Johansen’s Oklahoma City Mummers Theater Will Live on in Memory

Wednesday, October 16, 2013
John Johansen's Mummers Theater was renovated into the Stage Center in the 1990s. (Courtesy Elliott+Associates Architects)

John Johansen’s Mummers Theater was renovated into the Stage Center in the 1990s. (Courtesy Elliott+Associates Architects)

[Editor’s Note: Tracey Zeeck is an Oklahoma native and resident who has been leading the effort to save and preserve John Johansen‘s classic Mummers Theater in that city. She responds here to a letter to the editor in the Oklahoma Gazette. ]

In 2012, armed with good intentions and a passionate group of friends and family, Farooq Karim of REES Associates and I decided to respond to an RFP and save John Johansen’s Oklahoma City masterpiece, Stage Center (Mummers Theater) from the wrecking ball. We would turn this vestige of 1970s brutalism into a children’s museum and light up downtown with joyful sounds of creative play. We had two months to create the plan, submit the RFP and raise $30,000,000. We didn’t make it.

Fast forward to 2013: Johansen, who had blessed our transformation plan, has since passed away and an Oklahoma City developer has purchased the property. He will tear it down and build in its place a 20-story office building next to our city’s newest monument, a 50-story glass building housing an oil & gas company. I recently stumbled upon this letter to the editor in the Oklahoma Gazette, and finally there are words…

“Tinker toys” they say “grain elevator, cotton gin.”
and I say yes
Art in imitation of the functional
The compartmentalized sphered cube
holistic three-dimensional sculpture holding sculpture.

Let’s say a tribute to the workplace of the farmers
hip deep in their work using sheet and cast metal enhancements
and to construction workers birthing steel-boned concrete
poured with native stone and sand, transcendent technology
saving backs, protecting the future
So sons and daughters could be teachers and doctors
And their progeny artists and philosophers.

Is this hearing place obsolete?
After founding, nursing, and sustaining numerous theater companies,
those ineffable entities, neither thing nor place, nor just knots of artists
contending with themselves, but also made of the eyes and ears
of those who looked outside the TV sets of the last forty years,
the CinemaScope, and now away from the handheld screen
with tight drawn hoodie, and listened with tears and laughed out loud,
actors holding in compliment, in concert with their momentary peers.

Read the full poem at the Oklahoma Gazette website.

3 Responses to “Johansen’s Oklahoma City Mummers Theater Will Live on in Memory”

  1. Susan Brotman says:

    I visited the Mummers Theatre (touring the outside only) two years ago when visiting my step-daughter at the University of Oklahoma. I also learned of what I believed was a plan to save Mr. Johansen’s inspired theatre and transform it into a children’s museum. Anyone who has seen pictures of the theatre would agree that it’s mix of strength and mirth makes it perfect for parents and children alike.

    I am devastated to learn that the Mummer’s Theatre will be sacrificed for no good reason. There is so much space in the downtown Oklahoma area that it is difficult to imagine that the Mummer’s Theatre must be sacrificed.

    There will be no end of regrets if this ill-conceived devastation is permitted.

    Susan Brotman

  2. Jim Doyle says:

    I was the last engineer of Stage Center. Working there from April 2008 till
    Jan 2011. The building is an engineering marvel from the outside. But a nightmare from the inside. I have worked in every square inch of this building from the top sky box to the bottom of the basement. The arena theatre is a very poor performance space. I do hold Carpenter Square in the highest esteem for the miracles they pulled off in that space. The Tolbert theatre was also very limited in it’s usefulness. The sound quality was always poor, the lighting was never right it was always too hot or too cold. I never could make the users happy because the building was not built to accommodate different users. Mr. Johansen may have been a master architect but he was not well schooled in theatre design. I studied theatre in high school and college and studied theatre design as a hobby, I can not imagine how anyone arrived at this design. My best guess was they designed the exterior then forced the stage areas to fit.

  3. J.S.McClure says:

    I worked in every part of Stage Center except the sub basement and saw innumerable shows there from 1974 through the last flood. The theatre spaces are very ‘WORKABLE” due to the evidence of hundreds of excellent shows produced with, among other fine qualities, excellent sound and lighting. No space is perfect, adjustments are always made, and building engineers receive a lot complaints whatever space they work in.

Post new comment

Name (required)

E-Mail (required)

Advertise on The Architect's Newspaper.

Submit your competitions for online listing.

Submit your events to AN's online calendar.



Copyright © 2015 | The Architect's Newspaper, LLC | AN Blog Admin Log in. The Architect's Newspaper LLC, 21 Murray Street 5th Floor | New York, New York 10007 | tel. 212.966.0630
Creative Commons License