Along with scripts and books, the shelves of Chuck Tweed’s cluttered office are lined with mementos of a lifelong love with theater: a model gazebo from “The Sound of Music,” a plastic flamingo cocktail glass from “Flaming Idiots,” even an old black-and-white photo of a young Ed Harris in his kingly costume from “Camelot.”
“Everything has a little meaning from a play or whatever. It’s always fun to look back,” said Tweed, the longtime production director for Jewel Box Theatre.
“I love to play, laugh and have fun. So to do all that and then put the final product together is just really rewarding.”
Over the past 35 years, Tweed has become what you might call the fabric of the Jewel Box.
“He’s done many, many other things: He’s taught, he’s worked with other theaters … but the Jewel Box is his passion. For so many years, he has belonged to the Jewel Box; the Jewel Box has belonged to him,” said Jana Hester, a longtime member of the venerable community theater company’s board of advisers.
“Those of us who have worked around the Jewel Box for many, many years consider ourselves a family, and he’s the patriarch.”
Tweed’s interest in theater started under the tutelage of Faye Garten, his drama teacher at Jarman Junior High and later Midwest City High School. He learned so much after four years with her that when he got to Central State College (now the University of Central Oklahoma), his theater classes were easy.
“I wanted to be a teacher just like her, and she came to see some of my shows. So it’s kind of gone full circle,” he said.
Like Garten, he spent 29 years teaching drama, TV production and moviemaking in the Midwest City-Del City School District, where he was twice named teacher of the year.
“They were on the block schedule then, so I got to play for 90 minutes. It was great,” he said.
He also got to play on stage when a friend suggested he audition for a Jewel Box show. Tweed still remembers his first entrance into the tiny in-the-round theater as part of the cast of “Never Too Late.”
“My first word was ‘hello,’ someone on stage said ‘hello,’ and someone sitting on this side said ‘hello.’ And I went ‘hello’ (and thought) ‘What the hell am I doing? I just talked to somebody.’ So that was my entrance to the Jewel Box,” he said, laughing.
When Jewel Box’s part-time production director job opened up, the same friend who cast him as an actor suggested Tweed take that role, too, despite his full-time teaching job.
“I was here nine years by myself before computers,” said Tweed, who retired from teaching in 2000. “I would come in after school, take reservations, write it out, put it in alphabetical order, and then type it because I thought it looked more professional. Then, I would go back out to school ... and directed plays. And I was a student council sponsor, so we had events. So, it was like back and forth, back and forth.”
A ministry of the First Christian Church, Jewel Box is in its 56th season, but Tweed said the theater really has two birthdays. The church has been staging plays continuously for 95 years, he said, starting with its Jewel Box Players in its old location at NW 10 and Robinson.
The theater now is part of the church’s distinctive longtime home at 3700 N Walker in a space that once was used for choir practices. It is the oldest continuously operating community theater in Oklahoma City.
“They know we’re going to take care of them, so they don’t censor anything, and they’ve been very supportive,” Tweed said of the relationship between the church and Jewel Box.
“We do good stuff. I think our standards are high; I think our productions reflect that.”
James Gordon, Jewel Box’s box office manager, credits Tweed with setting the high standards.
Tweed cast him in his Jewel Box debut as an actor in the theater’s 1993 production of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” Now, Gordon said Tweed has been “the guardian angel on my shoulder” as Gordon is directing his first Jewel Box production, “The Lion in Winter.”
“He is Jewel Box. I mean, there’s no two ways about it. He’ll deny it … but he is the face of Jewel Box,” said Gordon, whose “Lion in Winter” runs through March 23. “His stamp is all over this show, and I welcome that.”
Work and play
Tweed has left his stamp on more than just shows. During his tenure, Jewel Box has boosted its number of season ticket holders from 237 to 2,200 and started such programs as its annual Gem Awards, a national playwriting competition and a new boot camp that allows patrons a behind-the-scenes look at the hard work that goes into putting on a show.
In between, he co-founded Edmond’s Summerstock Productions and has directed plays at other theaters, including an upcoming production of “Lend Me a Tenor” at Poteet Theatre.
Last fall, Tweed received the Governor’s Art Award, recognizing longtime leadership and significant contributions to the arts.
“It’s humbling. It really is. It’s nice to be recognized because of the things that I have done out of love,” Tweed said.
“It’s the old adage: Find a job you like and you’ll never work a day in your life. I get to play every day.”
‘The Lion in Winter’
•When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Performances continue through March 23.
•Where: Jewel Box Theatre, 3700 N Walker.
•Information: 521-1786 or www.jewelboxtheatre.org.