Constantine to mark decade of Players

Robert Smith rsmith@pawhuskajournalcapital.com

The Constantine Theater, one of Pawhuska’s prized civic assets, is preparing to mark a decade of having its own acting group.

Garrett Hartness, chairman of the board that oversees the Constantine, said the method of marking the milestone will be to perform “Straw Into Gold” (the tale of Rumpelstiltskin) as its fall play. While the play will be primarily intended for child audiences, it is good family entertainment, Hartness said.

In an interview last week, Hartness said auditions will be held soon, but he did not yet have a firm date. “Straw Into Gold” was the first show performed by the Constantine Players, a decade ago, he said. Show dates for this fall will be in mid-November, he said.

“The reaction from most teachers I have talked to is they’re real excited,” Hartness said regarding the choice to produce “Straw Into Gold” again. The theater has been offering some type of theatrical performances for children in area schools for 27 years, but the establishment of the Constantine Players allowed it greater control over the scheduling process, he said. Specifically, having its own players group allowed the theater to plan additional performances.

“This year it will be a very upscale thing compared to what it was,” Hartness said, recalling that the Constantine Players of a decade ago lacked the kind of support, in terms of scenery and costuming, that the current Players will have.

The plays for school audiences have become quite popular, he said, noting that the 2017 fall shows drew about 1,800 youth from 14-15 schools. There were four school performances and two performances for the general public in the fall of 2017, he said.

The Constantine Theater is also planning to offer “Army of Frankensteins,” a science-fiction fantasy movie as a Halloween program. The film, made four years ago, was partially filmed at the Constantine, Hartness said. Promotional material for the film describes it as a story of zombies appearing in the middle of the American Civil War — “an unstoppable terror is set loose upon a nation divided.”

The Constantine, located at 110 Main Street, next to Pawhuska City Hall, opened in 1914. Its developer, C.C. Constantine, created the theater in what had been Pawhuska House, a hotel. The theater was restored in the 1980s, roughly three decades ago now, and is available for rental by groups wishing to stage shows and programs. It recently played host to a 100th Birthday film screening in honor of the late Ben Johnson Jr., a rodeo cowboy and movie star.

The theater is also a part of the history and lore of Pawhuska because of its role many years ago as a venue for the sale of Osage oil leases. Noted oil tycoons gathered there to bid for oil-drilling rights.

Additionally, the theater has an allure for investigators of the paranormal, who occasionally rent it to use contemporary electronic technology to hunt for traces of ghostly activity, Hartness said.

“We have video that has been given back to us of shadows, and sentences they picked up that they say are from nobody in their group,” he said. Hartness said he gets perhaps two or three calls a year from groups interested in the paranormal. Every now and then, ghost hunters rent the Constantine, he said.

Hartness said he gives credit to the theater’s past champions for the opportunities it offers Pawhuska to appeal to potential visitors.

“All of those people who came in here and did all of that work did a wonderful job,” he said. Hartness offers special praise for the role played in the preservation of the Constantine by the late Janet Holcombe.

“She was a wonderful woman,” he said. “Every time I come into this theater, I think of Janet Holcombe.”

Commenting on the growing tourism industry in Pawhuska and Osage County, Hartness voiced the concern that there is a lack of hotel space for visitors. Yes, he allowed, there are bed and breakfast rooms, and the Frontier Hotel that is being developed in the Triangle Building, but there’s plenty going on in Pawhuska – for example, the Pioneer Woman Mercantile, the Cavalcade Rodeo, Cattlemen’s Week, the Indian dances, the National Indian Taco Championship, as well as tourism related to writing about the Osage murders.