Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park’s story is an epic worthy of the Bard. In the midst of fires and floods, the company has continued to grow, and is today one of Oklahoma’s most treasured cultural assets.
The Early Years in Edmond
Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park (OSP) was originally founded in 1985 by executive producer Jack O’Meara and artistic director Kathryn Huey O’Meara McGill.
Jack and Kathryn felt strongly that Oklahoma deserved and could sustain a theater company devoted to the works of William Shakespeare and other great authors from the Western canon. They also believed that the outdoor productions enjoyed around the world would be just as popular in greater Oklahoma City.
Jack and Kathryn’s vision was supported by a group of arts enthusiasts, including Al Bode and Mike Krywucki. OSP’s supporters were largely based in Edmond, a suburb of Oklahoma City, and Edmond is where Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park’s journey began.
In July and August of 1985, local theater patrons enjoyed a first — free Shakespeare outdoors. The crowds in Edmond’s E.C. Hafer Park started small in July for Twelfth Night and grew steadily larger each weekend, reaching 500 in number each night by the end of August’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In its first summer season, OSP entertained some 6,000 patrons.
Because of the summer’s success, a winter season was planned. It began with Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters in October and November of 1985 and continued through Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer in January of 1986 and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in February and March of 1986.
In the summer of 1986, Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park presented Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors in June and The Taming of the Shrew in July. Over 7,000 people attended the second summer season.
The 1986-’87 winter season featured Moliere’s Tartuffe in October, an original adaptation of Dickens’ David Copperfield in December, Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing in February and culminated in April with Dumas’ The Three Musketeers.
A record 8,500 patrons attended OSP’s third summer season which included The Merry Wives of Windsor and As You Like It.
The 1987-’88 winter season began with Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World in September. December saw the return of OSP’s adaptation of David Copperfield. The Merchant of Venice in February concluded the winter season with one of Shakespeare’s acknowledged masterpieces.
In 1988, OSP made the decision that an admission fee would be necessary to maintain the level of quality the audiences were growing accustomed to. Over 12,000 patrons came out to see the 1988 summer season of The Tempest in June, A Midsummer Night’s Dream in July and Macbeth in August.
The 1989 summer season included a special production to commemorate the centennial of the Land Run, dubbed the The Wild West 89er Taming of the Shrew. The summer season also included Twelfth Night, On to Oklahoma, Much Ado About Nothing and Romeo and Juliet. A fall production of The Importance of Being Earnest was presented in Edmond and toured throughout Oklahoma.
In November of 1989, Jack O’Meara passed away of cancer. Kathryn Huey O’Meara McGill carried on the tradition, joined for the next two decades by managing director Sue Ellen Reiman and Development Director Norman Hammon.
After performing for several years on an existing stage in Edmond’s Hafer Park, under the leadership of board president Randy Buttram, OSP debuted its own stage in the summer of 1990. This stage was secluded and picturesque. The audience could only reach it by strolling through the woods.
In 1990, OSP began with an indoor spring production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The summer season productions on the new stage were The Comedy of Errors (which also toured the state in the summer and fall), The Merchant of Venice, Love’s Labor’s Lost and Hamlet.
In 1991, the second phase of the new theater was completed with the assistance of a major grant from the Edmond Women’s Club. The 1991 summer season featured The Merry Wives of Windsor (which also toured), Measure for Measure, Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Richard III.
The 1992 summer season opened with As You Like It (which also toured), followed by Troilus and Cressida, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Henry V.
In 1992, Jack O’Meara (posthumously) and Kathryn Huey O’Meara McGill were awarded a Governor’s Arts Award in recognition for their creation of Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park.
A spring 1993 production of Othello was produced at Stage Center in downtown Oklahoma City, commencing a tradition that would carry on for the next two decades.
The summer season of 1993 featured Twelfth Night (which also toured), as well as All’s Well that Ends Well, She Stoops to Conquer, and Julius Caesar.
January and February of 1994 featured the second production at Stage Center, Romeo and Juliet. The winter productions downtown presented an excellent opportunity to expose school groups to Shakespeare, in a way the summer productions could not.
The 1994 summer season featured The Taming of the Shrew (which also toured), Antony and Cleopatra, Cyrano de Bergerac and The Tempest.
In January and February of 1995, OSP staged Macbeth at Stage Center.
The 1995 summer productions were Much Ado About Nothing (which also toured), The Comedy of Errors, Wild Oats and Macbeth. This year began the practice of re-staging the winter show at the end of the summer season, a tradition that lasted a decade.
In January and February of 1996, The Winter’s Tale was performed at Stage Center. The 1996 summer season included Love’s Labour’s Lost, Henry IV, part 1, Scapin and The Winter’s Tale.
The winter production at Stage Center in January and February of 1997 was Hamlet. The 1997 Summer Season featured Two Gentlemen of Verona (touring), The Duchess of Malfi, As You Like It and Hamlet.
The 1998 season began with a winter production of Richard III and included summer performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merry Wives of Windsor and a restaging of Richard III.
In 1999, OSP produced King Lear at Stage Center as a part of the new “Stage Center Presents…” series with guest artist Greg Mullavey in the title role.
Summer productions in 1999 included Romeo and Juliet (which also toured), Twelfth Night and King Lear.
In March of 2000, the second production in the “Stage Center Presents…” series was Julius Caesar with guest artist Brian Lane Green as Marc Antony.
Productions for the 2000 summer season were The Tempest, Taming of the Shrew and Julius Caesar.
November and December of 2000 also saw the second staging of A Christmas Carol in downtown Edmond, a tradition that OSP would carry on for several years.
In winter of 2001, the “Stage Center Presents…” production was Much Ado About Nothing with guest artist Richard Gilbert-Hill. The 2001 summer season productions were Henry V, Pericles and Much Ado About Nothing.
On December 12, 2001, a fire destroyed OSP’s Hafer Park stage. Thanks to the generosity of many patrons, friends, and businesses, donations totaling over $25,000 poured in and the stage was rebuilt in time for the 2002 summer season.
Meanwhile, a third production of A Christmas Carol ran in downtown Edmond and toured to Norman and Wewoka.
Guest director Curt Tofteland from the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival staged the 2002 “Stage Center Presents…” production of Macbeth. Macbeth, along with The Comedy of Errors and All’s Well that Ends Well, comprised the 2002 summer season at the rebuilt Hafer Park stage.
In December of 2002, A Christmas Carol was again staged in downtown Edmond and toured to Weatherford, Woodward and Lindsay.
The winter production at Stage Center in March of 2003 was Othello, and the summer season included As You Like It, The Winter’s Tale and Othello.
Following the December, 2003 production of A Christmas Carol at Cafe Broadway in downtown Edmond (and a tour to Ponca City), OSP produced A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Stage Center in January and February of 2004 with guest artist Mel Cobb of Shakespeare & Company portraying Oberon.
The 2004 20th anniversary summer season featured Twelfth Night, Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
December of 2004 saw the annual production of A Christmas Carol relocate to Mitchell Hall at the University of Central Oklahoma, symbolic of OSP’s growing partnership with UCO in Edmond.
In January, 2005 OSP produced Romeo and Juliet at Stage Center in downtown Oklahoma City.
In April of 2005, OSP’s stage in Hafer Park again burned to the ground. With just weeks left till the summer season, board president Craig Barton led the organization into an agreement with the University of Central Oklahoma. For the next two summers, OSP would stage its seasons in UCO’s Plunkett Park.
The 2005 Summer Season featured The Merry Wives of Windsor, Love’s Labour’s Lost and Romeo and Juliet.
The December, 2005 production of A Christmas Carol toured to Mustang, Tishomingo, and the Gaillardia and River Oaks country clubs before running in UCO’s Mitchell Hall.
The January, 2006 production at Stage Center in downtown Oklahoma City was The Taming of the Shrew. The 2006 summer season productions at UCO’s Plunkett Park were Two Gentlemen of Verona, Titus Andronicus and The Taming of the Shrew. In December, A Christmas Carol was performed at Mitchell Hall on the UCO campus with tours to Lindsay, WOSU in Altus, and the Gaillardia and River Oaks country clubs.
Rising from the Ashes and Finding a New Home
The two fires had been devastating to Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park. The organization had used up most of its savings, and its audiences at UCO had dropped in half from the audiences at Hafer Park. Led by board president David Holt (a former child actor with the company), the organization began considering options beyond rebuilding in Edmond.
In 1985, it would have made little sense to stage Shakespeare in downtown Oklahoma City, but the intervening years had represented a renaissance in the city’s history. Downtown Oklahoma City was now a thriving destination, and OSP recognized that perhaps it was time to make the heart of the community its new permanent home.
In 2006, OSP entered negotiations with the City of Oklahoma City and the Myriad Gardens Foundation, led by Jim Tolbert, to relocate to the Myriad Botanical Gardens Water Stage in downtown Oklahoma City. In December, the organization announced that in conjunction with a renovation of the Water Stage, it would relocate its summer seasons there. Additionally, OSP relocated its administrative offices from Edmond to Stage Center.
The January, 2007 production at Stage Center was The Tempest. In February, in recognition of its newfound home downtown, OSP held a fundraiser at the Skirvin Hilton in the restored Venetian Room the very first Friday after the hotel’s long-awaited reopening.
OSP’s summer 2007 inaugural productions in the Myriad Botanical Gardens were A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Cyrano de Bergerac and Macbeth. The 2007 productions were staged in repertory, with the final weekend of the season featuring all three shows. The 2007 summer season was a huge success, with increased attendance and enormous support from the Oklahoma City artistic and business communities.
In November of 2007, OSP staged the official Centennial production of The Grapes of Wrath at Stage Center, in commemoration of Oklahoma’s centennial as a state.
Also that winter, A Christmas Carol toured and performed at Pegasus Theatre on the UCO campus in Edmond. The Scarlet Letter was the January, 2008 production at Stage Center.
The relocation to downtown Oklahoma City brought a new alliance with Oklahoma City University, which began in 2008. In 2008, OSP started the Jack O’Meara Actors Hall of Fame to recognize the many actors who have meant so much to OSP’s evolution.
The 2008 summer season productions were Much Ado About Nothing, The Three Musketeers and Richard III, again performed in repertory as in 2007. A Christmas Carol was again presented that winter, this time as a touring production only.
OSP staged Julius Caesar at Stage Center in January of 2009.
In 2009, OSP staged its 25th Anniversary season at the Myriad Gardens with productions of As You Like It, Shaw’s Misalliance, Hamlet and Twelfth Night. A special gala performance of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) at the Civic Center Music Hall capped the celebration.
A Flood, a Renovation, and a Bright Future
In the spring of 2010, as part of its ever-growing alliance, OSP and Oklahoma City University co-produced a production of Romeo and Juliet at the University. This marked the end of OSP’s long tradition of staging one show at Stage Center every winter.
In June of 2010, a flash flood all but destroyed the interior of Oklahoma City’s Stage Center, including OSP’s office. Allied Arts arranged for a temporary office, and OSP eventually relocated to the Fred Jones building on Main Street in west downtown Oklahoma City.
Meanwhile, the Myriad Gardens was undergoing a massive renovation as part of Oklahoma City’s Project 180. As a result, OSP relocated the summer, 2010 season to Bicentennial Park, in front of the Civic Center Music Hall. The Myriad Gardens Foundation assisted the company in its relocation costs. OSP staged The Taming of the Shrew (with an all-male cast), The Comedy of Errors and Romeo and Juliet.
The spring of 2011 saw a co-production with OCU of The Merchant of Venice as well as an all-female production of Henry V.
In the summer of 2011, Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park returned to the newly renovated and reopened Myriad Botanical Gardens to present its 27th season of bringing the classics to life in Oklahoma. Productions included The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Seagull by Anton Chekov, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That year, the organization also elevated Kathryn Huey O’Meara McGill to Executive Director, a position that had been vacant since Jack O’Meara’s passing in 1989.
In 2012, OSP’s summer season included Two Gentleman of Verona, The Tempest, Cymbeline (staged at OCU), and Othello. For the first time, in recognition of several years of record heat, OSP went dark in August, and staged Othello in the cool of September.
In the summer of 2013 the season included Measure for Measure, Ring Round the Moon and King John (staged indoors at OCU) and King Lear in September.
The 30th Anniversary Season and a New Era
In the fall of 2013, long time company actor Rob Gallavan was elected as the President of the Board of Directors. Michael Gibbons, also an established company member, was hired as the Managing Director. The company returned to its roots as an independent theater and the decision was made by Gallavan and McGill to approach Actor’s Equity Association for membership as an Equity theater…a benchmark set by Jack O’Meara when the company was founded.
In May of 2014, Actor’s Equity Association awarded Oklahoma Shakespeare In The Park membership as a Small Professional Theater. Representatives from AEA attended the 30th Anniversary Celebration and recognized the company as the premier classical theater in Oklahoma.
The 30th Anniversary season included Twelfth Night, Antony and Cleopatra, Pericles and Macbeth. Mary Buss, Richard Nelson and David Chrzanowski were the first Equity actors to work under the new contract.
Today, OSP is firmly established as one of Oklahoma’s cultural treasures, entertaining and enlightening thousands of Oklahomans year-around.
Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park’s mission statement is to produce bold, re-imagined, entertaining and accessible interpretations of Shakespeare and the classics. OSP is committed to promoting the highest level of artistic excellence, to cultivating the widest possible audience and to contributing to the economic and cultural growth of its community, state and region through the professional theatre experience and educational outreach programs.
OSP is a member agency of Allied Arts. OSP is also a member of STAA (the Shakespeare Theatre Association of America), the Institute of Outdoor Drama, the Arts Council of Oklahoma City, the Assembly of Community Arts Councils, the Oklahoma Community Theatre Association, and Frontier Country Marketing Association.
This history was revised by Board President Rob Gallavan in May, 2014.