Authentic expression: Studio 66 organizers cultivate safe, joyous spaces for all
by Grace Wood
Under the glowing red and blue nights of a bar on the famed Route 66, the now well-known Tulsa organization Studio 66 had its humble beginnings.
The organization’s first-ever event was a dance party thrown at The Starlite Bar, 1902 East 11th Street, in January of 2020. Since that initial gathering, Studio 66 has evolved into a nonprofit group responsible for some of Tulsa’s most lively and talked-about events, like the Bimbo Summit, the Bunny Ball and weekly watch parties for season 15 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, to name a few.
Studio 66’s programming is part of a mission by co-directors Karl Jones and Chris "Vanndy" to create joyful safe spaces for members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and its allies. With the help of community partners like the Tulsa Artist Fellowship, BOK Center, Tulsa Community Foundation, Tulsa Remote and Aaru Entertainment, Studio 66 is making a noticeable impact on Tulsa, with no signs of slowing down.
“We’re focused on building up more exciting, extravagant and entertaining programming here in Tulsa, and we’re hoping to offer people places to express themselves in their most authentic way,” said co-director Chris "Vanndy".
Jones and Vanndy are both Tulsa natives who spent significant time living and working on the East Coast — Jones worked as a children’s book publisher and artist, while Vanndy performed as a singer, dancer and actor, with side gigs in event production, for several years.
Upon their respective returns to their hometown, Jones and Vanndy brought their experiences in places like New York City and Washington, D.C. with them. Their time spent in these cities and their queer communities informs much of the work and inspiration behind Studio 66, Vanndy said.
“It’s really important to us to bring what we saw in other cities back to Tulsa,” Vanndy said.
The organization’s name is a reference to the infamous New York City disco nightclub Studio 54. Jones and Vanndy said they aim to bring the spirit and ethos of Studio 54 — unbridled joy, extravagance, acceptance — to all events Studio 66 puts on.
“[At Studio 54] there were so many types of people who came together to celebrate love and celebrate being alive,” Jones said. “That’s the same thing I’m hoping for with Studio 66: that all people feel like they can come and be part of something bigger than themselves.”
A scroll through the organization’s Instagram page shows that Studio 66 is accomplishing that goal. Photos and videos of events put on by the organization — like the Bunny Ball on April 8 — show Tulsans of all ages, identities and backgrounds dancing, having a good time and finding community.
“A huge inflection point for Studio 66 was the Bunny Ball — people came and dressed up, they were feeling beautiful, and it was really special to see so many communities come together,” Vanndy said. “We pride ourselves on being for absolutely everybody, and this event was a representation of that: allies, queer people, all genders, all ethnicities, all bunnies. For me, that’s what I’m most excited about.”
With June being Pride Month, Studio 66 prepared a host of fun events to celebrate, like a disco dance party after the Shania Twain concert, a Frequency event at Spotlight Theatre and Monochromatica at Living Arts. These events, designed to commemorate Pride Month and celebrate the joy of the queer experience, are especially important right now as 2SLGBTQIA+ rights are at risk in many places across the country, Jones said.
“People who are fighting for their lives and fighting to exist can get overwhelmed and exhausted, so providing opportunities for them to come together in spaces that are safe and joyful can help them remind themselves of what they’re fighting for,” Jones said.
Going forward, Vanndy and Jones said they hope to keep engaging and collaborating with the Tulsa community and supporting the many artists who make Tulsa a place to pay attention to.
“I hope that Studio 66 can continue to carve out a mission to be successful — providing more funds to local artists and providing more resources to local initiatives,” Vanndy said. “Studio 66 is very focused on being a community that funds and supports all parts of itself and others, [so] it's really important to make sure we can support as many people as we can.”