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The fringe of it all: Omaha Fringe Festival fulfills founder Tamar Neumann’s dream


The fringe of it all: 

Omaha Fringe Festival fulfills founder Tamar Neumann’s dream

 

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in the July 2019 edition of The Reader (thereader.com)

 

If fringe occupies the outer edge of things, then expect a grab-bag of eclectic stage work during the first Omaha Fringe Festival, July 24-27, at UNO.

Omaha Fringe founder Tamar Neumann’s inspiration for her open-access, unbound event is the Minnesota Fringe Festival. She got hooked on it working in Minneapolis as a theater critic and Chameleon Theatre Circle administrator.

She developed the event as part of her thesis work for her UNO Master of Arts in Theatre degree,

Neumann, who teaches writing, is a former playwright. She’s recently transitioned into being a dramaturge. Upon moving to Omaha in 2016 she was bummed to discover no fringe fest here and determined to start one.

“I really like fringe festivals,” she said. “I think they’re exciting and fun. They have a way of bringing all these people together that other theater festivals don’t. I think it’s because you don’t have that adjudication piece, so kind of anything goes. It’s kind of wild.”

Her fledgling Omaha fest netted 25 applications from area individuals and ensembles. Ten productions were chosen by lottery. The work ranges from performance art shows to narrative stage productions. There are no costs to the artists, who receive 75 percent of box office receipts. Neumann sees the event as a platform for encouraging and monetizing new work.

“I noticed there were a lot of works being created here by a lot of really great playwrights, but there wasn’t always a lot of room for people to get paid for their work.

It’s a community with a lot of volunteers and not a lot of professionals.”

 

Image result for omaha fringe festival

 

Naturally, her start-up is a fraction of the large, years-in-the-making Minnesota Fringe she’s modeled hers on.

“Theirs is smashing. It’s two weeks long with over 200 productions. It takes over the city (Minneapolis). It’s crazy, it’s huge, it’s super fun.”

The nearest fringe to Omaha is Kansas City.

it turns out, fringe is a real thing around the U.S. and the world that started in Edinburgh, Scotland after World War Ii and spread. Creighton University professor of theater Amy Lane has made a study of the scene and gives a run-down of what to expect.

“Fringe is like a choose-your-own-adventure experience for the audience with several shows playing at the same time – and the options are always adventurous,” Lane said. “Fringe artists embrace the new, the experimental, the weird, the avant garde, the cutting edge. It’s like a cultural sampler platter. And it’s fun. Theatre can have a reputation of being elitist, stodgy, inaccessible, but fringe is the opposite. Fringe is a carnival where you get to decide which rides you’d like to try.”

It’s these qualities Neumann’s strived to present here.

“The thing I love about fringe festivals is how diverse they can be,” Neumann said. “You have a wide range of theater and performance styles and I feel like we really got that. We’ve got full plays, short plays, a standup comic, dancers, one-man shows. I feel like we’ve got a really good mix of artists and themes.”

Each Omaha Fringe work will be performed multiple times over the four-day fest, with shows running from morning through evening.

An established outside-the-box arts organization, Omaha Under the Radar, has taken Fringe under its wing, sharing marketing and other resources with its young partner in edginess. Radar’s own fest runs concurrent with Omaha Fringe, only at different sites.

Neumann enlisted Radar’s Amanda DeBoer Bartlett and stalwart metro theater figures Amy Lane, Cindy Melby Phaneuf and Lara Marsh to learn the festival ropes.

When Neumann broached the idea with Phaneuf, who teaches at UNO, she was encouraged “to go for it.”

Bartlett saw it as an opportunity to pay forward the support her own organization’s received. “It’s so scary and exhausting to go out on a limb and build an event from scratch, and I admire Tamar for taking this on with such tireless sincerity. Her heart and mind are in the right place. She wants to make something beautiful and positive for Omaha – so really I couldn’t say no to helping her out.”

Besides, Bartlett said, her group and Fringe share the same “zeitgeist” and “crossover appeal”as showcases for “creative risks” and “independent thought:” and in “uplifting the voices of local artists.”

“UNO Theatre sees it as part of its mission to connect with the community,” Phaneuf  said.

In addition to mentoring from arts veterans and support by the host University of Nebraska at Omaha Theatre Program, Neumann credits operations manager Aaron David Wrigley for making it a reality.

“He joined me in the middle of our Kickstarter campaign and I literally would not be running this festival without him. He does all the technical and logistics stuff. We’re a team of two in the trenches.”

The process of organizing the event, Nuemann said, has rekindled a passion for theater that had waned.

“In high school I discovered in theater a group of people who welcomed me and understood me. I enjoyed the community theater created and the freedom inhabiting another role created. As I grew older and became more of an audience member than a creator, I found joy in theater because of its immediacy.

“Fringe has reinvigorated me. When I first moved down here I didn’t go to much theater, but in this past year I’ve seen so much and I’ve been able to embrace it again. I feel like I’ve reinvented myself by finding something I’m truly passionate about. I’ve always loved theater, but it kind of disappeared for a time, and creating this festival  has helped me find that passion again.”

Along the way, she said, “I’ve learned so much about the Omaha theater community. I connected with so many people. It’s really empowering to know that I created this – that this is happening.”

She fully intends making Fringe “an annual thing.” That depends, she acknowledged, on “the community supporting and embracing it.” After this first fest wraps, she said, “I’ll take a step back and evaluate what worked and what didn’t work and how I want to move forward.”

 
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The Lineup:

Improv Art by Big Canvas

Artists will create original pieces of art inspired by the antics of Big Canvas improv comedians and audience members’ own creativity. This in-the-moment. interactive art experience will culminate in an unveiling.

Celebration: A Belly Dance Show

Della Bynum and the ladies from her Chrysalis Studio will perform this ancient midriff dance that celebrates the feminine and the cycles of life. Onlookers may be invited to join in as the rhythm moves them.

Hummingbird – A Theatrical Tribute to Robin Williams

Playwright Jason Levering directs his own script in this love letter to Robin Williams that imagines the comic’s last hours of existential angst. This Crook Factor Productions show has a free form befitting its subject.

Secondhand Love

Standup comic Andrew Morton riffs on some of his life journeys of the physical, hiking variety and of the mental health what-is-fantasy-versus-reality variety.

MOABIRTHC

Playwright and actress Colleen O’Doherty is joined by other performers in her celebration of physicality in theater, comedic and otherwise. Bodies in motion through space and time lead to interesting possibilities.

TBA: Tired, Barren and Alone

Jean-Paul Zuhur performs this one-man show he’s also written that is a contemporary take on Dante’s Inferno.

20 Questions

Doug Hayko pushes the limits of discourse and vulnerability in this exploration of the moments right before and after his HIV-positive diagnosis and coming out. The conceptual piece lives in the intense emotions between theater and reality. For mature audiences only.

Carnival

Tim Barr’s one-man show from his own Jungle Productions 2 revolves around deep research he’s done into the life of carneys and the subculture of carnivals. It’s Carousel meets Nightmare Alley.

Darkness Like a Dream

Anna Jordan and her new Found Ensemble present this full production retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream set in In the forest of ancient Athens. Lovers run from persecution and tyranny. The gods rage. Tragedians rehearse an ill-fated play. Monsters are born and mortals are magicked. A sinister thread weaves everyone’s stories together – revealing a darkness in the forest and in themselves.

Little Wars

The festival’s star entry may be this UNO Studio Theatre production from Jeremy Stoll and fellow grad students that addresses homo sapiens’ hard-wired desire to “make war. From armed warfare to schoolyard beefs, this work of devised physical theatre explores the nature of human conflict by imagining it as ritual.

The play’s toured Nebraska. Its cast and production team will next bring Little Wars to the mother of all fringe festivals – Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August.

Fringe unfurls at UNO’s Weber Fine Arts Building (Dodge Street campus).

For Fringe schedule and tickets, visit www.facebook.com/omahafringefest.

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

Noah Diaz making run for his dream at Yale School of Drama and theater companies nationwide

August 5, 2018 1 comment

Noah Diaz making run for his dream at Yale School of Drama and theater companies nationwide

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the August 2018 issue of The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

Noah Diaz proves there’s no prescribed way to follow your passion. In 2017, the Council Bluffs native and Omaha theater darling received a full ride scholarship to the prestigious Yale School of Drama without majoring or even minoring in theater as a UNO undergrad.

He’s already a rising star in Yale’s vaunted graduate playwrighting program after winning accolades for acting and directing here. Though he didn’t formally train locally, he said, “I’ve received so much second-hand training from the people I’ve worked with over the years. I’ve worked with a staggeringly high number of talented people on stage and off. I have mentors, big and small,” said Diaz, who’s been home over the summer.

“In many ways I was raised by my mentors from whom I received theatrical and life lessons.”

Feeling he already had theater covered, he studied special education and communication disorder and creative writing at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Meanwhile, his play The Motherhood Almanac opened theater doors for him here and outside Nebraska. The Sheltebelt staged it. He did a residency with it at the Seven Devils Playwrights Conference in Idaho. Two New York City theater companies workshopped it. Encouraged by fellow playwright Ellen Struve, he applied to name graduate theater programs. Like a feel-good turn in a play, the one school he assumed he had no real chance at accepted him into its illustrious ranks.

“I thought it was never really going to happen for me,” he said. “It was hard not to recognize what kind of capital ‘I’ institution Yale was and how impenetrable it appeared. But there actually seemed space for me there and then it was space I was heartily welcomed into.”

He learned of his acceptance on his mother’s birthday.

“We had already planned having a dinner that night with the extended family. My mom said. ‘The only gift I want is to share the news myself with everyone.'”

His first year in New Haven has been “astounding” and “profoundly rewarding.”

“It’s a really intense program. We don’t have many breaks. It functions as a conservatory. We are often in classes six days a week from 8 a.m. until about 2:30 p.m. and then we’re in rehearsals from 2:30 to 11 p.m. It’s similar to how medical students are in classes and then go on their hospital rotations.

“I’m busy every day. I’m very tired. My mind was prepared but my body wasn’t. It’s a matter of gritting yourself and barreling through. In so many ways it was the longest year of my life and yet the shortest. It requires such exertion of energy, not just creatively, mentally or emotionally but physically as well. I wrote five plays over the year, one of which went up to a workshop production in the spring, in addition to many others I started and abandoned.”

His apartment is close to the venerable campus, which he said “reminds me of Hogwarts in Harry Potter.”

As an arts and letters Ivy Leaguer, his life is consumed by studies, rehearsals, writing and craft analysis.

“I live alone which is smart because I do a lot of writing and I need a lot of quiet. A huge challenge for me personally in this program is generating work so quickly and so frequently. I’m learning themes that constantly keep reoccurring in my work, what that’s telling me about myself, why I’m interested in exploring these things and what dramatic structures I keep leaning on.

“I have a lot of conversations with my colleagues about knowing the difference between what is a playwright’s voice and what is a playwright’s schtick. The difference, at least for me, is honing my artistic voice and not simply relying on the same bag of tricks. I’m proud of this first year body of work because I’ve tried things –    somewhat reinventing myself or at least challenging myself in new ways. That’s intentional.”

The work doesn’t all just stay on the page either.

“This particular playwriting program is a little unusual in that we are offered a production each year.”

He’s written three new scripts over the summer.

“My second year production starts rehearsal the first day of classes or shortly thereafter, so I have to prepare options to present.”

There’s no shortage of stimulation.

“I’m working with incredible people in my cohort. They are so talented and smart. My faculty – Sarah Ruhl, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Amy Herzog, Robert O’hara, Jackie Sibblies Dreary, Young Jun Lee – are all luminaries still working in the field. It enriches my learning experience,”

With notable alums on stage and screen, the school is a recognized talent pool that industry producers, directors and agents scout. Diaz has already heard from some.

“I’ve been really fortunate that a lot of people have been reaching out. I’ve been taking meetings, I’ve been in touch with fantastic companies. This summer alone I’ll be at three different theater companies across the country developing my work.”

He was in Chicago for the Latinx Theatre Commons (LTC) Carnaval of New Latinx Work in July. This month his Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally is part of the Two River Theater Latinx festival in Red Bank, New Jersey and a workshop at The Lark in New York City.

Diaz said the example of other Omaha playwrights has emboldened him to forge ahead with his own career.

“Our community of playwrights inspire me. Because of all the people who’ve come before me, it never really crossed my mind that I couldn’t. I saw people doing it and I just always kind of had that feeling, Oh, when it’s my time, I will do it, too.”

He’s excited that two more Omaha theater nerds, actresses Roni Shelley Perez and Bailey Carlson, recently made the big move to NYC.

“I hope that line continues.”

He’s not forgetting where it all started for him.

“I thank Omaha in so many ways for having prepared me and supported me. It’s really great to know they have my back. I plan to be back every summer for the Great Plains Theatre Conference.”

He was back for this year’s GPTC, where his star Yale prof, Sara Ruhl, was the honored playwright. He also had a reading of his You Will Get Sick at the Shelterbelt.

He wishes playwrights had more showcases here.

“There are not many places for playwrights to go and yet these playwrights continually write and persevere to tell the stories they need to tell. That tenacity and initiative to write in a town that isn’t always ready to hear the stories they do write is exciting to me.

“What I love about the playwrights in our community is that so often it’s not about accolades or attention but rather generating and creating pieces of art important to them. That’s something I try to do. I try to tap into whatever it is I personally need to tap into.”

One of his Yale plays, The Guadalupes, cuts closer to his life than anything he’s written. It explores questions he has about his own racial identity and his relationship with the Hispanic side of his family.

“It’s about my grandmother, my grandfather and my father and mother. It’s this deeply personal play about being both white and Hispanic and the irreconcilable differences between the two. It deeply affected me. It was well received, which was great.

“I think for any writer of any form the history that you carry will always seep into the work. But this one was directly about my family, so that was a first for me. I don’t know if l’ll be doing that again anytime soon, but I did get that one out of my system.”

As things continue moving fast for him, he takes comfort in the surety his Yale degree will mean something.

“We’re told that regardless of what you think your personal career trajectory will look like, you will be working in your chosen field. They’re not promising us Tony Awards or Pulitzer Prizes, but having gone to this university and through this program, I will be able to live and work and pay my bills as a writer.”

“That (prospect) is so fulfilling and rewarding to me.”

Follow him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/public/Noah-Diaz) and Twitter (twitter.com/diaz_noah).

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work atleoadambiga.com.

If the play’s the thing, then what about gender?


If the play’s the thing, then what about gender?

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the July 2018 issue of The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

Theater offers windows on the world, yet only a fraction of plays produced anywhere are written by women. This arts parity issue has urgency with national initiatives extending to Omaha, where theater artists variously discuss the problem and implement remedies.

“The initiatives have been around for about a decade now,” said Creighton University theater professor Amy Lane. “The most well-known, 50/50 by 2020, started in response to a study that revealed women’s voices grossly underrepresented in theaters.”

In 2006, 17 percent of plays professionally produced nationwide (12 percent on Broadway) were written by women. “Surprising,” Lane said, given that “60 percent of the theater audience is women.”

She wonders if “there will be true gender equity by 2020” and what “progress” has been made thus far.

UNO theater professor Cindy Melby Phaneuf echoes many when she says, “My opinion is we are moving in the right direction, but still have a long way to go.” She heads the National Theatre Conference, whose Women Playwright Initiative has produced 500 plays by women since 2011 and expects to reach 1,000 by 2020. “I am encouraged by the energy and interest in gender parity, but am most interested in taking action.”

“I support these initiatives and applaud the theaters implementing them,” said Omaha playwright Ellen Struve.

Struve’s had plays mounted at the Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP) and Shelterbelt Theatre and across the nation.

“When I began writing plays, I didn’t know many other women getting produced on a regular basis. This past year I was able to invite more than a dozen Omaha-based women playwrights to participate in the 365 Women A Year project. It was so exhilarating to look at that list of writers. Even better was to see a few of the plays fully-produced by Denise Chapman at the Union for Contemporary Art.”

2017 panels hosted by the Blue Barn Theater and the University of Nebraska at Omaha dialogued about the social-economic context behind exclusion and why plays written by women would enrich any season.

“Panels are great for raising awareness. Representation matters: for women and female-identifying playwrights, directors, actors, designers, crews, administrators. Discussions are fine, but action is what is needed,” said  Lane.

She created the 21 & Over series at OCP “to introduce Omaha to new works and new voices.” 21 & Over seasons were 50/50 by 2020 compliant, she said..

OCP’s ongoing Alternative Programming series continues to be diverse.

Creighton and UNO are devoting their respective theater departments’ entire 2018-2019 performance seasons to works by women playwrights.

Lane said Creighton’s “made a commitment to continue with the 50/50 by 2020 Movement” beyond this season.

Phaneuf and colleagues want to move things forward.

“UNO and Creighton have agreed to shine a light on what our greater Omaha community is doing already and look to the future to provide more opportunities to revel in women’s voices. The goal is gender parity on a permanent basis as an ordinary way of programming our seasons representing diverse voices. With parity also comes a desire to produce plays by writers of color. We are constantly on the lookout for plays that represent a variety of cultures and heritages.”

Outside the academic setting, Omaha presents a mixed bag in theater gender parity.

Phaneuf said despite some gains, many Omaha theaters present seasons with only one or two works by women. Sometimes, none.

“Those making artistic decisions at Omaha theaters either care about this issue or they don’t. If they care, then it is not a difficult task to make sure a theater’s season includes works by women,” Lane said. “There are plenty of terrific plays out there and plenty of resources to find them. If this is not an issue that matters to them, then they shouldn’t be surprised if they get called out. I think more of us who do care should speak out more when we see gender parity ignored.”

OCP artistic director Kimberly Hickman said “more opportunities for female artists is among her programming guidelines.” This past season several OCP playwrights and composers identified as women as did all its guest directors and many designers.

“Those priorities remain in place for 2018-2019.”

“Parity in theater is a complex issue that can’t be simplified to only gender,” Hickman said.

A session on female leadership she attended at a recent conference for regional theaters brought this home.

“While the room of women had many things in common, our experiences were very different due to ethnicity, sexuality, economic status, academic background, location. All these factors need to be taken into consideration. I believe the best way to make progress is to look at who is at the table making decisions. If the people all look the same, that is a problem and steps need to be taken to evolve. I also think accountability is important. I have intentionally surrounded myself with people I know will hold me accountable.”

The Shelterbelt has a demonstrated “strong commitment to gender parity, not only for playwrights, but for all production positions,” said executive director Roxanne Wach. “We do try to include at least 50 percent women playwrights in a season, while still creating a balance in storytelling and genres. It’s a conscious choice by our reading committee and a shared vision of our board.

“I personally feel if we don’t start with parity in the small theaters, it will never happen in larger theaters.”

Shelterbelt’s won recognition from the International Centre for Women Playwrights for reaching equity goals.

“To look just at playwrights is only scratching the surface,” Wach adds. “We’ve got to start valuing the work women bring to all areas of theater production and the great value in having different points of view.”

Omaha’s largest footprint on the national theater scene, the Great Plains Theatre Conference (GPTC), uses a 100 percent blind reading process selecting plays.

“We are one of the few major development programs that do this,” producing artistic director Kevin Lawler said. “We have had many long debates about whether we should change to have predetermined selection percentages to include gender, race, identity, but the overwhelming consensus by our staff and those who attend the conference is to keep the selections blind.

“Even with a blind selection we have always been close to parity. This year was a clean 50-50 split. Our women playwrights often appear on the Kilroys List (of most recommended unproduced or underproduced plays).”

UNO’s new Connections series is being curated from GPTC works by underrepresented playwrights.

GPTC playwright Sara Farrington terms parity “a triggery question” and initiatives to date “a baby step.”

“Many people simply don’t and won’t trust plays by women. It is astonishing people still assume women can or will only write about being imprisoned by their bodies or men. That idea has been beaten into a mass theater-going audience by over-produced, overrated, wildly misogynistic male playwrights and producers and by artistic directors financing and programming plays with reductive and fearful depictions of female characters.

“Women playwrights have a deep, refined, 200-proof rage. Rage makes for badass and innovative storytelling. Women playwrights tell stories backwards, sideways, in a spiral, upside down, from angles you’d never expect. They are utterly complex, psychologically profound and contemporary.”

Fellow GPTC playwright Shayne Kennedy, a Creighton grad, calls for systemic change.

“I believe men and women tell stories differently and because the creative industries have long been dominated by male voices, we as a culture have become conditioned to hear in those voices. I think to correct the imbalance we are going to need some risk-takers, visionaries and deliberately opened minds.”

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

Link to the 2018-2019 UNO theater season at:

http://www.unomaha.edu/college-of-communication-fine-arts-and-media/theatre/index.php

Select UNO Theater 2018-2019 season:

TARTUFFE (Studio)

by Molière, adapted by Constance Congdon from a literal prose translation by Virginia Scott

Director Jackson Newman

August 23-25

THE CLEARING

by Helen Edmundson

Director Lara Marsh

September 26-29, October 3-6

SECRET GARDEN

Book & Lyrics by Marsha Norman, Music by Lucy Simon

Director D. Scott Glasser, Musical Director Shelby VanNordstand

October 31-November 3, 7-10, 14-18

CONNECTIONS

Director Dr. Ron Zank

February 20-23, 27- March 2

MR. BURNS, A POST-ELECTRIC PLAY

by Anne Washburn

Director: Jeremy Stoll

March 14-17, 2019

THE WOLVES

by Sarah DeLappe

Director Dr. Cindy Melby Phaneuf

April 10-13, 17-20, 2019

___________________________

Link to the 2018-2019 Creighton theater season at:

https://www.creighton.edu/ccas/fineandperformingarts/boxoffice/

Select Creighton Theater 2018-2019 season:

HANDLED

Written by Shayne Kennedy

World premiere play/Mainstage Theater

October 31 – November 4, 2018

KINDERTRANSPORT

Written by Diane Samuels

Play/Studio Theater

February 13 -17, 2019

LEGALLY BLONDE THE MUSICAL

Book by Heather Hach; Music and Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benajmin

Musical/Mainstage Theater

March 27-31, 2019

Life Itself VII: 25-plus years of Omaha theater stories


 

Life Itself VII:
25-plus years of Omaha theater stories

New plays are discovered at Omaha’s own Great Plains Theatre Conference

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/06/06/new-plays-are-di…eatre-conference/

 
North Omaha rupture at center of PlayFest drama
Niche theater for classics still going strong in 25th year
Finding home: David Catalan finds community service niche in adopted hometown of Omaha
Roni Shelley Perez staking her claim as Nebraska’s next “Broadway baby” 
Noah Diaz: 
Metro theater’s man for all seasons and stages
Art in the heart of South Omaha
Things coming full circle for Doug Marr, Phil’s Diner Series and Circle Theatre

Kevin Lawler, ©photo by Debra S. Kaplan

 
PlayFest broadens theater possibilities: Great Plains Theatre Conference events feature community-based, site-specific works
Camille Metoyer Moten: With a song in her heart
Stephanie Kurtzuba: From bowling alley to Broadway and back
Creative to the core: 
John Hargiss and his handmade world
BRAVO! Sing for the Cure
“The Bystanders” by Kim Louise takes searing, moving look at domestic violence as a public health issue
South Omaha stories on tap for free PlayFest show; Great Plains Theatre Conference’s Neighborhood Tapestries returns to south side
Play considers Northside black history through eyes of Omaha Star publisher Mildred Bown
Celebrating 90 years, the Omaha Community Playhouse takes seriously its community theater mission
Omaha theater gypsy Gordon Cantiello back with new show
Tapestries to celebrate Omaha neighborhoods; Theater by any other name
Kevin Lawler guides ever evolving theater conference to put more focus on fewer plays and playwrights and to connect deeper with community
Matched set: Susan Baer Collins and Carl Beck share life and career based in theater at Omaha Community Playhouse
Beasely #1 by Eric Antoniou (LEO)
John Beasley has it all going on with new TV series, feature film in development, plans for new theater and possible New York stage debut; Co-stars with Cedric the Entertainer and Niecy Nash in TVLand’s “The Soul Man”
Journeyman actor John Beasley discusses life in film-television-theater and striving for in-the-moment believability
Theater-Fashion Maven Elaine Jabenis
John Beasley: Living his dream
Family of creatives: Rudy Smith,  Llana Smith,  Q (Quiana) Smith
Omaha’s black sirens of song and spoken word
Hardy’s one-man “A Christmas Carol” highlights Dickens-themed literary festival
Joslyn Castle Literary Festival makes it all about Dickens
Artist facing life-altering disease makes “Dracula” subject of literary festival: Jill Anderson and friends explore Bram Stoker’s dark vision
Tiffany White-Welchen delivers memorable performance in “Lady Day”
Blue Barn Theatre
NEW BLUE:
Blue Barn Theatre putting down new roots
FINDING HOME: With its own home, the Blue Barn completes a long road to creating edgy theater
Paul Williams: Alive and well, sober and serene, making memorable music again
Opera Omaha re-imagines the gala with “A Flowering Tree”
Playwright turned history detective Max Sparber turns identity search inward 
Breaking the mold: 
Opera Omaha re-imagines the gala
Alone or together, Omaha power couple Vic Gutman and Roberta Wilhelm give back to the community
Omahans put spin on Stephen King’s “The Shining’ – Jason Levering leads stage adaptation of horror classic to benefit Benson Theatre Project
Sisters of song: Kathy Tyree connects with Ella Fitzgerald; Omaha singer feels kinship to her stage alter ego
Art imitates life for “Having Our Say” stars, sisters Camille Metoyer Moten and Lanette Metoyer Moore, and their brother Ray Metoyer
Shirley Jones Interview: Classic Hollywood star to appear at Omaha screening of “Carousel”
Omaha playwright Beaufield Berry comes into her own with original comedy “Psycho Ex Girlfriend”
Beaty’s one-man dramatization of the diaspora considers what freedom looks like for African Americans
Opera Omaha enlists Jun Kaneko for new Ttke on “The Magic Flute” –  co-production of Mozart masterpiece features stunning designs setting the opera world abuzz
Playwright Carlos Murillo’s work explores personal mythmaking
A Theater Twinning
photo
Doing time on death row: Creighton University theater gives life to “Dead Man Walking”
Tyler Perry’s brand of gospel play coming soon to theater near you
Tired of being tired leads to new start at John Beasley Theater
Native American survival strategies shared through theater and testimony
“Walking Behind to Freedom” – A musical theater examination of race
What happens to a dream deferred? John Beasley Theater revisits Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun”
Anthony Chisholm is in the house at the John Beasley Theater in Omaha
Polishing Gem: Behind the scenes of John Beasley Theater & Workshop’s staging of August Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean “
Homage to the bootstrappers by the Grande Olde Players
Omaha theater as insurrection, social commentary and corporate training tool Playwright
Actor Kelcey Watson fills role of a lifetime on short notice in Blue Barn production of “Six Degrees of Separation”
Lara Marsh’s breath of life
The wonderful world of entertainment talent broker Manya Nogg
Nancy Duncan’s journey to storytelling took circuitous route 
Art trumps hate: “Brundinar” children’s opera survives as defiant testament from the Holocaust
A queen gets his day in the sun: Music director Jim Boggess let’s it all out in “Jurassic Queen” cabaret
Dick Boyd as Scrooge in 2005, ©photo by Mikki K. Harris, USA TODAY

Dick Boyd found role of his life, as Scrooge, in Omaha Community Playhouse production of Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol”
Preston Love Jr. channels Adam Clayton Powell Jr. in one-man chautauqua
Get your jitney on: August Wilson play “Jitney” at the John Beasley Theater resonates with cast and crew
The enchanted life of Florence Taminosian Young, daughter of a whirling dervish
Being Jack Moskovitz: Grizzled former civil servant and DJ, now actor and fiction author, still waiting to be discovered
John Beasley and sons make acting a family thing
Crowns: Black women and their hats
Camille Metoyer Moten: A singer for all seasons
Shakespeare on the Green: 
A summertime staple in Omaha
Learning from a Broadway actor

Kevyn Morrow

 
Kevyn Morrow’s homecoming 
Vincent Alston’s indie film debut, “For Love of Amy,” is black and white and love all over
Change is gonna come: GBT Academy in Omaha undergoes revival in wake of fire
Great Plains Theater Conference ushers in new era of Omaha theater  
Jo Ann McDowell’s theater passion leads to adventure of her life as friend, confidante, champion of leading stage artists and organizer of festivals-conferences
Playwright-director Glyn O’Malley, measuring the heartbeat of the American theater
Q&A with theater director Marshall Mason, who discusses the process of creating life on stage

John Guare

Playwright-screenwriter John Guare talks shop on Omaha visit celebrating his acclaimed “Six Degrees of Separation”
Q&A with playwright Caridad Svich, featured artist at Great Plains Theatre Conference
Featured Great Plains Theatre Conference playwright Caridad Svich explores bicultural themes
Attention must be paid: Arthur Kopit invokes Arthur Miller to describe Great Plains Theatre Conference focus on the work of playwrights
Q&A with Edward Albee: His thoughts on the Great Plains Theatre Conference, Jo Ann McDowell, Omaha and preparing a new generation of playwrights   
Great Plains Theatre Conference grows in new directions
Unforgettable Patricia Neal
More than Buddy: Billy McGuigan expands on Buddy Holly shtick to collaborate with his brothers and band in Beatles tribute
 
 
Hey, you, get off of my cloud! Doug Paterson – acolyte of Theatre of the Oppressed founder Augusto Boal and advocate of art as social action
Radio DJ-actor-singer Dave Wingert, in the spotlight
Quiana Smith’s dream time takes her to regional, off-Broadway and Great White Way theater success
Show goes on at Omaha Community Playhouse, where Henry Fonda and Dorothy McGuire got their start
Charles Jones: Looking Homeward
In her 101 years, ex-vaudeville dancer Maude Wangberg has lived a whirl of splendor
Nancy Duncan: Storyteller
A Woman Under the Influence
Anyone for classics? 
Brigit Saint Brigit Theater stages the canon
Gospel playwright Llana Smith enjoys her Big Mama’s time
John Beasley: Making his stand

Brian O’Bryne and Swoosie Kurtz in Frozen

Kooky Swoosie: Actress Swoosie Kurtz conquers Broadway, film, television
Lauro play “A Piece of My Heart” dramatizes role of women in war zones
Magical mystery tour of Omaha’s Magic Theatre, a Megan Terry and Jo Ann Schmidman production
Bobby Bridger’s Rendezvous
Doug Marr, Diner Theater and keeping the faith
War and peace: Bosnian refugees purge war’s horrors in song and dance that make plea for harmony
Golden Boy Dick Mueller of Omaha leads Firehouse Theatre revival
Opera comes alive behind the scenes at Opera Omaha staging of Donizetti’s “Maria Padilla” starring Renee Fleming

Niche theater for classics still going strong in 25th year

April 24, 2018 Leave a comment

Niche theater for classics still going strong in 25th year

Cathy Kurz and her Brigit Saint Brigit Theatre Company 

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in April 2018 issue of The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

A quarter century since Cathy Kurz was told, “No one wants to see this stuff,”‘ her Brigit Saint Brigit (BSB) Theatre company still draws paying audiences to productions of the classical canon.

Works by Shakespeare, Shaw, Chekov, Ibsen, Miller, O’Neill, Williams, Albee, Stoppard and other playwright legends grace its stage. Since leaving College of Saint Mary eight years ago, the theater’s moved around and now alternates its site-specific work between Joslyn Castle, First Central Congregational Church and other venues.

This 25th anniversary season concludes with Uncle Vanya, April 5-20, at the Castle and The Shakespeare Revue, May 3-24, at First Central, on select dates. All shows are 7:30 p.m.

Low overhead helps keep expenses down, but what’s truly made BSB sustainable without a fixed home is an unwavering commitment to mission.

“Going to rehearsals and working with actors and reading all these plays and thinking about them – that work is everything. That produces the endorphins that make everything else happen,” said Kurz, BSB artistic director and co-founder. “I know the medium, I know the story, and when I read it, I can imagine the story in the medium, and that makes all the difference.”

It helps she’s yoked to a fellow believer in her husband, Scott Kurz, BSB managing director and frequent actor.

Her own fascination began in her hometown of Wichita, Kansas. First, watching television productions, then film adaptations and, finally, live theater.

“I just remember being gob-smacked. I would still be sitting there when they were sweeping up. I was entranced by the smell of the greasepaint, the whole thing, I knew nothing about how it worked. I just knew I liked being there.”

The theater became her home through studies at Friends University (Wichita) and the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

“Trying to translate these plays to the stage and working with actors to find the extra dimension that occurs in the theater has been the greatest love of my life. I’ve had so many incredible learning experiences.”

She feels classic theater can touch all of us deeply.

“Story is the oldest form in the world. Humans love to be told stories, The reason why these scripts have lasted is they’re so good. People don’t get an opportunity to see them. When they do, they realize today’s dramas pale in comparison, and then you combine that with the fact it’s live, it’s right there, and it’s really spellbinding. “There is no spectacle that even remotely can do what theater does. It’s that visceral encounter with talented live actors working right in front of you in a play that’s well-paced and interpreted. There’s just nothing like it. It’s spectacle. You can’t pause it, you can’t start eating and drinking or get distracted. It’s right there and it amazes people.”

When she moved to Omaha in 1980, the Norton Theatre was the city’s only regular classics showcase, Kurz directed several seasons there. When it closed, she felt adrift. Stage manager Cathy Murphy-Barron and actor John Jackson agreed they should stop simply lamenting its loss and, thus, they formed the nonprofit BSB.

“I didn’t know if people would come. I was discouraged from doing it by others,”  Kurz said.

She persisted anyway, buoyed by her fellow travelers.

“If, as a director, you have talented, disciplined, dedicated actors and you can match them, then you’re going to do it. I’ve never believed you have to have a fancy backdrop or electronics or big screens. That’s not how we are. If you believe in the power of theater and this material, you’re going to do it wherever you can.”

BSB found an instant following and developed a company of players.

But, she acknowledged, if the Norton hadn’t closed, “i don’t know if I would have started the theater.”

BSB produced its earliest shows at Joslyn Art Museum, then Bellevue University, before taking residence at College of Saint Mary in 1997. BSB stayed 11 years.

“College of Saint Mary was just pivotal. They were so supportive of us. We had storage space, dressing rooms, offices. We rehearsed and constructed sets there. People liked the location. We really did build a lot of audience over that time.”

But when CSM experienced an enrollment boom, it reclaimed the space.

“We were really sorry to leave.”

That was 2008. Then came a twinning experiment with the Blue Barn, followed by a stint in the Capitol District before settling at the Castle and First Central. One-offs happened at Mastercraft and 40th Street Theatre.

The Castle’s 19th century architectural splendor lends itself to period pieces without having to build sets and First Central’s flex space allows great freedom.

Kurz wasn’t sure audiences would follow BSB from venue to venue, but they have. Now she wants the uninitiated to know that instead of treating Chekov’s Uncle Vanya as some dry academic-historical exercise to sit reverently through, it’s okay to laugh.

“It’s not dour. There’s a lot of humor. It’s just life.”

The greatest affirmation she receives is seeing patrons after a show “affected” the same way she was when first captivated by theater.

“There isn’t a greater gift.”

She’s grateful a new generation of theater lovers is being cultivated by BSB public after-school programs conducted by actress-educator Patty Driscoll.

By Kurz remaining true to her vision, BSB remains vital.

“This 25 years has has a lot of ups and downs, tension, drama and worry. The thing that’s kept it going is the belief in it and the love for it.”

Visit http://www.bsbtheatre.com. Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

NEW BLUE: Blue Barn Theatre putting down new roots

August 4, 2015 2 comments

I do not write about theater a lot, but often enough to keep me in the game and I’m always eager to do it because there is nothing else like good live theater, and Omaha has more than its share of solid stage offerings. The Blue Barn Theater is one I’ve written about only from time to time. It is especially fulfilling to write about this well regarded institution again on the occasion of its soon to open new facility. Here is my new piece about the Blue Barn for Metro Magazine  (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/). It looks backwards and forwards. As fate has it, I will soon be writing more on the Blue Barn.

Ironically, I recently did another theater piece for the same magazine a few months ago, only that time on the Omaha Community Playhouse and its 90th anniversary. My opus on the Omaha Community Playhouse is at:

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/05/03/omaha-community-playhouse-takes-seriously-its-community-theater-mission/

 

NEW BLUE: Blue Barn Theatre putting down new roots

©by Leo Adam Biga

In the August-September-October issue of Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/)

 

Edgy material and intimate work have always defined “the Blue Barn way” and now this once nomadic theater finally gets a home of its own but remains committed to staying true to its rebel image.

When the Blue Barn Theatre celebrated 25 years in 2014, it joined the select ranks of Omaha’s longest-lived playmaking companies.

Now BB is putting down serious roots by moving into a new home at 10th and Pacific. A $7 million capital campaign is underwriting the newly constructed building ($5 million) with the imprint of a renowned theater consultant on it. Unusual for a theater this size, funding is to cover a $1 million operating endowment and a $1 million endowment.

Upon opening the 2015-2016 season there, BB will have in place what’s needed for another enduring run.

Stronger through the struggle
The cutting-edge theater’s founders never imagined this. They were fresh out of college diehards from New York City when they launched BB with little more than enthusiasm. Its first two decades saw consistently high quality theater tinged by crisis. The low points included a fire gutting one space, losing the lease on another, a homeless period, serious debt issues and a revolving door of leaders.

Kevin Lawler, now Great Plains Theatre Conference director, began the migration from the State University of New York in Purchase. He recalls building BB’s former Old Market space “on personal credit cards…then watching from across the street as it was destroyed by a giant fire before the first season there was completed.”

BB artistic director Susan Clement-Toberer, who’s led the theater longer than anyone else, feels it’s stronger for the struggles.

“These times when we were in financial stress and maybe made not such smart business decisions really I think strengthened the drive to create Blue Barn-style theater in this town and became a catalyst for needed growth within us. We wouldn’t be where we are now if we hadn’t gone through those tough times.”

Shared approach and consistent mission
BB’s found a niche doing provocative work. Its small but loyal following has stayed true through all the reversals of fortune.

A theater doesn’t survive on passion alone. Clement-Toberer says the BB’s made it by sticking to principles and finally growing up.

“Our mission statement from the beginning has been to produce theater that provokes thought, emotion, action and change. I think the reason we’re in the position we are now of putting down permanent roots is because we have always stayed true to our mission.”

From the start, BB set itself apart as a tight-knit cohort sharing the same ethos. Soon after Lawler’s arrival, SUNY-Purchase classmates Hughston Walkinshaw and Nils Haaland came. Mary Therese Green of Neb. joined this merry band of founders. Clement-Toberer followed.

“The voice of the Blue Barn was born through our training, individual talents, perspectives and passion for our art form,” Clement-Toberer says. “Our coming to Omaha really couldn’t be stopped whether we had one audience member or a hundred. We were kids and we were fired up, and still are, to tell stories.

“I think the play choices in the beginning were very unique and those voices were not being heard in Omaha at the time.”

“The whole endeavor was born of our deep longing to share exceptionally vibrant and surprising stories and to explore life together that way,” Lawler recalls. “When we began we had nothing more than that dream. That passion, free from any other agendas, is a big part of what makes the work at the Blue Barn so special.”

Omaha theater stalwart Jill Anderson is among several local stage artists who found something new there worth following, first as a fan, then as an actress and jill-of-all-trades. She describes how the “singular magic” of the work and “the unfettered, unconventional creativity” transfixed her and still does. “The things that set the Blue Barn apart are the consistent interest in pushing limits, exploring challenging subject matter, aiming really high in terms of talent and production values but keeping things at an intimate level so the audience feels they are a part of the story.”

For most of its history BB thrived aesthetically but lagged when it came to management.

“Artistically we’ve always been strong and we finally built our business side to kind of keep up with our artistic side,” Clement-Toberer says. “We’ve always run the Blue Barn on a shoestring budget. We’ve gone through a lot of different challenges. We’ve been through the ringer.

“But we’ve built from the very beginning the mentality of you don’t have to spend more to do great art and that’s still how the business is run.”

Resources or not, she says, BB’s always been “artistically driven.”

“It’s very unusual in its structure where the board does have say but the artistic director and the work we do is what drives our growth. It’s a very big gift that we’ve been able to retain the core values we began with 26 years ago.”

Along the way, she says, “our voice has matured in a wonderful way,” adding, “It’s still speaking the same language and feeling, just a little more fluently. Sometimes now we do a show more ‘commercially’-based, like 33 Variations. But our process remains intimate and story-driven.” The same with BB’s Our Town production to close last season.

Seeing things through
Relatively few local theater companies have enjoyed its longevity. There were periods when it wasn’t assured of making it another season, much less reaching the quarter-century mark.

“Hughston (Walkinshaw) and I took it over in 2001. Some programming choices that were big and bold ended up not getting underwritten. Then Hughston ended up leaving. I took over leadership fully.”

Looming debt threatened to dim the lights for good.

“I thought, what the hell, the worst thing I can do is close the doors. But I didn’t want the Blue Barn to close on my watch. I was like, ‘Uh-uh, not going to happen.’ It was a grow or go mentality,” Clement-Toberer says. “I think it was my time to run it. I surrounded myself with people i trusted and knew, like Shannon Walenta, my managing director. From 2008 on we started to build it. A fundraiser got us out of debt. From that point on with Shannon as my right-hand woman and the business aesthetic I learned from my father we have steered the Blue Barn to a great artistic and business balance that is fairly equal for the first time.

“I’ve learned to trust my instincts over what anybody else says. Not that I don’t take input but I’ve learned having my own voice is crucial to succeeding and growing. The same with hiring the right people.”

Production manager Amy Reiner and associate artistic director Randall Stevens are other members of her team.

Philanthropist Nancy Mammel says long before joining the BB board “I saw tremendous potential and ongoing growth for the company.” She champions its “dynamic vision” and “track record of excellence” and she feels its repaid “the generous community” support shown it.

Jill Anderson speaks for many in saluting Clement-Toberer.

“Susan has been a great steward of the theater. I think the power of her positive thinking has brought about great things for the Blue Barn. She keeps a strong and steadfast ‘can do’ attitude about the very difficult task of helming the theater. Her persistence is inspiring to me.”

Right place at the right time
There’s wide agreement, too, the theater should prosper at its new site, where it will neighbor with the Durham Museum, House of Loom, the restored Burlington Station, the booming Little Italy district and the coming Omaha Market.

“It’ll be a destination place. I love the area. It’s the perfect place for our home. I couldn’t see it anywhere else,” Clement-Toberer says.

Board member Ariel Roblin, president-general manager of KETV, which occupies the Burlington catty-corner from the new theater, says, “The Blue Barn is the perfect addition to the revitalization of South 10th Street.” She admires BB for “filling the space with great art born from a process that starts and ends with integrity and heart. This wonderful building is just a reflection of the art you will find going on inside the building.”

With the theater’s west wall opening onto green space, BB has an alfresco presence it’s never had before.

“Our indoor-outdoor convertible space is just outrageous and rife for great parties and great theater,” Clement-Toberer says. “It’s a unique set up that I believe will be limitless for opportunities to create our art.”

She says the expanded new digs and deeper resources will help BB to “stretch our wings and go to Chicago and and New York to bring in professional actors,” adding, “Our goal from the beginning has been to make the Blue Barn a regional theater.” BB also has a residence to house out-of-town actors and other artists.

She says the new theater space will retain the BB mystique.

“We’ve realized we are Blue Barn no matter where we are. Many people thought we should build a 250-seat black box and I said, ‘That’s not who we are, that’s not who we’ve ever been.’ We knew we wanted to keep the intimate quality between our audience and the stage.”

Noted project consultant Joshua Dachas suggested the new auditorium repeat the pillars that wrap around the old site’s seating area to create that same “nest-like feeling.” The pillars at the new site are fashioned from fallen trees. Area artists used reclaimed materials to fabricate various architectural features in the theater.

“All these are handmade and very Blue Barn in that nature,” Clement-Toberer says.

Reflections and appreciations
Kevin Lawler, who admires the “beautiful” new space, says, “I feel immense gratitude for having been able to be a part of the Blue Barn.”

“When we started the Blue Barn we just wanted to do theater that thrilled us. No knowledge of how to attract an audience. Just hoped they would show up,” Walkinshaw recalls. “In one of the early years we did a performance for one person. Now Blue Barn is part of Omaha’s cultural landscape and the new building totally seals that deal. To start a theater with only a dream and know it is set up now to thrive for years to come, well, being part of that legacy is profoundly gratifying.”

Clement-Toberer, too, is grateful to be there for its blooming.

“It’s an amazing adventure and opportunity for us to actually be putting down permanent roots in our own space and to do it really the Blue Barn way. It still sometimes doesn’t feel like it’s really real. But I do see an incredible stage light at the end of the tunnel as we create something that will be here long after we’re gone.”

For season details. visit http://www.bluebarn.org.

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