Assistant Arts Editor
Oklahoma City is a city still growing in urban culture and the arts—the recent renovation of the botanical gardens, the instillation of the 17-acre Scissortail Park and the long-awaited opening of the First Americans Museum act as herald to the innovation of Oklahoma’s capital city. One of the most notable expressions of culture and art found in OKC, though, is the state’s very own Shakespeare company, aptly titled Oklahoma Shakespeare.
Oklahoma Shakespeare (OSP) is unique to the city in that it’s not a new addition to the renaissance beginning to sweep downtown; in fact, the company is one of the earliest proponents of arts in urban Oklahoma. Its founders, executive producer Jack O’Meara and artistic director Kathryn Huey O’Meara McGill, founded OSP in 1985 with the belief that the state was worthy of its own theater company devoted to the works of William Shakespeare and other renowned writers of Western canon. Since its founding, OSP has featured beloved Shakespearean plays such as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Hamlet,” “The Tempest” and “Romeo and Juliet” alongside adaptations of works such as Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility.”
The company has undergone both trials and triumphs—much like those characters they immortalize upon the stage—over the nearly four decades since its first show. OSP was free to the public until 1988, but that summer season the organization still earned over 12,000 patrons, warranting them so debut their own stage at Hafer Park two years later. However, tragedy struck hard—the stage burned in 2001, was rebuilt, and burned again in 2005. Performances were forced to float between theaters; a flood even destroyed one of them, a mockery of the flames that had set OSP adrift in the first place.
In every good play, though, victories and misfortunes often go hand-in-hand. The loss OSP has felt in its history has led to a new success: the opening of Shakespeare Gardens, the company’s very own, newly renovated indoor-outdoor facility. Located in the Paseo Historic Arts District, Shakespeare Gardens is bringing OSP back to its roots, giving the company a home and opportunity to better regale the city with its performances.
“We were always ‘in the Park’—and Hafer was just this beautiful park—and we loved the idea of picnicking on the lawn and lawn chairs and all of that—and people missed that,” said executive/artistic director Kathryn McGill. “We have been wanting to figure out a way to get back to that nostalgia for a while.”
After shutting down 2020’s season after only one show, OSP has finally debuted its new outdoor venue. This year’s season, consisting of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Erin Wood’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” and “Macbeth,” took place upon a 40-foot-by-24-foot wooden stage, humbly yet keenly decorated for each show. Audience members watched from blankets, lawn chairs, or special patio seating, welcome to either buy refreshments at the venue or bring their own from the surrounding shops and restaurants.
2021’s season just ended this past Sunday, Nov. 14 with an eerie showing of Macbeth, the supposedly cursed Scottish play that fit perfectly into the Halloween season at its first showings late October. Three guest artists joined the production, bringing with them experience and skills that set OSP’s “Macbeth” a step above the others. New York City actor Michael Allen Stewart took the role of the haunted, ruthless title character alongside OKC-native-turned-New-Yorker Madelyn Sproat, who played Lady Macbeth. Missouri-based actor Michael LaGue played Duncan, the murdered king, along with other side roles.
OBU was even represented this season as 2020 alumn and theater major Caleb Frank took the stage as Ross, a Scottish nobleman, as an integral role in the performance.
Oklahoma Shakespeare’s 2022 season has yet to be announced, but, with a new venue to call home and an impressive history of performances, there is much to be anticipated for the future of Oklahoma’s very own theater company.