Johansen's Oklahoma City Mummers Theater Will Live on in Memory

John Johansen's Mummers Theater was renovated into the Stage Center in the 1990s. (Courtesy Elliott+Associates Architects)

John Johansen’s Mummers Theater was renovated into the Stage Center in the 1990s. (Courtesy Elliott+Associates Architects)

[Editor’s Note: Tracey Zeeck is an Oklahoma native and resident who has been leading the effort to save and preserve John Johansen‘s classic Mummers Theater in that city. She responds here to a letter to the editor in the Oklahoma Gazette. ]

In 2012, armed with good intentions and a passionate group of friends and family, Farooq Karim of REES Associates and I decided to respond to an RFP and save John Johansen’s Oklahoma City masterpiece, Stage Center (Mummers Theater) from the wrecking ball. We would turn this vestige of 1970s brutalism into a children’s museum and light up downtown with joyful sounds of creative play. We had two months to create the plan, submit the RFP and raise $30,000,000. We didn’t make it.

Fast forward to 2013: Johansen, who had blessed our transformation plan, has since passed away and an Oklahoma City developer has purchased the property. He will tear it down and build in its place a 20-story office building next to our city’s newest monument, a 50-story glass building housing an oil & gas company. I recently stumbled upon this letter to the editor in the Oklahoma Gazette, and finally there are words…

“Tinker toys” they say “grain elevator, cotton gin.”
and I say yes
Art in imitation of the functional
The compartmentalized sphered cube
holistic three-dimensional sculpture holding sculpture.

Let’s say a tribute to the workplace of the farmers
hip deep in their work using sheet and cast metal enhancements
and to construction workers birthing steel-boned concrete
poured with native stone and sand, transcendent technology
saving backs, protecting the future
So sons and daughters could be teachers and doctors
And their progeny artists and philosophers.

Is this hearing place obsolete?
After founding, nursing, and sustaining numerous theater companies,
those ineffable entities, neither thing nor place, nor just knots of artists
contending with themselves, but also made of the eyes and ears
of those who looked outside the TV sets of the last forty years,
the CinemaScope, and now away from the handheld screen
with tight drawn hoodie, and listened with tears and laughed out loud,
actors holding in compliment, in concert with their momentary peers.

Read the full poem at the Oklahoma Gazette website.

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