Juliet may soon appear on the “Juliet balcony” at the former Paseo Plunge building as Shakespeare in the Park seeks to make the Paseo Arts District its permanent home.
Kathryn McGill, executive and artistic director of Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park, was looking for a new home for the group after it lost its previous location at the Fred Jones Assembly Plant, which is being redeveloped into a 21c Museum Hotel.
“We’ve been homeless, really, since our stage in Edmond burned down twice,” McGill said. “We eventually moved to the Myriad Gardens, where we put on our productions at the water stage and moved our offices into Stage Center.
“And we all know what happened to that,” he said of Stage Center, which flooded in 2010 and is now being demolished to make way for a new OGE Energy Corp. headquarters. “We’ve since been doing some indoor productions at OCU and some at the Freede Little Theater at the Civic Center.”
Tired of the constant displacements, McGill sought advice from Robbie Kienzle, a veteran assistant city planner assigned last year to a new position of coordinating efforts involving the city’s arts community. Kienzle introduced McGill to Joy Reed Belt, who took over efforts to develop the former Paseo Plunge building, 3010 Paseo, following the death last year of her husband, John Belt — the area’s pioneering developer and promoter.
The 30,000-square-foot building is the largest on the block, yet it remained an empty eyesore for decades until John Belt, an attorney who also loved the arts, bought it for $230,000 in 2010. The building started out as a popular swimming hole in the 1930s, and was turned into a frozen pizza production kitchen and Italian restaurant The Spaghetti Factory before going empty in the ’80s.
John Belt created an entirely new facade for the building that fit in with the surrounding mix of bright colored stucco and red tile roofs. He was dreaming up a list of possible tenants when he was diagnosed with cancer and died one week later.
As McGill and Joy Belt toured the building, they agreed the basement would be ideal for the group’s offices. Belt suggested the group make the Paseo home to its winter theater and children’s productions, and took McGill up to the third floor.
The ceilings were high. And John Belt had built wooden stairways and platforms that extended to exterior Juliet balconies he had added to the building.
Joy Belt was surprised by McGill’s sudden excitement.
“She turned around, looked at the front of the space and squealed, ‘It’s the Globe Theater!’” Joy Belt said. “I looked at it – and yes, John had framed out these two spaces with stairways. I had never considered it might look like Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.”
At that point, Joy Belt grew excited, as well, knowing her husband was a “song and dance” man who often participated in community theater. The couple were both undergrad drama majors.
“There was some sort of intervention working here,” Joy Belt said. “John was doing this.”
McGill went back to her board and was advised by longtime arts patron Jim Tolbert to talk to Hans Butzer about designing the theater. Butzer toured the space and agreed it was an ideal spot for Shakespeare productions. The group will maintain its outdoor productions at the Myriad Gardens.
“This would give us the 350- to 400-seat theater space that we lost with Stage Center,” McGill said. “Everyone was very excited. Everyone was asking what they could do. This was happening in the space of a couple of weeks. Not only have we found office space, but a permanent theater space. We can be a year-around theater where we can do educational and winter programs at the Plunge.”
Such a renovation, however, will cost money that must yet be raised.
Fate intervened again when longtime gallery Paseo Originals moved out of the area’s third-largest building at 2920 Paseo.
Joy Belt contacted McGill and told her the space was available and — because it was at street level — it would give the organization a great start at getting wired into the community. Belt also had another surprise for McGill: The former gallery also included a theatrical-style space that could seat 50 to 75 people.
The organization moved in this week. The entire discussion and move transpired over four months.
“This is hugely important for all the arts,” Joy Belt said. “This is just serendipitous. I think John would be deliriously happy.”