It was the summer of 1967 when Shawnee Little Theatre put on its first production. It now has more than 200 shows under its belt and is celebrating its 50th season this year.

It was the summer of 1967 when Shawnee Little Theatre put on its first production. It now has more than 200 shows under its belt and is celebrating its 50th season this year.

Ronny Jones, who has been involved with SLT since the beginning, has been posting pictures of former productions leading up to the anniversary weekend.

“Our Facebook page has gone wild with people seeing pictures of themselves from 25 years ago,” Jones said.

Shawnee Little Theatre’s 50th anniversary reunion weekend will kick off Friday, July 7, with a welcome reception from 6 to 9 p.m. at the FireLake Grand Resort. There will be hors d’oevres, a Broadway sing-a-long and a cash bar. There is no charge for the reception, and all are welcome to attend.

The main event, though, will be dinner and a show Saturday, July 8, at the FireLake Grand Event Center.

A buffet dinner begins at 6:30 p.m. (with seating starting at 6), while the show begins at 7:30.

Performers from throughout the company’s 50 years will re-create the roles they have played for SLT through the years. A local chorus will sing backup for some of the acts, and Bob Wendland and Steve Simpson are in charge of the show, with Jeff Foresee acting as music director.

Rebecca Fry, with SLT, said she looks forward to seeing some of the performances she has always heard others talk about from before her time with the theater.

“People have heard about these acts, and now they get to experience them,” she said.

Tickets for dinner and the show are $65 per person and must be reserved by June 30 at www.shawneelittletheatre.com. Companies can also buy sponsorship tables by calling 405-620-4636 or leaving a message at 405-275-2805.

The price for just the show is $25 per person for balcony seating, and tickets can be bought online or at the door.

“We want to invite as many people to the event as possible,” Jones said.

He added that the seating will be open, with balcony seating for those coming for just the show, and all seats will be good ones.

The weekend will wrap up with a farewell open house from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, July 9, at the Shawnee Little Theatre. There will be danishes, fresh fruit, coffee, juice, and a chance to see the changes the theater has made over the years.

For such a landmark season, Fry said they also decided to start and end the season with some favorites.

The first show this season will be Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” performed Sept. 29 through Oct. 14.

The company will then perform “Almost Maine” Dec. 1 through 9. “Almost Maine” is a new play that the SLT website called a “contemporary romantic comedy/drama” made up of nine brief, related episodes exploring love and loss in a remote town.

From Feb. 9 until Feb. 17, 2018, Shawnee Little Theatre will host a revival of “The Lion in Winter,” about Henry II of England. SLT took “The Lion in Winter” to competition during the 1978-79 season, winning state, regional, and second place at the national level.

SLT will wrap up the season with performances of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” from April 13 through April 21, 2018.

Shawnee Little Theatre History

Jones was 18 years old the summer Shawnee Little Theatre got its start.

In an article from 1987, Jones reflected on that first year. Fresh out of his freshman year of college, he enlisted his friend Carol Cutlip to put on a summer play. The two contacted former Shawnee High School drama teacher Pat Snider, who suggested they “start a little theatre.”

“Within the week,” Jones wrote, “with the help of some wonderful people, we had an organizational meeting, scheduled auditions, arranged for a place to produce a show, and started into action.”

Three weeks later, the Shawnee Little Theatre presented “See How They Run” at the parish hall of Emmanuel Episcopal Church. Snider directed the play, Cutlip was stage manager, and Jones found himself in charge of publicity, tickets, physical arrangements, and “anything else anyone didn’t want to do.”

Though the Jaycees had agreed to underwrite the show for up to $200, Jones said the theater “never needed a penny. The comedy farce ‘See How They Run’ was a critical and financial success.”

The group performed three or four plays at the Federal National Bank penthouse at Main and Bell until they were given a building at 624 N. Broadway at the cost of $1 per year until the building sold.

Jones said they spent one summer cleaning the building up, and one of the good things about it was that there was a sink in every room, which came in handy for doing stage makeup.

The house on Broadway offered them an 80-seat theater, and though there was a pole in the room, Jones said they always found creative ways to incorporate it into the set of each production.

SLT stayed in the building from about 1970 to 1976, when it was sold.

Temporarily without a home, they performed plays at the bank penthouse again, as well as at Oklahoma Baptist University and Shawnee High School.

It was during this time Shawnee residents Gene Rainbolt and Ross Porter organized fundraising for a new building. Between this and the city leasing land to Shawnee Little Theatre for $1 per year, they were able to build a new theater at 1829 Airport Drive, where SLT is still located.

Since then, Jones said, they have managed to pay for both the remaining mortgage on the building and the land.

“It is totally owned by Shawnee Little Theatre, Inc.,” he said.

Then and now

A lot has changed with local theater in the past 50 years.

Rebecca Fry, who has been involved in Shawnee Little Theatre for the past 25 years, said technology, though it comes with its own set of challenges, has made things easier in some ways.

For years, Jones said, Jim Brown was the resident artist at Shawnee Little Theatre, and Kate Blain and Pam East were just a couple of the other artists who helped with sets. The artists used to devote hours to hand-painting sets for all of the plays.

With the changing times, Fry said, it’s often difficult for people to find the time to help, which is where technology comes into play. Today, they can project sets onto the stage, saving hours of work.

Other things have also become more accessible. Fry said she can save time on sets and costumes by scouring second hand stores, but some of the pieces that might have been difficult to find in the past can now be found in seconds online.

The theater has also benefited from the internet in other ways. Jones said for one play, they were trying to work out how to make a fence look white washed in some scenes but gray and faded in others. A set designer in a theater across the country was able to share his advice via the internet.

Fry said websites like YouTube also contain many ideas they can incorporate in their own productions.

Perhaps one of the drawbacks of modern theater, however, is the rising cost of plays.

Jones remembers a time when the rights to do a play were $25 per night, and now he said they are more in the range of $100 per night (not including the costs for scripts or the original underscore if they want to use it). Musicals can cost the theater $3,000 to $4,000, depending on who owns the rights.

And though a lot has changed over the years, some things have not. The theater continues to be run entirely by volunteers.

You “can’t put a price on” local theater, Fry said.

“It’s definitely a family affair for so many families,” Fry later said, explaining that she got her start with Shawnee Little Theatre 25 years ago when her daughter was involved with a production.

Since its beginning, the theater has been embraced by people of all ages in the community, and Jones and Fry said it would not be where it is without all of the students (from Shawnee High School and even Oklahoma Baptist University) who have gotten involved and helped through the years.

SLT is also on its third year of doing a children’s camp, where children ages 8 to 13 can learn about theater. This year’s camp just wrapped up Friday, June 23, and Saturday, June 24, with a performance of Disney’s “101 Dalmatians Kids.”

Cast and crew for SLT’s 50th anniversary show
Individual Performers: J. Greg Davis, Beverly (Marrs) Davis Nicole Davis Funk,Steve Simpson, Kelli Curtis, Nicki Sherman, Will MacDonald David Benn, Tami Lawson, Dane Lowery, Matt Longacre, Chris Brewster John Key, Bruce Fry, Jeff Foresee, Carson Misner, Trevor Mastin, Ford Mastin Christina Stewart, Kari Romoser, Morita Truman, Greg Hopkins, Charlie Monnot Nicki Sherman, Maggie Sherman, Maile Hopkins, Jack Hopkins, Tatum Hopkins
Director: Bob Wendland
Co-Director: Steve Simpson
Music Director: Jeff Foresee
Stage Manager: Kendra Watkins-Butler
Assistant Stage Manager: Lauren Haskins
Vocal Chorus: Kate Blain, Karla Kelly, Tami Lawson, Abby Morris, Annika Stephens, Mackenzie Kelly, Emma Morris, Harper Morris, Juliette Souders Caleb Jennings, Logan Jennings, Ford Mastin Ken Spruiell, Nate Stephens, Royce Thompson
Dance Crew: Brad Curtis, K.C. Goldsby, Kelli Curtis Annika Stephens, Nate Stephens, Melissa Upton Strong Abby Morris, Harper Morris, Emma Morris Morgan Barnett, Autumn Barnett, Mackenzie Kelly, Juliette Souders, Nancy Powell, Mike Agan, Bill Burke, Jane Burke, Journey Burke, Tianah Tucker, Lauren Canaday, Zack Perkins, Darrell McVey, Judy Ford, Jill Fry
Introduction Dialogue: Scott Bartley
Choreographers: Kelli Curtis, K.C. Goldsby, Judy Ford
Keyboards: Christi Brewster, Dane Lowery
Sound: Dustin Farris
Lighting: Small Pockets/Firelake Grand Tech
Videographer: Bruce Fry
Boxoffice: Rebecca Fry
Keeper of the List: Krista Farris
Friday Night Reception Hosts: Brad Cook, Duane Lowery
SLT Open House Committee: Rebecca Fry
Publicity: Ronny Jones, Rebecca Fry
The Grand Resort Rep: Krystle Ross

For more information about Shawnee Little Theatre and its upcoming shows, visit www.shawneelittletheatre.com.