Story by Dawn Wilson
Community means a lot of different things to a lot people. Camaraderie. Unity. Fellowship. At Town and Gown Community Theatre you will hear the same sentiments. Announcing its 67th season this month, Town and Gown is one of Oklahoma’s oldest community theaters. After so many years of entertaining audiences and remaining 100% volunteer-run, some may wonder how they have sustained it for all these years. Town and Gown’s founders have been integral to this success.
More than a half century ago, Town & Gown Theatre was developed by a few key organizers from the Oklahoma State University communications department and led by John Woodward’s vision. It began on the second floor of the Student Union in 1951 with the first production, “The Constant Wife.”
The name “Town & Gown” represents the community, or “town,” and the university, or “gown,” and their commitment to the arts. This meant that these two communities, Stillwater and OSU, would come together to support local theater and to provide an outlet for the talents of Stillwater citizens.
As the years passed, it became a more formal group with a Board of Directors and paid memberships that didn’t make it easy to jump into the acting arena. Potential members were required to first apply for an apprenticeship with specific duties over a specific timeline. As more locals and students became involved, Town and Gown members began to raise funds for a location of their own. They were outgrowing the Student Union ballroom space as well as found it more difficult to reserve dates for rehearsals and performances. The membership and Board of Directors began work to raise funds for a building and started searching for a location.
In a 1961 article in the Stillwater News-Press, Town and Gown was reported to have signed a 99 year lease with the City of Stillwater to build a theater just west of Boomer Lake. Architecture plans were drawn up, but the group cancelled the agreement with the City. While the cost of a new building would have been too much, the members also didn’t like the idea that they would be building on land that they would never own.
The current Town and Gown Theatre location at 3524 S. Perkins Road was purchased in 1962 from an oil field service company. The tiny sheet metal building had been used as an office and garage. The membership decided it was affordable and had potential for future remodeling. Several additions and restoration projects have been completed through the years, transforming the tiny metal building into a theater in the round. A long hallway back stage is adorned with five decades of memorabilia and the original sheet metal siding is still visible. There is a special space on the wall in the green room with signatures of the members who moved in back in April of 1962. Oh my, if those walls could talk!
Our community needs artistic outlets, like Town and Gown, where they can experience plays and musicals that normally might be too far away or expensive to see. Stillwater is full of unrealized talent and many find a real calling for acting or backstage work after testing the waters here. The theater in the round setting provides the audience an intimate, first-hand experience of shows that they won’t find in the back seats at massive performing arts centers.
It is easy to get involved both on stage and backstage. Town and Gown is always looking for volunteers. A big part of joining the theater community is to just show up and be willing to do the work. The talent around this community is outstanding and it is because of their resilience, passion, and love for theater that Town and Gown has been successful for so many years. If you asked anyone who has been a part of a Town and Gown production, they will tell you it was hard work but totally worth it!
Every year, a committee selects four plays and one musical that will entertain audiences and fill the seats. Town and Gown Theatre is proud to announce its 67th season.
Ticket prices: $60 for a season ticket: or for single tickets – $14 for adult, $12 for students; $16 adult musical, $14 student musical.
Box Office opens to the public on the Monday of opening week.