The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — The annual Fowler Arts Education Award will be presented to Jennifer Baker, executive director of The Sooner Theatre, during ONE, the Norman Arts Council’s fundraiser on March 30. Tickets for the event are still available through the Norman Arts Council. The award recognizes Sooner Theatre, the programs of the Studio of the Sooner Theatre, and the staff and instructors.
Baker started The Sooner Theatre’s education program in 2003 with one summer camp that served 30 children. She has expanded the program to include almost 50 classes year-round and enrollment exceeds 730 students annually from the south metro area.
Fowler VW sponsors the Fowler Arts Education Award, which aims to recognize those who improve children’s art education opportunities in Norman in an extraordinary way.
Baker was born and raised in Norman and attended the University of Oklahoma where she received a bachelor’s in fine arts. She moved to New York City and traveled as a professional actress and choreographer working in numerous productions across the country.
In 1999, Baker returned to Norman to get married and then continued traveling for a few years. She returned once again to her hometown to raise a family and was invited to join the board of directors at The Sooner Theatre. She was later recommended for artistic director and then created the first summer camp.
“Starting the studio was definitely a pivotal moment for myself and the theatre,” Baker said. “We had such success with our summer camps that we had to take the leap of faith and transition to the academy.”
The performing art classes offered at The Sooner Theatre include musical theatre, acting, improv, voice and theatre dance. Students range in age from 3-18.
In spring of 2008 The Sooner Theatre acquired a second space, known as The Studio of The Sooner Theatre. The Studio teaches disciplines in musical theatre, acting, theatre dance, hip-hop and tap. Master classes are held throughout the year where students have opportunities to learn from professional performers and special clinicians.
The classes have 20-25 students working with a company member from the national tour shows that perform at the Civic Center. After each class students are able to attend a Q&A session to gain a deeper understanding of touring and courses of study to prepare for a career onstage.
Last year, students worked with the cast members from the Tony-award winning musical Memphis. This year students have already worked with Siri Howard from the national tour of Les Misérables and Matt Meigs from the Broadway tour of Mary Poppins.
Studio students have been featured in many regional productions, such as the Oklahoma City productions of the national tour of The Wizard of Oz. Most recently, 12 students were part of the OKC Philharmonic’s The Christmas Show.
In October 2011, Baker took 35 students and their parents to New York to work with Broadway veterans. Students had the chance to see two Broadway shows and learn about the industry from the performers.
Baker has choreographed almost 100 musicals for various theaters, high schools and colleges. She directs Celebrity Sing for United Way of Norman and also directed Norman’s event to celebrate Oklahoma’s Centennial in 2007.
“It has been an absolute blessing to work at The Sooner Theatre,” Baker said. “I’m celebrating my 10 year anniversary and I’m so thankful.”
Melany Pattinson, co-founder of “Summerstage” and “Young Producers” camps at The Studio, was also nominated for the Fowler Arts Education Award. She also works at All Saints Catholic School in Norman where she teaches general music, choir and drama and directs a Show Choir. Pattinson toured and directed with Cimarron Circuit Opera Company for 20 years.
The Norman Arts Council was founded in 1976 to enrich the Norman community by stimulating artistic, cultural, and economic growth through the support and promotion of the arts. At its inception, the NAC became the face and voice of arts advocacy in Norman. Since then, the NAC has continued to uphold its mission through a variety of programs and initiatives.
For more information on the Fowler Arts Education Award or the ONE Event, please contact the Norman Arts Council at 405-360-1162 or by visiting www.normanarts.org.
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