Oklahoma

Roberta Sloan, left, and Debra Rich Gettleman performing a short play written by Gettleman, called, “And you are…” for the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City.

Debra Rich Gettleman considers Scottsdale home, but in 2019 she found herself in Oklahoma after her husband, a pediatrician, accepted a position.

“I visited a few times and I realized that Oklahoma City was a burgeoning artistic community on the brink of a big time arts evolution, but I still was concerned because there’s very little theatre here,” she said.

Gettleman, a writer, actor and playwright, has long worked with Theatre Artists Studio in Scottsdale, and will be performing there in January 2022 in “A Doll’s House, Part 2.” Just months after moving to Oklahoma, she met Roberta Sloan, who was in the process of founding the Jewish Theatre of Oklahoma.

The pair launched the theatre with four virtual performances in 2020, and they hope to offer four in-person and hybrid performances this year. Oklahoma has a small Jewish community — the American Jewish Year Book estimates 0.1% of Oklahoma’s population is Jewish or about 4,000 people. But Gettleman and Sloan are confident in their vision.

“It’s truly a small but mighty community,” Gettleman said. “I love the Jewish community in Phoenix, but this community in Oklahoma City is like nothing I have ever experienced.”

In 2019, Roberta Sloan, artistic director of the theatre, founded it shortly after she returned to the state after 15 years away.

“We have a strong Jewish community here and a Jewish theatre is something we didn’t have,” Sloan said.

The two women imagine offering shows followed by refreshments, panel discussions and discussions with the audience. “That makes it a really interactive experience, which we think will be very worthwhile,” Sloan said.

Gettleman, who is the associate artistic director, said the shows “are just top-notch theatre” that happen “to show things through a Jewish lens.”

Their first show, “Oh God,” is by late Israeli playwright Anat Gov, in which a psychotherapist gets a visit from a new, desperate patient: God.

“It’s really compelling and it brings about great conversation in the end about religion and everything that’s going on in our world today,” Gettleman said. They are working on organizing an after-show discussion with different faith leaders to discuss some of the issues raised.

As last year went on, each virtual show gained audience members. And at one point, revenue from donations exceeded that from ticket prices.

“It’s a very excited audience and they truly are hungry for culture and arts — and it hasn’t been here,” Gettleman said.

Sloan said she feels lucky to have met Gettleman. “She has been such a help with the vision, and she’s a terrific actress. But beyond that, she is a dreamer, and she has enough skill and imagination to help dreams become reality,” she said. “I don’t think we could have come this far without her.”

Carol MacLeod, artistic director of Theatre Artists Studio in Scottsdale, described Gettleman as a “dynamo.” Wherever she goes, Gettleman gets involved in something that’s multicultural and makes an impact, MacLeod said.

“She is probably one of the most talented people I have ever met,” MacLeod said. When she found out Gettleman was moving to Oklahoma, she thought, “Good heavens, how many Jews are there in Oklahoma?” But, apparently, those that are there are very involved in this theatre, she said.

Gettleman hopes to come back to Scottsdale eventually, she said. She and her husband love and miss their family. But so far, living in Oklahoma has been an “incredible experience” and she’s excited about what lies ahead. JN