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Oh, the places they’ll go…and what you missed

Theatre is a discipline that involves the body, mind, and spirit in a complex tension of talent and training. In Oklahoma City, we are privileged to have many schools that prepare young people for a future in the entertainment industry, and the end of the school year sees many, many productions, stagings, and showcase performances that show off those future entertainers. They are often “one night only” opportunities, and these are a few of the gems you have missed this year.

Graduating senior Brett Holleman directed a brilliantly funny and very successful staged reading of Ian Doescher’s “The Empire Striketh Back”—yes, it’s the Star Wars movie re-imagined as Shakespeare—at Oklahoma City University. The production was brisk, original, and fun; the cast was overpopulated with talented and well-prepared young actors. Holleman, having selected a good cast, gave them the freedom to solve problems presented by a combination of a hi-tech concept movie rewritten as Shakespeare and presented in a bare-bones format in a rehearsal hall; their solutions to demonstrating an X-wing fighter and showing us Luke’s face on Darth Vader’s head were outstanding examples of good theatre sense.

The University of Oklahoma Helmerich School of Drama presented the Tennessee Williams play “Summer and Smoke” as its season finale. Nicely staged in the Weitzenhoffer Theatre, one of the black box venues at OU, the cast of young actors carried the rather heavy and adult themes very well. The staging made excellent use of the space, elevating the stone angel in the park, referenced throughout, above the action so that she is ever present and not in the way. Faced with the difficult task of portraying 30-50 year old characters, the cast rose beautifully to the challenge. Williams often offers a temptation to melodrama to which OU’s student actors did not succumb.

Showcase performances are organized to give graduating seniors some connection to the professional world—literally to show their talents to agents and other scouts so these young performers can get work. The University of Central Oklahoma’s Musical Theatre Student Showcase was held at the Jazz Lab in Edmond, and it was attended by several professional talent scouts and agents. The students gave a nicely balanced performance of songs and production numbers; each student performed at least one solo piece, and several worked in duets and trios. There were also several ‘all cast’ production numbers that were staged and performed with vocal and physical precision. These performers can work in a range of circumstances and cover a range of material; they deserved the notice of the agents.

Oklahoma City Community College presented Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” in a beautifully intimate and thoughtful performance. Staged and costumed in an indefinite ‘present,’ the simple set, careful use of space, and fine performances by the student cast gave us an evening of the grimly funny Russian humor that only Chekhov can write. Community colleges often open the auditions to the community; this can result in a cast with a wide range of ages and professional experience. Rather than creating unevenness, it was evident that the performers at OCCC had worked themselves in to a cohesive ensemble, and they presented a fine show.

Before one goes to college, there is that arena known as “general education.” Oklahoma City is privileged to have several public and private schools with strong performing arts programs, but there is more to it than that. Private dance studios, music teachers, and arts academies also foster talent.

One such academy is the Thelma Gaylord Academy which is the educational wing of Lyric Theatre. For five years, local actor Matthew Alvin Brown has taught, or as he prefers, “facilitated” The Rokademy Experiment, a group of young performers with an interest in rock music and performance. They have produced several rock operas/musicals, but this year, they performed the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” in its entirety on stage. Eleven young performers ranging in age from 14-18 performed this classic rock album in period style, but without slavishly reproducing the original. This was true interpretation, not mere copying. There were nuances that age alone could have provided, but such is true of any classic (such as Shakespeare). The overall arc of the album was clearly present, and these really young performers carried that weight with guts and class; they are already competitive with their older colleagues.

If you were not at these performances, it’s over and you missed it. You missed performances worth seeing from people whose work is worth knowing.

Two of the performers in “Abbey Road” are graduating seniors off to college in the fall. One is planning to attend the musical theatre program at OCU and may one day be in their senior showcase performance—this year’s group performed their showcase in New York this week. Many of the performers who are graduating from college and university programs are leaving, looking to make a mark in New York or Los Angeles or Chicago or any of the other growing theatre communities in the US. But some will stay here in OKC, and some will return.

These students train for many, many years. These end-of-semester and end-of-year or end-of–college performances are well planned and crafted to entertain. The schools also have performances of other plays and musical events throughout the year. Attending these performances both supports the schools and the students. They know that Mom or Dad or Grandma will be there if possible, and those are the people who love us anyway. Support from a general audience of people who do not know and love them already is something these students really need.

Check out local school theatre, local college theatre, local studio performances. Each of these schools has a website, a way to find information. The future of local theater is in great hands, and those young folks can use your hands, smacking each other in respect for a job well done and support for their future promise.