Homegrown Harley: Local actor and director talks life and Lions

Sapulpa Community Theatre actor and director Harley Cartee is making a name for himself—and it's not just in Sapulpa.

If you missed “The Wizard Of Oz” in Broken Arrow the second and third weekends of August, you missed one of Sapulpa’s homegrown celebrities in his element. Harley Cartee is a hometown Sapulpa boy, who was cast as the “Cowardly Lion” in only the second musical performance in his life. He belted out his songs as if he were channeling his inner “Bert Lahr.” Harley pranced, swaggered, flounced, and danced his way across the huge stage in the Broken Arrow Community Theatre building, and melted hearts with each line he delivered.

One particular crowd-pleaser was when he flopped his multi-colored rag-mop headpiece to one side and proclaimed, “I’m such a dandelion!” He wowed ‘em! The audience laughed out loud.

Harley is quiet, calm, and sneakily funny. He is also famous among the theater crowd and his day job for his bright blue Mohawk, worn proudly as if it were still in style. Does he care? No.

Sometimes, he is trimmed and clean-shaven, other times he is rumpled and bearded. Sometimes there is a correlation to a part he is immersed in, sometimes, not. But always, he is shyly smiling and quietly talking to a person as if there were no one else on earth.

This quiet calmness is one of his many gifts. After spending five years in Ft. Worth, he home and began working for BIOS Corporation. He didn’t know for sure if he would do well, but after the first night’s confrontation with a client, he found he had a “knack” for it. That client yelled at him and backed him up against a wall. Harley calmly said, “I get paid whether we go in and watch TV or stand here yelling at each other. It’s up to you.” The client calmed down, and after that, they became good friends. After a month, Harley was promoted to manager.

“Patience in this field is the key.” He explained that some of the challenges the clients face they can’t help. His job is to help clients live more fully, doing things for them they cannot do, and encouraging them to do what they can do. Harley said, “There’s job fulfillment. I feel good when I go home.”

He has learned a lot, too. The State of Oklahoma requires training for supporting people with disabilities and Continuing Education, too. He knows 2 different types of CPR and is a Medication Administration Technician.

BIOS is a for-profit organization, headquartered in a newly renovated building in downtown Sapulpa. There are facilities in several cities in Oklahoma and a couple in Tennessee.

Patience serves Harley well in the theatre. He started out on the Competitive Speech team at Sapulpa High. He was State Qualifier in Monologues with a speech from “The Normal Heart” by Larry Kramer.

After a particularly depressing time in his life, Harley had “no money, no house, no car—sleeping on my mother’s couch,” he played a small part in Sapulpa Community Theatre’s production of “Wait Until Dark,” and he was hooked.

Sir Lawrence Wargrave, Emily Brent, Capt. Phillip Lombard, and Vera Clarthorne, played by Bobby Baker, Christopher Clark, Harley Cartee, and Sommer Lyons, discuss the possibilities of their strange meeting on Soldier Island in a scene from the Sapulpa Community Theatre’s production of And Then There Were None.

Since then, Harley has appeared in dozens of plays but his favorite part is as the villain, “Rog,” in the 2015 rendition of the same play. He particularly enjoyed when, near the end of the play, the presumed dead monster lurched out to grab the victim, and “every time the audience screamed. Every time.”

He sang for the first time in front of an audience on opening night as Charlie in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

He directed his first play in 2009, a Summer Fundraiser at LaMargarita Restaurant, which was a female version of “The Odd Couple.” It was a smash hit, with a packed house almost every night. Harley has since directed 8 more plays.

His theory of directing is simple and powerful: “Give them confidence. With confidence, you can get them to do pretty much anything. Trust them to do what they do.” Surrounding himself with a great crew, he said, is also important to the success of every production. Up next for Harley is a chance to direct in the larger venue in Broken Arrow (and also in Sapulpa).

“Give them confidence. With confidence, you can get them to do pretty much anything.”

No one would know it, but Harley suffers from almost crippling “social anxiety disorder.” He said that after he was diagnosed, “it made so much sense.” He was always terrified by new people, new situations, sometimes he “couldn’t even answer the phone.”

Backstage, he still finds a quiet spot to “center” himself before going on stage. “Otherwise, I would just be a mess,” he said. He shared this history in hopes that someone might hear how medication had changed his life.

Since he has been under treatment, his life has burst wide open. He dared to audition for “The Wizard of Oz,” in a 300-seat theater, singing and sashaying on stage as you’ve never seen him. On opening night in front of all his family, his high school sweetheart, Brett Smiley, proposed and he accepted. They haven’t set a date yet but are making plans for a 2020 event.

Harley gushed: “I’ve been in love before, but his happiness and well-being is the most important thing in my life. He feels the same way, and it’s a beautiful thing.”

His latest project is the founding of a local theatre troupe called “Dirty Back Wall Theater Troupe,” which will create and produce avant-garde, experimental, interactive, and horror shows. It is in its infancy right now, with members meeting monthly, creating a mission statement, and by-laws. After this paper shuffle is done, it will become a non-profit operation.

Keep an eye out for Harley’s next contribution to the art life in Sapulpa.

About the Author

Lottie Wilds is a native Oklahoman and a multi-talented woman—she is a mother, grandmother, Navy veteran, and lifelong creator. Lottie loves to quilt, decorate, garden, swim, paint, and write stories. She is grateful for every day she gets a chance to get it right.

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