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Guthrie's Pollard Theatre sticks to tried-and-true with 'Territorial Christmas Carol'

The production is based on Charles Dicken's classic Scrooge story, but set around the time of the 1889 Land Run. Instead of London, the story takes place in Oklahoma Territory's Guthrie.
BY VALLERY BROWN Modified: November 14, 2012 at 6:09 pm •  Published: November 15, 2012

Take, for example, the theater's most recent production of “The 39 Steps.” The four-person cast played dozens of distinct characters. The company took a tongue-in-cheek approach to the minimal set and was able to make it work.

Stewart, who played a lead role in “The 39 Steps,” said his isn't a typical 9-to-5 job.

“We don't just show up and do the play,” he said.

While salaries for working theater artists in Oklahoma are meager, Stevenson said the Pollard gets by on grants, gifts and donations from community members. Only a small portion of the budget is made up of ticket sales.

Stevenson said the Pollard's focus is on creative storytelling and developing artists, particularly homegrown talent.

“You watch cast members grow over time and they become familiar,” Stevenson said. “It's a unique experience.”

Pulling from that trough of local talent, the Pollard Theatre produces around six shows each year. Many who frequently contribute started out as students honing their talents on the Pollard stage.

Stevenson first came to the Pollard in 1990 while still a student at Langston University. He left for a while after college, but returned in 2000. Stevenson often acts in Pollard shows, but he also designs lighting, directs and does whatever job needs to be done. Likewise, Stewart came to the theater in the late 1990s and also works at various jobs keeping shows going.

Resident artist James Ong, an original company member, is now in his 26th season at the theater. Others in the resident company have also been around for 10 years or more.

Investing in the community

Not only is the theater developing talent in the area, Guthrie Chamber of Commerce President Mary Coffin said the theater is integral to many businesses in historic downtown Guthrie.

“The Pollard Theatre is an extremely important part of the community,” Coffin said. “People come up before shows to have a nice meal, go and do some shopping.”

Since it's not too far from Oklahoma City, many patrons make an evening out of it. Some make a weekend out of a trip and stay at a nearby bed-and-breakfast. The Pollard has become a fixture of that local charm.

“Our town is magical, it tends to capture a lot hearts,” Coffin said.

Like so many of the scenes acted out on its stage, the narrative is the most important piece of what goes on at the Pollard.

Over the holidays in Guthrie, the universal story of a man (Ebenezer Scrooge) learning the consequences of his cold, bitter and hardened ways has become a central part of the Christmas celebration.

“The stories with the ‘everyman' stand the test of time,” said Stevenson. Ultimately, it's making that connection and telling stories that resonate.

“There's nothing better than an audience that says, ‘I get that,' and you helped them get there,” Stevenson said.

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