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Oklahoma Christian struggles to keep a theater program

Oklahoma Christian University has been without a theater department since fall 2020, with The Magic Flute in 2019 being the last theater production.

The theater performance degree was offered until the school year of 2013-2014. In the following years, the only theater-related major was a degree in public communication with theater emphasis. In 2019-2020 school year, Oklahoma Christian had only kept a minor in theater performance, and in 2021 there was no degree plan related to the theater anymore. 

John Fletcher, chair of the division of fine and performing arts, said he is not aware of a formal decision to cut off the theater department, but without a credentialed champion of theater productions, it will be difficult to get shows off the ground. 

“If we move back in time several years, Oklahoma Christian had at least two full-time faculty members whose academic load consisted at least partially of overseeing theater activities,” Fletcher said. “Through retirements and departures from the OC faculty, [they] both left the university within the past decade.”

Fletcher said once there were no more faculty to oversee the theatrical productions and classes, the administration decided to stop offering a theater degree option. Fletcher said the administrators attempted to continue theater activities by bringing in adjunct directors and other part-time personnel.

“This was successful for a few years, but eventually became challenging,” Fletcher said. “As I recall, the semester when COVID-19 emerged was the last semester when we offered a specific theater production. Once the pandemic took hold, no further effort was made to start-up productions with part-time staff.”

Oklahoma Christian Registrar, Stephanie Baird, said there is no longer an academic major but there is still a theater community on campus. 

“We have a theater community at OC, in the sense that we have people who help put on shows, and OC is always putting on shows, if it’s Fanfare, or if it’s Spring Sing, or if it’s the fall musical,” Baird said.

Fletcher said the music department has had the ownership of most theater activities, including the fall musical, since the decline of the theater program.

“Our music program has always been involved in presenting the Homecoming Musical,” Fletcher said. “Once our theater faculty departed, the music program took full ownership of the Homecoming show, in addition to offering the annual Cabaret production and occasional opera performances.” 

Baird said putting up a theater production adds expenses to an academic unit and relies on student participation. 

“Theater is one of those things that depending on how you are figuring out the budgets, isn’t the cheapest program,” Baird said. “If you don’t have a lot of students interested in studying it and taking those classes, then any time that we are looking at programs, that is kind of what gets cut.” 

Senior Melisa Gibson said the decision came down to staffing, budgeting and participation.

“We ran an outreach ministry to inner-city schools, but it was hard to get students to audition and be known on campus because of our small size,” Gibson said. “We only had one staff member organizing everything which was too much of a burden, and we lacked adequate budgeting to be able to up our production value.”

Emilie Maynard said she believes part of the reason why the theater program was shut down was the lack of recognition from other departments on campus.

“It felt at times like we were doing a lot of work for no one to appreciate it,” Maynard said. “When I came in as a freshman, we were trying really hard to build the department from the ground up, so there was always a fear that if we didn’t work hard enough, they would cut the program.”

Fletcher said although theater productions were no longer an option, the music program continues to offer opportunities.

“Any students who were receiving theater scholarships were invited to fulfill their scholarship obligations through involvement in music productions,” Fletcher said.

Morgan Sohl graduated after the termination of the program. He said the theater program is a creative outlet for many students.

“I had hoped to continue supporting the theater program after graduation, and I am disappointed to see that it is no longer around,” Sohl said. “The homecoming musical and Spring Sing generate revenue for the school through ticket sales, creating alumni and donor connections, and attracting touring students. Unfortunately, the theater program never had the same amount of monetary value.”

Regarding current theatrical opportunities at Oklahoma Christian, the 2021 Homecoming Musical will be Willy Wonka and the Fantastic Chocolate Factory.

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One Comment

  1. Ex-theater scholarship alumni Ex-theater scholarship alumni August 25, 2021

    Man reading this makes me so sad. I was one of the scholarship students at OC. I remember there was a lot of push back from all staff for theater items as well as several incidents that led to the theater slowly dying the way it did.

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