Thursday, December 28, 2017

Memories of Tulsa 2016 - the Studio, aka The Spotlight Theater....


Introductory Note

As an update to an earlier note, the url's noted here all work as of this afternoon (12/30/17):).

At the same time - in the "could be worse:)" category, not all links will be hyperlinked - as with past blogs here - so I encourage you to cut and paste them to see the articles, etc., in question.


Since I all but finished this blog last year and then lost it in the rapids of life's river, I have received brief updates on the Spotlight Theater from two very generous sources.

As of Nov. 20, Spotlight Theater stage manager Jere Uncapher wrote that "[w]e are now into our 65th year of production [my 61st] and just keep chugging along" with "[n]ot much new happening here". ["61st" for Mr. Uncapher signifies his many years of involvement, most of them in his current role.]

Spotlight actor Richard Robertson, on Dec. 24, observed that "we are doing a crisp, funny melodrama but competition for audience is lively here and we have about 35 theater groups in town, I am told.  Our Director, Joe Sears (look him up, prepared to be amazed) has played the White House three times.  He can take the same script we have been using for decades and find a spot of new humor.  He will tell the actor, “Pause here, hit that, and look up”, and it brings the rehearsal to laughter". 

What I myself have been amazed by, on occasion, is the architect who designed the theater's structure - Bruce Goff (1904-1982).

As I review this largely "2016" writing at the end of 2017, what I am surprised by is that I have not given him enough credit or explanation, whether in two quick references for my earlier blog on Tulsa's Boston Avenue Methodist Church or in this draft. [See http://silverstravels.blogspot.com/2016/04/tulsas-boston-avenue-methodist-church.html.]

SO....

My first knowledge of Bruce Goff likely came in the early 80's when I learned of "Boston Avenue Methodist", in which it is possible I read that HE designed it, while today if not at that time, one of his architectural teachers - the architect Adah Robinson (a woman) - is widely acknowledged as the architect of that church, pioneering in its Art Deco splendor.

I definitely heard about and saw images of some of Goff's unusual and innovative work, partly in the smaller Oklahoma city of Bartlesville, in the late 80's, when David DeLong, the head of a program where I received a graduate degree in historic preservation at the University of Pennsylvania, spoke very admiringly of Goff, to whom he had devoted a large part of his scholarship.  This cemented Goff as someone to venerate in my Tulsa "pilgrimage".

For now, two sources should be sufficient to herald him as an architect to celebrate more emphatically.

First, I can cite an entry from the Art Institute of Chicago labeling him "one of the most inventive and iconoclastic architects of the twentieth century".  Additionally, a 1951 Life Magazine article offers the dual note that he "is one of the few US architects whom Frank Lloyd Wright considers creative" connected in part with what is spoken of as Goff's "[scorn for] houses that are ‘boxes with little holes’.” [Footnote 1]

Josh Silver
Dec. 29, 2017


************************************************


In visiting the building initially known as the "Riverside Studio" or "Riverside Music Studio" [Footnote 2], I had two interests in this intriguing structure as part of a memorable visit to Tulsa.

My major one was its aesthetic heritage, which to me could have come from the innovative spirit of Berlin or Paris in the 1920's, and I was so happy to see it for the first time after a walk and (race-walk:)) from Tulsa's Brookside neighborhood on Saturday night, March 5, 2016, as it glowed with a mix of Deco/Moderne and (Bauhaus?)....

While that angle is in the foreground for me, the "main stage" for many at the "Studio" IS the stage, and a dramatic offering there that is relatively old for the U.S. as well as venerable internationally in another sense. This landmark is the home of the second-longest running play in the world, at least according to its partisans, surpassed only by continuous productions in London of "Mousetrap", a murder mystery written by Agatha Christie. [Footnote 3]

"The Drunkard", whose dramatically evil character is seen here on the small stage of my B & B room in Tulsa....
has been performed at the "Spotlight" since Nov. 14, 1953, shortly after Tulsa theater figure Richard Mansfield Dickinson adapted it from an earlier drama which was itself based on an 1858 novel - "Ten Nights in a Bar-Room and What I Saw There". 

Having been raised on classic theater along the lines of Shakespeare, Moliere and Miller, I would say that "Drunkard" is definitely an expression of broader and louder strokes, slapstick, and the like, but I was glad I saw it as it has become integral to its landmark structure. In addition, I appreciated a sing-along known as an "Olio" which preceded it as well as the honor of meeting three of its participants and seeing their devotion to this living shrine of community theater. [Appendix 1 contains comments on the "Olio" by "Drunkard" veteran Richard Robertson, noted just below.]

Their "platform" is seen here, where you should also be able to see a sign advertising Richard Dickinson's work to the right as you enlarge this photo....

After the 3/5/16 show, I spoke briefly with Richard Robertson....
still dressed in part of his costume that night for "Joe Morgan", who is redeemed in the drama from a drunkard to an upstanding man once again.

As of 2016, Richard was happy to have had a 40-year career with the Spotlight Theater, besides various professional positions including consulting on oil field geology. When we spoke in Tulsa, he shared perhaps the most meaningful context of his acting in recent years, saying that, partly as he was single, he wrote his first girlfriend - from high school days - after each performance, as "a ritual to calm down from the adrenalin" of the stage and also to buoy her as she had been going blind. He knew her years ago in his home region of Indiana, and rediscovered her through high school class reunions.

I was grateful to receive further views from Richard on the play and on preserving its historic home, and a few of these are noted in Appendix 2 below.

I also met Don Gilmore....
a service writer at a Wal Mart auto care center by day who acted in the performance I saw as "Romaine", described in my program as "[a] refined gentleman [and] philosopher...who no longer imbibes, but....knows well the evils of strong drink".

Both he and Richard may agree that the greatest "audience" I would have was with Jere Uncapher, who has been affiliated with the Spotlight Theater since 1957, and generously showed me around the Studio/Spotlight near the end of my 2016 trip on Monday, March 7. Since he seemed modest about his presence there (as you will see below:)), I'll speak to his long involvement as a volunteer staffer, which started partly because his grandmother was a cashier for the theater and his Mom would relieve her when she went on vacations.  As of last year, Jere had been the Spotlight stage manager since the early 1960's.

Jere underscored his involvement in a few comments, one being that the last time he was not at the Spotlight for a Saturday evening was in July, 1998, when he went to a convention for Chet Atkins - one of his musical idols - but even there, was very solicitous of the play, looking at his watch and at one point saying to himself "they're in the first act right now".

As for his theater passion, Jere shared a few aspects of the Spotlight's working theater space,  including, among others....

....the mens' dressing room, where he remained modest in his own role - cracking that "that's about all you're going to get of me" when he saw what you can see at the lower left just below:), and, on a more thoughtful note, commented on how 11 actors shared this space from 1953-62. He explained that the first space in this picture was a pantry, the second a kitchen and the third (if barely visible) was a dining room. He noted that "7 guys" were in the first two spaces and "4 women" were in the third area, and with this being in the 50's (largely), the "sexual movement", as Jere referred to it, had not yet started, "it was an altogether different time" and the "ladies would just say 'we're coming through'"....

On the other side of the stage, we saw a part of the women's dressing room, looking like many others, I'll guess....

but where the space above is the interior of a former car garage for a period of years beginning in 1928 and visible in the lower center below as it is slightly extended out from the walls behind it....
Very close by, I saw the actors' green room, a casual space which had formerly been an apartment for Richard Dickinson....

Moving in a more art/architectural history realm, I should start with what came before the current and regionally famous tenant of the Spotlight Theater, namely the commission for Tulsa architect Bruce Goff to design a music studio, and thanks to Jere Uncapher, I began to see what remains from that incarnation.

Starting small, I would chose a lighting globe just within the entrance which Jere pointed out as one of the few original fixtures still in the "Studio".....

Next on the size scale, the auditorium as of March 2016 included copies of eight early 1930's works which once decorated the Studio's interior. While better reproductions of studies for these paintings can be seen by pasting the url for the "Fred Jones Museum" catalogue in footnote 4, what I gathered here is that they were very innovative and clearly part of Tulsa's embrace of new aesthetics, though in this case, the lady who commissioned them -  Patti Adams Shriner - the main music teacher at the Studio, was angry with how much they stretched the envelope, one case being in the image just below, where "modernity" was subtly suggested in the lower left. At that point - trust me here if reproduction quality does not allow "proof"  - the artist, Olinka Hrdy (1902-1987) mischievously inserts a somewhat "pixellated" rendition of the word "Jazz".  Jere noted of that work that Shriner "did not like jazz at all" and had a "big feud with Olinka Hrdy".

That piece, "Modern American Music", is shown in the Studio's smaller version here....
Two other Hrdy works are....

"Music of the Future", symbolized in part by shiny, seemingly cascading records.....

....and "Orchestra Music"....

These works were joined by a ninth and larger work - "Symphony of the Arts (Painting, Architecture, Music and Dance)" - seen also in the "Fred Jones" book noted in footnote 4.

All of them were created by an artist one might see as sad in not gaining wider recognition. One reason for this was that she spent the beginning and final decades of her life in Oklahoma, as opposed to a larger center of "culture", while she did have  some success in about 30 years of living in California.

The greater sadness of Hrdy, seen here in the book "Tulsa Art Deco"....

...is that only three of her murals still remain anywhere.

What may be most known about the "Studio" murals is the mystery of their loss. According to the article "Lost Olinka" cited below, they were removed from the building between 1932-1941, but with no definitive record that they were destroyed, and this is no doubt easy to conflate with Patti Shriner's dissatisfaction here. There seems to be almost no chance that these murals are still in existence, and that is clearly unfortunate, because the same source speaks about Hrdy as a pioneer of abstract expressionistic and Bauhaus-related imagery. [Footnote 4]

Elsewhere, the memories in part remain where eight practice rooms have been converted to new uses, here, for example, where the box office space once held two of them, with the right-side room signified by the door-now-B.O. counter....

While the piano and other sounds of the "Studio" days are no longer heard, their rhythm may be made visible on the exterior, as Jere suggested in terms of Goff's likely suggestion of musical notes through the sloping rectangular windows at two front corners of the structure....
...and, in the dominant shape of the "Studio" - its huge front window - frosted elements representing the holes of the rolls for player pianos - which Goff loved [footnote 5].....

As you look out towards the Arkansas River, visible through the window's middle range, I hope you find yourself studying the Studio and/or reveling in "The Drunkard" in future Tulsa travels!



Footnotes

Footnote 1. For the Chicago source, see http://www.artic.edu/research/bruce-goff-archive 
and for the Wright quote and more, see...
https://hyperallergic.com/55861/bruce-goff-forgotten-master-of-avant-garde-architecture/.


Footnote 2. http://fa2016.thedude.oucreate.com/uncategorized/bruce-goff-the-riverside-studio/
and
as noted about 30% of the way down at:
https://rhysfunk.com/2016/05/22/sights-in-the-city-of-tulsa/

Footnote 3. These sources - while British in bias:) - speak of "Mousetrap" as the longest-running play in the world:
https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2012/nov/20/mousetrap-60-years-agatha-christie
and
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/theatre-reviews/9686732/Agatha-Christies-The-Mousetrap-celebrates-its-60th-anniversary-with-star-studded-show.html.

Footnote 4. "Lost Olinka" at http://thislandpress.com/2011/09/20/lost-olinka/. 
A passage on pp. 210-213 of the catalogue The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma: Selected Works gives highlights of Hrdy's life, and, among other subjects, notes that the Studio murals were lost and separately that the Studio's main occupant early on - music teacher Patti Adams Shriner, was very angry when she noticed that Hrdy was using bright colors for her nine works. 

The Jones....Works book also has great reproductions of studies which remain for all nine (on p. 211) and which are owned by the Jones Museum.[See....https://books.google.com/books?id=RApgXLZMAhAC&pg=PA210&lpg=PA210&dq=Olinka+Hrdy+Studio&source=bl&ots=0adOGyLdTF&sig=i7fdy4g0vwfTOkgb1ZwKWoDTGgI&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjn6ZCq6PHMAhWGsh4KHRm4CBA4ChDoAQg9MAo#v=onepage&q=Olinka%20Hrdy%20Studio&f=false.]

"Olinka Hrdy" (brief biographical notes) at
http://www.askart.com/artist_bio/Olinka_Hrdy/106212/Olinka_Hrdy.aspx
and
"Fragment to Olinka - The Story of Olinka Hrdy - Part I" by Acel Garland at 
http://oklahome.blogspot.com/2011/09/fragment-to-olinka-by-acel-garland.html

Besides her art, Hrdy's background leads us to an ethnic group we might not expect in Oklahoma - that of Czech-Americans - partly in the town of Prague, seen on the map below....
https://www.google.com/maps/place/Prague,+OK+74864/@35.4859714,-96.7323119,13z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x87b3e91412bb0455:0xbaa1935d2f69e48f!8m2!3d35.4867368!4d-96.6850174.

Footnote 5. The Art Institute of Chicago source in footnote 1 also says that Goff was a composer for the piano.... http://www.artic.edu/research/bruce-goff-archive. 


Acknowledgements....

As we raise a cup to the tradition of "The Drunkard".....

and to Jere Uncapher, who seemed to approve of being known at times as "The Phantom of the Spotlight"....

...thanks to the thought of all of the readers who have motivated me to get to the bottom of this....



Appendix 1 - Comments on the "Olio" by Spotlight actor Richard Robertson

"I think the Sing-along and the Olio are two different entertainment forms.  They must also have different times of origin.  Perhaps Sing-along originated with an echo background.  An echo from within the home cave.  Envision the at-home clan waiting for the hunters to return with dinner, by the fire, by cave mouth.  At the sight of a baby mastodon being drug along by its trunk.  They burst into songs, mostly about the skills of the hunters and what part to cook first.  So, Sing-along is in many cultures with its origin lost in a midden  pile.

Possibly, the Sing-along in the Drunkard’s program is giving the audience a feeling of unity.  In a few minutes, when they “boo” the villain or advise the hero, they can feel comfortable while speaking up as they are among friends.

The word “olio” traces back to the Iberian Peninsula  where it referred to a stew, no set recipes.  The word “olio” broke into show business to bundle variety acts.  Spotlight’s Olio has billed comedy plus songs played on pop bottles, fire baton dancers, jump rope teams and patriotic recitations.  The Olio and the melodrama seem to have a mutual attraction within an evening’s entertainment.” 

[in an e-mail of Dec. 25, 2017; mild apologies if the last paragraph above remains blue - something I tried to eschew, with my not being so blue if it still comes through:)!]


Appendix 2 - Further views on preserving "The Drunkard" - and the Studio - from Richard Robertson.....

I appreciated further insight on the play and its physical home from Richard Robinson when we spoke on Sat., March 5, 2016.

While many people might see "The Drunkard" as "ha-ha" slapstick as I may have implied, and the cast seemed to exude the fun of their acting to me, he set it in a deeper context, saying "the thing was written in 1854, and alcohol was a big problem [then]".  He observed that while his initially alcoholic character "looks at his daughter [and] looks at his wife" and "hasn't gotten a dime",  he still has to go out to the tavern". This, to Richard, was "the most pathetic framing of alcohol that you can have" and that the audience can miss seeing "the severity of the moment".

He explained that during Prohibition, actors in the play (pre-Studio/Spotlight) "began to play the thing for laughs, because alcohol had won the battle" and that, as of 2016, "we aren't as melodramatic as I would like", in terms of the physically broad gestures on display at the time, with their style being seen as "funny" and an anachronism.

As of early last year, Richard hoped to take a long view on this venerable Tulsa tradition, and said that in "looking down the road 10, 15 years, maybe more....he did not want the interpretation of the play to be too modern [and] trendy", or in his view, "we would have a very short shelf life". His main observation, arguably, was that the play needed to remain true to its old-fashioned character.

Speaking not just as a casual observer, but as a student of geology, he also implied the great challenge of preserving the play's classic home, observing that it was made of "stucco on the outside [and] clay tile on the inside" and of the need to counteract "bathing it in water", wherein it would just "return to clay". In addition, he said that it is "built on the edge of the flood plain of the Arkansas River", however beautiful that park-like setting may be....

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