The Oxford Area Community Theater (OxACT) is one of the “Enduring Partners” of the Oxford Community Arts Center (OCAC), and is responsible for laying the foundations of fundraising and design that established the beginnings of the Center as a space celebrate all of the arts in Oxford and the surrounding areas.
OxACT began life in 1980, with a three-show season that included The Boyfriend; Blithe Spirit; and The Mousetrap. The three show season has continued to be the production schedule model to this day. From 1980 to 2005, OxACT performed in a number of different venues in the area, including the “auditeria” at Kramer Elementary School, the Oxford Presbyterian Seminary Building, and both Presser Hall and Leonard Theater on the Miami University campus.
The itinerant nature of offering productions in so many different spaces while storing props, costumes, lighting equipment, and set pieces elsewhere became increasingly challenging. In 1996, the OxACT board of directors decided to pursue a permanent performance space that would would be easier to facilitate reliable scheduling, and would also include storage space, rehearsal space, and consistency for our patrons and volunteers. OxACT board treasurer, Bob Campbell, began to explore the possibility of turning the “Ox College” building into an arts center, and actively (and successfully) pursued that proposal. The first OxACT production in the new center was Guys and Dolls in the fall of 2004, followed in the spring of 2005, when “Master Harold”…and the Boys was presented using platforms and folding chairs in the ballroom (the winter show that year, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, was moved to Leonard Theater on the Miami campus as the OCAC building was still not sufficiently heated for a winter production). For the 2005-2006 season, all three shows (The Cemetery Club; Between Men and Cattle; and Free to Be…You and Me) were presented in the OCAC theater space. Since then (with a hiatus due to COVID from the spring of 2020 until we were back in production in the fall of 2021), OxACT has continued the legacy of bringing quality theatrical productions to the Oxford area.
The building that now houses OCAC and provides a permanent performance space for OxACT began life as the Oxford Presbyterian Female Institute. The Oxford Female Institute was founded by John Witherspoon Scott in 1849, with the building going up in 1850. At that time most institutions of higher education, including Miami University, were for men only. Scott had been the first professor of science at Miami University, although he was fired by then Miami president George Junkin in the early 1840s for opposing Junkin’s proslavery views. After teaching in Cincinnati for a few years he returned to found the Institute. Scott’s daughter Caroline attended the school and during that time met Miami University undergraduate Benjamin Harrison, who she married after graduating in 1853. Harrison went on to become the 23rd President of the United States, and Caroline Scott Harrison became a first lady known for her involvement in the arts, women’s rights, and historic preservation. In 1890 she became the first president of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
In 1867 the Institute merged with the Oxford Female College and took on that school’s name. In 1906 the name changed to the Oxford College for Women. Miami University absorbed the Oxford College for Women in 1928 (Miami had become co-educational in 1902 as a result of the Ohio Sesse Bill), and turned the building into a women’s dormitory. Miami refurbished the building and gave it its current Georgian exterior, and the local Daughters of the American Revolution chapter raised money to add a ballroom in honor of Caroline Scott Harrison. For the next sixty years it was known colloquially as “Ox College”.
Miami University closed the Oxford College Dormitory in the late 1980s and the structure sat vacant for several years. In August of 1997 the Oxford Area Community Theater board first suggested to the City of Oxford that the former Oxford College building might be an ideal location for a community arts center.
Since 1998 the Oxford Community Arts Center has provided Oxford and the surrounding areas with a theater, a ballroom, classrooms, and dance and art studios. It has become a popular venue for weddings as well as musical and theatrical performances. OxACT is proud to call this historic building, with its connection to education and inclusivity, our home.