History of the Southwest Playhouse Fine Arts Center, Inc.
Southwest Playhouse, Inc. began in 1965 as Clinton Little Theatre. The only asset it possessed was enthusiasm, and those three original members, Nancy Goodwin, Kitty King and Father Bob Seaney had that in abundance. We advertised for anyone interested to join us and grew to five, with the addition of Joanna and Don Roper.
We managed to get our first cast together, and on April 29, 1966, we produced Arthur Miller’s ALL MY SONS, directed by Kitty King. Rehearsals for ALL MY SONS were held in various places—the Episcopal church, the Lee Building, in a rather seedy part of downtown with bars on either side, and finally, the Junior high school auditorium for the last week. The audience on production night was woefully slim, but according to those interested play goers, the audience was responsive. Everything was done on credit, and when the bills were paid, Little Theatre had made its first three dollars! (SWPH has never operated in the red!)
With one set struck, the group elected Joanna as the first president—she was also assistant director. We also acquired our first patron members—four of them. On July 15-16 we produced MARY, MARY, which was the only summer-time production in the un-airconditioned auditorium. All during rehearsals, there was fine cross ventilation; and on the night of production—nothing—not a breath of air.
When the 1966-67 season opened, it did so with more organization. Six people read plays together and planned a year’s work for people they hadn’t even found! But it worked, and when THE ENCHANTED went on the boards, there were seventy-one patrons listed. Audiences were still rather small, but the organization was being recognized. The chief problem the group had in its early existence was a shortage of people. The audiences were growing, but very few of those people who made up the audience wanted to do anything more than come and watch. Therefore, the actors not only acted, but they also helped Don Roper build, they painted, they found furniture, they found props, they found costumes, they acted as stage crews and light men. And when all that was done, they memorized lines.
For a while we were considered a bunch of “kooks”, who liked to sit up all night at the auditorium. Well we didn’t like to; we had to. Another problem that bugged the early years of Little Theatre was a lack of actors and actresses. That doesn’t mean that the plays weren’t cast—and cast well. It just means that for a long time, it was the same people who tried out for parts or who would even consider trying out for a part. You might say we had an acting troupe.
COME BLOW YOUR HORN was the last play that was done in the old auditorium— some of you remember that monstrosity, a chamber of echoes. Everything was abandoned temporarily—there were no productions and there was no board election, so the old officers remained in office for the duration of the auditorium remodeling. During this time the group was not inactive, however, for we met weekly to read plays suitable for future productions. Also, in preparing to incorporate the organization, we voted on a new name—SOUTHWEST PLAYHOUSE, INC. This was done in order to make the scope of the organization wider than just the Clinton area. We hoped to include—and we have—people from Clinton/Sherman Air Force Base, Arapaho, Weatherford, Cordell, and Corn. On January 24, 1968, The Playhouse was under way again in the remodeled Auditorium, holding try-outs for THE MIRACLE WORKER. This play proved to be our best attended to date.
Southwest Playhouse, Inc. soon became a member of Oklahoma Community Theatre Association—OCTA—a state organization of theatre groups with Kitty King serving as a founding member of the OCTA board. Our bank balance was growing, and we were finally able to do what had been our objective in the beginning: to give a scholarship to a speech or drama student. In 1969 it was voted by the Board to give the first scholarship to Donn Pool, a student who had been in plays or had served in some capacity back stage since he was in eighth grade when he was in ALL MY SONS. We still award a $500 scholarship to a deserving senior each year.
As a kick-off for the 1969-70 season, the Playhouse hosted an informal meal for all those who had been in past plays or who had worked in any capacity on those plays. Before THE SOLID GOLD CADILLAC made it to production, the Playhouse made an outstanding purchase. We bought racks and racks of past season clothes from the Vogue. Then we rounded up lots of workers one night, and with David Stratton’s flat-bed truck, we moved thousands of dresses and suits and coats and hats and purses to our own premises. The women in SOLID GOLD CADILLAC made immediate use of our new costume wardrobe. By this time Southwest Playhouse Inc. had racked up two “firsts” on the stage. According to OCTA, one of the most important objectives that we set for ourselves and succeeded in doing was joining forces with Elk City and making our tickets good there, and their tickets good here. The arrangement was perfect for both groups since our productions are during the fall and winter, and theirs are during the summer.
In 1970 the Board added an Award Banquet and a musical production to its string of firsts. Our musical Was HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING. Presenting a musical was a new experience for the Playhouse, and for the event new directors were imported from Weatherford. John Robinson directed the play and appeared in its main role. Pat Robinson directed the choreography. For the first time, too, a play was held over for a third production. The cast of this production was larger than the first audience had been in 1965.
In 1976, with the help of the City of Clinton and many volunteers, the old pig show barn located at 6th and Nowahy was remodeled to serve as the Southwest Playhouse theatre. The seating was folding directors chairs that had been purchased by individuals with their names embroidered on the back. In 1998, the theatre was again remodeled and the permanent stadium style seating was installed.
Southwest Playhouse produces five shows each season and has recently incorporated a summer children's program and production. We pride ourselves on our professional quality community theatre and consider Southwest Playhouse a gem of Western Oklahoma. We boast over 600 season ticket holders a year, with attendance averaging between 600 and 1000 patrons per show. We could not provide this service and art without the support of the City of Clinton and the members of our community and surrounding areas. We are proud of our history, and hope to continue bringing excellent community theatre to Western Oklahoma for another 50 years.