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January 19, 1995

There was a note in the paper the other day about the start of the annual membership drive by Stagecoach Community Theatre. This is something very dear to my heart, and I can only hope that many of you enjoy it, too. Stagecoach needs our support.

Laura and I were fortunate enough to have been present one winter night in 1975 when a group of some 30 Perry area people got together in the Presbyterian fellowship hall to meet with a lady from Oklahoma State University, Jeanne Adams Wray. Mrs. Wray was one of the founders of the Oklahoma Community Theatre Association and she also was a leader in the national organization, the American Community Theatre Association.

As a result of that one evening here, she can also claim at least partial credit for organizing Stagecoach Community Theatre. Because of her urging us on, we decided that very night not only to organize a local theatre group but we scheduled our first play, a modest little undertaking known as "Oklahoma!", the megahit by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Once we decided to form an association, Ms. Wray said she just happened to have part of the score for that wonderful musical in her purse. We assembled around the piano, sang some of those memorable songs - "Surrey With the Fringe on Top," "People Will Say We're in Love," "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin"' and of course the title tune. How could we possibly NOT want to do the play after that?

Our high school drama coach, Steve Smallwood, agreed to direct, and things just started falling in place. Steve helped in overseeing additional organizational details, including the formal incorporating process. John and Carolyn McLemore, Don and Judy Hamden and Bill and Melinda Corporon, the people who set up that first meeting, pitched in along with all the other charter members and soon there were many more wanting to be involved. You already know that our "Oklahoma!" opened on a stormy night when tornadoes were aloft, and the first night audience was sent home early because of a power failure in most of the city. Two more performances were scheduled and were extremely well received.

At that time Perry also had an Arts & Humanities Association, which sponsored several cultural attractions, including concerts by the Oklahoma City Symphony; and the Cherokee Strip Arts Company, formed by local artists and their patrons to produce exhibits and craft shows. Each of those groups had a loyal core of members, as did Stagecoach. In due time the three of them came together under an umbrella organization called the Perry Arts Council. One of the purposes was to consolidate the three membership drives and to coordinate activities to prevent overlapping their events.

This worked well for a few years, but first the Arts & Humanities Association and then the Cherokee Strip Arts Company decided to disband, leaving Stagecoach as the lone survivor. Today the theatre group has a decent building, the old highway department headquarters on south Seventh street, where most of its productions can be staged, and they have drawn up formal plans for renovation of the building when finances permit.

The Perry theatre group has earned recognition in the state, and Bob Herod, now of Tulsa, a former president of Stagecoach, is currently president of the Oklahoma Community Theatre Association. Steve Smallwood, now teaching at Broken Bow, is a past president of OCTA. Our local organization has uncovered some great talent through the years in its musical and dramatic undertakings./p>

Most of the financing for Stagecoach is derived from its annual membership drive, which is now underway. Several corporate sponsors contribute various amounts and ticket sales for each offering also contribute to keep the thing afloat. But now is the time for all of us to enroll as members of our local community theatre and let them know we appreciate the wholesome entertainment they provide for us.

This is the 20th anniversary year of the founding of Stagecoach and there will never be a better time to show how much we enjoy their efforts. Use one of the membership forms appearing in The Journal for that purpose, or if you receive one in the mail fill it out and return it promptly to R O. Box 82, Perry, OK 73077, and congratulate yourself for your role in assuring another season of quality theatrical productions from Stagecoach Community Theatre.