T2’s Morgan Hicks brings directing expertise to Tulsa Project Theatre

T2’s Morgan Hicks brings directing expertise to Tulsa Project Theatre

“Morgan understands comedy on a cellular level. She knows what works and what doesn’t and how to mine a script for all it’s worth. Beyond that, she knows how to find the beating heart of a play and marry it with the laughter, so any production directed by Morgan leaves you walking out of the theater feeling a bit better about our world.”

That’s what Jenny Guy, artistic director of Tulsa Project Theatre, has to say about longtime friend and colleague Morgan Hicks, who is directing “Clue: On Stage” Jan. 27-Feb. 5 for the eastern Oklahoma theater company.

“Through the years, when you are working in theater, you tend to find people that you love working with so much that you are constantly hoping and waiting for a chance to work with them again,” Hicks returns the compliment. “That’s the case with Jenny Guy. I have had the opportunity to work with her on a number of projects and have always had an amazing collaborative experience.”

It’s not like Hicks doesn’t have enough to do in Northwest Arkansas. She’s just stepping into the role of interim head of the master of fine arts program in directing at the University of Arkansas.

“That means that for at least the next three years, I will be serving as a primary mentor for the directing-emphasis graduate students,” she explains. “I will work with them in classes, on their directing projects and their thesis productions,” while also “staying connected to the undergraduate students and serving our department in any way it needs.”

She’s also one of the founders of TheatreSquared, working with Bob Ford and Amy Herzberg to create a professional theater company in Fayetteville in 2004.

“By a gift of timing, I was just about to graduate with my MFA [in directing],” she says. “Before I had come back to school, I had been working at a professional theater in Chicago — Writers Theatre — as their general manager, so we talked through all the steps of getting a new company off the ground, and I was excited to jump in and help convert the idea of a company into a reality.

“I started taking directing classes when I was studying abroad in Northern Ireland,” Morgan Hicks explains. “I had the good fortune of studying with … the former director of the national theater of South Africa, and he casually planted the idea that I had the brain of a director. I think everything clicked at that moment.” (Courtesy Photo)

“For the first five years, I was wearing so many hats,” Hicks remembers. “I was serving as the general manager and handling the day-to-day operations — I was the only full-time employee at the time! — and directing shows, sewing costumes, running the box office, handling publicity and anything else that needed to get done. It was so much work! But so much fun!

“But anyone who has ever been part of a start-up knows that your passion can only carry you so far, and cannot be the foundation of a sustainable institution,” so T2 continued to add to its staff to make each of those jobs a professional priority. Hicks then spent 10 years as director of education, “originating and building outreach programs throughout the state, getting us to a point where we were annually reaching over 18,000 students and teachers,” she says.

Now, with her growing role at the UA, she’s been “able to shift my focus at TheatreSquared, taking on the new role of arts engagement director, which allows me to serve both our education and artistic departments through projects and initiatives, but also allowed us to bring on board another incredibly talented and thoughtful human (Chad Dike) to lead the education program full time.

“For personal and family reasons, I hadn’t been able to take on much freelance work that would take me outside of Fayetteville,” Hicks adds. “But when [Guy] started talking about this project, and how it could align so well with my winter break from the university, I was willing to do pretty much whatever it would take to make it work!”

The advantages of a new director working with a company new to her are many, Guy and Hicks agree.

“It’s been a really long time since I’ve walked into the audition room and been completely surprised, and that was such a gift with this process,” Hicks says. “I have been so impressed with both the level of talent and the commitment of the artists involved.”

“Morgan brings with her not only a body of experience that will greatly benefit our cast and crew but the potential for a slightly different perspective on theater,” says Guy. “In my career, I’ve always found it incredibly valuable to work with new directors and theater companies as often as possible to broaden my horizons and continue learning. My hope is that this is the first of many times Morgan and other Northwest Arkansas talent come to Tulsa and vice versa.”

“I’ll also say that I personally rarely think about driving over to Tulsa on a day off,” Hicks admits. “We are so lucky to have so much in our little corner of the state, so we sometimes forget how close places like Tulsa or Kansas City really are. I’ve had so much fun this last month exploring what Tulsa has to offer.”

“Clue: On Stage” is the first production for Tulsa Project Theatre since the pandemic hit in 2020.

“We’ve actually tried to start back up multiple times over the last 18 months, even casting a production in winter 2022, but after auditions, covid surged and we felt that it wasn’t the right time to go forward safely,” Guy explains. “After watching other local theaters bravely open up in the last 18 months and deftly deal with closings and delays, the TPT Board and myself determined that while Covid is not gone, we’ve reached a point where producing a show is reasonable and safe for us.”

“Clue,” she says, is the perfect antidote to an extended hiatus for the company.

“We thought a lot about what show to come back with after such a long break,” Guy says. “Ultimately, I decided that what I wanted our audience to experience, more than anything, is the unique joy that is live theater — to remind ourselves both onstage and off why we love this vital art form — and to laugh, because I can’t think of anyone who couldn’t use more of that after the last few years.

“‘Clue: On Stage’ is basically the movie with theatrical magic thrown in,” she adds. “It’s 90 minutes of nonstop laughter; a farce that truly lives and dies on the strength of the ensemble. We only hope that the audience laughs as much as we have working on it.”

Hicks, meanwhile, is proving that the expertise of wearing many hats continues to to pay off for her.

“During the same time that I have been in rehearsals for the show in Tulsa, I have also been in auditions for ‘The Tempest’ that I’ll be directing for Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre in Conway,” she explains. “I’ve also been preparing for rehearsals to begin for ‘Songs for A New World,’ the musical that I’m directing at UA in the spring. So I have literally had three shows filling up my brain all at the same time.

“It has been intense, but also really fun! And I do think this experience of working with different companies will help inform me as a mentor to the directors of the MFA program who will be going out to do this work on their own in the near future!”



‘Clue On Stage’

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Jan. 27-28; 2 p.m. Jan. 29; again Feb. 3-5

WHERE — Lorton Performance Center at the University of Tulsa, 550 S. Gary Place in Tulsa, Okla.

COST — $25 general admission

INFO — tulsaprojecttheatre.com

Categories: Cover Story