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July 3, 2000

During July, Stagecoach Community Theatre will celebrate its 25th anniversary. That much is just a matter of fact, but if you were there at the time of its birth, you have to shake your head in disbelief and ask: Has it really been that long?

The big event will be marked by a repeat performance of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!", which also was the very first production offered by this company of local amateurs. They had virtually no experience to draw on, no real professional expertise, and no reason to expect they could successfully mount that first production, let alone others as time went on. Even the worst and most threatening weather in years on opening night failed to deter those determined thespians. No one bothered to tell them they couldn't do it, so they did it. Like the movies' Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, they just said, "Let's put on a show!" And yes indeed, they did. Now it's Silver Anniversary time, and what great memories that revives.

Happily, Laura and I were involved from the beginning. We were there the night of March 18, 1975, when a large handful of interested men and women met in the Presbyterian church Fellowship Hall to discuss, the possibility of bringing some kind of theatrical experience to the community. We had a wonderful new high school auditorium with seating for almost 1,000, and the general feeling was that we ought to have something cultural on stage, something dramatic or comedic or musical. Just something.

One of the group had invited Jeanne Adams Wray, a lady from Oklahoma State University, to meet with us that night. Few of us knew what to expect. Mrs. Wray was the assistant dean of arts and sciences at OSU and at the time was the national president of the American Theater Association. That put her right up there with some of the most important non-professional theater people in the country. It was a prestigious position but, being novices, we were only slightly impressed by her resume. Didn't matter to her.

Mrs. Wray preferred to be called by the nickname JAWs, a contraction of her initials. She might have reminded us of the movie character actress, Edna Mae Oliver, as she quietly took charge of the meeting and prevented it from floundering on the shoals of indecision. She recommended that we form an association and that we do "Oklahoma!" for our first effort. She said it was an appropriate play for this area with beautiful and familiar songs that would surely please any audience. By the weirdest of coincidences, she happened to have a manuscript of the entire play in her large purse. "Does anyone play the piano," she inquired, and Mrs. Marge Martin held up her hand. She then herded us into a chorus and we sang some of the, more familiar tunes from that show. It was an exhilarating experience. Before we knew it, we had approved everything she suggested. Steve Smallwood, the Perry high school speech and drama teacher, agreed to be director, and we were off and running. That was just the beginning.

Attending that first meeting were some folks who really didn't know they were letting themselves in for a lifetime of theatrical enjoyment. Here's the list: Steve Smallwood, Jim Garvey, Carol Welch, Melinda Corporon, Mary Rymer, Betty Parli, Myrna Duncan, Dortha Render, Marge Martin, Karen Perry, Emaline Miller, Wilma Smith, Louise Emmons, Mrs. Johnny Rogers, Judy Harnden, Henry Steiner, Stephen Daniels, Richard May, Mrs. Leon Gottfried, Fred and Laura Beers, Carolyn McLemore and our brand new friend, JAWs, Jeanne Adams Wray. More about this later.