It was enough to make a less resilient theater company pack up and quit. Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park has survived fires, floods and the death of a founder yet remains a household name in Oklahoma City. This year, it celebrates its 30th year of presenting the revered poet’s words as they were meant to be experienced.
Kathryn McGill founded the company in 1985 along with Jack O’Meara, and their mission was and remains simple.
“We have an enthusiasm for language,” McGill said. “We believe that words have power.”
The company is also passionately devoted to getting the word out about Shakespeare’s legacy and the power of seeing his words performed. It devotes much of its time to education, hosting a Shakespeare competition and traveling through the state with its education program, taking great pride in working with students and teachers to make Shakespeare come alive in context.
“They realize that Shakespeare can be fun and funny, and they get into it,” McGill said.
So what does the company have planned for the next 30 years?
“Well, first of all, we’re throwing a party,” McGill said.
There will be wine, food and a performance by harpist Gayla Blanc from the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. Urban Wineworks will provide the wine and hors d’oeuvres. Guests can also look forward to a performance of a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The company has one more thing to celebrate that evening: McGill will announce that 2014 will be the first year Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park will officially be an Actors’ Equity Association theater. Equity is the union that represents actors and stage managers in the United States.
McGill said that even though they have always tried to maintain standards that would meet Equity’s qualifications, a formal designation will be a boon for the company’s reputation and its actors.
In the course of her association with the company, Mandee Chapman-Roach has worn several hats, including company member and stage actor as well as director of the Young Company Theatre Camp with Erin Sloan. She has seen the company grow and change for nearly half of its life.
“I think [our success] is because of Kathryn McGill,” Roach said. “She’s so ready to collaborate and so flexible.”
Roach is also fulfilling a personal goal that she has had since becoming an actor: she will play the role of Lady Macbeth in the upcoming season.
“When I was younger, I saw the performance and thought, ‘I have to do this; I have to say those words,’” she said.
She will get to play the deceitful murderess in September.