POSTED ON AUGUST 26, 2009:
Heller Theatre prepares to draw the curtain at its new Henthorne location
Living Arts isn't the only decades-old artistic organization moving into a new home. This month, the 28-year-old Heller Theatre moved into Brookside's newly remodeled Henthorne Park community center at 4825 S. Quaker.
The move has been more than 15 years in the making, said Heller's Artistic and Managing Director Julie Tattershall. Tattershall and Assistant Directors Frank Gallagher and Erin Scarberry operate the City of Tulsa-owned Heller and Clark Theatres.
Heller is an adult theatre company, presenting primarily contemporary works, while Clark is a youth theatre company. Both provide acting classes and Laughing Matter Improv.
Heller Theatre's challenge has been the size of the theater, approximately 40 feet by 40 feet and with a seating capacity of 40 audience members per show.
Because of the theater's size (the stage measured 40 by 24 feet) and its diminutive backstage area, the company was limited to performing works that involved a cast of only eight people or fewer.
The tech space was so small that only one person could fit in the booth, limiting what the company could do with lights, sound and video in its productions. There were no bathrooms for the actors, and the concessions stand was self-serve, comprised of a mini fridge and a glass tip jar.
The new space at Henthorne, Tattershall said, will allow Heller to present more diverse plays and to expand its educational programs. And it will seat 70 to 75 people.
The City of Tulsa chose Henthorne for Heller's new home last April, Tattershall said, and the theater's staff was happy with the decision because of its proximity to the original theater, at 5328 S. Wheeling Ave.
"Henthorne was underused," said Tattershall. "The only thing there was a bridge club, which moved to Heller."
Henthorne's gymnasium remains in use, providing a venue for league volleyball and basketball teams, but those games will be scheduled around the theater's season and the gym won't be open to the public otherwise.
The park's pool was closed a couple of years ago, and Tattershall said she'd love to see it filled in and modified into an outdoor stage.
It's impossible to know, though, whether funding would ever come through for a project like that; money also played a role in deciding Heller's new home and is part of the reason it took so long to find the right space.
Possibilities included Circle Cinema (before Clark Wiens remodeled and opened the movie house), the Fontana 6 dollar movie theater at 51st and Memorial and Owen and Turner Parks.
Those ideas were all abandoned, though, when it was determined by the City that repairs to those buildings would be over budget.
Tattershall said, before Owen Park reopened in August 2008 after five years of abandonment, Heller very nearly moved in, but community focus groups determined that residents in that area preferred a recreational center to a theater.
Heller at Henthorne (the City is keeping the theater's original name for recognition's sake) will, like Heller, be a black box theater, with a 40-foot by 40-foot stage, a rehearsal room, a green room, a separate entrance and separate bathrooms for the actors and an art gallery on the wall separating the theater from the gymnasium.
Seating on the theater's risers will consist of the old chairs from the Tulsa Performing Arts Center's Chapman Music Hall, which got a makeover prior to last season's opening.
Heller at Henthorne will open to the public with its first show of the 2009-2010 season, David Lindsay-Abshire's Rabbit Hole, a Pulitzer prize-winning drama about what happens after a family tragedy, the pain an awkwardness felt after a life-shattering accident and the human's capacity for survival. Scarberry directs.
The theater's entire season is available on page ...
Heller, which was originally supposed to open in January, set back by unforeseen engineering delays, has been out of operation for more than a year, and Tattershall said she expects that to have some effect on ticket sales.
For the past three years, Heller had made a habit of selling out nearly every show it produced, but Tattershall said she expects it to take about a year for the theater to start selling out shows again.
"People have to get back into the habit of coming to Heller. They have to remember it and find the new location. Heller had a great reputation, but it's been down for a year. It takes a little bit to get the programming up again," she said.
Ticket prices will remain the same for now, at $8 per person, but at some point, the theater will have to raise the prices in order to help pay for the new digs.
Henthorne's renovation was paid for by a $100,000 city bond from 1996.
"The best thing is that now we're on Brookside," said Tattershall. "We're getting to know the Brookside business association and the neighborhood association, and the Tulsa Ballet is only four blocks away. Brookside is already considered a restaurant and bar district, but my hope is that, with us and the ballet, it will begin to be considered as an arts district as well and other arts groups will want to move to Brookside."
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