Since its Broadway debut in 2011, Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop, which imagines the last night of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, has been one of the most-produced plays in the U.S., but it hadn’t yet made it to Oklahoma City. Jon Haque, CityRep’s business manager, describes how the collaboration with Pollard and Poteet has benefited his company thus far.
“We’re able to boost this important play to a higher visibility in the region, which would be so much more expensive to produce and market alone,” Haque says. “We are now able to extend this caliber of theatre to three unique audience bases.” The Poteet Theatre was a key collaborator: A community theatre operating within a ministry of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, the theatre’s mission is serve African-American actors and audiences. Recent productions include Children of Eden, The Color Purple, Ain’t Misbehavin’ and the Oklahoma premiere of Dreamgirls. The opportunity to coproduce with CityRep came at a fortuitous time, Haque points out: “Their season was cut short by a necessary renovation project, so we invited them to include The Mountaintop in their open slot. We get the added audience exposure, and the Poteet audience gets to see this show in professional production.”
Jordan elaborates on how the collaboration came about, giving credit to Poteet’s artistic director, Jay Prock, for his “remarkable job of outreach and inclusion” with his audience.
“When I learned it was impossible for Jay to produce anything during the scheduled run of The Mountaintop due to his church venue’s remodel, I put my creative thinking cap on,” Jordan says. “It seemed like pure serendipity to invite his patrons to drive a few blocks up the street to our larger theatre in our city’s Civic Center. For loyal Poteet Theatre patrons to attend this show as an off-site inclusion in their interrupted season is another example of how, when we strive to work together, benefits, even unforeseen ones, will appear. They were delighted to join us.”
Haque adds that he sees potential for cross-pollination in this collaborative process.
“Our Mountaintop poster presents all three company logos equally, telling a potential audience that it’s the theatre community putting on this important play, not just one company. Strength in numbers!” It helps that Jerome Stevenson, Pollard’s artistic director, has a loyal following as an actor: “Having him play Martin Luther King Jr. in this production enhances all three companies’ missions. And he’s earning his Equity card through working with CityRep.”
The logistics of collaboration, particularly on the marketing side, are not a simple turn-key operation, though. Face-to-face meetings were a must.
“We got together to craft one overall press release and released it at the same time, separately, stating clearly when the show runs at the two venues and how to purchase tickets,” Haque says, conceding that “maybe we are all working harder on this show to make sure everybody’s needs are accommodated properly.” It was worth it, though: “Having the one cowritten press release eliminated mixed message-type confusion and reinforced our unified arts-presenter aspect.”
Likewise, Jordan recognizes that such partnerships present as many challenges as opportunities to learn.
“Each company has its own cultural norms, work ethic and time frames, and there are rationales for all of them,” Jordan says. “Equity productions have rules and regulations that must be adhered to. Creativity and flexibility are always the keys to success. There is always something we can learn from someone else’s process. Cross-pollination fosters creativity.”
This isn’t the first such alliance of like-minded artistic partners brought together on Jordan’s watch. When CityRep coproduced The Grapes of Wrath in 2014, its partners were OCU and the Oklahoma History Center, they were able to employ 10 Equity actors from across the region—a record number for any company in the region. They engaged nationally respected director Harry Parker from Fort Worth, Tex., to direct. The production sold out almost overnight, and it represented the greater Oklahoma arts and culture community to a national level. The National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Calif., designated the outstanding collaborative effort as an official stage production, part of the national 75th anniversary celebration of the novel’s publication. Top management from TCG in New York City and AEA in Chicago flew in to attend the collaborative performance; the regional NPR affiliate included clips from the production in the documentary they filmed in honor of the book’s 75th anniversary.
In its 13 years, CityRep has initiated collaborative ventures like these with 10 arts organizations and educational institutions, as well as more than 8 different human service nonprofits. Jordan calls these efforts “just priming the pump.” To extend the metaphor: If you’re looking for the source of a steadily flowing network of cooperation that seems to be seeping across the Oklahoma plains, you could do worse than look at CityRep.
The Mountaintop plays Feb. 6-15 at Oklahoma City’s Civic Center Freed Theater and at the Pollard Theatre in Guthrie, Feb. 20-28.
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