NORMAN – A performance of the Tony Award-winning musical Ragtime will highlight the Oct. 15 dedication of the newly renovated Elsie C. Brackett Theatre at the University of Oklahoma.
The theater is being named in honor of the late Elsie C. Brackett, who learned her special joy of music as a young woman singing in her church choir in East Texas and whose love of musical theater show tunes filled the family home with music.
“The university is deeply grateful for the gift of Betsy Brackett and her husband, Gregg Wadley, who made this restoration possible,” said OU President David L. Boren. “We are especially pleased to honor the memory of Betsy’s mother, Elsie C. Brackett, who shared her love of music with all around her and made an impact on the next generation.”
The Elsie C. Brackett Theatre is designed with an extended stage in front of the curtain with the unique capacity to utilize an apron or a thrust configuration. Originally completed in 1965, the theater accommodates a variety of theatrical productions, including musicals, opera, ballet and stage performances. Depending on the stage configuration, the newly renovated theater has a capacity of up to 570 seats.
The renovations include new theater seating and carpeting, repainted wall and ceiling surfaces, and the installation of new wall finishes, a new grand curtain, a new air handling unit and other interior improvements. Lobby restrooms have been refurbished and expanded. New state-of-the-art sound equipment will provide the hands-on experiences necessary to prepare students for future professional careers in scene technology, technical direction, stage management and performance. Behind-the-scenes features include stage lifts that have been upgraded to the latest technology; a completely new theatrical lighting system; and a replacement of the rigging system that allows scenery to fly in and out of the stage, including six new motorized hoists.
OU dentistry alumna, prosthodontist and fine arts advocate Susan E. “Betsy” Brackett and her husband, Gregg Wadley, made a lead gift to renovate the theater in honor of Betsy’s mother.
“Like many Americans during the Depression, my mother found pleasure and comfort in music during that time,” Betsy Brackett said.
Elsie C. (White) Brackett was born on a small farm outside of Troup, Texas, in 1914, and grew up singing in the church choir.
A few years after completing high school, Elsie moved to Tulsa to live with a cousin while she worked and attended a business school to learn the basic skills to become a secretary and a bookkeeper. A co-worker introduced her to her future husband, Delbert Brackett, and they married on Sept. 6, 1941.
“My mother epitomized the women of her generation: the women who survived the Great Depression and endured World War II,” Betsy said. “She possessed a quiet inner strength and toughness; she was generous and giving; she was totally unselfish, and she was devoted to her family.
“Mom discovered the wonderful songs of musical theater and would often sing show tunes as she cleaned the house. Unfortunately, living in Tulsa and Bartlesville, helping her husband develop a home building and real estate company and raising two children limited her exposure to live theater. Later in life, she did have opportunities to attend dance and musical theater performances in person, and she was captivated and enthralled with the exciting atmosphere.
“Although she never attended college, my mother valued education and would be thrilled to provide an opportunity for young people to learn the art and craft of the performing arts in a state-of-the-art theat.”
Betsy Brackett and Wadley have provided support for multiple fine arts programs at OU, including the Enrichment Fund, the Indian Ballerina Scholarship Fund and the Ballet Russe Archives. In addition, they established a Chair for Distinguished Visiting Artists in 2005. Betsy Brackett serves on the Board of Visitors of the Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts.
Betsy Brackett graduated from the OU College of Dentistry in 1978 in its third graduating class. For 20 years, she devoted her career to academics, including 16 years as a faculty member at the OU College of Dentistry. She currently maintains a part-time private practice limited to prosthodontics in Oklahoma City. For her outstanding dedication to the university, she was presented an OU Regents’ Alumni Award in 2009 and an honorary degree from OU in 2013.
The Elsie C. Brackett Theatre is housed in the Rupel J. Jones Fine Arts Center.
For more than three decades, Jones served as the director of the OU School of Drama and Regents’ Professor of Drama. Hundreds of students over the years looked to him as their mentor and role model. He was nationally prominent in educational theater as a charter member of the American Educational Theatre Association and the National Theatre Conference.
Called “a triumph for the stage” by Time magazine, "Ragtime" is a powerful portrait of life in turn-of-the-century America. It tells the tale of a white, upper-middle class family, an African American couple and a Jewish immigrant family escaping to America, as they all confront the timeless contradictions of wealth and poverty, freedom and prejudice, and hope and despair, in pursuit of the American Dream.
The OU cast consists of 50 students and alumni and members of the surrounding community.
Performances of "Ragtime" will be the first public events held in the renovated theater. Show times are 8 p.m. Oct. 16 and 17 and 3 p.m. Oct. 18. Advance purchase tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students, plus fee. Tickets at the door are $30 for adults and $15 for students. Tickets may be purchased at theatre.ou.edu, by calling (405) 325-4101 or visiting the OU Fine Arts Box Office located at 500 W. Boyd St., Catlett Music Center, Norman. For accommodations on the basis of disability, call the OU Fine Arts Box Office at 405-325-4101.