Acting on Big Dreams
For several Edmond residents, the opportunity to perform in an amphitheatre would never have been possible if it hadn’t been for Summerstock. Theresa Nelson, one of the founders and the president of Summerstock’s board, helped bring the outdoor musical theatre productions to Edmond.
“A group of parents, whose children performed together at the Jewel Box Theatre in Oklahoma City, joined together to find a venue for a local outdoor music theatre. Our kids had been part of the theatre’s final, 'Under the Stars' summer season of 2000,” Nelson said.
With a common interest, the group met with Mayor Saundra Naifeh and soon found a location at Mitch Park. They formed a 501(c)3 production company and took off with big dreams. With a volunteer board of directors, they organized, raised funds and produced the first Summerstock show.
Charles Tweed, an icon in theatre within the Oklahoma City area, directs Summerstock productions. A graduate of UCO, Tweed has been the director at Jewel Box for thirty years.
“Chuck Tweed has been one of our founders and a key to the success of Summerstock," said Nelson. "It was really because of him that we believed in this project from the beginning. We had confidence in his abilities and his artistic reputation was an important factor when our Mayor and city invested in the amphitheatre.”
Tim Goff, who has a long history with Charles Tweed and is music director for Santa Fe Presbyterian Church, has been Summerstock’s music director for three out of four productions. “Tim has amazing talent,” said Nelson. “He’s wonderful to work with and works great with the cast.”
Summer, 2005, the inaugural season turned out two big hits. “The Sound of Music” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Coat” drew thousands to Mitch Park. The audience arrived early and enjoyed pleasant outdoor temperatures while lounging in their lawn chairs or on blankets.
“The setting could not be better," said Nelson. "It’s a nice, peaceful area and the weather is about 10 degrees cooler at Mitch Park in July than downtown Edmond. In fact, we have never had a night that was too warm. It’s been great.”
The two productions in 2006, “The Wizard of Oz” and “Grease,” nearly tripled the previous audience size as the message of Summerstock’s success got out.
The amphitheatre is owned by the city and managed by the Edmond Parks and Recreation Department. The stage, originally designed as a band shell by David Hornbeek, was extended to accommodate musical theatre productions. “Summerstock is so fortunate to have this beautiful facility to call home,” Nelson said. “It’s a perfect location with ample parking as well.”
Nelson's entire family is supportive of Summerstock. "My daughter, Kia, has worked backstage for two productions and performed in the two others," said Nelson. "My sons have also been in one show and worked hard during the other three. They’ve handed out programs, worked in concessions, as well as given up a lot of time with Mom."
Nelson's husband directed traffic along with other board member’s husbands and her youngest son, who donated a good sum of his savings last year as his first philanthropic act of giving, made the comment, “My mom had a dream and we all helped make it come true.” Nelson added, “What will happen when our kids believe they can make their own dreams come true? Isn’t that what parents live for?”
Regarding the future of Summerstock, Nelson said, “I hope other families and our community will enjoy Summerstock’s outdoor music theatre for decades to come. I also hope it will help our community continue to develop a love for the arts. I wouldn’t be surprised if someday a successful professional will say, ‘I’m here today, receiving this Tony Award because I first saw a musical, or participated in a production at Summerstock in Edmond, Oklahoma!”
The shows have also had a great impact on the performers. “Recently a mom of one the Oz Munchkins told me her second grader was asked to draw a picture of his best memory. He drew himself on the stage at Summerstock. Now that speaks volumes and is worth all my years of volunteering,” said Nelson.
Plans for Summerstock, 2007, will include the shows, “The King and I” and “West Side Story.” Auditions will be held on March 10 at Edmond’s downtown community center with callbacks taking place March 11. Approximately twelve children will be needed for “The King and I.” There will also be plenty of parts for young adults and teens in “West Side Story.” Older actors will be needed as well.
Previous Summerstock casts have included seasoned veterans, college music theatre majors and first time performers. It is a non-threatening audition process and participation requires no fee. Rehearsals for summer performances are evenings for two or three hours. For questions or interest, call 249-7477 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Opportunities are available for corporate sponsorships for the 2007 season. Individual donations are also appreciated and program advertisements will be available in the spring.