As OKG grew, so did OKC's performing arts scene 

Kathryn McGill, Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park, founder and Artistic Director, reads the first article about their company, appearing in a May 15th, 1985 Oklahoma Gazette.  mh
  • Kathryn McGill, Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park, founder and Artistic Director, reads the first article about their company, appearing in a May 15th, 1985 Oklahoma Gazette. mh

(Ashley Parks)

(Ashley Parks)

Over the past few decades, the performing arts landscape in Oklahoma City has grown from a patchwork of small theaters and production companies into a hub of world-class performances and performers.

For the last 35 years, Oklahoma Gazette has helped tell that story of evolution.

“The Gazette was one of the first newspapers that paid a lot of attention to us,” said Kathryn McGill, who helped found Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park in 1985. “For local arts, there was not much media support [at the time], and Oklahoma Gazette was one of the first that came to follow us and report on us.”

MORE 35TH ANNIVERSARY COVERAGE: •  OKC, OKG grew together as paper chronicled city’s revival. •  Timeline: A brief history of Oklahoma Gazette. •  Reader response: What you love most about OKG. •  Leaders share Gazette memories. •  OKG Eat: Practice makes perfect! •  Chef Kurt Fleischfresser’s curiosity helped establish city’s love of localized menus. •  OKG arts groups have persisted, prospered for decades. •  As OKG grew, so did OKC's performing arts scene. •  Oklahoma music scene is still a work in progress.

 

Over the past 30 years, Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park has bounced around to different locations in the region, which included performances at the old Stage Center theater in downtown and stages in Norman and Edmond. Today, the company performs annually at the Myriad Botanical Gardens Water Stage, and it recently earned membership as a Small Professional Theater from the Actors’ Equity Association.

“This year, we became an actual professional theater ... we are under a professional contract with our actors and stage management, and that was always our goal from the beginning,” McGill said. “It just took us 30 years.”

Lyric Theatre was founded nearly 20 years prior to the launch of Oklahoma Gazette, but it has undergone dramatic growth in the last 35 years, which Oklahoma Gazette has helped chronicle.

In the 1990s, Lyric Theatre moved to Civic Center Music Hall in downtown; several years later, the company purchased a theater in the up-and-coming Plaza District, where it now holds some performances.

Not only has Oklahoma Gazette helped tell the story of Lyric’s growth, its columns have sometimes sparked conversation and debate about local theater, which has a history of offering classic shows along with more daring performances.

“Last season’s Little Shop of Horrors ... prompted a few of Lyric’s staunchest purists to walk out of the show at intermission,” an article in the June 7, 1989, issue of Oklahoma Gazette read. “A rock ’n’ rolling houseplant was more than they could bear.”

Lyric has earned national praise over the past several years, which includes being named one of the 10 great places to see the lights off-Broadway in 2005 by USA Today.

Oklahoma City Ballet transitioned to a semiprofessional group in 1979 and has grown in recent years, which includes rebounding from a near-closing in 2008.

“Cash-strapped after years of dwindling ticket sales, Ballet Oklahoma is nearly bankrupt and has suspended its fall season,” Oklahoma Gazette reported in July 2008.

A year later, Oklahoma Gazette reported that the ballet company had reorganized and was ready to enter a new era, one in which it has doubled its annual budget and showcases more than 30 dancers from around the world.

“It’s not all tutus and classical music,” Artistic Director Robert Mills told Oklahoma Gazette in 2009 as the ballet looked to transform its image.

Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre began production in 2002 and was a product of the city’s emerging performing arts scene.

“Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre, aka CityRep, began with a group of old friends who had studied theater together at Oklahoma City University,” Oklahoma Gazette reported in 2007. “Behind their first modest season of three productions was a dream to establish and maintain Oklahoma’s first fully professional theater.”

click to enlarge Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park's managing director, Mike Gibbons with the first article about their company, appearing in a May 15th, 1985 Oklahoma Gazette.  mh
  • Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park's managing director, Mike Gibbons with the first article about their company, appearing in a May 15th, 1985 Oklahoma Gazette. mh

That same Gazette article quoted Michael Jones, founding company member and frequent CityRep director, stating that the growth of CityRep has been instrumental in raising the bar for arts in the city.

“[CityRep] fosters state talent and raises the artistic profile of Oklahoma City,” Jones said. “I’m really proud of all the shows we’ve done and where we’ve come. I’ve seen a lot of theaters stumble, so I know how hard it is to sustain a theater company here.”

Oklahoma Gazette’s birth in 1979 was also shared by the arrival of Joel Levine as director of the Oklahoma Symphony and then the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. Levine had served as music director of Lyric Theatre before that and has become one of the landmark faces of OKC’s performing arts scene over the past few decades.

As Oklahoma City has experienced a renaissance over the past few decades, so too has its performing arts scene. Oklahoma Gazette has helped tell the story of that renaissance, providing a spotlight for the performers and artists who make OKC an artistic hub.

“Oklahoma City has really taken off,” McGill said. “A lot of young people from outside of Oklahoma, from larger cities, [are moving here], and their expectations of what a city should be is different than what Oklahoma City has been. That has made a big impact on the performing arts community here and helped it grow.”

(Ashley Parks)

(Ashley Parks)

Print headline: Two of a kind, As Oklahoma Gazette began to grow, so did Oklahoma City’s performing arts scene.

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