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BWW Interview: Artistic Director Jackson Gifford Talks Southern Plains Productions Debut Show SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS

Founder and Artistic Director Jackson Gifford talks with Ronn Burton about the first show from new Oklahoma City theatre company Southern Plains Productions.

BWW Interview: Artistic Director Jackson Gifford Talks Southern Plains Productions Debut Show SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS

Founder and Artistic Director Jackson Gifford talks with Ronn Burton about the first show from new Oklahoma City Theatre Company Southern Plains Productions.

(Interview has been slightly edited for length and clarity.)

SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS by Bess Wohl is "like nothing people have seen before." Gifford says. A New York Times Critics Pick, the Times says, "It leaves you moved, refreshed and even enlightened" while The Huffington Post calls it "a play unlike any other" and Variety calls it "flawless."

"This is a story of six lost souls trying to find themselves and escape their everyday lives on a silent retreat with a yoga instructor." Gifford explains. "80% of the show is done in silence. As we find out more about these characters, they find out more about themselves. It reminds me of a middle school dance, where no one knows what to do or how to act. It's unbelievably funny... until it's not; then it becomes sad, heartbreaking, and gut-wrenching. Our audiences will walk out with lots to discuss."

BWW Interview: Artistic Director Jackson Gifford Talks Southern Plains Productions Debut Show SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS
Jackson Gifford, Artistic Director of Southern Plains Productions

Why choose this show, I asked. "Even though the play was written a few years ago, it's incredibly timely with all that we've been through with Covid in the last year. These characters have an inherent need to connect, but they aren't able to, being on this silent retreat. We can all identify with that - being forced to isolate and unable to connect how we want to. This story needs to be told now."

Southern Plains' mission is to work with casts and creative teams comprised of collegiate and early career professionals from around the nation. "I specifically want to work with early career artists right now. I've seen so many younger artists give up and leave the industry because of all the struggles we've faced in the last year. This age group is where your training begins to wind down and your professional experience is about to start. In two or three years, you'll be seeing these actors on Netflix, Broadway, and in regional theaters across the country."

All of the artists are recent graduates or current students at top theatre schools across the U.S. like DePaul, University of Michigan, University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Carnegie Mellon, Otterbein, and more. "Out of tons of auditions, we chose these specific, top-tier artists. The script is quite open to interpretation because so much of the story is told in silence. So it was important we got the right group of people together." Gifford attended the Interlochen Center For The Arts, where their motto is 'Connecting the world through the universal power of the arts.' "That's exactly what this show -with this team- is doing."

Why Oklahoma, I wondered. "Every year when I come back to Oklahoma for the holidays, I'm always excited to see how our city is growing. The infrastructure, arts, theatre, film... we're now #1 in the nation for public art! We have a vibrant arts scene, but I also wanted to introduce new faces to our audiences. Oklahoma is ready to meet this next generation of theatre artists, and I wanted these artists to come experience all that Oklahoma has to offer."

With concerns about Covid, Gifford knew he had to produce theatre outdoors for now. And the Myriad Gardens Water Stage has been the perfect partner for this show. "This show is normally performed in a proscenium or black box theatre, but the story is set on a yoga retreat. So to immerse our actors and audiences with authentic nature, all the birds chirping and water flowing -- that adds another dynamic and deep level to this already strong script. There have been a few challenges adjusting a script written for a black box theatre, but our director Jacob Musgrove is so brilliant, so smart. He's a native Oklahoman, but he's now studying directing at Carnegie Mellon. But we met when we were both students at the Sooner Theatre in Norman. I knew we needed a director who knew Oklahoma and its audiences. Jake is fantastic... he's taught me so much."

While this is Southern Plains' first production, it won't be their last. "We're already planning next year's season. We hope to produce more than one show, and offer something for multiple age groups and interests. In the future we hope to bring in new works and help writers premiere their plays right here in Oklahoma. But we always plan to make things affordable for our audiences. We offer a high-quality show for only $30. Plus, we give away 10% of our seats to different groups. For this show we've chosen frontline workers and medical professionals. We want to honor them, and make sure everyone has the opportunity to experience great theatre."

So what's next? "My hope is this company is here to stay for many years." Gifford shares. "I'm excited about our future. Keep an eye out for upcoming announcements in August."

Southern Plains Productions' SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS by Bess Wohl plays Friday May 21st and Saturday May 22nd, 2021 at 8pm at the Myriad Gardens Water Stage.

For tickets and more info, visit https://www.southernplainsproductions.org/

BWW Interview: Artistic Director Jackson Gifford Talks Southern Plains Productions Debut Show SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS


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