Audience members got a surprise at East Central University's Centennial show in the new Ataloa Theatre Friday night [SEPT. 25], but they weren't nearly as surprised as student Phoebe Price of Ardmore.
Price was performing in "ECU, A Year in the Life: Celebrating 100" in a segment about the 1950s and the opening of the Boswell Chapel where a number of ECU couples have been married. She and three other members of Collage, ECU's dance ensemble, were dressed as bridesmaids who were attending to the bride and performing a dance routine to "Chapel of Love."
Price then caught the bridal bouquet and went to the chair at the front of the stage where the bride had been sitting. That, as it turned out, was a late change and a new ending.
When the bride and other bridesmaids quickly left the stage, a young man walked toward a surprised Price, knelt on one knee, asked her to marry him and gave her a ring.
Jeff Barron surprises Phoebe Price with an engagement ring and marriage proposal during East Central University's Centennial show Sept. 25. Price, dressed as a bridesmaid, and other members of Collage, ECU's dance ensemble, had just finished a dance routine to the music of 'Chapel of Love,' marking the 1957 construction of ECU's Boswell Chapel, when Barron walked on stage and popped the question. Price said yes.
Price and Jeff Barron had discussed marriage about a month ago, but she did not expect an actual engagement for another few months.
"I had no idea that he had saved enough money to buy a ring or that he was even looking at rings," Price said. "Once he decides something, he does it."
As she accepted Barron's proposal, some of the 800 people in the audience were whispering, "Is that real or part of the show?"
"That's because it worked so well" with the number they were doing, said Dr. Delma Hall, vice president of academic affairs who wrote and directed the production.
"It was amazing," Hall said. "What a wonderful Centennial moment it was. She was still glowing Saturday night."
The chapel scene went back to its original ending for the Saturday night performance and the proposal was not re-enacted.
Plans for the surprise began last week when Josh Pulattie, Barron's roommate and one of Hall's former students, came to see her.
"He said, 'Dr. Hall, can I ask you something?'" she said. "I thought, 'What is wrong with Josh?' Then he shut the door, and that scared me. I thought, 'What has Josh done?'"
But he was only asking if there would be a way to include a marriage proposal in the show. Barron and Pulattie had no idea there was a scene about "goin' to the chapel and ... gonna get ma-a-arried."
"I knew one of her favorite things is dancing and performing," Barron said. "When I had initially dropped the hint, I asked what would be her ideal engagement -- in front of people or just me and her. She said she'd like for friends and family to be there."
Barron knew Price's parents were coming to the show, so he asked friends and his parents to come.
"I thought, 'This will be perfect,'" He said. "When I talked to Dr. Hall and she told me her idea about the Chapel of Love, I thought it was awesome. This would be even more perfect."
Hall told the production crew of Theo Peshehonoff, Dallas Coplin and Vickie Reifsnider what might happen, but none of the students. Reifsnider suggested the bouquet toss.
"We said we wanted to add a little more to that number. We had to get Phoebe in the chair," Hall explained.
"Right before the show," Hall said, "I told Brittany (Trail, the "bride,") what was coming down and what she could do to help. She watched for Jeff and showed him where to stand so he couldn't be seen."
Hall also told Jomain McKenzie he would need to repeat "Unforgettable," which he had sung as part of the 1950s era at ECU. He sang again as the newly engaged couple danced briefly on the stage.
Barron had selected the engagement ring about four weeks ago and picked it up last Tuesday in Ardmore. He went back to Ardmore on Wednesday and talked to Price's father. On Friday, he told Hall the proposal was definite and she told him when to come onto the stage that night.
"I'm not the type of person who likes to get up in front of people," the future bridegroom said. "I'm more quiet and reserved, so it was nerve-wracking. I was okay until they gave me the microphone.
"Then I thought, 'Okay, now they're going to see and hear it.'"
Barron said he was sure Price would accept, but he wasn't sure he heard her say "yes" because she was "in the middle of ripping the ring out of the box."
"Phoebe was thrilled," Hall said. "It was perfect for her. It was the talk of Ada the next day."
Looking back, Price said, she should have known something was going to happen. She found "flowers and a sweet note" in her apartment Friday, not an unusual occurrence, but after lunch she had a "weird, anxious feeling."
"It was not about performing. I don't get nervous about that any more, but since we talked, I wondered, "What if he proposed today?'"
But she did not want to expect anything and be disappointed if it didn't happen.
At dinner on Friday she mentioned the anxious feeling to her parents, grandparents, Barron and his mother.
"He started asking me what was wrong and they all had odd, fishy reactions," Price said. "From dinner on he was just kind of weird. Later I realized that's why he didn't eat at all."
With all that, and the new ending of the chapel scene, she said, she was still clueless until she saw him on the stage.
"Once I saw him, I thought, 'Oh, my goodness. This is really happening," she said. "It caught everyone pretty much off guard. But that was nice. I like surprises."
They have not yet set a wedding date, but are thinking about next May.
The couple had been part of a group of friends at a church in Ada since the fall of 2007 when she was a freshman at ECU.
"I had a crush on him from the second semester of my freshman year, but he did not, at all," Price said.
Toward the end of last year, she thought he might be interested in her, and last January he asked her for a real date.
Price is a junior majoring in communication studies. She is the daughter of Chuck and Laurie Price and the granddaughter of Jo Ann and Lee Piatt, all of Ardmore.
Barron is the son of Scott and Cheryl Burks of Schulter. He has worked several years at Staples in Ada but is about to begin a new job as sales manager for Aaron's Furniture. He also has a photography business. He is taking online courses and will complete an associate's degree in business next May from the Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology.
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