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Historic Sooner Theatre enhances downtown arts district

The historic Sooner Theatre is at 101 E Main St. in Norman. [Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman]

The historic Sooner Theatre is at 101 E Main St. in Norman. [Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman]

NORMAN — The Sooner Theatre, 101 E Main St., first opened as a movie theater in 1929. It still stands today, serving as a community theater that offers year-round events including musical theater productions and concerts by nationally touring artists.

Jennifer Baker, the theater's executive director, said for the past 13 years the theater has presented a season of stage shows and concerts. The venue presents three stage shows each year, mainly musicals, as well as series of concerts featuring well-known artists. Past performers have included Delbert McClinton and Asleep at the Wheel.

The theater also puts on an annual Voice of the Heartland vocal competition each fall. The competition is divided into three age groups and is open to performers ages 7 and older.

“This is a really good, classy event for people of all ages,” Baker said. “We have incredible judges who are seasoned professionals. It's just really fun.”

Proceeds from the event benefit The Studio of the Sooner Theatre, a performing arts academy operated by Sooner Theatre.

Enrolling nearly 1,000 students in 55 different school year classes and summer camps, the Studio recently moved from its location east of the Sooner Theatre to a space across the street. The new space includes a costume and prop shop, as well as a performance and event space, Baker said.

Proceeds from this year's Voice of the Heartland will help pay for the purchase and renovation of the new Studio space, Baker said.

“We loved our other space; we just outgrew it,” Baker said.

Built in 1929 in the Spanish Gothic style by architect Harold Gimeno, the theater is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. From 1929 to 1975 it served as a movie theater. To prevent the building from demolition, a group of citizens convinced the city to purchase the building.

“It's a Norman landmark,” Baker said. “It holds a lot of memories and stories. An older gentleman once told me we should charge double for the balcony seats. I asked him why, and he said, ‘That's where we did all our kissing.'”

While many have fond memories of the theater, it's reaching new audiences, said Nancy Coggins, development and marketing director for the theater.

“We are reaching a new generation of parents and children,” Coggins said. “They are coming for the Studio and staying for the theater.”

In addition to performances, both the Sooner Theatre and the Studio are available for event rental.

For more information about upcoming events or rental, call 321-9600 or go online to www.soonertheatre.org.

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