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July 14, 2000

When the curtains parted the night of June 6, 1975, for the first performance of a Stagecoach Community Theatre production, howling winds and beating rain were causing concern throughout the city. The Perry high school auditorium was nearly filled with an audience eagerly awaiting the first familiar notes of "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," when the power went off. The cavernous auditorium was completely dark and the storm's tempest was the only noise. It was a tense and uneasy moment.

Jack Newton, a funeral director, ambulance driver and volunteer fireman/storm watcher, came to the stage to assure the audience that they were in a secure building even if the storm should become tornadic. He urged calm, and some of the new show people onstage quickly called for volunteer performers from the audience while the city dealt with the power outage.

Temporary emergency lights were brought in, and in due time the storm abated. By then, most of the audience and the actors wanted to return to their homes, so the first performance was postponed to the next night, with a Sunday matinee added for those who had bought a ticket but could not be there Saturday night. All the performances then came off without a hitch and Stagecoach was on its way.

Many wondered if the first night debacle should be considered an evil omen and that Perry's flirtation with community theater should be put on the shelf. Thank goodness those with the greatest influence said no to that kind of cop out, and the group has persisted. The result has been many evenings of delightful entertainment and demonstrations of excellent stagecraft by performers as well as backstage technicians.

"Oklahoma!" was revived by Stagecoach in 1985 as the group celebrated its 10th anniversary, with Jim Franklin directing a sterling production. Now we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of Stagecoach with a second revival, and it is bringing back great memories for a lot of those who have been in audiences or as part of a production through the years.

Through those 25 years, Stagecoach people have dealt with temporary quarters where stage sets had to be built off-premises and then moved in overnight; wardrobe and properties were stored in crowded, makeshift closets, often shared with rats and assorted insects; periods of declining interest among stalwart members of the association; and other kinds of travail. Along the way, they have learned that such experiences have confronted virtually every community theater in Oklahoma, including some of those with the greatest success.

So, Stagecoach has hung in there as new people have joined the veterans to keep live theater a reality in Perry. We are one of the smallest towns in Oklahoma with a community theater, and Perry can be proud of the achievements of the people who make up Stagecoach. Good leadership and energetic members now promise even greater things in the future for this gritty, indomitable band. There have been times when they could have tossed in the towel, but they chose to hang tough and now face a much brighter future. All of us will be entertained and moved by what they have to offer. Be sure to attend one of the forthcoming performances produced by Stagecoach Community Theatre, and give some thought to joining in their fun by taking part in the next one. Happy anniversary, Stagecoach!