A confession: I plunked down $5 last week when the Megamillions lottery exceeded $300 million.
Turns out I was following a well-established national pattern. The research shows higher income families don't spend much on the lottery, but will play when the megajackpots pop up. Playing the scratchoffs for the occasional $20 thrill just doesn't hold much appeal for me. But $300 million? I easily got $10 worth of daydreaming out of my sucker investment.
My daydreaming always starts with the idea – so easy in abstract – that I'd tithe from my winnings, contributing 10 percent off the top to favorite charities. My church, KUAR, the Arkansas ACLU and a new nonprofit aimed at using the courts to challenge unconstitutional Arkansas laws are all on my list of beneficiaries.
But at the top, consistently, is the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. It's an instinctive feeling. Nothing else in the community gives me so much enjoyment at the same time that it enriches the broader community. It's not just the "Lion Kings" and other popular stuff that pleases me. In fact, the recent "A Christmas Story," maybe the Rep's best-sellers, didn't do much for me.
But I've cried, laughed and hummed along to the likes of "Angels in America," "Greater Tuna" and "Les Miserables" and many more. I've also been entertained by original works, student projects, small-stage productions and some real think pieces. A multi-media depiction of life in the coal mines, August Wilson's "Fences" and a retelling of the Little Rock desegregation story stand out in my memory. I never thought I liked dance much until I saw some of the stomping-good numbers worked up for the Rep's Broadway-quality musicals. "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," anyone?
We have a treasure in the Rep and its director, Robert Hupp. If I'd won the Megamillions, I'd have given them a million bucks this year. They'll have to make do with my usual modest pledge, but I've tried to add a little bit because time is running out on a critical fund-raising challenge.
The Rep can receive $600,000 from the Kresge Foundation if local contributors match that amount. The theater needs $200,000 more by Jan. 31 to finish the job. This doesn't sound like much, but remember that supporters have already given more than $5.2 million since 2007 for a phased renovation that will be completed with lobby work, an improved main theater and new seats all around.
This hasn't been an extravagant campaign to provide fancy bells and whistles and plush skyboxes. It's nuts and bolts stuff. A leaky roof was replaced, as well as inefficient heat and air systems. Exterior walls were repaired, along with dressing room ceilings. A new subfloor was built for the improved shop area, where the Rep's great stage sets are crafted.
There's a new freight elevator that now connects with dressing rooms. The passenger elevator was improved and so was the fire alarm system. Other work includes renovation of an apartment building nearby to house actors.
The building was last renovated in 1989, when it was converted from a department store. It's worn. A big plan for a major foundation grant for a new theater fell through, but the Rep hasn't missed a curtain, delighting and challenging thousands. In a city that sometimes struggles to provide big-city amenities, the Rep is a center of excellence, a place to show off to visitors.
Another $200,000? I think the community can do it. And should. It's a bargain.