The musical selections from “Razzle Dazzle” and short bursts of laughter from the audience reach Art Krewe volunteers who are patiently waiting in the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas’ small kitchen.
It isn’t much bigger than a large closet really, and it’s hidden in one corner of the Simmons First Reception Gallery. The four women listen as the center’s auditorium doors open for intermission.
That’s around 9 p.m., and the women already have been here three hours.
“It’s going to be a long night,” Art Krewe reception coordinator Ann Smith promises.
Now, they’re waiting for the curtain close so they can serve a bevy of hors d’oeuvres, desserts and beverages to theater-goers and members of the cast and crew in celebration of a job well-done.
“Sometimes, it’s hurry-up and wait,” Smith said.
At 10 p.m., they remain at the ready.
Still, LaNelle Roberts, Art Krewe president said, “It’s a labor of love,” their volunteer work is needed.
ASC Executive Director Lenore Shoults said, “receptions at the Arts & Science Center are fabulous because of this group of dedicated women. Months in advance of an opening date they begin planning the menu and décor to support the theme of the show or exhibition.”
The Art Krewe has been around since the founding of the center about 44 years ago, and consists of about 30 women, with a core group of about a dozen or so serving on the nonprofit organization’s board and working the receptions.
Smith said most often she doesn’t have to ask for help because people are quick to step up.
For instance, Marilyn James called Smith earlier in the week and asked, “What can I bring?”
Roberts said there’s a little friendly competition among members.
“We all enjoy trying new things, and we want to serve the best and prettiest dishes,” she said.
Even so, the members chat about grandkids, clothes and Facebook while waiting for their call to shine. Earlier they had arranged the food on plates, garnished with rosemary or parsley, and tucked the perishables into the refrigerator.
“Everything must be ready to go,” Smith said.
A plate of bright red cowboy-boot shaped cookies, with black accents, made by Kathy Pierce, were carefully placed on the table and ready to go.
“She’s so talented,” member Mary Earl Smith said. The women then rave about the mice-shaped cookies Pierce decorated for the center’s performance of “Stuart Little”.
Vickie Coleman walked into the room, armed with pimento cheese sandwiches.
“Vickie makes the best cheese ball,” Roberts said.
Past Art Krewe president and original member Donna Eubank said, “we do it because of the friendships and it’s a great service.”
Not all the work is done in the kitchen.
For example, Jean Maxwell designed a western-themed centerpiece and put it together for the evening’s sold-out event.
While Art Krewe members make it look easy, Smith said as many as five hours per person goes into each event. Especially considering there are board meetings to attend, planning for each event, shopping for ingredients, and prep, transportation, setup and cleanup time. Plus, they man the table during the reception.
“It’s great fun,” despite the evening hours, member Jill Healy said.
All the food they serve is purchased and prepared by members — at no cost to ASC. However, the center pays for beverages, often with a little help from M.K. Distributors Inc.
In addition, the members must decide how much food is needed for each event.
“A play with kids brings lots of parents and grandparents to the center,” Smith said.
And recently, ASC has had a number of sold-out events — meaning larger crowds, too.
Roberts estimates that a larger event, like a performance or popular art exhibit, means they’re feeding around 300.
Smith said, “It’s been a real busy year, with almost twice as many receptions as in the past.” She credits Shoults with the up tick in activities and more sold-out events.
Normally, they handle about one reception a month but this past year, they’ve catered as many as four in a single month.
“Art Krewe’s attention to detail and the elegance that they bring to the table makes an opening night an event where you can still experience true Southern hospitality,” Shoults said.
Smith and the other women didn’t get home until about midnight. Still, she said, “It’s so rewarding.”