ORIGIN: Starting the Conversation

Love of the Theater

07.14.14 by Lise Kifer
2 Comments

Full disclosure: While I work by day as what Tom Wallace describes as “mom” to Wallace Engineering, and as what I consider to be the very best job in the whole wide world; by night, my passion turns to theater. And that passion has led me by odd twists and turns to a local non-profit theater company, Tulsa Project Theatre, where I serve as President of the Board of Directors. I am not an impartial voice. But I am a huge fan of theater and the multitude of wonderful things it brings to a community in general, and with this company, to Tulsa in particular.

My eldest daughter, Claire, has been in theater since she was a very little girl, but her “big break” came when she played the title role in a local production of the musical, “Annie”. The night it opened was Claire’s 12th birthday. It was the culmination of a grueling rehearsal schedule that had her working at the theater until 10 or 11 p.m. on school nights and all day Saturday for several weeks. She thrived on it, and even when she was so exhausted that we let her sleep in and go to school late, we never questioned whether the theater was good for her. Theater kids learn valuable life lessons, and they learn them early. They learn how to manage their time so that they get their school work done and have time to learn their lines – and if it’s a musical, the songs and dances too. They learn punctuality, for chronically late actors are not actors for long. They learn teamwork, for every play requires the efforts of all involved, and a dropped line has to be picked up by someone for the play to go on. They learn patience, for every theater kid knows you have to pay your dues before you get the choice roles. They learn responsibility, for they know that they are responsible for being at the theater ready to work, regardless of how they feel or what else is going on. They learn that the sound guy and the costumer may not be the “stars”, but they have great power over how an actor sounds and looks, so they’d better treat them with respect. They learn all this, and more.

Claire says she doesn’t remember a time that she didn’t know. She knew she had to be on stage. She knew she was at her happiest and most fulfilled when she was on the stage singing to a crowd. She knew she had the talent and the drive to make a go of it. But she also knew that if she wanted to pursue any kind of career on the stage, she would have to leave Tulsa. And this is the dilemma that every local actor faces. Claire is a poster child for actors in Tulsa. They work during the day for body sustenance, and do theater at night to feed their souls. They cannot stay here feeding both body and soul with theater. Until now.

After three years of doing productions ranging from the raunchy “Rocky Horror,” to the sweet tale of “Annie,” Tulsa Project Theatre has done what no other theater company in Tulsa has done: became an Equity company. For the uninitiated, Actors Equity Association is the union that represents actors and stage managers, and which governs everything from base salaries to rehearsal times. Equity membership provides actors with a living wage, but also offers medical and unemployment insurance and a pension plan, among other basic “perks”. And Equity theaters must abide by the rigorous standards set by the Association. In the theater world, to become “Equity” is thought of as becoming “professional,” and it is a milestone in making Tulsa a first-class theater community with every production produced, directed and acted at the highest level.

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The actors and stage managers benefit by Equity membership, and having an Equity theater gives Tulsa actors the means by which to earn their Equity card. But this is a win-win. Just as Tulsa has a professional ballet company and a professional symphony, we now have the distinction of having a professional acting company. Having a thriving arts community improves our quality of life, helps attract new residents, creates opportunities for adults and children in the arts, and has a positive impact on the local economy.

My peers at Wallace roll their eyes in mock annoyance when a new production starts. They know it will bring posters, notices on our intranet, lectures on the joys and tribulations of theater, and my occasional bleary-eyed entrance to work. But I work with structural and civil engineers. Engineers appreciate the artistry and beauty of a building. They understand what creative juices are involved in design. They get creativity and they get art. And they certainly get building a community. So they get me. And I’m grateful.

2 Responses

  1. Jim Beach says:

    Very well said, Lise! I love the line, “They work during the day for body sustenance, and do theater at night to feed their souls.” Thanks for playing a part in making “soul feeding” possible for so many people.

    • Lise says:

      Thanks, Jim. I wish I could get the whole world to support local theater. One of our board members said it best: “Where do you think the talent on Broadway and in all those national traveling shows comes from? From cities and towns just like Tulsa! You may be missing a future Tony or Oscar winner!”

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Lise Kifer, JD

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Lise has a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from Northeastern State University at UCT and Juris Doctorate from the University of Tulsa. Her duties…

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