If ever anyone was sunshine in human form, it is Alyson Courtney. Blonde, petite, vivacious and radiating positivity, Courtney makes you instantly feel like you have been friends for life.

 

The director of development at Argenta Community Theater, Courtney joined the theater a year ago after an extensive career in local television journalism, most recently at KATV Channel 7 on the morning show. Her husband, Wess Moore, also has a career in broadcast journalism, serving as co-host of The Zone on 103.7 The Buzz radio and sports director at KLRT-FOX16 TV. Add to these frenetic schedules two daughters, Brooklyn and Berkeley, who participate in acting, singing, dancing, cheerleading and sports, and Courtney is constantly on the go.

 

What drew her to leave a solid career to venture into fundraising for community theater? It was a winding path.

 

“I left KATV Channel 7 and TV news after 24 years in the business with plans to take a year to spend time with my girls, especially my oldest who is a graduating senior,” she said. “My last day was a Monday, and I had plans to sleep in on Tuesday — like, really sleep in until 10 a.m. or 1 p.m. I’d set my alarm for 2:30 am every day for 14 years and it was so sweet to turn off that alarm. I actually deleted it from my phone, but I forgot to silence my ringer.

 

“That very morning at 7:03 a.m., I got a text that woke me. It was from Vincent Insalaco, the co-founder and producing artistic director of Argenta Community Theater. He asked if I had time to visit that day, and that conversation led me to becoming the director of development. Fundraising and nonprofit work were never where I saw myself landing, but if you know Vince you know it’s almost impossible to tell him no. I started this new path two months after that conversation.”

 

Courtney’s favorite element of her job at Argenta Community Theater is the storytelling aspect, not unlike her career in broadcast journalism. And what a story it has to tell: Insalaco and his cofounder, the late Judy Tenenbaum, created a remarkable cultural attraction 14 years ago, during a period when regional and community theaters across the country were struggling mightily.

 

“The history at Argenta Community Theater is rich, and when you couple that with incredible growth, over the last year as well as the new ways we’re connecting with the community and the vision we have for the future, we’ve got a pretty magical story,” Courtney said. “I could go on and on for days about the benefits of supporting the performing arts and why I love my job, but mostly it is because I’m surrounded by passionate, creative people who want to do good in this world, so it makes ‘work’ incredibly fun and rewarding.”

 

Today, Argenta Community Theater is putting together a strategic plan to ward off the financial challenges other theaters in the country are currently facing. The multi-pronged strategy includes building an endowment, reaching new and diverse audiences, and moving into public schools with more education efforts.

 

“Did you know that currently there are 63 schools in Pulaski County, North Little Rock and Little Rock school districts with no performing arts programs?” Courtney said. “We believe we have a responsibility to our children to help supplement in this area when public school funding does not. We have some amazing professional teaching artists at Argenta Community Theater who are pouring into our students, and we feel strongly that we must go beyond our walls with our efforts.

 

“We also work with Celebrity Attractions and The Rep to provide our students access to industry professionals who are working on Broadway and on national touring productions. Together, we are often able to do so at no cost. In fact, our partnership with The Rep is one of the first in the nation to have a fully funded, pre-professional training program for the most elite young artists in our community.”

 

The lobby gallery at Argenta Community Theatre. Photos By Chris Davis

 

In that program, teens ages 13 to 18 are selected based on auditions, letters of recommendation from their performing arts teachers, and their own essay detailing their passion for the arts and their goals beyond high school. The program, which would typically cost each student $500 per semester, is completely scholarship-based, thanks to the generosity of Will Feland and Mary and Jim Wohlleb. Courtney said such patronage is a key driver not only for Argenta Community Theater’s programs, but for supporting arts education as a whole.

 

“This type of philanthropy, that drives programs for awareness and education, levels the playing the field and really prepares our students for the competitive world of college auditions and professional work,” Courtney said.

 

The best way to support Argenta Community Theater or any art form in the community, she said, is to become a donor and volunteer.

 

“Being a patron is wonderful, but nonprofit theaters will never be able to survive on ticket sales alone,” she said. “It takes generous donors and volunteers to produce the quality of work and experience we provide. I think most people take entertainment for granted, but we truly get little funding from the state and federal government and the grants awarded to performing arts organizations are becoming fewer and fewer.

 

“We have some incredibly generous supporters, including private individuals, corporations and small businesses who believe in the work we are doing providing robust performing arts education programs and building a richness of art and storytelling to our community. Our challenge daily is to raise the bar on the work we do, but we simply cannot do it without the collective group of donors, volunteers and supporters.”

 

Communities need the arts and thriving arts organizations as a means of bringing people together in meaningful and transformative ways, Courtney explained.

 

“Without places to visit and experiencing the beauty of a live performance, our communities become a much less colorful and attractive place to live, work and visit,” she said. “We must have spaces that invite children who have an interest in the arts to create, explore and perform. As Vince always says, ‘The stage is as important as the football field or basketball court.’ He’s so right — every child needs a place to find their passion, and we’ve seen our theater and education program explode because the need is so great.

 

“In fact, we’ve had waiting lists for all classes and summer camps, and we will serve 500 kids this year and hundreds more who want the unique educational experience we provide. Our growth is needed, but the cost to provide these opportunities, hire professional teaching artists, invest in the facilities and live out our mission of never turning a child away because of the inability to pay tuition is extraordinary. Every donation, big or small, makes an enormous difference, and my goal is to ensure all our donors know their investment is meaningful.”

 

Courtney said her experience in local television afforded her the opportunity to build relationships with people across Arkansas, which has helped her get into doors to share the story of Argenta Community Theater.

 

“I don’t think I’d be as successful in this profession without my experience as an anchor/reporter,” she said.

 

Her latest role continues her long-held dream of being in the middle of the action professionally. She knew when she was in middle school that she wanted to be a journalist mostly, she says, because she wanted to know everything about everything.

 

“I’m naturally curious and have always been hell-bent on knowing the truth,” she said. “Not just what everyone else was saying, but knowing for myself. I took telecommunications classes in high school and majored in broadcast journalism at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana, where ‘Steel Magnolias’ was filmed. Fun fact: my sister was one of the flower girls in the movie, and spent a lot of time with Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts, Sally Field and Olympia Dukakis. I’m still jealous to this day.”

 

Growing up in north Louisiana “in the country,” as she called it, her parents worked tirelessly to provide for Courtney and her two sisters.

 

“My dad was a pipefitter and traveled a lot for jobs, and my mom worked in the office at our school,” she said. “She sometimes worked two jobs. My folks still live in Shreveport where my dad is retired and my mom is the bookkeeper at one of the public high schools. They never miss coming to see the girls in a show.

 

“I was the first in our family to go to college. [My parents] taught us all about the value of hard work and I always had a job, from the time I was 13 years old. I was a babysitter, a lifeguard and taught swimming lessons, a server at a sports bar in college, cleaned houses, worked in the admissions office. I hardly remember ever not working.”

 

After college graduation, Courtney landed her first job as the early morning producer for the NBC affiliate in Shreveport, Louisiana, where she met the anchor of that show, Wess Moore. The couple would work together at the same stations in Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas for the next 13 years, but theirs was an inauspicious start, to say the least.

 

“He was this jerk who was six years older than me, had been on TV in two other markets, and had little patience for my inexperience,” she said. “He was constantly correcting me and was critical of my writing. Looking back, he’s probably the one who taught me the most about being a journalist, as well as Anne Jansen, B.J. Sams and Andy Pearson later, but I sure didn’t like working with Wess at the time. Two years later, we moved to south Texas together to work at the ABC affiliate, and then four years later, I married him.”

 

Courtney’s goal was always to be a reporter in the field, because it was the action that drove her. She says she loved being in the middle of the biggest news stories, talking to people from all walks of life, conducting an interview with a death row inmate one day and sitting down with a former president the next.

 

“I did stories where I was getting behind-the-scenes access of our troops from Arkansas training for war, and I visited a farm in Arkansas to interview a man about his talking chicken,” she said. “I covered Hurricane Katrina and devastating tornadoes in Arkansas, and I learned so much about humanity and heartbreak. I’m not sure there is any other profession that you truly have no idea what the next day will bring. I loved every second.”

 

Morning TV turned out to be where Courtney found her place as the schedule allowed her to be home with her daughters as they grew up.

 

“Being a mom is what I always wanted more than anything else in the world. I dreamed of it my whole life, so it was an easy decision to move to morning television and really be present and soak in the time I had at home,” she said. “I got to not only report important news, but also have a lot of fun for two hours and work with some of the most amazing people who ended up being my closest friends. Then, having a daughter entering her senior year made the timing perfect to join Argenta Community Theater.

 

“Having been a journalist puts the reality of just how short life is in your face. I think that’s shaped who we are as a family in terms of not taking things too seriously, loving each other big and enjoying the adventure of it all.”

 

Both Brooklyn and Berkley Moore are aspiring actresses. Brooklyn just graduated high school and was accepted into the theater/screen arts degree program at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. During her sophomore and junior years of high school, she worked in Los Angeles on a streaming series and she also works as a fashion model and founded an arts nonprofit. Berkley will be a freshman in high school in the fall, and is also is an actress, singer, dancer, cheerleader and volleyball player. She, too, has her sights set on attending college in southern California.

 

“Our girls fell in love with performing after seeing “Mary Poppins” at The Rep. It wasn’t long after that they started auditioning,” Courtney said. “I had no idea how to prepare them. I am definitely not an actor; I just played myself on television. At ages 6 and 9, they began landing roles, first at school and then working professionally at The Rep and doing commercial/TV/film work. They’ve never stopped.”

 

“We have performed together for the Make-A-Wish lip sync battles, and we love Halloween and dressing up and theme stuff. It’s a little absurd. And like most families, we are all incredibly busy, juggling lots of balls and working crazy schedules, but we truly enjoy every second of it and we make it a priority to soak in both the mundane and marvelous in life.”

 

Both Brooklyn and Berkely aspire to continue as professional actresses as a career. Their mother said they have significant savings accounts because of the work they’ve done so far, which helps afford them the opportunity to travel and experience things very few kids their age get to experience.

 

“Acting and performing have been their whole lives, and we can see their passion for it,” Courtney said. “But whatever they ultimately end up doing for careers, I hope they love it. I know acting has prepared them for so much more than the stage and screen. They’re amazing girls and our goal has always been to just make sure they stay focused on being good humans, loving others and finding their own place in the world, and for Wess and me to be the support they need. We’ve only ever acted with them during self-tape auditions where we’ll be their reader or off-camera scene partner, and it’s pretty comical sometimes. Wess and I both really stink at acting.”

 

If that take is surprising, consider that Courtney insists that despite being in thousands of homes every morning during her stint as news program anchor, she really doesn’t love being in front of a large audience.

 

“On TV, you’re really only talking to a camera and that was easy for me. It is quite different than being on a stage with hundreds of people looking back at you,” she said. “I am definitely not a stage actor, but I do enjoy talking to our audiences during our on-stage, preshow curtain speeches. However, I get to be myself, so it’s not difficult.

 

“I was lucky, really, because my parents grew up without much and they didn’t have the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities, but they wanted me to be able to try anything I was interested in. I did pageants, was an extra in a couple of movies, took gymnastics, piano lessons, ballet, tap, jazz, even clogging. I was a cheerleader, a swimmer and lifeguard, and a model at our local mall. Because I did so many different things, I never really excelled at any one particular thing, but I was average at a lot of things. I’m sure that helped me become well-rounded, but also probably why staying focused is not my strength.”

 

Supporters of the Argenta Community Theater, and those who would be, might beg to differ, as Courtney pours her attention and considerable skillset into raising the money to sustain and grow the arts at all levels. For her part, she simply sees her job as finding her role, cast in a richly talented and deeply committed tribe.

 

“We believe holding true to our mission of being a theater for the community is important, holding true to the vision of people like Vince and the late Judy Tenenbaum who built this theater while also evolving and recognizing the need to continually engage new audiences,” she said. “The passion within everyone who is a part of this organization is like none I’ve ever seen anywhere. We want Argenta Community Theater to outlive us all.”

 

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