How ya gonna keep a ginger-haired gal down on the prairie after she’s seen New York, Washington D.C., Austin and beyond? Well, in Shelby Brammer’s case, it’s not difficult. She is happy to have found Bartlesville where she is currently teaching Theatre Appreciation at Rogers State University and where she has just signed on as the new Artistic Director at Theater Bartlesville. When she arrived here, she was thrilled to see that Bartlesville had a small community theatre downtown.
Brammer has come to Bartlesville via an interesting and circuitous route. She was born in Texas, the daughter of parents who worked for then Senator Lyndon Johnson, and was a step-daughter of a Houston Congressman. She attended a Washington DC high school, studied acting at the Washington Theatre Club, then moved back to Texas to attend the UT Theatre Department. She moved to New York in 1976 and lived in a studio apartment “where the rent was a whopping $165 a month on Charles Street in Greenwich Village. Gilda Radner was my neighbor.” After working as an actress in theatre, film and TV for 14 years, (including Kramer vs. Kramer as Louise, Dustin Hoffman’s secretary, and as a regular on the ABC TV series, Breaking Away), she turned to writing, directing and producing her own plays in NYC. She then completed her MFA in Playwriting and Directing at the Playwrights Workshop and Directing Program at the University of Iowa and subsequently returned to Austin where she was the Drama Department Chair at Austin Community College for 12 years.
One year ago, Brammer was asked to direct the all-time favorite, Our Town at Theater Bartlesville. The show was such a success that just a few months later she was asked to become the new Artistic Director. Challenges and opportunities abound for Artistic Directors and Brammer is up for them with Theater Bartlesville. I’ve never been involved in “community” theatre before – my experience as a young person was in training at various institutions like the Alley Theater in Houston, and of course I had high school and college theatre experiences. I’m really just learning some of the challenges and rewards of working within a community theatre setting.
Brammer is very happy to be working with Joanie Elmore, who is the new Managing Director for Theater Bartlesville. In earlier years, Elmore held the job of Executive Director, and has also starred in many of the productions throughout the years. Brammer worked with Elmore on Our Town and very much hopes to get her back onstage in spite of her new responsibilities. As the Managing Director, Elmore and Brammer work together as a producing team, while Elmore oversees house management, publicity, membership and all daily administrative duties of the office and physical facility.
“Theater Bartlesville is fortunate to have many patrons and an active membership, but we want to get more new people in the door to see what we’re doing this year in hopes they’ll want to invest in us in any way they can. We’re also looking for sponsors, both corporate and individual, and we’re going to do our very best to put on some really fine, exciting productions in order to earn full community support.” I have spent months reading plays, thinking about local actors and playwrights and what the technical demands of each show would be, what audiences will like, how much each production will cost—all the things an Artistic Director has to consider when putting a season together.”
Brammer is excited about the plays coming up for next season which will include a rollicking political satire right before the November election called Kingdoms of Democracy by local playwright Dan Gordon, followed by one of the greatest American literary classics, The Grapes of Wrath, and a charming and moving romantic comedy that takes place in England and Italy after WWI, Enchanted April.
Brammer is passionate about how theatre helps create community. “It is a way for us to see into each other and into ourselves because it’s always about the human experience and the complexity of being alive, and a theatre experience requires a certain exchange of energy between audience and performers. I love all sorts of theatre – musicals, dramas and comedies because they all have the capacity to move us.” And to Brammer, "theatre is communal—it can feed our souls and lift our spirits. Finally, it is the most collaborative art. You meet all sorts of interesting people when you take part in theatre and everyone is focusing on one goal. Theatre can be an extremely satisfying and enjoyable experience.”