By Joey McWilliams
When you watch the performances of the 2017 Oklahoma Shakespearean Festival season, you will most likely see faces familiar to you, as many performers live in Bryan County.
But some of the people involved in various capacities came from great distances to be a part of this Durant event.
Each year, actors are brought in to work at OSF. And according to producing director Riley Coker, there is a selection process to bringing in these ‘fly-ins.’
“We go to several national auditions throughout the year,” Coker said. “The big one we go to is the Unified Professional Theatre Auditions in Memphis.
“We go there the first weekend in February every year and we see about 1,200 auditions in four days. We are able to find people from all over the United States. Then from there, we see who best fits for our season and who is still available for the dates that we need them. It’s a really interesting process that not a lot of people know about.”
Bringing in talent from the outside is something that can prove beneficial for both performers with local roots and for those who come for far away to spend a summer in Durant.
“My favorite part about casting is taking some of those people that are professionals in the field and mixing them with the people like Jenna (McWilliams) and Ally (Thomas) and people that come back to the festival year after year that are from here,” Coker said.
“Because that’s part of the mission of OSF is to blend professionals with artisans in training and put them together so that the artisans in training can learn under the wings of professionals in the field, so that it becomes a mentoring process.
“And even the professionals from out in the field can come here to be rejuvenated and to kind of remember why they are doing this. They see the excitement of the college-aged students all the way down to the kids in children’s theatre.”
Among those who have flown in this year are Nate DeCook, Matt Greenburg, Lukas James Miller, Ryan Scanlon and Meg Stefanowicz.
Greenburg, who lives in New York City and is a graduate of Ithaca College said he is excited to take this contract because he’ll have the opportunity to get back in touch with family in Oklahoma.
“I don’t get to see them and they don’t get to see me perform,” Greenburg said. “I have about five cousins who are in the army at Fort Sill and they are going to come out and see the show. And I have a few cousins who live in Denton, Texas, who are going to come up and see Cinderella, so I’ll be looking forward to getting to reconnect with family that I don’t often get to see.”
Miller was one who auditioned at UPTA for Coker and the opportunity worked out well for him this summer.
“I threw a 90-second package audition in a big hotel conference hall and then they have callbacks at the hotel,” Miller said. “And I got a callback.This contract perfectly timed out between two that I’m doing where I have a week off before and a week off after, so that was cool.”
Miller is from Nelson County, Va., and graduated from James Madison University in May. The journey to Oklahoma broke new ground for him.
“This is the furthest west that I’ve ever been and the first time I’ve flown on a plane.”
And the pipeline between Durant and Memphis flows both ways.
“I take students that are graduating every year,” Coker said. “And then once I take them their first year to show them what it is like. For example, this year’s juniors went with me to sit in the audition rooms to observe it. And then they’ll go back next year as auditioners and experience it again. And then every year we see people that have been in OSF before auditioning there and my former students. The networking is amazing.”
Coker said this has been an important part of the OSF process since the beginning.
“All the way to 1980. That’s part of the mission statement is that it’s not an in-house festival.
“Even in the years that we were wondering if we were going to make payroll and if we could even have a budget or even have a festival, we still always brought in people from the outside to come in since it’s such an integral part of what we’re supposed to be doing.”
The season gets into full swing with a dinner theatre performance of Tina and Tony’s Wedding on July 13 at the Southeastern Visual and Performing Arts Center.