There’s no way you could have convinced J. Wayne Stark, Aggie grad who was the director of the TAMU Memorial Student Center, a man who loved that building with every fiber of his being, that something he started in 1972 would be one of the most prestigious and beneficial nonprofits ever to grace the Brazos Valley. With the premiere performance of Season 50, it is only fitting that the inaugural performance of the season is “50 Years of Rock N Roll,” produced by composer and lyricist Neil Berg.
Think back five decades. The albums you likely owned were by Lubbock’s own Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Elvis the king, Ray Charles, plus the current version of what was the sound by The Beatles in the studio days, the ubiquitous Beach Boys, and the world was embracing singer/songwriters Carole King, James Taylor, and Joni Mitchell. Harmonies would give way to ballads by Linda Ronstadt, anthems by Aretha Franklin, and harder sounds of Aerosmith and Journey. Most of these artists are represented in the shows planned for Sept. 27 and 28.
But back on campus in 1972, there was only G. Rollie White as the concert venue, with a seating capacity of 2500. One year Wayne Stark was approached by members of the Woman’s Club of Bryan with the request to consider bringing in some “culture” to meet up with the new influx of women into the student body. Two significant changes at once. Stark was enthusiastic about the MSC Town Hall Series, in existence since 1951, but it had been the “only game in town” before. Students comprised much of the committee with requisite faculty and staff advisors. But then ca. 1970, the beautiful new Rudder building complex was finished, complete with three places to see live performances: Rudder Auditorium, Rudder Theatre, and Rudder Forum.
Suddenly Texas A&M could offer what they could not offer before. A wide range of arts, music, stage, and competitive events could occur throughout the year. In the beginning, Wayne oversaw the evolution, together with an advisory board that was collected to provide input and hopefully funding sources to sponsor beyond what A&M’s budget could potentially offer. They could host the stars of country music, the best in national musical variety, and having a facility as beautiful as the Rudder Complex would require an operational wizard capable of landing the C5-A plane on a very short runway.
Those who were around at the time remember Jim Reynolds, a quiet, calm man who seemed capable of pulling rabbits out of a hat and making it look easy. He became the executive in charge. Wayne Stark’s active role had come to coincide with his retirement from his beloved A&M, but he knew the effort would be in good hands with Reynolds. Stark’s role in MSC OPAS was best chronicled in an article in the season premiere catalog for OPAS 20—the Encore Season.
A student MSC OPAS committee seemed natural and an OPAS Advisory Board would come into being, primarily to help with programming. Then, to support and enhance getting the word out about performances, an advisory guild would be needed. This would be the OPAS Guild then. Although the operation of the OPAS Advisory Board would be up to a committee of some 20 individuals whose interest in and support of “fine music and culture,” one person would be integral to the organization’s success from the get-go. That person is Ann Wiatt. Ann was a leading community leader and do-gooder, and all-around event chairwoman whose local involvement ranged from The Woman’s Club to the Arts Council of Brazos Valley and her sons’ PTOs. Her husband, Bob, traveled often for his job in the FBI so she had substantial free time to donate to helping launch the support rocket.
The first performer booked was a guitarist—Christopher Parkening. A prolific genius who was gentle and kind, he also agreed to lead a master class in guitar for Texas A&M students who wanted to know more. From that most fitting, auspicious event in 1972 MSC OPAS launched 50 years of phenomenal entertainment for students, faculty and staff to enjoy, as well as the Brazos Valley community who wanted to join in.
After Jim Reynolds started an organization that ran brilliantly it was only fitting that his successor be equally skilled in leadership and foresight. You have to know a year in advance what will be popular here and if it is available on your budget. Enter Anne Black, a lovely, kind and wise leader who also found time to lead, guide, and inspire an extremely large group of students of MSC OPAS, who serve as greeters, ushers, merch salespersons and other roles behind the scenes.
Internationally regarded symphonies have been here. The Bolshoi Ballet came and stayed to play for a week, both on stage and in town. Opera stars have graced our stages and so have The Beach Boys (at least one variation of them). Carol Burnett came to see us. Star after star appeared on the Main Stage of Rudder Auditorium. Most fittingly, the OPAS performances there are permanently known now as the Ann Cobb Wiatt Main Stage. If memory serves, this is her 50th year to sell all the program ads for the programs you receive as you walk in.
Tonight’s performance of Neil Berg’s “50 Years of Rock ‘n Roll” is most fitting. OPAS has a tremendous lineup of shows for adults, children, and a season “Fabulous & Fifty” that will delight all audiences for the entire year. Here’s a list of upcoming dates this year:
Sept. 27, 28 Neil Berg’s 50 Years of Rock ‘N Roll (Rudder Auditorium)
Oct. 1, 2 Winnie the Pooh (Rudder Theatre)
Oct. 13 The Other Mozart (Intimate Gatherings)
Oct. 25 Back Home Again — A Tribute to John Denver (Rudder Auditorium)
Nov. 15, 16 Stomp (Rudder Auditorium)
Dec. 1 The Swingles (Rudder Theatre)
Dec 6, 7 My Fair Lady (Rudder Auditorium)
The lineup for 2023 is equally as exciting. Support MSC OPAS by purchasing season tickets and making an additional contribution or attend their annual MSC OPAS Gala, which usually sells out quickly.
Whether you attend a few performances per year or you become a season ticket holder, know that 50 years ago, a group of amazing local residents pooled their talents and experience and brought entertainment to the Texas A&M campus and the Brazos Valley community in a major way. MSC OPAS – the Callaway-Jones family salutes you and wishes you another outstanding 50 years of performances! Bravo!