I'll be posting my own reactions to the TATE awards in the next day or two. But in the meantime, here is a guest post by Whit Hanna, presented in full and without comment.
"The 2016 TATE awards did nothing to help the Tulsa theater community. Now before you lambast me, let me back up for a second.
For those of you not aware, the last eight years, the Kaiser Family Foundation has given twenty grand in prize money to four winning shows in the name of theater excellence. The submitted productions are viewed by a secret group of judges who are supposed to attend all the submitted shows. Said judges then rate aspects of the production on a secret worksheet, and all of that information is handed to a private firm that tallies votes and puts them in sealed secret envelopes. The big selling point being; nobody knows who's going to win. The money breaks down from a ten thousand dollar top prize, five thousand dollar runner up, twenty five hundred dollars for third, and twenty five hundred for a "youth" category. Any 501(c)(3) that fills certain requirements can submit a production. There is a limitation on how many productions can be submitted by any one 501(c)(3). It's a nice chunk of cash, IF you win.
The award ceremony is called the "TATE Awards" which stands for TULSA AREA THEATER EXCELLENCE, and one would assume that the most excellent show will always walk away with some money and a nice statue. But, we have all experienced (at one time or another over the last eight years) that this is not the truth. In fact, sometimes is just blatantly obvious to everyone in the Tulsa theater community that some show or the other got the shaft. Why? Well it all comes down to who the judges are. I'll get to that in a minute.
There are two other awards given during this ceremony: The "Mary K. Place" lifetime achievement award, and the "Distinguished Artist" award. In fact most of the evening is spent on these two awards, with the majority of the time being used for the "Distinguished Artist". Past "distinguish artist" award winners have included Mrs Place, Tim Blake Nelson, and Wes Studi. This year it was Gary Busey. Aye there's the rub: as I said before most of the evening is spent on this particular award, and yet, so far, it has been given to a "celebrity" who is famous for their film work. Film, not theater. Furthermore, this person's "tie" to Tulsa is that they were at some point living in this area. They do not live here now. That is important. These people, who we spend an hour and a half glamorizing at the TATEs, are NOT a part of Tulsa's theater community. Should this award really be the cornerstone of the "Tulsa Area Theater Excellence" award presentation? In contrast the "Mary K Place" award has always gone to someone deeply entrenched in our community. Is it wrong to think that maybe this award should be the cornerstone of the evening? It is these artists that have committed their lives to the Tulsa Theater community.
The shortest section of the evening is dedicated to the aforementioned "excellent" pieces of theater. A wild dash to the finish, sprinkled with short speeches, and as we have all learned, it is anyone's guess who's going to be a winner. I suppose that should make it interesting, but in reality and has an opposite effect.
You see, this year started off with a bang. Not that it hasn't happened in the past, (Wes Studi I'm looking at you). The community knew ahead of time that Gary Busey was going to be receiving the distinguished artist award. Anybody who is been able to turn on the television in the last couple of decades knows just what a "shit show" Gary Busey is. What is his tie to Tulsa? He played some high school football here, then quickly disappeared into Lala land, got himself a Oscar nod, became a celebrity bonfire with his antics, and even got himself "fired" by a presidential nominee.
Unsurprisingly, Gary Busey lived up to all of our expectations. I haven't laughed so hard in a long time. But in many ways that is what makes it so sad, here is a man who has no ties to our theater community, who makes a farce out of the ceremony meant to celebrate the community, and we crown him with the title of "distinguished artist"! It delegitimizes the entire event. This is not a ceremony for our community, this is misguided and misplaced ego stroke for some celebrity that took a weekend of their time to do some "slumming" in Tulsa. I believe I echo my peers in saying if it wasn't for the money, we wouldn't even bother showing up. Cheap beer and boxed wine that runs out too quickly isn't enough...
But the elephant in the room is the awards for Theatre excellence. As I said before, we've all had an experience at this point seeing that the best nominated shows not only do not win, but sometimes don't even place. And really, all conspiracy theories aside, this comes down to nothing more than: who are the judges? Well, funny thing, at this year's ceremony there were white paper place markers suspended above every black table cloth in Cains Ballrom. They listed the names of the 501(c)(3) theater companies. Some for Gary Busey's contingent. Even one for the people carrying the "secret" envelopes. But the paper place card that I like the most said "Tate judges". We all speculate that we know who the judges are, and some of us have pretty much figured out who might be a judge, but for the first time I got to see who the judges were. At least who sat at that table. They quickly took down that paper place card, by the way.
I stared at those people for a long time. I would like to think that I have a pretty good idea of who is intimately involved in our community. I could be wrong, but I didn't recognize any of those people. Another thing, they all seem to be late 50s to middle 70s in age, baby boomers, and Caucasian. Why is that important, you ask? Well, when we look at the shows that win, we often ask why one would place over another. When judges fit into a certain demographic, they are going to like a certain type of product and they are going to a vote accordingly. Also, if this group of judges are outsiders to our community, perhaps people who do not know much about theater, then how would they be able to recognize true excellence and innovation in the work? It makes sense that this group would love a production like Catch Me if You Can; A non-challenging, lighthearted, comedy musical that takes place in the 1960s. It's a baby boomers wet dream. In contrast to the production of Our Town which used heavy tech, asked its audience to interact with their personal smartphone throughout the show, with live Facebook posts, Google searches, and streaming pictures on multiple video screens in the theater. It's a baby boomers worst nightmare. The mystery of why certain shows win over others, in my mind, has been somewhat solved. I get it. I would vote for what I like also. I would favor the things I identify with.
I readily admit there are an awful lot of assumptions in this. Remember I'm just going off of the paper place card. But I did happen to overhear a man right at the end of the awards ceremony angrily proclaim, "I'm one of the Tate judges and I don't have a fucking clue what these people are thinking" as he stormed out of the Cains. Take that as you will.
So what do we do to fix all of this? First we get rid of the distinguished artist award. Turn it into a series of awards celebrating best actor, best actress, best supporting actor, best supporting actress, best director, and best production design. It is about celebrating the Tulsa theater community, right? Then make the focus of the evening the lifetime achievement award. These are people who should be rewarded by our community for their commitment to our community. Lastly, we need Tate judges that have some working knowledge of the Tulsa Theater community, and we must diversify their race and age.
These steps need to be taken, because as of last night, this award ceremony became an absolute farce. Myself, and many of my peers, left shaking our heads at the utter absurdity of it all. I'm not trying to knock the Kaiser foundation. We greatly appreciate the money, but wouldn't it be better served if it was disbursed evenly amongst all of the community, instead of huge chunks going to one group or another based off of a judging committee that really isn't interested in awarding excellence, just their own aesthetics? As it is, the Tate Awards do nothing to help our community, only unnecessarily pitting us against each other, creating needless animosity, and slowly tearing the community apart."
Indian Springs Barber Shop
Odeum Theater Company
A couple of Sundays from now, at the Cain’s Ballroom, much of the Tulsa theatre community will gather in our annual ceremony of tribute, triumph, defeat, and disappointment. My previous post on the TATE’s offered some suggestions as to how this event might be more of a celebration of local theatre rather than the casino crap game it’s become. (The difference between 1st and 2nd is one judge’s indigestion and $5,000.) So check that out if you’re so inclined.
But now, with exactly nothing riding on what follows, I’ll give you my thoughts on the best shows I saw this year. Since most of them were TATE nominated, I’ll go out on a limb and make some TATE predictions as well. The big caveat here is that I did not see 2 of the TATE submitted shows, Theatre Tulsa’s ‘Don’t Dress for Dinner’ and Heller’s ‘Bad Jews.’ As far as I know, they were the best two shows of the year, and I heard good things about both of them, but I have to base my selections on what I saw, not what I didn’t see, so that’s what I’m going to do.
Interestingly, most of the TATE submissions that I saw break down very nicely into pairs. Waiting for Godot (ATC) and To Kill A Mockingbird (Playhouse) were classic stories of the kind that should be a part of any city’s theatre season. These productions were not able to make us see them with fresh eyes however, though the attempt was certainly made. There were two original shows submitted this year, by Heller and Nightingale. They were written by Emile Adams and Jack Allen, two local, very promising and very young playwrights. Original work is obviously an incredibly healthy sign for Tulsa, but also presents a greater challenge in performance, as it takes time for young playwrights work out the finer points of putting their stories onstage. The two shows I worked on, The Great Gatsby (Theatre Tulsa) and Why Torture is Wrong . . . (Theatre Pops) both had lots of good things going for them, but both suffered from the same challenge: a show written for a proscenium stage sometimes doesn’t transfer well scenically to a black box staging. If it wasn’t for that, I would have pegged either of these shows as a possible TATE contender.
So, we are now getting closer to the “envelope please” moment. My favorite shows from this past season are, in chronological order as performed, All New People (Theatre Pops), Hedwig (Theatre Tulsa), Steel Magnolias (Playhouse), Mothers and Sons (ATC), and Fuddy Mears (Nightingale/Midwestern).
Since musicals aren’t eligible for the TATE Awards, Hedwig doesn’t come into that particular picture. But it was a joyous show, with every aspect of the production done well, and especially a wonderful performance by Thomas Williams, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to mention it one more time. However, my enthusiasm also reveals just how idiosyncratic judgements like this can be. I had never seen Hedwig before, either onstage, in film, or in a YouTube video. Did my unfamiliarity with the script and music affect my judgement? If I’d seen Neil Patrick Harris do it in New York would the Tulsa production have seemed like a big yawn to me? Yeah, possibly. That’s been suggested to me by others who have seen other productions. Personally, I think I still would have loved the show. But there’s no way to know. We’re all stuck in our little bubble of experience.
‘Mothers and Sons’ and ‘Steel Magnolias’ are getting paired here because they were both excellent productions, with professional quality sets, strong and sometimes exciting acting, and with an intelligent, creative director at the helm. These were polished productions that deserve notice and support. ‘Magnolias’, anchored by Kelsey Kemper and Sydney Treat, was a delightful evening of theatre, though the play itself is light as a feather, despite the somewhat heavy handed final act. ‘Mothers and Sons’ plays on the opposite side of the aisle. It deals with significant issues with delicacy and humor, walking a fine line between comedy and tragedy. Ultimately however, it struggled to hold interest over a long evening, in spite of best efforts by its talented cast of Lisa Wilson, Sterling McHan, and Chad Oliverson.
Which leaves All New People and Fuddy Mears. These two productions also pair up well, with lots of common factors. They’re both comedies, even madcap comedies, but with a dramatic edge. They both depend on strong, over the top characterizations for their comic effect. And they both pulled it off due to some of the best performances seen this year. Meghan Hurley and Gavin Wells were spot on as the flamboyant characters driving the action in ‘People’. It’s a little harder picking out individuals in ‘Fuddy Mears’, as every character is flamboyantly over the top. But that just makes their accomplishment of nailing every character with hilarious specificity all the more impressive. ‘People’ probably felt the more polished of the two, attributable to the fact that it played in the PAC and in a single setting, as well their seamless incorporation of video to help establish back story. ‘Fuddy Mears’ was a little looser, but on the other hand the play itself sets the bar higher, demanding more from its actors and set designers. And if that challenge is met, the conclusion offers a greater payoff, which presents yet another challenge to the ensemble, as they have to find a way to move from slapstick to melancholy, and make us believe the transition.
For me, and again remembering that ‘Don’tDress for Dinner’ and ‘Bad Jews’ aren’t in the mix, ‘Fuddy Mears’ was the standout show of the season. The extraordinarily talented ensemble met all of the myriad challenges of the script, all the while never losing that sense of ‘play’ that characterizes most Odeum shows. ‘All New People’ was just as solid in its own way, the two shows bookending the season admirably. ‘Mothers and Sons’ and ‘Steel Magnolias’ are just behind these, professional quality productions, and so different that it would be meaningless to say one was better than the other, so I won’t. Which, somewhat sadly, points to another drawback in the structure of the TATE Awards.
In general, I have no problem saying this show is good, this one not so much. This is a good thing for popular arts, of which community theatre is one. And I love award shows, because they’re fun. Or at least they’re supposed to be. But with so much money riding on every award, on every place that a show gets notched up or down, it’s not fun for many of us. Hopefully the structure can evolve into something a little more friendly to the artists, where we can genuinely applaud excellence without counting our own loss.
I’m looking forward to going on the 26th, I hear the wine is free. Hope to see you there.
The TATE’s. What can be said about them that hasn’t already been mumbled under the breath by one of the ‘losers’? I don’t know, but we’re going to find out. Welcome to SL918’s special TATE Awards Edition! First, the quick list of shows nominated by their respective theatres:
'All New People'- Theatre Pops
'Bad Jews'- Heller Theatre Company
'Waiting for Godot'- American Theatre Company
'Great Gatsby'- Theatre Tulsa
'To Kill a Mockingbird'- The Playhouse Tulsa
'Cowboy'- Nightingale Theater
'Don't Dress for Dinner'- Theatre Tulsa
'Steel Magnolias'- The Playhouse Tulsa
'Why Tourture is Wrtong and The People Who Love Them'- Theatre Pops
'Mothers and Sons'- American Theatre Company
'I wish you actually liked me (and other familial impossibilities)- Heller Theatre Company
'Fuddy Meers'- Nightingale Theater and Odeum Theatre Company
'Catch Me if You Can'- Clark Youth Theatre
'Our Town'- Clark Youth Theatre
I missed Heller’s ‘Bad Jews’ and Theatre Tulsa’s ‘Dress for Dinner,’ so unfortunately there’s no way to consider those shows in what follows. I also worked on two shows, doing the lights for ‘Great Gatsby’ and directing ‘Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them.’ That said, all of the following is just my freaking opinion, ok?
To address the youth shows first, both of them come from Clark, my former home, so I don’t have to worry about being prejudiced one way or the other on that score. I don’t believe in reviewing kids’ performances, the whole Honesty-in-reviewing-community-theatre thing breaks down a little at that age. But from a different perspective, Clark’s ‘Our Town’ was truly an original approach to the play that was implemented just about seamlessly. The original spirit of the play was not discarded, but reinterpreted in such a way that made it contemporary, relevant, and fun. Though the concept was director Whitson Hanna’s, the young cast and crew were the ones who implemented it in performance. Their contribution was substantial and integral to the whole. This would be my pick, based on originality and the communal approach.
Onwards. No, wait. Before we get to my picks, let’s pull back for a minute and talk about this event from a meta-standpoint. No, wait. Let’s look at it from two, no, wait, three, no, an undermined number of specific standpoints, each with its own priorities.
From the standpoint of the GKFF, (purely my speculation here of course) the TATE awards are a way to get some much needed money to the local theatre arts scene. Reward excellence with cash. I base my speculation on GKFF’s history of supporting the community in myriad ways, including the arts. My reaction? Bravo, and a million thanks. Your help and inspiration (money can be very inspiring) have borne fruit in many ways, most directly in more and better shows. So, hopefully, from their point of view, the TATE’s have been and continue to be a success.
Now, here’s my own personal perspective (no speculation needed): “Free wine and I hope we win.” Simple, direct, no angst, never any disappointment. Because the wine’s always free and at least one show I’m associated with wins (more on that aspect in just a minute).
What about people from other theatres? More speculation here, but it’s based on solid observation, and it goes something like this: “We desperately need the money, but they’re probably going to (screw) overlook us again.” Did you notice the difference? It’s subtle, but if you look carefully you might detect how our viewpoints diverge. The question then becomes, why do they feel differently about the TATE’s than I do? Well, it might be that ‘free wine’ is just higher on my list of priorities. Or, maybe it means that I’m more enlightened than all those other folks. I’d like that. But that shit ain’t the truth. The truth is, the theatres that I was a part of, Heller and Clark, didn’t really need the money. We were city supported theatres! The next show was already paid for. We ourselves got paid every week whether anyone came to see the shows or not. We had dental! In short, we didn’t have as much riding on the results as everyone else, so no angst. And in addition, because we were a city supported theatre, with our own space, and where money wasn’t really that big a problem, our shows had a little bit of a natural advantage anyway, and so tended to win more often than not. (Now that that advantage has disappeared, the secret can be revealed.) Plus, we were the only youth theatre active enough to submit most years, so that pretty much guaranteed at least one win. And finally, between Erin Scarberry, Julie Tattershall, and myself, we had three kick-ass directors, which didn’t hurt either. So we were in the enviable position of not really ever being disappointed.
There’s at least one other perspective that I’ve noticed. I have no idea whose, but clearly this point of view exists out there somewhere, the evidence is unmistakable. And it goes like this: “The TATE awards are all about bringing a Hollywood celebrity into town and making a big to-do over him/her.”
OK. Breathe. Let’s go to our happy place. I’m, uh, I’m just going to pause for a moment of silence here. Remember to breathe. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I’m sorry, that drug on a lot longer than I intended. I teared up a little in the middle, wanted to get myself under control before I went on. I’m alright now.
DAMN! DAMN! DAMN! Has no one noticed that this has become incredibly disrespectful of the entire Tulsa Theatre Community? Is anybody paying attention here? How have we been reduced to performing as a bit player in a show that’s all about how important someone from Hollywood is, and by simple extension how unimportant we are? Yeah, and what about the times we’ve simply been passive and unwilling enablers of whatever ego trip our celebrity chooses to engage in onstage, present only because there’s a slender chance there might be some money in it for us at the end of the night? Or that maybe our celebrity will throw some nickels so he can watch us scramble for them?
Just so we’re clear, it’s not like this every time. Peggy Helmerich, Tim Blake Nelson, and Mary Kaye Place, to name the examples that come immediately to mind, belong up there for reasons that have nothing to do with their celebrity. And you could feel the difference on those nights. There was a connection to the community, a connection to what it’s like to be an artist that’s not doing it for the money (cause that’s us, baby), a mutual respect that could be felt on both sides of the lights.
Besides the disrespect, you know the worst thing about this misplaced emphasis? Missed opportunity. Because what do we need as much as, maybe even more than money? Glad you asked, I’ll tell ya. More recognition from the public. A lot of the money problems we have could be alleviated if we had 50% more butts in the seats. And the TATE Awards are a perfect vehicle to help with that! The public loves award shows! Best actor, best comedy, best technical design. Publicity, Glamour, Suspense! Ok, I may be reaching a little, but at the moment any opportunity in that vein is completely wasted because the only people in the story are/ is, the celebrity. The actual Tulsa theatre artists don’t rate a footnote. Couldn’t a little money be spent promoting the event, acting as if it’s important enough to take note of, creating a little buzz about the fact that we’ve got this really active, talented, vital and varied theatre community? Maybe that could be accomplished by taking some of that money that was going to pay the out-of-towner to come slumming?
Well, I seem to be in the mood to rant lately.
Whatever, it’s my blog, I get to write what I want. And I got one more thing to say about the TATE’s before we move on to my picks. Thinking about the four different perspectives I’ve explored here, which one is the healthiest for the individual and the group, which one leads to the best evening’s experience. Well, clearly mine. “Free wine and I hope I win.” Right? No argument there. So how can we restructure the awards so that everyone can share this joyful if somewhat inebriated perspective?
First and most importantly, break the strict connection between money and the awards. Award money to deserving theatres based on their contribution to the Tulsa community and their need. Award statuettes to deserving shows and actors. And not on the same night. No more going to the awards gritting your teeth, as your lack of money is brought up in the most painful way possible—by watching another theatre take home the thousands of dollars you really need, and feel you deserve. No more false applause, while you whisper “Damn” under your breath. Competition, yes, of course, but no more weird conflicted feelings as you resent the fact that a close friend won. Take the money, or most of it, out of the equation. It kills the buzz.
(Secondarily, I personally would prefer a more ‘dress up’ event. And more food. And more awards. And more publicity. And take home bottles of wine.)
“How does that work?” you ask. I’ve got a couple of suggestions. A panel of judges sees a bunch of shows, basically like they do now. But instead of rating the shows, they rate the theatre groups. The criteria would have to be worked out, but could include things like filling a niche that isn’t filled by any other company, overall quality of productions, level of talent the company can attract, and ability of company to utilize any financial support to sustain itself long term. That would determine how that year’s financial support from the GKFF would be distributed.
A larger group, that could include the initial group but would also incorporate a much larger slice of the theatre community, would vote on the TATE awards, which would be expanded to include standout acting performances, technical design, and directorial approach, as well as best shows. There might or might not be a much smaller financial award to go with these.
Perhaps it’s presumptuous of me to suggest what other people should do with their money. I don’t mean to be. I’m just brainstorming. I'm acutely aware that it’s the George Kaiser Family Foundation that is actually putting its money where its mouth is, whereas all I have is my mouth, and it's the committee that’s doing the leg work, while I just lie here on my couch, tap tap tapping with my skinny little fingers, as“The Mummy” plays on Netflix. I don’t mean to seem ungrateful for all the time, energy and money that have been spent over the years, especially since Heller and Clark have been among the primary beneficiaries. But I think the experience has revealed that some things could be improved, to do more to help theatre in Tulsa, and these are my suggestions.
What about my picks? Ah, that was just a clever ruse to get you to read to the end of the article. Don’t spoil it for the next guy. And read the next post, because that's when I’ll actually tell you who I think should, and will win this year’s TATE’s. I promise.
There’s an unusual and important performance project coming up this weekend, at the Kerr Warehouse and sponsored by Living Arts and NightLight Tulsa. It’s called, “7 Doorways / 7 Stories: Collaborative Artists Giving Homeless Individuals a Voice.” The idea is simple, but shocking in its unfamiliarity. Let members of Tulsa’s homeless community, of which there are approximately 2,000 at any particular point in time, to tell their stories, and allow local artists to shape those stories into performance presentation—drama, dance, video, music.
The Kerr Warehouse is at 12 N. Cheyenne, and has seven doorways open onto the street. Each doorway frames a story/performance. The entire evening begins with a free burger meal at 8 pm, shared between the audience, artists, and the homeless community, and provided by NightLight Tulsa. The performances, each approximately 10 minutes, then begin around 9 pm. NightLight Tulsa is the organization which gathered the stories, sending people out to shelters and encampments, and encouraging the people there to share their experiences and transcribing the interviews. In partnership with Living Arts, artists were invited to collaborate in groups to shape these stories into the pieces being presented this Saturday.
David Blakely acts as one of the team leaders of this project, supported in his group by Anna Hudson, Mark Leavitt, and Tim Hunter, and we spoke briefly about how he got involved and his interest in this kind of socially conscious theatre.
David: I'm in it because of an earlier project I was involved that was similar. I had gathered numerous stories over last 18 months. I volunteer at the Day Center for the homeless at Denver and Archer, and interviewed some of the people there along with my co-writer Anna Hudson. A magnificent writer, covered South by Southwest for the Voice, a delight to read. She has a scholarship to RSU, and is in one of my classes.
David and Anna had put together a performance art piece as part of the last Art Crawl in May. They had taken 9 of the stories they'd collected and turned them into "testimonials." They then recruited 9 actors, including Tim Hunter, Sally Adams, Andy Axewell, and Robert Spencer Walters. Each was given a story. Each artwork in the gallery, created by student artists and artists from the homeless community, was associated with one of the stories. As a bystander became interested in a piece, the actor associated with that piece approached and began to share his or her story.
David: It's part of the decision I made to do art for social practice. We're creating a text out of a population that we want to empower, to draw attention to . . . it's a movement across the country. Art for social change. In this event coming up on Saturday, the communal meal is followed by the presentation. My part in it is that I've put together 2 of the stories from the earlier, Art Crawl event and linked them with an original song written for the event. I'm excited about that, but more excited that Tulsa's artistic community is getting behind doing this. And it's free! We want to get a bunch of people there.
And now, the editorial. Since I was reassigned to Central Center from Henthorne, I've become much more aware of the homeless situation in Tulsa. There is no one explanation of why someone becomes homeless, every situation is unique, though mental illness, losing one's job, and losing the support of your family can all swiftly spiral into losing one's home. I've also seen how the support groups in town can help in getting people back on their feet, though that doesn't happen often enough. But if you want to learn more about what's going on in our city, you might want to think about attending this event. And the more you learn, the more you might want to help. Irongate, NightLight Tulsa, Salvation Army, John 3:16, and other organizations are both keeping people alive, and helping to give at least some of them a chance at a better life. Putting $5 into the hand of the guy on the corner with the cardboard sign isn't the same thing as contributing something every month into one or two of these organizations, or volunteering once a month. The reality is that this problem isn't ever going to go away. So the question is, how can we help?
For the second year in a row, Odeum and Nightingale/Midwestern have partnered on a major project. They have followed up their TATE winning God of Carnage from last year with David Lindsay-Abaire’s Fuddy Meers, playing one more weekend at the Nightingale space. If I had to guess, they’re probably going to grab an award for this one as well.
Fuddy Meers is one of those plays that read great on the page, but that can trip up a cast that plays it solely for wackiness, as if it was an updated version of Arsenic and Old Lace. Not a problem in this case, as the usual suspects from Nightingale and Odeum take their characters, and their characters’ tragedies, seriously, no matter how ridiculous the situations may seem on the surface. Walking that fine line turns out to be the very thing that makes the play as funny and as satisfying as it is.
There simply isn’t another set of actors in Tulsa who are as well suited to this challenge as this cast, all of whom are familiar to anyone who’s seen either troupe before. Erin Scarberry, John Cruncleton, Will Carpenter, Sara Cruncleton, Whitson Hanna, and Leslie Long comprise most of the core of the two groups, and have played together in various configurations for years. The newcomer is Knox Blakely, who I’m familiar with from Clark Youth Theatre.
Though still separate groups, Nightingale and Odeum are a natural fit to work together. They both gravitate towards shows that challenge their audiences as well as their actors, and that often tend towards violent conclusions. Together they function as the only real ongoing ensemble in Tulsa. Unlike the other community theatres in town, they don’t necessarily hold open auditions, but instead pick their shows with the actors already in mind. Though on a theoretical level some people may disapprove, it’s perfectly valid approach and produces some great theatre. Including the current show.
I could complement each of the actors in turn, but I know they hate that, so I’ll just say this: Will Carpenter can get more laughs out of doing practically nothing than anyone I’ve ever seen. A shift of the head, a look, even just a pause, and the whole audience is laughing. It’s a gift. And I can’t not mention Knox, who’s like 15 years old, holding his own and then some in the middle of some pretty intimidating performers. Finally, nothing but sympathy for Angela Adams, who as director was in charge of this herd of cats. Knowing the personalities of the people she had to work with, it could not have been easy.
I don’t feel like getting into too many specifics, but a quick laundry list includes: a set that works seamlessly in creating flow between multiple locations; better lighting than I’ve seen lately at the Nightingale (still cutting off some heads in the opening seen though); a wildly energetic performance from Erin Scarberry as the cheerful amnesiac; John Cruncleton playing against type as the goofy yet sinister nerdy little guy; and the aforementioned Will Carpenter, in a tour de force performance that covers more emotional ground than some actors do in a career. All in all, a top notch show. My wife wants to go back and see it again. Maybe I’ll see you there. I’m just saying.
Arts Alliance Tulsa
Green Room OK
Tulsa Little Theatre
Tulsa Weekly Roundup
Am. Theatre Co.
BA Community Playhouse
Clark Youth Theatre
G Rated Theatre
Midwestern Theater Co.
Muskogee Little Theatre
Owasso Comm. Theatre
Sand Springs Comm. Th.
Sapulpa Comm. Theatre
Tulsa Latino Theatre
Tulsa Project Theatre
Tulsa Rep. Musicals
Tulsa Spotlight Theatre