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Once more, with feeling: Omaha South High Magnet School and SNAP reteam for new musical “Once On this Island”


This weekend Omaha South High Magnet School and SNAP Productions are re-teaming for another musical co-production after the success of last summer’s “In the Heights” collaboration.

“Once On this Island” is the attraction this time around.

Remaining performances are Friday, June 29 through Sunday July 1.

Check out my El Perico story below to learn more about the show and the cast.

For show times and tickets, visit http://www.eventbrite.com/e/once-on-this-island-tickets or call 531-299-7685.


Once more, with feeling
Omaha South High Magnet School and SNAP reteam for new musical “Once On this Island”

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in El Perico (el-perico.com)

A year ago, Omaha South High Magnet School and SNAP Productions set the local theater scene abuzz with their joint staging of the Tony Award-winning In the Heights. The all-star production of current and former South students, school performing arts staff and community theater veterans filled seats and won raves.

South and SNAP are again co-producing an acclaimed musical, Once On this Island, which happens to be enjoying a Broadway revival, The June 28-July 1 run at South once more teams community and school artists in a show about love conquering differences.

All tickets are $20. Proceeds benefit SNAP and South.

Urban-themed Heights was set in New York City’s Dominican subculture. Island is set in the Antilles archipelago, where love-sick orphan Ti Moune breeches the divide between dark-skilled peasants and light-skinned aristocrats with help from the gods. The Romeo and Juliet-inspired story is nearly all sung-through.

South and SNAP share a message through theater.

“I feel our mission of inclusion and acceptance dovetails beautifully with South’s amazingly diverse student body and nurturing environment,” said SNAP Artistic Director Michal Simpson, who directs the show.

“We believe theater should inspire and educate, unite and connect. We want it to reflect our world today – to share stories that reflect the gifts all cultures and ethnicities bring to the table. Above all, we believe theater can change people and, perhaps by seeing shows like these, our community becomes more open and affirming, welcoming and respectful of all people,” Island producer and South Magnet Coordinator Rebecca Noble said.

“The fact we are able to do multicultural and ethnically correct casting is something SNAP has been striving for,” Simpson said.

Regina Palmer, who plays Ti Moune, said, “It’s exciting that this story about island people of color is being told by a demographically correct cast.”

Show stage manager Esmeralda Moreno Villanueva, a South High grad, said, “This show is a great opportunity for people of color to demonstrate we’re out here and we’re as talented as anybody else. I think that’s what a lot of the theater community is looking for right now.”

Noble said Simpson’s assembled “an amazing cast.”

The play features three Omaha theater stars who’ve shared the stage before in Palmer, Echelle Childers  and Zhomontee Watson. They earned great notices in Caroline or Change at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

“That OCP connection brings us back full circle,” said Watson. “We work really well together. Our voices meld. And we genuinely enjoy each other’s time and company, so it’s nice to be reunited in another show that is so powerful and packs a lot meaning into it.”

Then there’s the synergy of different ages collaborating.

“It gives students a great opportunity to work with some talented people in the community,” Moreno Villanueva said. “It’s important for adults to connect with young people because they are the future of theater.”

“Everyone gets connected in this way. I think it’s a beautiful thing,” said Watson, who plays Asaka.

Simpson said it’s a great training ground.

“With the staff and adult talent they’re working with, the kids can get a true read of what it’s like to participate in the community. They are exposed to new methods of direction, staging and choreography as well as new friendships and mentors. It’s a win-win for all involved.”

South senior-to-be Juan Valdovinos, who was in Heights, loves working with high-caliber talent.

“This collaboration gives me a chance to experience a new level of theater and dedication. I’ve grown a lot as a singer, a dancer and actor, It’s pushed me to do better at what I do. It’s an amazing opportunity. I would never have dreamed of performing with adults like this.

“We set a very high standard last year, but this cast is very passionate and I know we are up to the challenge.”

He appears in Island’s ensemble.

Noble looks to expand collaborations “with other organizations because our kids learn with every new person they work with and we feel really strongly that as an arts magnet we need to help them grow and have as many opportunities as possible.”

Though Zhomontee Watson did not attend South, she is an Omaha Public Schools grad (Benson) and she appreciates this opportunity for new collaborations.

“I had never worked with SNAP before, so I wanted to be able to gain those connections and work with a new director. I love working with new people.”

The productions also serve as reunions.

“One of the ensemble girls, Isabel (Gott), actually played my daughter when we did Les Miserable for the OPS summer musical at South,” Palmer said.

South High alum Kate Myers Madsen, who plays Andrea, is back again after performing in Heights. This new show reconnects her with old friends.

“My good friend Justin Blackson did Once On this Island with me in high school. I worked with the choreographer (Roxanne Nielsen) throughout high school.”

Things have come full circle for Myers Madsen, whose first Omaha community theater gig was with SNAP.

She said these plays showcase what South offers.

“When I was at South it was never given the credit it was due but there’s always been a phenomenal, talented student base. It’s finally got the platform to show why it’s the arts magnet.”

Island’s take on shades of color equating to class status is timely given today’s rhetoric around race and immigration.

“Colorism is one of the main conflicts in the play,” Palmer said, “and in real life it’s not something talked about often. Usually it’s just straight racism. Colorism is more nuanced because it exists within black communities in which lighter-skinned people, even though still black, are looked upon more favorably than dark-skinned people. This is still a very relevant, problematic issue.

“I remember when I was younger staying in summers because I didn’t want my skin to get darker.”

Zhomontee Watson said in addition to the play’s heart-filled music and dance numbers, its powerful human themes about identity will make audiences think.

“It’s something that makes you sit down and process how you fit into the story and what you look like in the story.”

For dates, times and tickets, visit http://www.eventbrite.com/e/once-on-this-island-tickets or call 531-299-7685.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

Mural Man – Artist Mike Giron captures heart of South Omaha

May 2, 2017 1 comment

Murals are the great mash-up the art world. Their size and themes lend themselves to big, bold visions landing somewhere between paintings, posters and frozen film images characterized by dynamic swirls of figures, places, events and symobls. Mike Giron is one of Omaha’s busiest muralists and he’s the subject of an Omaha Magazine  (http://omahamagazine.comprofile I wrote that appears in the May-June 2017 issue. Giron’s work for the ongoing South Omaha Mural Project has taken him and his partner artists deep inside that district and its ethnic neighborhoods. But he does more than murals. He makes studio art and he also teaches art at Metropolitan Community College. And he helped design the exhibition spaces for the recently opened South Omaha Museum. 

 

 

Mural Man

Artist Mike Giron captures heart of South Omaha

©Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Appearing in the May-June 2017 issue of Omaha Magazine  (http://omahamagazine.com

Visual artist Mike Giron’s creative life spans studio practice, teaching, and working with A Midsummer’s Mural and South Omaha Mural Project teams.

“In my studio work, I have no idea what’s going to happen—I just go. I’m not forcing or insisting on anything. The work creates itself in some crazy way,” Giron says. “When it comes to murals, it’s a lot more deliberate. You have to propose a design before you begin. So, I live in these two different worlds, and I think it’s keeping me balanced.”

The New Orleans native came to Omaha in the early 1990s by way of Colorado, where he met his ex-wife, an Omaha native. After her father died, the couple moved here with the intent of restoring her family home, selling it, and returning to Colorado. But Omaha proved a good place to raise their two children, so they stayed.

Giron, 45, taught art at Bellevue University and ran the campus gallery. Today, he’s a Metropolitan Community College adjunct instructor.

Without knowing it, he prepared to be a muralist through his experience painting Mardi Gras floats in New Orleans. Walls are not so different from float structures—they’re big and imperfect. And just as he used cut-out panels on floats, he does the same with murals.

“The Polish mural is the clearest example,” he says. “There was a downspout, a chimney, and a fence around an air conditioning unit, and we used cut-outs to hide those things. It gave a 3D pop-up look effect. It also breaks the frame to extend beyond the box of the building.”

Patience is a virtue for a muralist.

“Murals take a long time—maybe two months,” he says. “Unless you really practice your Zen, you’ve got to make it enjoyable to keep on doing it every day.”

The social contract of public art and the collaborative nature of murals means you’d better like people. He does. You’d better like working big, too.

“Once you experience large-scale production, it’s hard to go back to small paintings,” he says. “Although I still consider myself a studio painter, there’s also something about doing large work. You can’t help but see a wall and go, ‘Oh, that would be perfect for this statement.’ And then the physicality of the work feels good. You’re carrying stuff all the time; you’re up and down ladders. The brush strokes are not just a flick of the wrist.”

But Giron says the real reason he and his fellow muralists do it is because “we’re channeling the voices of people who can’t do this, and we take pride in that.” He says, “We feel good about delivering something that people feel does express them.”

The process for the South Omaha murals involves deep community immersion.

“The more you immerse and personally connect with the people on a street level, the more you’re going to be trusted by that community, and the more they’ll open up and allow you in,” he says.

The South O murals feature diverse looks.

“Some fall into naturalism, and others go into some other place,” he says, “That’s interesting to me because it’s not the same. Rather than a signature style, I would prefer they look like they were done by different people.”

They are. Giron works with Richard Harrison, Rebecca Van Orman, and Hugo Zamorano. Neighbors contribute stories and ideas at community meetings. Residents and students participate in paint days and attend unveiling celebrations.

The works are an extension of the new South Omaha Museum, whose director, historian Gary Kastrick, conceived the murals project. Giron serves on the museum board. He enjoys digging through Kastrick’s artifact collection and preparing exhibits, including a replica of an Omaha Stockyards pen.

The idea is for the museum, the murals, and Kastrick’s history tours to spark a South O renaissance keying off the district’s rich heritage and culture. Muralists like Giron share a bigger goal to “make Omaha a destination for public art.” He says murals are a great way to enhance the city’s visual aesthetic and to engage the community. Besides, he says, murals “demonstrate to the public there is an arts community here” in a visible way galleries cannot.

Giron is impressed by the Omaha arts explosion. “There’s so much going on and so many young artists hitting the scene making a big impact,” he says.

Meanwhile, he continues to create studio art. His series On the Brighter Side of Post-Apocalyptic Minimalism employed fire-singed materials to make their satirical marks.

“With the process-oriented stuff I’m doing now, there’s a huge amount of variety, even though I’m just using grids,” he says, explaining that his personal artworks have moved away from rules of perspective and representational dictates of realism.

“When you don’t use any of that, all you have is the process and the visual reality of things—line, shape, value, color, texture, and space,” he says. “When you start playing in that area, where there’s no limits in terms of defining what things should be or should look like, you find it’s actually inexhaustible.”

He intends to follow “the course of my curiosity,” adding, “If you are really free as an artist, then you just follow whatever’s interesting to you.”

New murals keep beckoning, though. “I get pulled into all this work. You set yourself up for a fall, but the fall is where all the good stuff happens,” he says.

Having completed Czech, Lithuanian, Polish, Mexican, Metropolitan Community College, and Magic City murals for the South O project, Giron and company are now working on a Croatian mural. Irish, Italian, African-American, and Stockyards murals are still to come.

Visit amidsummersmural.com for more information.

This article was published in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

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