Sooner Theatre's second space will offer year-round training classes 

For nearly eight decades, Norman's nonprofit Sooner Theatre has set the stage for community entertainment.

During the Great Depression, a movie theater in Norman opened and whisked patrons away from their woes. Sooner Theatre, 101 E. Main, opened in 1929 and was the first theater in the region to show talking pictures. It even had refrigerated air and cooled water fountains. After facing hard times and closing in the Seventies, it re-opened in 1982, this time as a community performing arts center.

Today, Sooner Theatre is as popular as ever "? especially the Children's Theatre, which expanded on June 6. 

"Where we are experiencing rapid growth that is evident is in our Children's Theatre," said Stephanie Royse, Sooner's marketing director. "We just opened our second space, which is one block east. We will be taking it back to its theater roots."

That space, The Studio at 227 E. Main, will offer year-round classes to train youth in musical theater, acting, improvisation and auditioning. Originally, the building was the University Theatre, which closed in the Sixties and since then had been a Hyde Drug and, most recently, a furniture store. In the future, The Studio will have additional classrooms and a stage.

"The plan," said Jennifer Baker, executive director of Sooner Theatre, "is a top-to-bottom renovation to make it a state-of-the-art children's theater. It is a dream come true."

Recently, The Studio was full of youth attending two-week summer camps, including "Acting Camp"; "Welcome to the Theatre," in which campers learn theater terms and acquire a walk-on part in the summer production of "Fiddler on the Roof"; "Film and Video Camp," where campers learn about video production and then present their film on The Sooner's big screen; "Mini-Musical Theatre Experience," which includes an end-of-session performance for the families; and "Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance!," where the camper learns aspects of each art form concluding in a performance.

"(Baker) is determined to get the very best instructors," Royse said. "The kids are better trained and the classes give them confidence."

Other productions, such as the "Main Event" season, which includes concerts and begins Sept. 12, and "Sooner Stage Events," which will host a holiday performance of "Annie," are proving successful.

"We have seen an increase in ticket sales in the last few years," Baker said. "That sweetens the deal."

It takes many people to keep The Sooner Theatre running including a dedicated staff, board of directors and volunteers. Sponsors are comprised of the Oklahoma Arts Council, the Norman Arts Council and corporate and individual donors. The people associated with the venue are dedicated and active throughout the year, as evidenced by its various community outreach programs, where, for example, adult and child actors perform at banquets and festivals.

For more information, call 321-9600.

"?Gina Dabney

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