Royal fresco

With hopes of preserving a piece of the historic Royal Theatre in Downtown Benton, the Royal Players Board of Directors is asking for the community's help.

Representatives for the theatre would like to apply for a grant to restore the frescoes on the interior walls and are hoping to learn more about the history of this artwork. 

They would like to gather information about when the frescoes were installed, as well as the name of the artist responsible for the paintings. Fresco painting is an artistic method when water-based pigments are painted on freshly applied plaster. Over time, the frescoe paintings at the theatre have desegregated.

This was not the only element placed on the walls inside the theatre. The walls made of brick have also been covered by sound panels and curtains at one time or another, according to Randy Kauffman, whose grandfather purchased the then IMP Theatre in 1922. The Kauffman family owned the movie theatre for decades until it was purchased by Jerry Van Dyke in 1996.

In 2000, Van Dyke turned over the theatre to the nonprofit organization, Central Arkansas Community Players, which is now known as the Royal Players.

The theatre is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"The Royal has been a major cornerstone in the life of Downtown Benton and a landmark in the community for generations," according to the Royal Players.

The organization would like to make several improvements to the historic theatre, according to Susan Dill, president of the Royal Players Board of Directors. Dill has been involved with the Royal Theatre for more than 20 years. After moving to Saline County in 1989, she began acting with the Central Arkansas Community Players in 1996.

She noted that the organization is responsible for the upkeep of the building, as well as preservation projects. 

"Not counting restoration or productions, just utilities, regular upkeep and repairs that go along with everyday usage, we average $3,700 in expenses a month. Historic buildings are not cheap," Dill said. 

For an upcoming play scheduled to take place in August, the Royal Players had to pay almost $4,000 just for permission to perform the show. This amount does not include costs for playbills, sets and costumes. 

Some of the costs are offset by ticket sales, sponsors and donations, but little money is left for improvements, Dill said.  

Marsha Guffey, who previously worked for the city of Benton under Mayor Rick Holland, has been volunteering her time to help the Royal Players as they work to preserve the theatre.

"Benton has a great downtown," Guffey said. "This is the scene of my childhood."

She explained that grants the organization applies for are extremely competitive and often require matching funds.

Recently, the organization applied for a $300,000 National Park Service Restoration Grant. 

If approved, the organization plans to complete several improvements to resolve water problems, as well as replacing floor tiles and fixing a wall in the rear of the building that was damaged as a result of the crash. 

"The purpose of the project is to rehabilitate the historic Royal Theatre in order to preserve it for many future years of use as a community theater. The project is intended to stop water damage to the interior and exterior of the building and ensure safety and habitability for occupants," Guffey said. 

She commended Black, Corley, Owens + Hughes Architects for their help. 

"They have been a great in-kind partner and there are, of course, many sponsors for Royal Players productions," Guffey said. 

Individuals who have information about the frescoes or would like to make a donation toward the restoration of the building may contact the Royal Players at 501-315-5483. 

More information about the organization is available at theroyaltheatre.org

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