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McSwain Theatre marks a century of offering downtown family entertainment

Ada Main Street venue celebrates 100 years with McSwain Theatre 100th Anniversary Virtual Celebration

 

The lights of the McSwain Theatre marquee illuminate the corner of Main and Townsend in Ada, Oklahoma, as they have since 1920. Today, the venue offers movies, live music, stage plays and a place to socialize.

ADA, Okla. – For 100 years, the McSwain Theatre has offered a compelling variety of entertainment to Ada residents and visitors alike. As part of the McSwain Theatre 100th Anniversary Virtual Celebration, the McSwain Theatre will offer a public virtual show online and over the airwaves 7 p.m., Saturday, July 18.

Viewers may watch the show from the comfort of their homes on their computers or smart devices. Simply go to McSwainTheatre.com or visit the McSwain Theatre Facebook page at Facebook.com/McSwainTheatre.

KCNP Chickasaw community radio will also be broadcasting the show in the Ada area on 89.5 FM, in the Dickson/Ardmore areas on 89.3 FM, in the Tishomingo area on 97.3 FM, in the Wynnewood/Pauls Valley areas on 104.5 FM and worldwide at KCNP.org.

Entertainment will include a message from Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, and songs from Jae L. & Crossover, and special guests Chandler Elliott, Tara Scott, Debbie Allen and Tanner Young.

Country artist Marty Haggard tours worldwide and said the McSwain Theatre ranks among the top venues he has visited.

"Who would have ever thought that Ada, Oklahoma, would have the best theater in the world," he said. "I've never been to a venue where top-to-bottom, every link in that chain was strong. It's a beautiful building, perfect for the entertainer on stage and perfect for the person out front."

Vaudeville acts, silent films, major motion pictures and live musical performances have helped make the theater a staple of downtown Ada.

The McSwain Theatre is a safe place to come and feel happy, reminisce, and find fellowship, according to singer, performer and lifetime Ada resident Jae L. Stilwell. She works at the McSwain both behind the scenes and on the stage.

Thanks to advocates like Foster McSwain, Paul Alford, Jae L. Stilwell and Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, the McSwain Theatre continues to serve as a family-friendly, social entertainment destination with a focus on the community and local artists.

A look back

Foster McSwain constructed the theater in 1920. He and his family lived on the third floor. He decided to make a career out of theater after seeing his first motion picture, which at the time had no color or sound.

Foster chose "Suds," starring Mary Pickford, as his first silent film premiere at the new theater July 19, 1920. Tickets cost 15 cents for adults and a dime for children.

In 1929, the McSwain's first "talkie" picture "The Canary Murder Case" was screened.

The year 1936 marked the first renovation of the theater, which added new seats, a balcony, a new mezzanine floor and a new air conditioning system.

Roy Rogers attended the world premiere of "Home in Oklahoma," a film he starred in, at the McSwain in 1946.

The McSwain Theatre continued to be a movie destination through the 50s, 60s and 70s, experiencing all the changes of the film industry. Patrons were still lining up to see movies like "Psycho," "The Godfather," "Jaws" and "Star Wars."

After multiscreen theaters opened across town, many moviegoers abandoned Main Street and the McSwain closed its doors in 1988.

Paul Alford, Stilwell's uncle, renovated the McSwain in 1992. This is when the stage became a place for live musical performances, thanks to Alford's appreciation of Branson-style shows.

They hosted a show every other weekend then. The first live onstage show premiered with a country-western band, dubbed the McSwingers, and Stilwell was lead vocalist.

Ada native Blake Shelton was a regular performer from 1992 until he graduated Ada High School in 1994 and moved to Nashville to advance his country music career.

As a music destination, the McSwain also brought in the likes of Dale Evans, Patti Page, Neal McCoy, Ray Price and The Osmond Brothers, among others.

In 2002, the Chickasaw Nation purchased the theater and began extensive renovations. The building next door was purchased to facilitate an expansion.

The goal was to upgrade and restore the original ornate look of the 1920s theater. Expansion was made to the stage, and professional-style dressing rooms and storage were constructed.

State-of-the-art sound and lighting was incorporated and modern amenities were added, such as an elevator and accessibility for disabled patrons. The second story was redesigned to house receptions, meetings and other events, and the third floor became staff offices.

It reopened in summer 2009. Stilwell said the only part of the facility not to be enhanced were the walls, and even those received a coat of fresh paint.

The Honkytonk Tailgate Party, featuring country music artists Mark Wills, Jeff Bates and Trent Willmon, served as the first show after reopening Saturday, July 25, 2009. The show began in front of a packed audience.

Today's McSwain Theatre

The McSwain Theatre, 130 W. Main St., is one of Oklahoma's premiere live entertainment venues. Its concerts, shows, movies, plays and special events are all planned to offer a family-friendly experience to the community.

During the McSwain Theatre's regular schedule, which is currently postponed due to COVID-19 safety measures, Stilwell and the band Crossover host a variety show, often featuring up-and-coming local artists.

Jae L. Stilwell performs at the McSwain Theatre. She played a key role in keeping the venue alive and has kept the entertainment flowing since 1992.

Every other year, over the span of multiple months, the Grand Awards Show shines a spotlight on talent in and around south-central Oklahoma.

Entertainers like country music star Shelton and young ventriloquist Darci Lynne, winner of NBC's "America's Got Talent," frequented the McSwain Theatre stage early in their careers. Movie stars Dale Robertson, Peter Brown and Gabby Hayes are among the celebrities who visited for special events.

The McSwain features concerts throughout the year. Talent comes in from all over, covering musical genres like country, rock, gospel, oldies, tributes and more.

For more information, contact the McSwain Theatre at (580) 332-8108 or visit McSwainTheatre.com. Follow theater updates on Facebook at Facebook.com/McSwainTheatre, on Instagram at Instagram.com/McSwainTheatre or on Twitter at Twitter.com/McSwainTheatre.

 

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