SitO hosts dedication of Arvest Stage in Harmon Park

Thursday, December 3, 2009
The stage is set -- Shakespeare in the Ozarks' (SitO) first act of the holiday season is the dedication of Arvest Stage in Harmon Park. Celebrating the ribbon-cutting last Monday are, from left, SitO PR Director Jean Merritt, Mayor Dani Joy, Arvest Bank President Debbie Hartsell, SitO Executive Director John Merritt, Parks and Recreation Director Bruce Levine, Bill Ott and SitO Artistic Director Keith Scales. Photo by Rebecca J. Becker

EUREKA SPRINGS -- Monday's dedication of Arvest Stage in Harmon Park was the culmination of a couple of years of effort by John Merritt to launch Shakespeare in the Ozarks (SitO) and his vision for an outdoor Shakespeare festival in Eureka Springs.

Located in the amphitheater where the old Summer Auditorium stood before it was demolished sometime around the time of the Great Depression, the new stage returns Harmon Park to its roots as an outdoor community gathering place for the performing arts.

Festivities to mark the historic event included speeches by Mayor Dani Joy and Arvest Bank President Debbie Hartsell, interwoven with Merritt's narrative of the journey that brought him to this point and his recognition of those who helped along the way. One who enthusiastically caught the vision of what such a gathering place could mean for Eureka was Hartsell, and her interest led Arvest to provide funding for this phase of the construction. For phase two, Merritt hopes to build an interesting backdrop sometime in the near future that will fit with Eureka's Victorian heritage.

Keith Scales, Artistic Director for SitO, regaled the audience of about 45 with the prologue from Henry V and some interesting tidbits about Shakespeare and his stage before introducing Gene Pierce and Eden Flowermaker, who performed a hilarious scene from A Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare's first play and the one which SitO plans to present during the 2010 May Festival of the Arts.

Craig and Lorna Trigg Hirsch provided live music, Michelle MacDonald dressed the actors in 1920s vintage costumes and Bill Ott acted as emcee of the event. Alexander Nathan traveled from Branson to perform a charming Cole Porter song called "Brush Up Your Shakespeare." The ceremony ended with a formal ribbon-cutting and christening of the new stage in which Scales doused it in champagne.

Merritt recognized many others who helped the dream become a reality in some way, too many to mention here, but including Bruce Levine and his staff at the Parks and Recreation Department; Dave Marry and Sean Belew who volunteered labor for the construction of the stage; Arlie Weems who did the extensive earthwork necessary; collaborator Gary Andrews, Executive Director of Main Stage; and the Writers' Colony in Dairy Hollow for providing a place for the readers series. New artist in residence Rebecca J. Becker, recently transplanted from Portland, Ore., along with Keith Scales, lent her artistic talents to SitO in developing a Web site and logos for business cards and stationery, and her photographs of the dedication ceremony will preserve the event for Eureka's historic archives.

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