Troutt Hall Auditorium Receives Makeover

Friday, July 28, 2006

CHICKASHA – At the heart of the University of Science and Arts campus stands Troutt Hall, the building that began the rich history of Oklahoma’s only public liberal arts university. And nearly 100 years after its construction, its auditorium is getting an extreme makeover.

Built in 1926 as an addition to the original building, Troutt Hall Auditorium has been home to commencement ceremonies for 80 years. This spring, remodeling forced commencement outdoors, the first outdoor ceremony on the campus in almost 50 years.

With 850 seats, the auditorium also serves as the institution’s largest indoor theatre. Hundreds of plays, concerts and musicals have been performed on the large stage, and through the years, USAO dramatists have called backstage their temporary home during performances. One college actress, in particular, made international headlines.

Born in Tishomingo in 1895, Chickasaw actress Mary Thompson attended what was then called the Oklahoma College for Women in the 1910s. After her graduation in 1919, she went on to perform in Broadway shows in New York. She eventually crafted a one-person show telling Native stories using the name “Te Ata,” an Indian name meaning “Bearer of the Morning.”

During her lifetime, she was named Oklahoma’s first State Treasure and was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. She was a published author and continued touring throughout the world and the nation for more than 70 years.

Beginning Aug. 5, her story will come to life in an off-Broadway play with music based on her life. The Te Ata World Premiere features a cast from 10 states and eight different Native tribes performing on a massive stage by nationally recognized designer Bob Cothran. Award-winning Chickasaw playwright JudyLee Oliva said that Te Ata’s story is one of both local and international importance.

“What better way to showcase the true talents and abilities of Native performers than to capture and tell the story of an American Indian woman from Oklahoma who helped deliver the Native culture to audiences around the world?” Oliva asked.

The life of Te Ata will be reenacted on the same stage where she developed her craft early in her career. As a result of the large production, and in anticipation of a large crowd, Troutt Hall Auditorium is undergoing several enhancements to make future USAO events more comfortable and functional.

The auditorium is not only getting a new face; it’s also getting a new name. On opening night, Aug. 5, Troutt Hall Auditorium will be renamed the Te Ata Memorial Auditorium in honor of one of USAO’s favorite daughters. A permanent plaque with the names of production supporters and foundational donors will be hung to commemorate both the play and the auditorium makeover.

Dr. John Feaver, USAO president, said that Te Ata’s history with the university warrants a facility under her name.

“Te Ata’s legacy burns as brightly today as ever,” said Feaver. “It is only fitting that our largest performance venue bear the name of ‘The Bearer of the Morning.’ In our view, Te Ata was much more an educator than a performer. Her gift for storytelling gave her opportunities to reach audiences that some traditional educators might never reach, but her vision for cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding obviously guided her life’s work.”

In 1910, what was originally named the Administration Building was the first building constructed on the campus of the Oklahoma Industrial Institute and College for Girls with a $100,000 Oklahoma Legislature appropriation. The Renaissance-style building was designed by McAlester firm Smith & Parr.

Architect Joseph Overton Parr went on to win an American Institute of Architects masterpiece award for his design of the Oklahoma City Civic Center Music Hall in 1936.

The sole college facility for several years, the Administration Building encapsulated the entire campus. During its formative years, the building housed the cafeteria, library, offices, dormitory and a small gymnasium. As new buildings were added to the university, each was built according to the style of the original campus facility.

In 1995, the USAO Board of Regents renamed the Administration Building after Dr. Roy Troutt, the university’s 11th president. Today, Troutt Hall is listed as a contributing resource within the Oklahoma College for Women National Historic District.

USAO President Feaver said that the renaming of the auditorium reflects the university’s appreciation of Te Ata’s art-inspired life.

“She possessed an extraordinary gift to engage an audience, and to teach without preaching,” he said. “We are delighted to welcome this production of ‘Te Ata,’ to rename our main auditorium in her honor and to remember the woman who inspired so many with her immortal words, ‘Art binds all people together.’”

Troutt Hall Auditorium’s new facelift comes on the eve of the building’s 100th birthday. Ironically, the renovations coincide with one of Oklahoma’s first official centennial events. The Te Ata production called for the additional lighting: more than 150 units. Nearly 100 new dimmers and a dimmer board have been installed, plus 65 lighting instruments, six lighting positions and a spotlight.

But not all enhancements are for the stage alone. A new paint job covers the auditorium walls with a trio of greens that reflect the university’s official green and gold colors. A dark green, plum and gold-flecked carpet with plum-colored aisles complements the newly refurbished seating.

Instead of new chairs, the original seats from the early 1940s were completely refinished. What were once red-orange painted seats with matching worn cloth covers are now brilliant gold metal frames with a cloth color scheme that matches the flooring. Polished walnut armrests and backs finish off the seats with a look that is simultaneously fresh and nostalgic.

Cracking plaster has been repaired and water stains have been removed, resulting in a new finish on the walls and ceiling. Additionally, handicap spaces will be created once the seats are installed.

Backstage, modest improvements were made to the dressing rooms with a more elaborate makeover planned for the New Year using bond money. Dressing room plumbing also has been repaired for better efficiency.

In all, the renovations cost $150,000 and were made possible by a $25,000 grant from Oklahoma City-based Kirkpatrick Foundation and a $50,000 grant from the Craig Foundation.

More information about the Te Ata World Premiere is available online at and tickets are available by phone at (405) 574-1213.