About Us

Will Rogers Stage

TO OUR PATRONS

You are reading this maybe because you have attended one of our professional theatrical presentations in the historic and stunningly beautiful Will Rogers auditorium. We operate in a complex environment of rules and industry practices to bring quality professional entertainment to the greater Tulsa community while strengthening the performing arts infrastructure at a Tulsa icon. We hope you will be interested in our back story.

Brad Henderson conducts Will Rogers
Stage Orchestra, Rodgers & Hammerstein concert, 2023 (Chris Lo)
Brad Henderson conducts Will Rogers Stage Orchestra, Rodgers & Hammerstein concert, 2023 (Chris Lo)
Leon Russell Tribute photo – Credit Phil Clarkin.
Leon Russell Tribute photo – Credit Phil Clarkin.

We are grateful for the full support of Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist and Principal Nikki Dennis, from our beginning, and now their successors, Dr. Ebony Johnson and Cindy Largent-Williams, respectively.

The Will Rogers Stage Foundation operates primarily as an organization of volunteers who handle the literally “hundreds of moving parts” involved in our productions. There is no paid staff. I am a volunteer as are other key people such as Jacci Harris and Jo Anne Meade Lewis before her. Robert Risk does e-marketing. We pay for professional and technical services such as tax and accounting, stagecraft and, of course, our performers. Karen Miller of the Will Rogers staff has been indispensable to us from the beginning of our series of concerts in 2016. Linda Oakley, the principal’s executive assistant, and Wanda Sizemore of the district’s facilities utilization office have also been very helpful to us.

We do not pay facility rental charges, but reimburse Tulsa Public Schools for stagecraft, custodial, and uniformed security services by school district employees for extra hours worked. Also, utilities when our rehearsals and performances require heating and air conditioning when the building is not otherwise occupied. We pay for general liability insurance coverage naming the school district as an additional insured. The idea to form an entity to bring professional entertainment to the school came in 2016 out of a conversation with then We gained experience in producing Broadway showstopper concerts by presenting “Classics of Rodgers & Hammerstein” in March 2023. Maestro Brad Henderson has proved to be a great addition to this company as our music director and conductor. Special guest 95-year-old former Governor George Nigh delighted our Sunday matinee audience with his account of how as a 25- year-old junior legislator in 1953 he overcame obstacles and got the title song from the hit musical Oklahoma! adopted as our state song.

Principal Nikki Dennis, lamenting that the general public could not experience the splendor of the school’s architecture since campuses in general were closed for security reasons, including this campus. The exceptions were a few scheduled guided tours and athletic events. We concluded that professional entertainment shows held in the auditorium would be a draw, not only opening it to the general public on those occasions, but also raising the stature of Will Rogers High School (its traditional name) in the community. The earnings of these events benefit the school.

Under the auspices of the Will Rogers High School Community Foundation, which I had formed in 2010, I brought The Kingston Trio twice in 2016. Since then, in collaboration with Teresa Knox and The Church Studio, once owned by my 1959 classmate, the late Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member Leon Russell (nee Claude Russell Bridges), and with a lot of help from many other volunteers, I produced two tribute concerts, in 2019 and 2022, to his extraordinary career. We know what it is like to fill every seat in the auditorium and have people dancing in the aisles and in front of the stage. It’s exhilarating. We gained experience in producing Broadway showstopper concerts by presenting “Classics of Rodgers & Hammerstein” in March 2023. Maestro Brad Henderson has proved to be a great addition to this company as our music director and conductor. Special guest 95-year-old former Governor George Nigh delighted our Sunday matinee audience with his account of how as a 25-year-old junior legislator in 1953 he overcame obstacles and got the title song from the hit musical Oklahoma! adopted as our state song.

For ambitious concerts such as Rodgers & Hammerstein and the “Classics of Lerner & Loewe,” which we presented on October 29, 2023, we assembled our own professional Will Rogers Stage Orchestra and Chorus, 36-instrumentalists, 16-choristers, and music director-conductor. Several of those individuals are paid extra to perform such roles as booking agent, concertmaster, music librarian, chorusmaster, and rehearsal accompanist. We rent our music from the publisher and pay freight charges both ways. We bought an ASCAP license for live performance rights. We hired a theatre organist to provide walk-in and exit music for our patrons.

Kingston Trio “Holiday Cheers,” 2016, George Grove, Dick Risk
(executive producer), Bill Zorn, Chip Miller (television director), Rick Dougherty
Kingston Trio “Holiday Cheers,” 2016, George Grove, Dick Risk (executive producer), Bill Zorn, Chip Miller (television director), Rick Dougherty
Television crew from Oklahoma State recording Leon Russell tribute concert, 2019 (Phil
Clarkin)
Television crew from Oklahoma State recording Leon Russell tribute concert, 2019 (Phil Clarkin)

Our soloists for both Broadway concerts are professionals in high demand for other engagements, and we paid competitive fees to get them here for our productions. All three for Lerner & Loewe came from out of town. We also paid for their airfare, lodging and ground transportation. Behind the scenes, we paid for a stage manager, sound technician for the auditorium system, lighting designer and operator. We handled our own news releases, media contacts, radio and television appearance scheduling and public service announcements, and paid for a nominal amount of print and social media advertising. We collected fees for our Yapsody online ticketing platform plus credit card transaction processing through Chase subsidiary WePay.

We designed our poster and souvenir program and paid for high quality printing. We hired a professional still photographer to capture images of our production for future marketing and historical purposes. We bought distinctive uniform shirts for our volunteer usher and tickettaking corps.

Will Rogers Stage

Concerts Shared Through Television

Part of our mission is to record selected productions for television. Beginning with “The Kingston Trio: Holiday Cheers” Christmas repertoire in 2016, produced under the auspices of the Will Rogers High School Community Foundation prior to the formation in 2022 of the Will Rogers Stage Foundation as a separate entity, we have made certain programs available to the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), through the National Educational Telecommunication Association (NETA) for unlimited broadcast, cable, and Internet streaming by their PBS and Public Television affiliates.

We believe this exposure puts Tulsa Public Schools and Will Rogers, in particular, in a favorable light nationwide, enhancing the positive aspects of the school district, demonstrating our significance to the greater Tulsa community, and instilling pride in the school’s current students, their parents, faculty and staff, and an ever-growing alumni base.

Mark Herman, “The Ropin’ Fool” concert, 2022 (Adam Zoloff)
Mark Herman, “The Ropin’ Fool” concert, 2022 (Adam Zoloff)
Karen Miller, Dick Risk (producer), Jennifer Rogers Etcheverry, Will’s greatgranddaughter, Tad Jones, executive director, Will Rogers Memorial Museum, Bart Taylor,
museum historian, “The Ropin’ Fool
Karen Miller, Dick Risk (producer), Jennifer Rogers Etcheverry, Will’s greatgranddaughter, Tad Jones, executive director, Will Rogers Memorial Museum, Bart Taylor, museum historian, “The Ropin’ Fool

The first year “Holiday Cheers” was offered through PBS, 2017, and for a six-year run, the program was aired statewide on the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA) network and, in addition, on RSU Public Television at Rogers State University in Claremore. RSU used the program as a vehicle for its seasonal pledge drive. They interviewed studio guests—Principal Nikki Dennis, State Senator Dave Rader, and Hall of Fame member Jo Anne Meade Lewis—to tell about the college-credit offerings at Will Rogers to juniors and seniors. The “pledge breaks” were inserted several times during each run of the program.

What the people in Tulsa didn’t realize was that “Holiday Cheers,” a 60-minute family-oriented Christmas carol concert, which readily identifies its venue as Will Rogers High School in the opening scene and closing credit roll, was being shown all across the country. Some 346 times, in fact! According to TRAC Media Services, 31 percent of its showings were during prime time, in major markets such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis, Orlando, Denver, Cleveland, and so on.

Our 2019 “Leon Russell: The Tribute” sold-out concert was recorded for television, but was never telecast. We recently offered it to PBS affiliates. It is scheduled for release nationwide in mid-February 2024. The Will Rogers Stage Foundation paid NETA’s fee plus the cost of reformatting the program to PBS technical standards. NETA will promote this gem of a concert to PBS affiliates by posting on www.netaonline.org and sending a promotional email to 5,000+ programmers, marketing, education, engagement, and content public media professionals. NETA will also send out press releases, create social media graphics for localization, and provide other services.

Our “Classics of Lerner & Loewe” concert was captured on five 4K (ultra HD) video cameras and numerous microphones feeding audio to digital multi-track recorders. It is now in “post-production” being assembled for offering to PBS. Daniel Murphree, owner of Tulsa Event Video and a producerdirector at RSU-TV, headed the video team and is editing the program. Geoff Bond, a veteran of the West Coast recording industry, is our audio engineer, who will do the sound mixing. The audio capture for the television program’s soundtrack is handled separately from the audio mix for the “house” sound system. Aberdeen Broadcast Services will do the mandatory closed captioning for the hearing impaired.

The David Wickerham theatre organ concert is also being recorded for television. We want to become regular independent producers of content for PBS and are off to a good start.

All of this recording and packaging for television costs—a lot. We believe it is worth it as part of our mission to promote the school and the school district. PBS does not pay us for use of our programming. We pay NETA for the distribution and promotion services. We offer the PBS affiliates unlimited license for a finite time period—usually three years—for non-commercial airing, cable distribution, and streaming.

There is a significant reason we favor distribution through PBS. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), National Public Radio (NPR), and PBS have negotiated music license agreements with ASCAP, BMI, the Harry Fox Agency and SESAC on behalf of the public broadcasting system. CPB pays the fees under each of these agreements, which cover all stations that receive Community Service Grants or that are members of NPR or PBS. This also covers Internet streaming by PBS of copyrighted programs.

Elliott Wulff, Susannah Brooks, Cathy Venable, Kelly Ford, finale of Rodgers &
Hammrestein concert, 2023 (Chris Lo)
Elliott Wulff, Susannah Brooks, Cathy Venable, Kelly Ford, finale of Rodgers & Hammrestein concert, 2023 (Chris Lo)
Former Gov. George Nigh, Rodgers &
Hammerstein concert, 2023 (Chris Lo)
Former Gov. George Nigh, Rodgers & Hammerstein concert, 2023 (Chris Lo)
Gov. Nigh and Geoff Bond, son of Ridge
Bond, who played Curley in original production of Oklahoma! on Broadway, 2023 (Chris
Lo)
Gov. Nigh and Geoff Bond, son of Ridge Bond, who played Curley in original production of Oklahoma! on Broadway, 2023 (Chris Lo)

Will Rogers Stage

We Donate to the School District and Offer Free Public Events

Another facet of our mission is to contribute funds to support the theatre arts program at Will Rogers. We consider the fund drive in 2021-22 to replace the defunct theatre organ in the school’s auditorium as the precursor to the formation of the Will Rogers Stage Foundation. Our donors were generous, and we raised more than enough to buy a custom-made 3-manual, 42-rank Allen electronic theatre organ. The Foundation for Tulsa Schools served as the repository for donations and the balance became our start-up operating funds.

In addition to gifting the organ to Tulsa Public Schools for Will Rogers, we have donated four self-powered wedge monitor speakers for the stage, a 4K video camera, a splitter for the audio system, and a multitrack digital audio recorder, plus cables, microphone stands and two very expensive lamps for the rear projector onstage.

Susan Hellman Spatafora, Elliott Wulff,
“The Rain in Spain,” Lerner & Loewe concert, 2023 (Chris Lo)
Susan Hellman Spatafora, Elliott Wulff, “The Rain in Spain,” Lerner & Loewe concert, 2023 (Chris Lo)
John Kaneklides,
Lerner & Loewe (Chris Lo)
John Kaneklides, Lerner & Loewe (Chris Lo)

During the fund drive to replace the organ, I committed to donors that excess funds would be used, among other things, to ensure that the new model TH323 would not sit idle. We brought in world class organist Mark Herman in 2022 for an inaugural concert to demonstrate the vast range of sounds our new instrument could produce. To top off the event, we asked Mark to improvise a soundtrack for a 1922 silent movie, “The Ropin’ Fool,” produced by and starring Will Rogers a century earlier. We invited Will’s great granddaughter and family spokesperson Jennifer Rogers Etcheverry to introduce the film. We made that concert a free event, just as the January 14 Dave Wickerham concert is free to everyone who gets a ticket online and reserves a seat.

When we charge admission for an event, we try to keep the tiered pricing below what we think the market will bear. We want to fill the 1,400 seats in this spectacular venue—an art deco treasure on the National Register of Historic Places maintained by the National Park Service of the US Department of the Interior—so we cannot charge too much or the people will stay away.

Revenue from ticket sales for the Lerner & Loewe concert, for example, covered about one-third of the total cost. We contacted a few past donors, who covered most of the additional cost. Fortunately, we had sufficient operating reserves to cover the balance. As a nonprofit organization, our use of the school’s auditorium as our main venue without paying a rental fee, enables us to provide family-oriented professional entertainment to the public at reasonable ticket prices.

We have been fortunate to start with a healthy balance in our bank account, which allows us to seek quality programming that we hope will appeal to our audience’s specific demographics. To keep this balance healthy, we are appealing to repeat and potential new donors. Please consider making a generous donation to support the continuation of quality entertainment in this smokefree, alcohol-free, drug-free, and weapon free environment, and with plenty of free parking.

A few of the venerable performing arts companies in Tulsa are struggling financially, forcing them to cancel productions and move away from their traditional venues. The Will Rogers Stage Foundation is positioned to help fill those voids. We have even offered to collaborate with some of the struggling arts organizations to bring their events to the Will Rogers stage.

Will Rogers Stage

We Operate Under Stringent Financial Guidelines

We understand that our donors deserve to know that their contributions are being managed wisely, with checks and balances. The Will Rogers Stage Foundation is formed under the provisions of Title 70, Oklahoma Statutes, section 5-145, which encourages the creation of “local foundations” to augment federal and state tax dollar funding. We operate independently from but exclusively for the benefit of Tulsa Public Schools.

The statute states: “Any local foundation which makes a gift, grant or donation to any school district, public school, or school personnel of this state, regardless of when established, shall make all of its financial records and documents available to auditors who are performing audits of the school district.”

Leon Russell 80th Birthday concert, 2022
(Phil Clarkin)
Leon Russell 80th Birthday concert, 2022 (Phil Clarkin)

To achieve that special status, the state law requires that we must be determined by the US Internal Revenue Service to comply with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Our tax identification number (EIN)
is 88-2246506 and our standing can be looked up online. Donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. Contributions must actually be paid in cash or other property before the close of the donor’s tax year to be deductible, whether they use the cash or accrual method. They should consult their own tax advisor.

Our treasurer, James R. Adelman, is an enrolled agent of the Internal Revenue Service. According to the IRS: “An enrolled agent is a person who has earned the privilege of representing taxpayers before the Internal Revenue Service by either passing a three part comprehensive IRS test covering individual and business tax returns, or through experience as a former IRS employee. Enrolled agent status is the highest credential
the IRS awards. Individuals who obtain this elite status must adhere to ethical standards and complete 72 hours of continuing education courses every three years.”

The Will Rogers Stage Foundation is registered with the Oklahoma Secretary of State pursuant to the Oklahoma Solicitation of Charitable Contributions Act, Title 18, Section 552.1a of the Oklahoma Statutes. We have also been issued a non-expiring Oklahoma Exemption Permit by the Oklahoma Tax Commission as a “school foundation,” pursuant to 70 O.S. § 1356(13)(b). Thus, we do not collect sales tax on tickets or merchandise.

Funders of PBS content cannot be anonymous. PBS’s noncommercial mission and status are essential to its independence and trustworthiness, and must be vigilantly preserved. Federal law requires that broadcasters “fully and fairly disclose the true identity” of all funders. The purpose of this requirement is to be fully transparent with the audience. While this legal requirement is limited to broadcast programming, PBS ensures transparency by requiring that funders be disclosed for PBS content distributed on all platforms, including online videos, mobile applications, and PBS websites.

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Richard B. Risk, JD
Executive Producer
dickrisk@yahoo.com

BE A DONOR

We encourage donations from individuals, estates, trusts, foundations, and corporations to sustain what we believe is a welcomed presence among the Tulsa performing arts community. Any amount of at least $100 will be recognized on future donor lists for the season. I am more than happy to visit with potential benefactors who are considering onetime or sustaining gifts. Contact me, Richard “Dick” Risk, president and producer, Will Rogers Stage Foundation, Inc., at: dickrisk@yahoo.com, or (918) 740-5470. We can also discuss your ideas for future programs. Or maybe you would like to volunteer in some capacity such as marketing or fundraising. Check out upcoming events at: www.willrogersstage.com

Mail your tax-deductible contributions to: James R. Adelman, EA, Treasurer, Will Rogers Stage Foundation, Inc., c/o Tax & Financial Services, LLP, 2840 East 51st Street, Suite 205, Tulsa, OK 74105. Tax ID (EIN): 88-2246506. Phone: (918) 398-6311