cultivate and showcase original short works. We have a private club permit. We are starting a playwriting workshop with the goal of producing a new full length play every year," said Shua Miller, current CCAA president.
The Lantern allows audiences and theater-curious individuals to have a place to enjoy the theatrical arts. "Conway has a theater scene for younger kids and for college aged students. The Lantern offers adults the chance to try something new or to continue their theatrical dreams in the comfort of their own community," said Reese.
The Lantern is not just a place for actors. Many individuals can practice their craft in all aspects of the theatrical arts from lighting design to properties master and stage-managing. "Opportunities to get involved are always available. Just come to an audition or email The Lantern about your interest and they would love to have you," said Chris Harris, actor at The Lantern.
A list of current plays and ways to get involved can be found at the Lantern’s website www.conwayarts.org