By Nancy Hermann
What do Thornton Wilder, Mia Farrow and Ted Koppel have in common? The same Tulsa experience that Edna St. Vincent Millay, Ken Burns and Sinclair Lewis share. They all have been guests of Tulsa Town Hall.
To appreciate the breadth and success of this local organization, you’d have to look back to 1935 and subsequent years when the Mayo Hotel’s Crystal Ballroom, The Ritz and The Orpheum theaters reveled in their glory days. Tulsa Town Hall lectures were held in all of them.
In recent decades, Town Hall has convened at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center at 10:30 a.m. on Friday mornings throughout the year to present speakers who open minds, stir curiosities and inspire imagination.
Tulsa Town Hall Executive Director Kathy Collins credits the organization’s success to its strong programming, devoted board members, a receptive community and committed leadership. “A reasonable subscription price, thanks to generous sponsors, is a big help, too,” says Collins.
One season subscriber remarked that Town Hall’s speakers rise above the noise in a world inundated with conflicting information. “It’s one thing to hear the ideas of a world-changer filtered by the media. It’s vastly different to hear these important figures’ precise thoughts, in person, as they share with an eager audience.”
Prior to every lecture, guest speakers are featured at a student forum during which a panel of high school students conduct a Q&A. It is a thrilling experience for the students as well as for the teachers. More than 1,000 students participate each year. Following the main lecture in Chapman Music Hall, audience members may take the opportunity to meet a speaker at a Town Hall-hosted luncheon.
“Often the least-known speaker turns out to be a favorite,” reflects Collins. Among them have been author Luis Alberto Urrea, “National Geographic” photographer Joel Sartore, historian Rex Ziak and portrait photographer Platon. “Audiences respond most positively to speakers who can infuse their remarks with good stories, and who can deliver a clear and concise message with a sense of humor,” says Collins.
Town Hall does not shy away from controversial figures. Political pundit James Carville and former president of Mexico Vincente Fox provided candid remarks that got people talking. While not supporting the viewpoints of any speaker, Town Hall welcomes the conversation.
Board member Bernie Dornblaser shared a few planning details that she and Town Hall’s program committee worked through as they assembled a knock-out roster for the 85th anniversary year. “We want diversity in the lineup each year, and we wanted diversity from years past,” says Dornblaser. “The areas we researched for the 2019-2020 season were environment, health, history, entertainment and business.”
Among other criteria, the committee looked for speakers who had a “wow’ factor. For the upcoming season, those selected include filmmaker and environmental advocate Alexandra Cousteau, Sept. 13. Her topic is “This Blue Planet: Restoring Natural Abundance and Diversity to the Earth.” Dr Ann Kulze promotes a healthy lifestyle and disease prevention. Her lecture, “The Happiness Diet,” is slated for Oct. 4. In late fall, Town Hall welcomes the best-selling author of “The Monuments Men,” Robert Edsel. His Nov. 15 talk is “The Greatest Treasure Hunt in History.”
Town Hall’s season continues in 2020 with actors Marlee Matlin and Henry Winkler appearing together on Feb. 7. Between them, they have earned an Academy Award, an Emmy, and three Golden Globe awards.
“We are so excited to have such a well-known actress and actor join us this coming season,” enthuses Dornblaser. “Marlee and Henry’s story of how they have become life-long friends will really engage the audience. They will speak together, sharing their life-lessons and their impact on each other’s career. They are so much like family that they often finish each other’s sentences!”
Closing out the regular season on Apr. 17 is chairman and editor-in-chief of “Forbes Magazine,” Steve Forbes. His presentation will be based on his book “Power, Ambition and Glory.” Forbes also is Tulsa Town Hall’s 85th Season “Town Hall After Dark” speaker on Apr. 16. Now in its third year, the “After Dark” lecture was initiated to share a Town Hall lecture with those who cannot attend the series on Friday mornings.
“Our speakers are astonished by the size and enthusiasm of the audience,” says Collins. They are impressed with not only the audience for the keynote address, she adds, but with the energy and interest that makes the student forums and Town Hall luncheons as gratifying for the guest lecturer as they are for the attendees. Often visiting Tulsa for the first time, speakers have called Tulsa “an amazing jewel,” notes Collins.
Tulsa Town Hall has served the community by encouraging curiosity, fostering education and providing a source for intellectual engagement on numerous levels to thousands of people over its enviable history. Our citizenry can share pride in this 85th season landmark.
A subscription to all five Friday morning Town Hall lectures is $100. Single lecture tickets are not sold, but subscriptions are available at any time. Seating is open. Town Hall offers a $5 round-trip shuttle from the west parking lot of Boston Avenue Methodist Church. Tickets for the luncheons following each speaker are $25. “Tulsa Town Hall After Dark” on Apr. 16 with Steve Forbes is an additional event, with tickets sold separately at tulsatownhall.com.