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“Dreamland Ballroom” Reenactment

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  • Katie Culpepper
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Recently, we had unique opportunity in preparation for our upcoming original documentary “Dreamland Ballroom.” With help of amazing film, stage and wardrobe crews, we traveled back in time to recreate the ballroom in its heyday.

Dreamland 

The Dreamland Ballroom, which is located on the third floor of the former Taborian Hall, now Arkansas Flag and Banner, is housed in downtown Little Rock at 800 West Ninth Street. In the early 1900s, Ninth Street was the cultural epicenter for Little Rock’s African-American community, and Dreamland helped supply its musical heartbeat.  

Playing host to some of the greatest performers in Arkansas and American music history, Dreamland Ballroom was a famous stop on the Chitlin Circuit, and hosted greats including B.B. King, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and many more. 

Dreamland_Set_Up_-_Day_1 

As we’re working to tell portions of both Dreamland Ballroom and Ninth Street’s histories for the documentary through research and community members’ recollections and photos, we also took the unique opportunity recreate the ballroom’s magic through reenactments! Joined by volunteer extras from the Little Rock community, the Tidwell Project dancers, Rodney Block and The Real Music Lovers, Bijoux, the Vintage Jazz Masters and Detroit Johnny, we revived the Dreamland Ballroom for two days to shoot scenes from the jazz, swing and blues periods.  

For our first day, we started off with a sound check with Rodney Block and the Real Music Lovers, featuring Bijoux - even before the stage was fully set and wardrobe was done, hearing the notes drift across the room was enough to give us goosebumps!  

Makeup_-_Kristy_and_Bijoux

Later in the day, after our sound checks were complete, while lights and staging were in progress, we joined our fabulous wardrobe crew, led by Kristy Pruitt, as they took our talented musicians and extras back to the swing era. 

Wardrobe_-_Day_1 

With no wardrobe budget, Kristy, Elizabeth and Mikita worked wonders to make sure costuming was historically accurate.

“None of these costumes belong to us,” Kristy Pruitt said. “I was nervous, but we were able to make it work by raiding every high school and college theater department in south and central Arkansas who would let us!”

 Dreamland_Costuming_-_Day_1

Seeing our lovely ladies and sharply dressed gents, however, you’d never know it.

Some extras, like David Miller and Donald Price, even arrived period-appropriate on their own.

According to David, “I just saw the call for extras and went to my closet and pulled this together. I just chose from what I had and didn’t even have a hard time.” We suppose he’s evidence that the classics never go out of style!

 

Tidwell_Dancers 

Soon after musicians and extras were through with hair and makeup, dancers from Parkview High School’s Tidwell project arrived to populate the dance scenes needed for the film. Using dance as a point of entry, the Tidwell Project provides a safe haven to explore and express themselves and achieve goals through mentoring, learning and performing arts experiences.


In addition to looking the part, the dancers who joined us also brought the floor to life beautifully!

Reenactment_-_Day_1

And they, and all our extras and crew, braved the summer temperatures in the ballroom like troopers - already without air-conditioning they danced, laughed and performed with the added heat from our various light and sound equipment.

And many of them returned the next day as we moved, first, back in time to the jazz age.

To make the music happen for this period, the Vintage Jazz Masters were kind enough to turn out this great sound …

Vintage_Jazz_Masters_Wardrobe_-_Day_2

And dress up to the nines for a wonderful performance. 

Day_2_-_Balcony_View 

Our outstanding extras enjoyed the music from all angles …

Smoke_Machine_-_Day_2 

And in spite of the smoke (and roving equipment).

DetroitJohnnyFlat 

But we didn’t stop with our first round of time travel! To round out our shoot and finish shooting footage for the Ballroom’s heyday, Detroit Johnny came out to join us to play the Blues … 

BqdNt26CUAEX3GX 

And help us flash forward to the fabulous 50s, with another awe-inspiring costume change. 

Reenactment_-_Day_2

Watching throughout the past several days has truly brought the Dreamland Ballroom to life for our cast and crew, but the documentary can’t stop there. To tell Dreamland and West Ninth Streets’ true stories, we need to hear the community’s voice!  

If you or a family member, friend or neighbor remember the Dreamland Ballroom during the 1920s through the 1970s, or if you have any photos of the ballroom  or Taborian Hall, contact the “Dreamland Ballroom” documentary producer Tanisha Joe Conway at 501-682-2386 or dreamlandballroom@aetn.org.


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