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Piano Tales - THEO COLE / PROVIDED
  • Theo Cole / Provided
  • Piano Tales

“That’s a change that I made,” OKC Rep’s Artistic Director Kelly Kerwin said. “OKC Rep is the future.”

Kerwin’s referring to the subtle, yet bold, name change for Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre. Going forward, the professional theatre will be known as the Oklahoma City Repertory Theater. The –er versus –re suffix for theatre lovers is long debated, often argued, and never resolved. It’s typically thought that a theater is a place that shows entertainment like movies and concerts, while the theatre is a place where patrons go to see art. Kerwin is a fresh face to the theatre community in Oklahoma City, and she’s shaking things up from the start.

Founding artistic director Donald Jordan stepped down in June after a 30-plus year career in the arts in Oklahoma. In steps Kerwin, with new ideas and a new spelling for the theater. Kerwin leads a team of professional art makers, and comes to the theater after serving as Associate Producer for New York City’s Public Theater. At The Public, Kerwin associate produced the Under the Radar Festival and led the Devised Theater Working Group.

“OKC Rep is emerging from a pandemic, as every arts organization is right now. We have a new staff, a new board, and we are looking toward the future,” Kerwin said.

OKC Rep is kicking off 2022 with a Spring Reboot season, offering three new original works for returning and new patrons.

“This is a sampling of work, and we’re hoping to show where we want to go as we move forward. We’re including local artists, as well as guest contributors. We’re having conversations and creating new experiences. All of our productions and presentations will be a new adventure each time,” she said.

First up is An Evening with an Immigrant. Running in January, An Evening with an Immigrant is written and performed by Inua Ellams and tells his story of growing up in Nigeria. Born to a Muslim father and a Christian mother in what is now considered to be Boko Haram territory, Ellams left Nigeria for England in 1996 at age 12. He moved to Ireland for three years, and then returned to London to work as a writer and graphic designer. Littered with poems, stories, and anecdotes, An Evening with an Immigrant tells his ridiculous, fantastic, poignant story of escaping fundamentalist Islam, experiencing prejudice and friendship in Dublin, performing solo at the National Theater, and drinking wine with the Queen of England, all the while without a country to belong to or place to call home.

“This show is really about navigating what it means to be in a country that you don’t call home,” Kerwin said.

Ellams still faces that challenge, even today. Audience and community members will really connect with this personal story. It explores what it means to be an Other, and reminds us that we are all neighbors and humans.” An Evening with an Immigrant runs for two nights only, Jan. 22 and 23, at Te Ata Theater at Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center.

Piano Tales runs March 31 through April 2nd. Presented by OKC Rep in partnership with Oklahoma Contemporary, Piano Tales is written, composed, and performed by James Harrison Monaco and JJJJJerome Ellis. The audience chooses which tales will be told each performance and in what order, by selecting objects from a trunk. Then JJJJJerome and James tell those tales differently for each performance, discovering a totally new show right along with the audience.

“No performance will be the same. It changes every night.” Kerwin said. “This will mean audience members using their imaginations and providing some audience participation. Piano Tales is about human connections, about what it means to connect. Through the pandemic, we’ve all been finding ways to connect with each other. And even when we feel like it, we aren’t alone.”

Of a Mind - EDWARD T. MORRIS/PROVIDED
  • Edward T. Morris/provided
  • Of a Mind

The third show in the spring lineup is the most complex and unique one yet. Running in May 2022, Of a Mind: Oklahoma City is an original devised theater work for OKC Rep.

“This will be a guided audio experience, almost like a theatrical tour. We’ll have a live narrator and interview people around the city. It’s a walking tour, it’s immersive, and it’s really a celebration of Oklahoma City. We’re encouraging our patrons to think outside of the box with this new work,” Kerwin said.

Of a Mind: Oklahoma City captures the changing spirit of the city in a guided audio experience that is devised especially for Oklahoma City’s increasingly vibrant urban core. Guided by a live narrator and set to a score of local voices, sounds and music, patrons will gather as one of a larger group for this immersive outdoor experience.

Kerwin is one of only three female-identifying Artistic Directors in Oklahoma City. In a city that is full of live theater, this means that female leadership in the arts is woefully underrepresented.

“I wish I weren’t one of the only female Artistic Directors here. I’m hopeful that it changes, and quickly, because I don’t think I’m unique. The tides are changing, and I love working with women and female artistic leaders. Historically, leadership roles in the arts have gone to white men. This is a diverse city, and we want to provide more opportunities in our theater for women and people of color. We are aiming to reflect that diversity in our programming,” she said.

"American theater is becoming decentralized. It’s not just in New York and Chicago anymore. With OKC Rep and our new mission, my board is supportive. Our executive roles are filled with wonderful people. We’re here to build a more equitable theater, to provide a wonderful experience for our patrons, and to make the world a better place.”

For information about OKC Rep’s upcoming Spring Reboot season, visit OKCRep.org.

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