Passion for theatre endures in drama scholarship

Fall 2013

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Mike Turpen remembers his mother Marjory Turpen-Shahan as a woman who was always there to lend a helping hand. A staunch believer in equal opportunity, she passed those values down to her children.

Turpen-Shahan was also an avid patron of the performing arts, especially musical theatre. When Turpen was a child, his mother frequently took him and his brothers to see shows at the Tulsa Municipal Theatre. Seeing how the actors could capture and command the audience’s attention had a profound impact on the young man.

“My mother showed me how to break the silence of a room with the sound of my voice,” said Turpen. “That’s what she believed theatre could do.”

Instead of professional acting, Turpen took his oratory skills into the field of law, where he used them with great success. He has served as attorney general for the State of Oklahoma, was appointed to the President’s Advisory Council of the Arts by former President Bill Clinton, and has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. Throughout his civic career, he never lost the appreciation for theatre that his mother instilled in him.

When Turpen’s daughter, Sarah, was accepted into the University of Oklahoma’s School of Drama, both he and Turpen-Shahan were proud, he recalls. Every time her granddaughter was in a play, Turpen-Shahan was in the audience.

In March of 2012, Turpen-Shahan saw two of her grandchildren take the stage. Sarah and brother Patrick participated with their Greek organizations in OU’s “Sooner Scandals” competition, where various campus groups produce a musical variety show. Both Sarah’s and Patrick’s groups were recognized for awards.

Unfortunately, Turpen-Shahan passed away soon afterward, but Turpen was determined that his mother’s twin passions of theatre and helping others would endure. To honor her memory, he and his wife, Susan, created the Marjory Turpen-Shahan Endowed Drama Scholarship.

The scholarship will offer several types of support to the School of Drama, says Lee Ann DeArman, development officer for OU’s Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts. In addition to providing eligible students with financial support, the fund will be used in recruiting efforts to bring a wider variety of actors and experiences to the college.

“Our students need to know that there are people out there who care and want to invest in them and their pursuit of dreams,” said DeArman. “They want them to succeed.”

Turpen is one of those people. He is currently an Oklahoma State Regent for Higher Education, where one of his priorities is to eliminate student debt, what he calls the “ball-and-chain.”

When he initially started to raise funds to launch the scholarship, Turpen said he was surprised by the huge outpouring of support from his friends. He also credits OU President David Boren and School of Drama Director Tom Orr for working with him to create Turpen-Shahan’s legacy.

“My mother was a thespian herself in high school,” Turpen said. “The night we saw ‘Scandals,’ I told her, ‘Mom, if you had gone to college, that’s what you would have been doing.’ But she never had the chance. That’s why it’s so beautiful that now she gets to make sure other young people get the opportunity she never had.”