I'm not going to lie. Before arriving in Tulsa, what I knew of the great state of Oklahoma I learned from Rogers and Hammerstein, Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton. Happily, my stay here has not been punctuated by any airborne cows or singing cowboys so far. (Well, considering the fact I am a dancer in the cast of The Lion King, singing boys dressed as wildebeests have been spotted, but that's par for the course.)
A few years back, we performed in Oklahoma City, but I was car-less and mostly stranded at a generic hotel on the highway when I wasn't performing. The highlights of my stay in OKC were the free continental breakfast at the hotel and the day I explored the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, which was home to a huge collection of various forms of barbed wire. Really.
Needless to say, Oklahoma City didn't leave me with much more information about Oklahoma than musicals and movies had imparted to me, so when we rolled into Tulsa, I was convinced the city highlight would be just another museum with a huge lasso collection, or the world's biggest ball of yarn. Happily, however, my stay here has been punctuated with great food, solid yoga classes, hip bars, and incredibly warm locals.
Rolling into a new town every month can be overwhelming. Imagine packing up your entire material life (including any pets or children you have, of which I have the cat and dog variety) and moving every month. You not only have to find a safe place to lay your head at night (preferably not a hotel, since after almost half a decade of travel, even the free continental breakfast loses its charm), but figure out all of the crazy one-way downtown streets, find the closest grocery store, discover a good gym or yoga studio, and somehow discern if there's any kind of social scene in which you can unwind after a long week of shows.
COURTESY/CHERYL MANN PHOTOGRAPHY
I find my housing before I get to a city on Craigslist or AirBNB to save some pennies. Sometimes I live with other cast members in a rental home, as I've done in Tulsa, or find people online who need temporary roommates for a month. Sure, my local roommates don't turn down my sheets every day (and they don't like it when I ask them to), but you save money over a hotel stay, and as it turns out, that's the fastest way to immerse yourself in a new city -- befriending the natives.
After moving in, I set about unpacking all the requisite accoutrements to make myself feel at home -- jersey sheets, picture frames, Bluetooth sound system, collapsible chairs and tables, and a Temperpedic mattress topper for the bed. And that's not even the half of it (To answer your question, yes, the little Prius I drive across the country is completely full when I'm moving). All this unpacking happens on the first day I roll into town, and the next day is taken up with a dress rehearsal, getting to know the new theater, and our first show of the week. All this happens in two days, so there's no real time to get a sense of what kind of town we've just landed in. That usually happens at the opening night cast party.
The Tulsa edition was hosted at the Dust Bowl Lanes & Lounge at 211 S. Elgin Ave. and immediately set me straight about whether Tulsa was just another vanilla Midwestern town. With a fun retro bar/bowling alley design, the Dust Bowl was one of the most unique locations for one of our ubiquitous opening night parties I've ever seen (we have one in every city, natch, so I've seen almost five years' worth of these things come and go).
Within the first week here, we had discovered Valkyrie (13 E. Brady St.) and The Tavern (201 N. Main St.), bars that tout craft cocktails and handlebar moustaches -- two things I personally seek out in every city. To offset the imbibing that often happens after shows, I usually find a yoga studio to set up a detox-camp for myself daily, and Tulsa proved to be no different. SALT Yoga, in beautiful Utica Square, has become my daily pilgrimage, as well as a great excuse to sip Starbucks and window shop after a good sweaty class.
I should really be doubling up on my exercise here, however, because the pizza at Andolini's (1552 E. 15th St.) and the brie plate at Lucky's on the Green are regular meals for me. Ordering food at Lucky's makes me feel like I'm a Jetson -- you just punch in your order on a touch-screen computer and pay with a credit card. The first time I was there, I thought it was closed, until a kind local heard my rumbling stomach and lost puppy-dog face and clued me in.
Sipping on lemonade at the Guthrie Green while watching kids splash in the fountain has become somewhat of a meditation on the meaning of life for me, and I was thrilled to catch the end of a very cool production of Much Ado About Nothing on the Green a few weeks ago.
Tulsa has also captured my wallet's heart -- I keep resisting the urge to go back to Must Stash, Ida Red, and Edit -- all on S. Peoria -- to buy out the rest of the store's wares. One business, however, has proven to be home to one of the best deals I've ever seen in my five years of criss-crossing the country -- the spa packages at Spa Southern Hills, 1902 E. 71st St. They are absolutely insane: I got two and a half hours of pure bliss rained down upon me, and the services were top-notch. I'm trying to find another time to get back there to get some more face-glow going before we go.
If I can't squeeze in an appointment, I'll just catch another Drillers game at the ONEOK field in the sun. I came back from watching an afternoon game glowing (alright, glowing red). But seeing people dressed as a washing machine, fridge and stove engage in a foot race that dissolved into a wrestling match between innings made it all worth my sunburn.
We have a few more weeks here in T-Town, and to be honest (and to my surprise) I'll be sad to leave. I've met really rad people who have gone out of their way to make us feel welcome. Liz and the entire staff at SALT make me look forward to an hour of pretzel-like poses every day and the jauntily capped bartenders at The Tavern and Valkyrie make me crave new concoctions consisting of mezcal and curry powder.
Tulsa gives me a sense of Austin, or Nashville, just on a smaller scale. If Austin is going to grow up to be the next Nashville, as it has been said, then I could really see Tulsa growing up to be the next Austin. So next time someone wonders what Oklahoma is all about, I'll tell them that they should really see the future Center of the Hip Universe in a town called Tulsa. Just watch your head for those cows.
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