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The art of listening

Tulsa theatre veterans offer continuing support for local creatives

Tulsa Theatre artists Machele Miller Dill and Timothy Hunter formed the Heartland Center for Professional and Creative Development to provide high-level theatre training in Tulsa.

Greg Bollinger

A playwright once said what makes an actor great is their ability to listen. Isn’t that what makes any human great? There’s nothing more empowering than to be asked, listened to, and taken seriously—onstage or off. 

This summer, Machele Miller Dill and Timothy Hunter, theatre artists with deep roots in the Tulsa arts community and estimable resumes to back them up, asked some big questions of and about their craft. What do those who practice it need in order to thrive? And what does it have to give, so that others might thrive as well?

They asked (complete with a community survey), and listened, and made a big move in answer. Hunter and Dill have teamed up to form the Heartland Center for Professional and Creative Development, which hopes to fill a hole in the bustling performing arts ecosystem in Tulsa by offering, among other things, high-level training in theatre for the people who put on show after show here, season after season.

“A great city like Tulsa needs a place outside of a university setting for adults to learn the craft of acting,” Hunter said. As an actor who’s been part of productions from Waiting for Godot to Tulsa Ballet’s educational program Peter and the Wolf, he said he’s noticed “a lack of continued training for adults who want to hone their acting ability, or those who want to explore the craft.”

“Not everyone can stop their lives and go back to school, especially for something like acting. And most people can’t afford to continue study at a higher level,” explained Dill, a prolific actor and director who for 13 years has served as Director of Musical Theatre at the University of Tulsa. “Heartland’s plans include general performance classes along with more focused, audition-only offerings for those wanting and able to really dig in.” 

But it’s not just actors to whom Heartland plans to give back. Dill said building a center whose purpose is “development” means reaching outward as well as inward. Just as professional development is essential for an actor seeking excellence, creativity itself is essential for people working in totally unrelated settings. One of Heartland’s priorities is bringing the coveted “soft skills” in which theatre excels—empathy, attentiveness, working as a team, problem-solving and the like—to local businesses through trainings, coaching and consulting.

With TU’s nationally respected performing arts departments on the chopping block under the university’s recent reconfiguration attempt, Dill has been a leader in conversations around the value of theatre. “I love my job and I love my students,” she said. “Many people have said I could get a job just about anywhere with my credentials. However, I believe in Tulsa and I believe in the future of the arts in Tulsa. If TU is truly not committed to arts education for future generations, then Tulsa is.

“And I will create my own opportunities while I create opportunities for others,” she said. “My hope is that TU recommits to Theatre and Musical Theatre. Stay tuned.”

In the meantime, the Heartland Center forms a long-needed bridge between stage and city. “Artists are the conduit to whatever connects us all and makes us a community,” Hunter said. “Art lets us be human,” Dill continued. “In fact, it requires us to be.” 

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The art of listening

Tulsa theatre veterans offer continuing support for local creatives