Setting the Scene

June 28, 2013

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By guest blogger Molly O’Connor

When Oklahoma City actor and director Rob Gallavan began making plans for directing Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park’s production of, The Life and Death of King John, he knew that he wanted to take a creative approach for set design.    The play, which is often considered a morality play rather than just a historical work, focuses on King John’s struggle to maintain control of the throne immediately after he is named King of England.  The story of King John is one of fascinating suspense: as the threat of foreign invasion from France escalates, internal power struggles ignite and King John’s own family is plagued with tragic loss.  

“Blue Sabine” by Trent Lawson

Gallavan: “There is not a lot of warmth in this play.  The relationship between John and his mother is not a very loving one.  The relationship between Constance and her young son Arthur is politically motivated and not based on much affection.”

In order to create the necessary tone for the production and as a means to support some of Oklahoma’s visual artists, Gallavan turned to the OVAC Virtual Galleryto seek out artistic work that could visually compliment the performance work.   

“The Life and Death of King John will have a contemporary look but will not be set in any particular time period.  Set pieces and costumes will be minimal.  So, I was looking for artwork that had a contemporary look and feel without being too specific.”

It was there that he discovered the work of Oklahoma City based painter, Trent Lawson and Norman based sculptor Todd Jenkins.  After contacting them directly, Gallavan created a plan to utilize the theatre space to exhibit the artist’s work both on and off the stage.  
“The Kiss” by Todd Jenkins

“Trent’s artwork and Todd’s sculptures were a perfect fit. I thought images of Todd Jenkins’ steel sculptures would contribute to the feeling of cold emotion in this production. “

Trent Lawson’s series of abstract paintings with blue hues will also be used to help create the mood for the performance.

Recruiting local visual artists to display their work in a theatre environment and incorporating it into the performance space seemed like an obvious choice to Gallavan.  After pursuing his theatre career in New York City and returning to Oklahoma, Gallavan recognized the greater collective potential artists can have by collaborating and reaching outside their own discipline. 

“If we, as an artistic community, are able to show the community that we can work together and combine our talent and resources, we may be able to garner additional support and retain the wealth of talent that exists here.  We don’t just need to survive as artists.  We need to be able to thrive.”

The Life and Death of King John will premier at the Burg Theatre at Oklahoma City University on July 25-28thThursday, Friday and Saturday performances will start at 8:00 p.m. and the Sunday matinee will start at 2:00 p.m. To learn more about the performance or to purchase tickets, visit