BY Alicia Chesser l The Tulsa Voice
TATE awards honor Tulsa theater community
Theatre Pops’ production of Tulsa native Tracy Letts’ epic drama “August: Osage County” won the award for Outstanding Play at the 2014-15 Tulsa Awards for Theater Excellence ceremony, held Sunday night at Cain’s Ballroom.
The award earned Theatre Pops a cash prize of $10,000. It is the second straight year that Theatre Pops has won at the TATE awards — its production of “Seminar” was the third-place winner last year.
Theatre Tulsa won second place and $5,000 for “The 39 Steps,” which tells the story of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic light thriller with only four actors portraying more than 100 different characters and imaginatively inventive costuming and staging.
“The God of Carnage,” a collaborative production by the Odeum Theatre Company and the Midwestern Theater Troupe, won third place. This production of Yasmina Reza’s dark comedy of bad manners won a $2,500 cash prize.
Clark Youth Theatre won the award for Outstanding Youth Theatre Production for its presentation of the William Shakespeare comedy “The Taming of the Shrew.”
The TATE awards are sponsored and underwritten by the George Kaiser Family Foundation.
Theatre Pops’ victory had a bittersweet element. The company had just begun rehearsals for “August: Osage County,” one of the most ambitious shows it has undertaken, when artistic director Randy Whalen unexpectedly died.
“A couple of days after we started rehearsals, Randy was in a coma,” said the show’s director Meghan Hurley. “We were all doing a lot of talking and texting about what we should do, and we all knew that Randy would want us to go on.”
Singer, actor and writer Sam Harris was presented with the Distinguished Artist Award in recognition of his multi-faceted career in entertainment.
During an interview with University of Tulsa professor Jeff Van Hanken, Harris recounted a number of stories of his earliest forays on the stage, such as being cast when he was 5 years old in a high school production of “South Pacific” in his home town of Sand Springs and how he accidentally stepped on a piece of broken glass right as he made his entrance.
“A little tiny voice inside me said, ‘Suck it up, Harris! You’re in show business!’” Harris recalled. “I finished the song, and the applause was better than first-aid.”
Harris recounted other stories from his memoir “Ham: Slices of a Life,” including being a part of Liza Minnelli’s ill-fated wedding, and going with a friend to a North Tulsa church, where the sound of the congregation fervently singing gospel music “changed the way I hear and sing music ever since.”
The award was presented to Harris by Laura L. Schaub, a former journalism teacher at Charles Page High School, who encouraged Harris when he dropped out of school to begin his career.
Harris made special mention of his parents, who were in the audience at the ceremony, thanking them for teaching him that “being a good person is more important than being a good anything else. You are the distinguished ones here tonight.”
He concluded by saying, “If you want to help the theater, don’t be an actor — be an audience.”
TATE committee member Teresa Miller then read a letter from actor Frank Langella, a longtime Harris friend, which said, “You are a successful man, and you have triumphed in this life by becoming a man who has, against remarkable odds, stuck to his soul.”
David Cook, professor emeritus of theater at the University of Tulsa, was presented with the Mary Kay Place Legacy Award for his work in the Tulsa theater community.
“I’m reminded of lines from a play — surprise, surprise,” Cook said, after his introduction by former student Barry Friedman, then quoted from Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes,” said, “I’m lucky. I’ve always been lucky.”
“I’m lucky to have had theater as my life and career, and lucky to have landed a job at TU, and to have worked in an arts-appreciating city such as this,” Cook said.
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478