Town and Gown Theatre in Stillwater, OK
Stillwater’s Town and Gown Theatre has come a long way from its first production in OSU’s ballroom, but it’s never ventured very far from its roots.
The 57-year-old community theater, whose name is a play on the old “locals vs. campus” cultural battleground, has become an entertainment mainstay not only because of its age, but because of its open-door policy when it comes to getting involved.
“We exist, basically, to educate people about theater by using not just the shows, but classes and other programs we do throughout the year,” says Shane O’Mealey, president. “We have hard-core volunteers, and they come from everywhere. And they don’t all want to act – some of them want to work with props, run the light board, things like that.”
Good, thing, too.
Town and Gown puts on four plays and one musical every year, and offers season tickets. As a theater in the round it can hold anywhere from around 165 to 220 patrons, depending on the show and its stage configuration.
“We can literally move certain parts of the stage seating out, or put more in. We can be flexible according to what we need,” O’Mealey says. “If we go for full, in-the-round seating, they’re pretty close to the stage. You can see the faces of people in the front row, and trip over their feet if you’re not careful.”
Town and Gown has been in its current building since 1962, and is always working on the facility, making additions and renovations as needed. Upgrades of the parking lot and theater lighting recently have been completed.
Recent additions to Town and Gown also include the Wagner Art Gallery, which was dedicated in 2006 and showcases local and regional artists at each performance, on a rotation basis throughout the season. The space was named for the late Jon and Betty Wagner, who were Town and Gown supporters from its early days through Betty Wagner’s star turn in Driving Miss Daisy in the early 1990s.
“We get things from different towns, everything from art to antiques and memorabilia,” O’Mealey says. “Sometimes it fits the show, sometimes it’s a new artist in the area.”
The theater company also continues to take advantage of its lifelong relationship with OSU, swapping everything from actors to costumes and props with the university. It’s been a fertile ground for nationally known talent, including actor James Marsden, who starred in the recent comedy 27 Dresses. The theater also has its own legion of dedicated followers who have never paraded before its footlights.
“We have a lot of alumni, famous and not,” O’Mealey says. “But as much as that, we have some continuing and very avid fans of our shows. They’re there every season, as long as a lot of people can remember. A lot of them performed in shows, and they come to everything. And that’s great, because we always need an audience, and we always need more volunteers. There’s plenty for people to do.”
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