By JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer on Sep 8, 2011, at 2:06 AM Updated on 9/08/11 at 2:38 AM
Why go see live theater in Tulsa?
The simple answer is: Because you’ll experience something you won’t see anywhere else.
Unless you’re talking about the musical “Urinetown.” Tulsans will have a couple of chances to see that show this season.
But for the most part, those looking for something completely different in the realm of entertainment will find something to interest them in the many and diverse offerings of Tulsa’s local theater companies.
“Tulsans have a lot of options when it comes to entertainment,” said Julie Tattershall, the artistic director of Tulsa’s Heller Theatre, which begins its 30th season this weekend.
“What we as a theater community need to do,” she said, “is get live theater into people’s minds as one of those options, so that it’s one of the things that comes to mind when people ask, ‘What do you want to do this weekend?’ ”
Recent developments – such as having the Steppenwolf Theatre’s production of the Tony Award-winning drama “August: Osage County” at the Tulsa PAC in 2010, and the establishing of the Tulsa Awards for Theatre Excellence, founded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, to reward and raise awareness of local theater – have helped get more Tulsans to take a serious look at what local theater companies have to offer.
And what they often find is that going to a local theater production is not all that expensive.
Consider, for example, the three plays that will open this weekend:
• One of the city’s newest groups, Actors Company of Tulsa, debuts its production of “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches,” Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, Thursday at the VanTrease PACE at Tulsa Community College, 10300 E. 81st St. Tickets are $15 each.
• Heller Theatre – the city of Tulsa’s adult theatre program – opens “Miss Witherspoon,” Christopher Durang’s satiric comedy about the fates that befall a woman after death, Friday at the Henthorne PAC, 4825 S. Quaker Ave. Tickets are $10 each.
• Also on Friday, the Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. Fourth St., launches “The Blue Whale of Catoosa,” an original science-fiction rock opera by John Cruncleton III. Tickets are $12 each.
As eclectic as these shows are, they give people new to theater in Tulsa a sense of how wide a range of entertainment is provided annually by local actors, directors and theater groups.
Those who might want to see some classical theater – Shakespeare, for example – will have their choice of about half a dozen productions between now and the end of May.
This year will also feature some new collaborative efforts among some companies.
Actor’s Company of Tulsa, for example, had envisioned staging both parts of Kushner’s “Angels in America.” The University of Tulsa’s Department of Theatre had similar plans.
“We got together with Lisa Wilson at TU,” ACT artistic director Starr Hardgrove said, “and we worked out an agreement that we would do the first part, and TU would do the second part.”
Wilson, a professor of theater at TU and the director of the university’s production of “Angels in America: Perestroika,” said: “To be honest, ‘Perestroika’ was really the play we wanted to do. There’s a lot more humor in it, and its story is more uplifting. Our production is also going to be the ‘shakedown’ show for TU’s new Lorton Performance Center, and ‘Perestroika’ is a play that will really let us show what can be done in that space.”
“I think it’s going to be interesting to see two very different takes on the same characters,” Hardgrove said.
“The only thing our production of ‘Millennium Approaches’ and TU’s ‘Perestroika’ will have in common is (playwright) Tony Kushner.”
Tulsa Community College’s theater program is partnering with American Theatre Company in its production of “Good Boys,” Jane Martin’s drama about a school shooting and its consequences. TCC will debut the production as part of its season, with the TCC cast and crew performing the play later in the year as part of ATC’s season.
“It’s the first of a series of such projects we hope to present,” said Jim Runyan , who is directing the show. “It affords our students the experience of moving a show into a different space, and we’ll have talk-back sessions that will feature members of our partner organizations, many of whom work everyday with troubled or at-risk youths.”
Tattershall said, “When any theater company has a great show, we all benefit because the audience leaves excited about theater, and they are more likely to go to another show.”