The cast of Mary Poppins perform at the Muskogee Little Theater
Anything can happen, if you let it. That was the message from Mary Poppins at the premiere opening of the Muskogee Little Theater this weekend. The sellout crowds enjoyed wonderful performances from the local cast and crew in a beautiful, brand new theater anchoring downtown’s re-imagined and rediscovered Depo District. It represents a positive and optimistic vision for downtown and Muskogee in general, and should be celebrated as a theatrical, architectural, and civic success. Certainly, it’s the biggest thing to hit downtown in quite a while.
Nanny Poppins’ admonition to let it happen is a message to naysayers that changes are possible and that a negative outlook will not solve problems or help others. During visits to Muskogee in the last few weeks, we have met many positive and optimistic citizens, but we have also met a few naysayers as well. We heard about a lack of community pride in town. We were told that there is poverty and that there are struggles. Some said downtown was empty, dreary, and surrounded by neighborhoods in decline. We heard about the city’s reputation as the most violent in Oklahoma and we saw a news story marking the demolition of 300 homes. We even heard that money should not be spent on projects like the Little Theater when people are begging in the streets. The issues raised by these people are real. We should not ignore them; in fact they cannot be ignored if Muskogee is to thrive. The people raising concerns about poverty, safety, and deterioration are right to express their frustration and despair. However, it is wrong to attack successes like the new theater that can build pride for the community and which are examples of hope and hopeful achievement.
According to our colleague, OU psychologist Chan Hellman, hope improves coping skills, predicts achievement, buffers against stress, promotes adaptive behavior, and enhances relationships. It is a crucial element for the flourishing of individuals and communities, and it is needed to help them achieve their personal and collective goals. Hopeful people and communities use way power and will power to achieve their goals: way power to identify pathways toward the goals, will power to direct and sustain mental energy to take those pathways.
I do not know the story of the creation of the Little Theater, but surely it represents a goal that needed way power and will power to achieve. There are leaders who directed its development, and others, like the Muskogee Community Foundation and many individual donors, who provided pathways to make its construction possible. The energy and positive outlook that drove this project can be taught and transferred to achieve other goals, including goals to address the challenges mentioned above. The funny thing about hope is that it is a social gift and it can be shared. The people on stage last weekend and in the audience were sharing a message of hope. The Muskogee Little Theater presented a lighthearted musical on the surface perhaps, but also a deeper message about what a community can do together if they let it happen.