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Holiday book sale: “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film”

December 18, 2018 Leave a comment

Holiday book sale:

“Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film”

by Leo Adam Biga

For you and/or the film lover in your life

Retails at $26

Now on sale for $20 directly from me

(while supplies last)

Acclaimed filmmaker Alexander Payne uses satire to take the measure of his times. Award-winning writer Leo Adam Biga draws on 20 years covering the writer-director to take the measure of this singular cinema artist and his work.

 

 

Film scholar-author Thomas Schatz (“The Genius of the System”) said:

“This is without question the single best study of Alexander Payne’s films, as well as the filmmaker himself and his filmmaking process. In charting the first two decades of Payne’s remarkable career, Leo Adam Biga pieces together an indelible portrait of an independent American artist.This is an invaluable contribution to film history and criticism – and a sheer pleasure to read as well.”

National film critic Leonard Maltin said: “Alexander Payne is one of American cinema’s leading lights. How fortunate we are that Leo Biga has chronicled his rise to success so thoroughly.”

Available at this special sale price only by contacting me here or at:

402-445-4666 or leo32158@co.net

 

If you want a copy mailed to you, send a check for $25 (includes shipping and handling) made out to Leo A. Biga, along with your return address, to: 

Leo A. Biga

10629 Cuming St.

Omaha, NE 68114

Please indicate if you wish a signed copy.

 

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As screen veteran Yolonda Ross from Omaha enjoys today’s black renaissance, she gears for next big career move

December 12, 2018 Leave a comment

Yolanda Ross

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As screen veteran Yolonda Ross from Omaha enjoys today’s black renaissance, she gears for next big career move

©by Leo Adam Biga

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

In her two decades as a working screen actress Omaha native Yolonda Ross has seen Black Cinema explode and women filmmakers assert themselves. She’s “making it happen” herself as a recurring character in Showtime’s The Chi after recurring parts in How to Murder Your Wife, The Get Down and Treme. She’s in HBO’s latest hit Random Acts of Flyness. She plays opposite Patricia Clarkson, James Caan and Toby Jones in the new indie feature Out of Blue.

Next spring, she breakouts behind the camera for her feature writing-directing debut, Scenes from Our Marriage. It shoots in her adopted hometown New York City with the same production team from the 2012 short Breaking Night she wrote-directed. She’s also executive producing and starring in Scenes. She and Clarke Peters are husband and wife theater artists dealing with professional challenges, jealousy, infidelity and race.

Omaha native Tim Christian’s Nightfox Entertainment is co-producing.

Ross left Omaha for NYC to pursue a fashion career. The multitalented artist (she also sings and paints) is glad for more opportunities today than ever.

“Yeah, this is a great time to be a black creative in our industry,” Ross said.

The emergence of Shonda Lynn Rhimes, Lena Waithe, Ryan Coogler, Jordan Peele, Terence Nance and other black TV-film players marks a wave if not sea change.

“Things have improved some,” Ross said. “I think it’s great there’s more people of color telling their own stories and not having pretty much the white race telling everybody else’s story. It makes for more specific voices for people to really see themselves on screen. It’s from a more authentic place because it’s coming from the people that live it.

“There’s still a lot of change that can happen though. There needs to be more people of color on the other side as far as green-lighting and distributing because you can produce things, but that still doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to get picked up.”

Ross has also seen her industry change in terms of how talent and content get discovered.

“Now having the Internet very much planted in the middle of everything, because you can stream everything, definitely has broadened the industry and made it smaller at the same time. There’s a whole crop of people that are stars now for not really doing anything but talking to a camera telling you about something, which is not actually acting.

“They’re just very different things.”

She sees a content glut.

“I feel it’s all very saturated right now. There’s an overload of material out there. You have to really look for the quality stuff. As far as acting, I feel if you are at the top of what you do in your work, the cream of the crop still rises no matter the clutter. You just have a lot more to get around than before because everybody’s jumbled up into one big industry.”

Concurrent with these trends are new funding, production, distribution mechanisms to help women get their work seen and supported.

“It’s wonderful,” said Ross, who’s worked with many women directors (Cheryl Dunye, Reed Morano, Carol Morley).

Her upcoming feature is getting love from Level Forward, a female-run production company supporting women’s stories and women of color.

Her project is also nurtured by Film Independent and its Fiscal Sponsorship Program, which opens the door to nonprofit funding for independent filmmakers and media artists. The Friends of Mary Riepma Ross (no relation) Media Arts Center in Lincoln, Nebraska made a grant to her project through the program.

“My film is also going to be in Film Independent Fast Track,” Ross said. The film financing market held during the LA Film Festival helps producers-directors “fast track” their projects via intensive meetings with executives, financiers, agents, managers, distributors, granting organizations and production companies.

Meanwhile, Ross, who’s worked with Denzel Washington, John Sayles, David Mamet and Baz Luhrmann, continues keeping good company. Being part of Terence Nance’s Flyness is the latest example.

“I think Terence is one of those voices we need to see. We need his Afropunk voice. We need voices like his. We need Lena Waithe’s voice. We need my voice. We need these different kinds of voices with black skin to show that we are not all the same. We don’t all think the same, we don’t all process things the same.”

Ross has prepared to make her own feature for years.

“I’m really psyched about it. We have a lot of things to say. I’m so ready. All the directors I’ve worked with, all the Sundance labs I’ve done, all the different mediums I’ve worked in – it all helps with making my own first feature film. Also, I feel I understand how to deal with other actors to get emotion without over-talking, overdoing things – but just letting people do their work.

“My experience working with so many people allows me to get the best actors, and they’re willing to do favors, which is great. In terms of production, I understand how to get things in an efficient way because I’ve dealt with so many different types of situations. I’m able to look at things from the outside in and from the inside out, where sometimes directors kind of get stuck in the writing or the set. I also have a strong team around me to keep me on track so that I can lock down and streamline what I want to get in a moment, in a scene.”

Doing Breaking Night was “extremely important,” she said. “I needed to learn every step in making a film – from writing it to getting it out to festivals. Not only did I learn everybody’s job, I dealt with everything from insurance to licensing music. I needed to understand the business side. It’s helped me preparing to make this feature. I can talk to my producers about different elements and guide the project in a way that will be bes as far as time, money, creatively, everything.

“I like the producing aspects of filmmaking.”

Her screen journey began in earnest with her breakthrough in the 2001 HBO movie Stranger Inside.

“When you’re in it, sometimes you don’t look back on it because everything is about the next job. You’re always striving for more. Whatever you did in the past is great, but it’s also the past. But I’m very thankful to be here and to be able to have touched people in various ways. I’m thankful to continue to work on great projects and to be able to support myself by doing my passion, my art.”

She’s never forgotten her roots.

“I’m always down to do things in Omaha. I was just there (May) at the Dundee Theater for a panel on women in television. Supporting artists there is totally my thing. I feel seeing people who grew up in the same setting as you living their dream is a really powerful thing.”

Visit yolondaross.com.

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

 

Putting it on the Line: Omaha’s Amber Ruffin making a name for herself in late-night TV

December 8, 2018 Leave a comment

Omaha’s Amber Ruffin has so much to say and so much going on that I couldn’t fit it all into one story. That’s why in addition to the recent Omaha Star cover story I did on her, I wrote a Reader feature on this writer-actress best known for “Late Night With Seth Meyers.” While she came to national attention with her work on that show, she’s no overnight sensation. She put many years into an improvisational comedy career before network TV gave her a mass media platform for her talents. Her performing start goes clear back to Omaha Benson High School and local theaters.

But first, here are some thoughts about Amber and her being part of a long legacy of African-Americans with Nebraska ties making their marks in the entertainment industry.

Amber Ruffin: A consideration

For the second year in a row Ruffin came home to headline the Inclusive Communities FriendsGiving event.

There’s little doubt we will be hearing and seeing a lot more from this smart, engaging writer-performer who often skewers wrongdoers and haters with her subversive, silly, serious takes. Her humor, especially when it deals with race and other social justice issues, resonates strongly because it’s grounded in reality and truth, I wouldn’t be surprised if she proves herself a fine dramatic actress as well.

She’s part of an impressive contingent of black creatives from here to make their mark variously in music, theater, film, television, literature and media.

These talents include:
Noble and George Johnson
Lloyd Hunter
Preston Love Sr.
Wynonie Harris
Anna Mae Winburn
Mildred Brown
Helen Jones Woods
Ruth Norman
Buddy Miles
Arno Lucas
Calvin Keys
Victor Lewis
Cathy Hughes
Carol Rogers
Nole Jeanpierre
Lois “Lady Mac” McMorris
John Beasley
Monty Ross
Kevyn Morrow
Randy Goodwin
Camille Steed
Sandra Organ
Alfred Liggins Jr.
Jade Jenise Dixon
Gabrielle Union
Yolonda Ross
Q Smith
Carleen Brice
Kim Louise
Victoria Benning
Omowale Akintunde
Michael Beasley
Lafayette Reed Jr.
Tim Christian
Beaufield Berry
Symone Sanders
Chanelle Elaine

 

Putting it on the Line

Omaha’s Amber Ruffin making a name for herself in late-night TV

©by Leo Adam Biga

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

 

Since joining NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers” in 2014 as a writer-performer, Omaha native Amber Ruffin has made a name for herself. The gig made her the first black female writer in U.S. late-night network television.

Her strong Afro-centric takes on social issues are part of a disarming package. She can be sweet, silly, manic comedian or edgy commentator and provocateur.

In the recurring “Late Night” segments “Amber Says What” and “Amber’s One-Minute of Fury,” she skewers newsmakers and outs injustice. Her subversive bits play like funny truth sessions by a righteous sister reporting from the trenches of Being Black in America.

“That’s my goal,” Ruffin said. “You’ll never be wrong when you say police should stop murdering children in the street. That (racism) being a lot of my subject matter just gives me tremendous confidence because it’s never been more right and it’s never been more important.”

This fresh TV face and voice is steeped in a long, deep improv background that started here and took her to comedy capitals. Last month she came home to display her authentic, unvarnished self during an Inclusive Communities event at Slowdown. The audience got a taste of her formidable improv skills.

Replicating improv on TV is elusive.

“Oh, how I wish the feeling of improv translated to television. A lot of people have tried to get that feeling in a show, but it’s pretty difficult.”

Playing off a live audience is crucial.

“You’re constantly adjusting your tone, cadence because you have instant feedback and that allows you to give the best performance.”

Working in a corporate culture is still an adjustment.

“It is crazy for comedy to exist in an office. I’d never seen it before I was a part of it. I still find it shocking that it works.”

She’s learned to work within network TV boundaries.

“You can’t be crazy politically incorrect. When you’re on stage doing improv it only exists in that moment, so you can say whatever comes to mind, but on this show whatever you say exists forever. So you have to get it right so that 20 years from now when someone plays it you’ll still stand by it.”

Going out on a limb is a Ruffin trait.

“We are a little adventurous,” Ruffin said of her family. “My mom graduated high school at 16. Every summer she went to New York to find out what the world was about. My oldest sister lived in Panama. Another sister lived in Namibia. It’s just in our bones to see what’s out there.”

Her retired military parents are from the South. They met at Offutt Air Force Base. They later ran their own daycare business. Amber’s the youngest of their five children. Her sisters are also published writers.

Growing up, Ruffin used humor as escape.

“Humor WAS my way to survive. When kids make fun of you, it’s nice to give them something else to laugh at.”

That experience still informs her.

“My day-to-day humor stems from a need to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable and happy, which stems from getting made fun of so badly. It’s assumed people use comedy to put up walls, but I think in many cases the opposite is true. I can say exactly how I feel no matter how uncomfortable it makes you – if there’s a joke attached.”

Musically and dramatically inclined (she plays piano and sings), she developed an early passion for theater.

“I just love musicals.”

The movie The Wiz made a big impression for more than the music.

“It was rare to see a show with an all-black cast that has nothing to do with being black,” she said. “Often times, black people have to talk about their experience being black to be valued. But these people didn’t. It was just a story of joy. The movie, the live musical, every performance of it leaves so much room for you to express yourself. It reminds us the world wants us at our weirdest. When you pretend to fit in, you fade away.”

She contributed to the book of a new stage version of The Wiz that premiered in June at The Muny amphitheater in St. Louis. She hopes a national tour comes here on what could be a Broadway-bound path.

“What distinguishes our version is its timelessness. I wanted it to never have to be rewritten again.”

The stage bug bit while playing Princess Winnifred in an Omaha Benson High production of Once Upon a Mattress. The Benson grad honed her craft via Stages of Omaha at the Millennium Theatre. She did improv at the Shelterbelt and Blue Barn.

Encouraged to try it in Chi-Town, she caught on with Boom Chicago – working with Jordan Peele, Matt Jones and Jessica Lowe – and then Second City. In between, she did a stint with Boom’s company in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Within days of an unsuccessful “SNL” audition, she got hired by “SNL” and Boom alum Seth Meyers.

“I think it’s been a natural progression because I have always been writing my own black point of view. I haven’t found it (TV) to be too crazy because at Boom Chicago we would do short form, where the audience suggests the set-up and then you have to deliver punch lines. You have three or four seconds to come up with something. But on “Late Night” I have all day to come up with a punch line. It’s much more relaxed.”

She usually has a week to hone her “Late Night” routines.

“You write it up and you rewrite it a bunch and you show it to the audience and you get one last rewrite and then it has to go in the show.”

She believes she provides a good change-up.

“Because Seth is so grounded in his comedy there is room for an insane person like me.”

She doesn’t make a big deal about having been the first black female writer in the late-night lane.

“I am not sure if any of that matters. What matters is knowing that we exist and being able to see us. What matters is that everyone knows there’s room for them – because there is.”

She says she was long ready for the opportunity. “I could have done this job years ago, for sure.” But happening when it did kept her real. “Now that I’m in this environment, I’m still me. If I had got this job years ago, I would have bent to what the culture was, and it’s my not having done that has made my career what it is.”

Her go-to topic, racism. is informed by her travels.

“The racism in Omaha is different than anywhere else. We don’t have a huge history of lynchings, scary slavery and Confederate monuments, and so we feel we are above racism, which is what puts us so far beneath it. No one’s really angry because you’re a black woman. People don’t think of you as much as a threat. They just think you are kind of gross.

“Omaha’s pretty bad. It’s way less in Chicago. In Amsterdam, way less, but still there – just a different kind. In L.A., there’s less palpable racism. It’s all institutionalized instead of in your face. In New York, people say something the tiniest bit racist and everyone knows it and sees it. It has gone from me being gross to racism itself being the gross thing, which is a relief.

“Now racism is fixed and over, so we win. Just kidding.”

Coming of age here, she craved diversity.

“I remember being in Omaha and just wanting there to be more me and to have a place where you felt like you could belong, and there wasn’t. I still don’t have a lot of me. I just see how critically important it is, especially for young kids.”

Her diversity advocacy made her an apt choice as special guest for the Inclusive Communities FriendsGiving fundraiser.

Meanwhile, she has an NBC development deal for a show, “Village Gazette,” on which she has co-writing and executive producer credits. It’s set in fictional Benson, Nebraska. The name is inspired by her real-life alma mater, Benson High, and the neighborhood that school is in.

She’s also writing feature film scripts. And she can be seen on Comedy Central’s “The Detroiters” and “Drunk History.”

“I shouldn’t be doing this many things, but I figure you only have so much time. I want to give it a shot.”

Follow Amber on Facebook and Twitter.

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

Funny, yet serious, to the core: The Amber Ruffin story

November 25, 2018 Leave a comment

Add Amber Ruffin to the roster of folks with Omaha roots to find success beyond here in stage-screen-media. The writer-performer got her start in theater and improvisation in her native Omaha. After years honing her craft with major improv troupes around he U.S. and abroad, she broke onto the national scene by joining the writing staff and cast of “Late Night with Seth Meyers” in 2014. She also has a presence on Comedy Central. She’s working on developing her own TV show and she recently co-wrote a new stage adaptation of “The Wiz.”

For the second year in a row Ruffin has come home to headline the Inclusive Communities FriendsGiving event (this year’s iteration is today from Noon to 2 p.m. at Slowdown).

There’s little doubt we will be hearing and seeing a lot more from this smart, engaging writer-performer who often skewers wrongdoers and haters with her subversive, silly, serious takes. Her humor, especially when it deals with race and other social justice issues, resonates strongly because it’s grounded in reality and truth, I wouldn’t be surprised if she proves herself a fine dramatic actress as well.

She’s part of an impressive contingent of black creatives from here to make their mark variously in music, theater, film, television, literature and media.

These talents include:

Noble and George Johnson

Lloyd Hunter

Preston Love Sr.

Wynonie Harris

Anna Mae Winburn

Mildred Brown

Helen Jones Woods

Ruth Norman

Buddy Miles

Arno Lucas

Calvin Keys

Victor Lewis

Cathy Hughes

Carol Rogers

Nole Jeanpierre

Lois “Lady Mac” McMorris

John Beasley

Monty Ross

Kevyn Morrow

Randy Goodwin

Camille Steed

Sandra Organ

Alfred Liggins Jr.

Jade Jenise Dixon

Gabrielle Union

Yolonda Ross

Q Smith

Carleen Brice

Kim Louise

Victoria Benning

Omowale Akintunde

Michael Beasley

Lafayette Reed Jr.

Tim Christian

Beaufield Berry

Symone Sanders

Chanelle Elaine

Funny, yet serious, to the core: 

The Amber Ruffin story

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in the Nov. 16, 2018 issue of The Omaha Star (https://theomahastar.com)

NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers” gives more than lip service to diversity thanks to Omaha native Amber Ruffin, a writer-performer on the New York-based show.

She’s a singular presence for her strong Afro-centric takes on social issues. She became the first black female writer in U.S. late night network television when she joined the staff in 2014. It marked her national debut. But she’s no newcomer. She comes from a deep improv background that started here and took her to comedy capitals.

In the recurring “Late Night” segments “Amber Says What” and “Amber’s One-Minute of Fury” she calls out newsmakers for everything from their stupid attire to their ugly rhetoric to their heinous acts. Her subversive bits play like funny truth sessions by a righteous sister reporting from the trenches of Being Black in America.

“That’s my goal,” Ruffin said. “You’ll never be wrong when you say police should stop murdering children in the street. That (hate) being a lot of my subject matter just gives me tremendous confidence because it’s never been more right and it’s never been more important.”

The writer-actress headlines the Sunday, November 25 Inclusive Communities (IC) FriendsGiving at Slowdown.

Her high-energy performances sometimes find her flitting across stage as cameras try tracking her. While she can be serious when making a point, her default personality is sweet, silly, manic. She was voted Class Clown at Omaha Benson High School,

It seems this dynamo hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

“You think I’m a happy person, whoo-whee, my parents are really happy,” said Amber, whose mother was voted Class Clown at her high school in Savannah, Georgia.

As a kid, Amber used humor to deflect the hurtful things classmates said about her then-homely looks. Nobody thinks the vivacious Ruffin is homely anymore.

“Humor WAS my way to survive. When kids make fun of you, it’s nice to give them something else to laugh at.”

That experience still informs her.

“My day to day humor stems from a need to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable and happy, which stems from getting made fun of so badly. It’s assumed people use comedy to put up walls, but I think in many cases the opposite is true. I can say exactly how I feel no matter how uncomfortable it makes you – if there’s a joke attached.”

Her folks, Theresa and James Ruffin, are both from the South, They met at Offutt Air Fore Base while serving in the military. They later ran their own business, T and J Daycare Centers. Amber’s the youngest of their five children. She’ll be with family over the holiday when she comes home for the IC event. It’s her second year in a row doing it.

IC Executive Director Maggie Wood said Ruffin’s humor is appreciated by the organization.

“We know how heavy this work can be and the levity of laughter makes us a little more resilient to confront prejudice, bigotry and discrimination.”

Instead of a stand-up set or a speech, Ruffin will engage in conversation with the IC team on stage in response to some loosely scripted questions.

“Our donors, volunteers and supporters all know we need to face this work head on. That’s exactly what Amber does in her commentary. We’re so excited to have her back,” Wood said.

Growing up, Ruffin acutely felt Omaha’s lack of diversity.

“I remember just wanting there to be more me, and there wasn’t. I still don’t have a lot of me. I’ve seen how important it is to have a place where you feel like you can belong and I’m also quite jealous of it because I’ve never had just a place like that where you can be as you as you want to be.”

Theresa Ruffin said dealing with Omaha’s lack of diversity “was challenging to say the least.” When she worked at Peter Kiewit Corp. for a year, she said, “I was the only black person in the building.”

Though Amber didn’t have any immediate show business role models, she gravitated to performing. She played piano at Omaha Trinity Hope Foursquare Church. She also developed an early love of theater.

“I just love musicals,” she said.

She got the bug playing Princess Winnifred in a Benson High production of Once Upon a Mattress.

“I just spent so much time watching theater and doing a lot of theater that everything I love is theater-based.”

Going out on a limb is a Ruffin trait.

“We are a little adventurous,” Amber said. “My mom graduated high school at 16. Every summer she went to New York to find out what the world was about. My oldest sister lived in Panama. Another sister lived in Namibia. It’s just in our bones to see what’s out there.”

Her sisters are also published writers.

The movie The Wiz made a big impression on Amber.

“Many people believe The Wiz has the best music of any musical. I am one of those people. It was also rare to see a show with an all black cast that has nothing to be with being black. Often times, black people have to talk about their experience with being black to be valued. But these people didn’t. It was just a story of joy.”

She’s contributed to the book of a new stage version of The Wiz that premiered in June at the 11,000-seat Muny amphitheater in St. Louis.

“I rewrote the words with the original writer (William F. Brown) who is 91 in April. I have written a few musicals and my love of The Wiz is no secret. We’re going to take it on tour and see how close to Broadway we can get.

“One of the things that stands out to me about our version is that it is timeless. The original Wiz is very much of that era, like many rewrites since. I wanted our Wiz to never have to be rewritten again. It could be from this year, or 20 years ago or 20 years from now.”

Writing musicals has become a new niche.

“I just always assumed because it’s the funnest thing to write, everybody was writing musicals. But it turns out not a lot of people are. So, yeah, I’ll do it.”

Performing in a musical may be another matter.

“I can sing just fine, but I don’t know that I’d ever be in a musical, unless I wrote one for myself.”

 

 

She honed her craft via Stages of Omaha at the Millennium Theatre. She did improv at the Shelterbelt and Blue Barn.

“We had the best time. It’s how I learned that I love improv. To be a good improviser, you just have to trust whoever you’re improvising with. If you treat them like a genius, you’ll both end up looking good.”

Encouraged to try it in Chi-Town, she caught on with Boom Chicago – where she worked with Jordan Peele, Matt Jones and Jessica Lowe – and then Second City. In between, she did a stint with Boom’s company in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

“Boom Chicago was terrifying and it was bad for awhile and there was nothing I could do. I just had to keep trying to survive. I didn’t have a college degree. I didn’t have a lot of money. So there were times when I wanted to go home so bad, But I just had to stay. Thank God I did because it turned out great.”

Her parents encouraged her through the tough times.

“Because they think I’m great because they’re my parents, they were like, ‘You’re excellent and soon        everyone will be able to see that.’ That was very sweet of them.”

Ironically, she met her Dutch husband, Jan, in America. The couple struggled in L.A. for a period. She feels it only made them stronger.

“I did a lot of my own projects. I wrote musicals, made a bunch of funny videos and really did what I wanted to do. Financially, I struggled, but I also had a great time.”

An unsuccessful “SNL” audition was soon followed by “SNL” and Boom alum Seth Meyers hiring her.

“Those two things happened within days of each other,” Theresa Ruffin recalled. “Amber was very down about ‘SNL’ and over the moon when Seth called.”

Going from improv to “Late Night” has been seamless for Amber. “I think it’s been a natural progression because I have always been writing my own black point of view. “I vastly prefer a live audience to just being in front of a camera alone. Improvisers make a thousand corrections a minute every performance until they figure out what the audience likes. You can do that with scripted material, too.”

Being the designated comic who outs racism, narcissism and mendacity, she said, is “this odd space to exist in.”

“I kind of feel like if I don’t say it people might feel desperate and insane. I have to be like, Okay, the president said that, and that’s cuckoo, and you do not have to accept it  It sounds silly but it feels so good to have an adult say you’re a human being and you shouldn’t be treated like this. Until you hear it from someone you do not know and have never met,

it doesn’t carry the same weight.”

Theresa Ruffin loves that her daughter echoes what many black Americans feel. “She says most of the things we are already thinking.”

Every time Amber outs someone’s misbehavior, her mother said it’s cause to shout, “THAT’S OUR GIRL.”

As brutally honest as Amber is on “Late Night,” she must deal with network censors, which is why she feels she was “rowdier and took more chances” doing improv.

On her way up, she met one of her biggest influences, Whoopi Goldberg. “She’s great,” Ruffin said.

Amber’s close friend since childhood, Kristina Haecke of Omaha, said watching her bestie’s breakthrough has been “awesome and great but mostly it has been completely expected..” Haecke insists fame hasn’t changed Ruffin, calling her “very down to earth” and “almost too calm about it.”

Grounded, too. “Her on-screen is her off-screen, just with a platform,” said Haecke.

Fame hasn’t changed Ruffin’s lifestyle. Yet. “Maybe someone recognizes me on the street once a week. No one cares. So when someone says, ‘Hey, Amber.’ I still think it’s pretty neat.”

Her celebrity may grow should a new TV show she’s trying to get off the ground escapes the development hell that befell her previous attempts as a producer.

“I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say it, but I’m going to because I don’t know what the rules are. I have a show called ‘Village Gazette,’ which is the third show I’ve sold to NBC. The premise of it is I am the editor of a small town newspaper in Benson, Nebraska. The owner’s nephew is a big shot reporter fallen from grace after making up a story that people find out is false. He gets fired and this is the only job he can get and he doesn’t want to be in this small town. But then he realizes we’re not so bad.”

Her “boatload of other projects” includes movie scripts she’s’ writing. She also pulls duty on Comedy Central’s “The Detroiters” and “Drunk History.”

By now, she’s mostly over having cracked the glass ceiling in late night, though she feels she did strike a blow for inclusion.

“What matters is knowing that we exist and being able to see us. What matters is that everyone knows there’s room for them because there is.”

Follow Amber on Facebook and Twitter.

Tickets to FriendsGiving with Amber Ruffin are $25 and include one drink and heavy hors d’oeuvres..The event is from Noon to 2 p.m.

Visit http://www.inclusive-communities.org for more details and to purchase tickets.

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

Life Itself XVII: To All the Writers I’ve Loved Before – 25 Years of Stories About Writers and Writing

August 23, 2018 Leave a comment

Life Itself XVII:

 To All the Writers I’ve Loved Before – 25 Years of Stories About Writers and Writing

 

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

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/08/05/noah-diaz-making…anies-nationwide

Journalist-author Genoways takes micro and macro look at the U.S, food system

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/06/06/journalist-autho…u-s-food-syystem

Things coming full circle for Doug Marr, Phil’s Diner Series and Circle Theatre

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/04/24/things-coming-fu…d-circle-theatre/

 

 

Doug_Laura Marr

Doug Marr and wife Laura Marr

 

A book a day keeps the blues aways for avid reader and writer Ashley Xiques

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/03/03/a-book-a-day-kee…er-ashley-xiques

Voyager Bud Shaw gives up scalpel for pen

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/04/20/voyager-bud-shaw…-scalpel-for-pen

Kevin Simonson on Interviewing Hunter S. Thompson and Kurt Vonnegut

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/03/05/kevin-simonson-o…nd-kurt-vonnegut/

Literary star Ron Hansen revisits the Old West in new novel “The Kid”

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/08/25/literary-star-ro…ew-novel-the-kid/

 

Ron Hansen

 

 

Noah Diaz:

Metro theater’s man for all seasons and stages

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/07/19/noah-diaz-metro-…asons-and-stages

Old Hollywood hand living in Omaha comes out of the shadows: Screenwriter John Kaye scripted “American Hot Wax” and more

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/01/30/old-hollywood-ha…hot-wax-and-more

Bomb girl Zedeka Poindexter draws on family, food and angst for her poetry

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/03/11/zedeka-poindexte…t-for-her-poetry/

Playwright turned history detective Max Sparber turns identity search inward

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/02/07/playwright-turne…ty-search-inward/

Paul Johnsgard:

A birder’s road less traveled

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/06/24/paul-johnsgard-a…ad-less-traveled

Lew Hunter’s small town Nebraska boy made good in Hollywood story is a doozy

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/02/25/lew-hunters-smal…story-is-a-doozy

 

Hunter, Coppola B & W

Lew Hunter with Francis Ford Coppola

 

 

Alesia Lester: A Conversation in the Gossip Salon

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/03/09/alesia-lester-a-…the-gossip-salon/

Hardy’s one-man “A Christmas Carol” highlights Dickens-themed literary festival

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/11/03/hardys-one-man-a…iterary-festival/

Omaha World-Herald columnist Mike Kelly: 

A storyteller for all seasons

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/04/02/omaha-world-hera…-for-all-seasons/

 

 

Mike Kelly

Mike Kelly

 

 

Creative couple: Bob and Connie Spittler and their shared creative life 60 years in the making

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/12/23/bob-and-connie-s…rs-in-the-making/

A WASP’s racial tightrope resulted in enduring book partially set in 1960s Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/10/28/a-wasps-racial-t…t-in-1960s-omaha/

Alex Kava:

Bestselling mystery author still going strong

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/11/03/alex-kava-bestse…ill-going-strong/

Yolonda Ross adds writer-director to actress credits; In new movies by Mamet and Sayles as her own “Breaking Night” makes festival circuit

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/02/28/yolonda-ross-add…festival-circuit/

Omahans put spin on Stephen King’s “The Shining” – Jason Levering leads stage adaptation of horror classic to benefit Benson Theatre Project

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/03/17/omahans-put-thei…-theatre-project

Omaha author Timothy Schaffert delivers again with his new novel, “The Swan Gondola”

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/03/07/omaha-author-tim…the-swan-gondola/

Timothy Schaffert is seeking materials from the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition for an online archive.

Timothy Schaffert

 

The Omaha Star celebrates 75 years of black woman legacy

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/04/11/the-omaha-star-c…ack-woman-legacy/

Ex-reporter Eileen Wirth pens book on Nebraska women in journalism and their leap from society page to front page

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/03/22/ex-reporter-eile…ge-to-front-page/

Bob Hoig’s unintended entree into journalism leads to career six decades strong

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/01/25/bob-hoigs-uninte…cades-strong-now/

Wounded Knee still battleground for some per new book by journalist-author Stew Magnuson

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/04/20/wounded-knee-sti…or-stew-magnuson/

Omaha native Steve Marantz looks back at city’s ’68 racial divide through prism of hoops in new book, “The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central”

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/04/01/omaha-native-ste…of-omaha-central/

 

 

 

From the heart: Tunette Powell tells it like it is

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/03/10/from-the-heart-t…ls-it-like-it-is/

Finding her voice: Tunette Powell comes out of the dark and into the spotlight

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/01/24/finding-her-voic…to-the-spotlight/

Omowale Akintunde film “Wigger” deconstructs what race means in a faux post-racial world

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/21/deconstructing-w…ost-racial-world/

Beware the Singularity, singing the retribution blues: New works by Rick Dooling

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/10/10/beware-the-singu…-by-rick-dooling/

 

 

Richard Dooling's photo.

Richard Dooling

 

 

Lit Fest delves into what we fear, how we relate in extremis

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/10/09/lit-fest-delves-…late-in-extremis/

Omaha Lit Fest puts focus on Women Writers and Women in Publishing

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/10/06/omaha-lit-fest-p…en-in-publishing

Omaha Lit Fest Offers a Written Word Feast

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/10/18/omaha-lit-fest-o…itten-word-feast

Writing close to her heart: Author Joy Castro

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/11/23/author-joy-castr…in-two-new-books/

Ron Hull reviews his remarkable life in public television in new memoir

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/10/06/8945/

Ferial Pearson, award-winning educator dedicated to inclusion and social justice, helps students publish the stories of their lives

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/25/ferial-pearson-a…s-of-their-lives

Lit Fest brings author Carleen Brice back home flush with success of first novel, “Orange Mint and Honey”

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/02/lit-fest-brings-…e-mint-and-honey/

Novel’s mother-daughter thing makes it to the screen

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/10/26/novel’s-mother-d…it-to-the-screen

 

 

Carleen Brice

 

 

Sun reflection: Revisiting the Omaha Sun’s Pulitzer Prize-winning expose of Boys Town

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/04/28/sun-reflection-r…ose-on-boys-town

Alexander Payne and Kaui Hart Hemmings on the symbiosis behind his film and her novel “The Descendants” and how she helped get Hawaii right

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/01/23/alexander-payne-…get-hawaii-right/

Thy kingdom come: Richard Dooling’s TV teaming with Stephen King

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/08/16/thy-kingdom-come…ith-stephen-king/

Buffalo Bill’s Coming Out Party Courtesy Author-Balladeer Bobby Bridger

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/06/buffalo-bills-co…er-bobby-bridger/

 

 

 

The Worth of Things Explored by Sean Doolittle in his New Crime Novel “The Cleanup”

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/02/the-worth-of-thi…ovel-the-cleanup/

When Safe Isn’t Safe at All, Author Sean Doolittle Spins a Home Security Cautionary Tale

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/19/when-safe-isnt-s…-cautionary-tale/

Acclaimed Author and Nebraska New Wave Literary Leader Timothy Schaffert

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/18/nebraska-new-wav…imothy-schaffert/

A Man of His Words, Nebraska State Poet William Kloefkorn

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/07/a-man-of-his-wor…illiam-kloefkorn/

 

Bill and Eloise KloefkornJACOB HANNAH / Lincoln Journal Star

 

Kurt Andersen’s new novel “True Believers” revisits 1960s through reformed radical breaking her silence

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/28/kurt-andersens-n…king-her-silence/

Dissecting Jesse James

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/10/10/dissecting-jesse-james

Ron Hansen’s masterful outlaw blues novel about Jesse James and Robert Ford faithfully interpreted on screen

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/27/ron-hansens-mast…preted-on-screen

Playwright Carlos Murillo’s work explores personal mythmaking

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/26/playwright-carlo…sonal-mythmaking

The Many Worlds of Science Fiction Author Robert Reed

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/22/the-many-worlds-…thor-robert-reed

He knows it when he sees it: Journalist-social critic Robert Jensen finds patriarchy and white supremacy in porn

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/17/i-know-it-when-i…upremacy-in-porn

Litniks Unite! The Downtown Omaha Lit Fest brings writers, artists and readers together in celebration of the written word

Litniks Unite! The Downtown Omaha Lit Fest brings writers, artists and readers together in celebration of the written word

 

photo

Omaha Lit Fest: In praise of writers and their words: Jami Attenberg and Will Clarke among featured authors

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/19/omaha-lit-fest-i…featured-authors/

Omaha playwright Beaufield Berry comes into her own with original comedy “Psycho Ex Girlfriend”

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/04/20/omaha-playwright…iend-now-playing/

Omaha Lit Fest: “People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like”

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/10/07/omaha-lit-fest-p…-thing-they-like/

Martin Landau and Nik Fackler discuss working together on “Lovely, Still” and why they believe so strongly in each other and in their new film

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/09/23/martin-landau-an…-in-the-new-film/

Martin Landau and Nik Fackler

 

 

“Lovely, Still,” that rare film depicting seniors in all their humanity, earns writer-director Nik Fackler Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best First Screenplay

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/12/03/lovely-still-tha…first-screenplay/

Filmmaker Nik Fackler’s magic realism reaches the big screen in “Lovely, Still”

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/18/when-dreams-that…neath-do-surface

Nik Fackler, the Film Dude Establishes Himself a Major New Cinema Figure with “Lovely, Still”

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/18/the-film-dude-es…ew-cinema-figure/

Writers Joy Castro and Amelia Maria de la Luz Montes explore being women of color who go from poverty to privilege

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/05/12/writers-joy-cast…rty-to-privilege/

Being Jack Moskovitz: Grizzled former civil servant and DJ, now actor and fiction author, still waiting to be discovered

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/05/being-jack-mosko…to-be-discovered/

 

With his new novel, “The Coffins of Little Hope,” Timothy Schaffert’s back delighting in the curiosities of American Gothic

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/04/13/with-his-new-nov…-american-gothic/

Timothy Schaffert Gets Down and Dirty with his New Novel “Devils in the Sugar Shop”

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/29/timothy-schaffer…n-the-sugar-shop/

Rachel Shukert’s anything but a travel agent’s recommended guide to a European grand tour

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/05/rachel-shukerts-…opean-grand-tour/

Author Rachel Shukert: A nice Jewish girl gone wild and other regrettable stories

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/05/author-rachel-sh…rettable-stories/

 

Rachel Shukert

 

 

After whirlwind tenure as Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser goes gently back to the prairie, to where the wild plums grow

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/19/after-a-whirlwin…-wild-plums-grow/

Keeper of the Flame: Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Ted Kooser

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/19/keeper-of-the-fl…inner-ted-kooser

 

ted-kooser.jpg

Ted Kooser

 

 

Being Dick Cavett

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/12/04/being-dick-cavett-2/

Homecoming always sweet for Dick Cavett, the entertainment legend whose dreams of show biz Success were fired in Nebraska

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/12/04/homecoming-is-al…ed-in-nebraska-2/

 

Dick Cavett

 

 

Dream catcher Lew Hunter: Screenwriting guru of the Great Plains

http://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/09/dream-catcher-lew-hunter/

Q & A with playwright Caridad Svich, featured artist at Great Plains Theatre Conference

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/02/a-q-a-with-playw…eatre-conference/

Featured Great Plains Theatre Conference playwright Caridad Svich explores bicultural themes

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/05/29/featured-great-p…icultural-themes

Playwright-screenwriter John Guare talks shop on Omaha visit celebrating his acclaimed “Six Degrees of Separation”

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/02/playwright-john-…es-of-separation/

Attention must be paid: Arthur Kopit invokes Arthur Miller to describe Great Plains Theatre Conference focus on the work of playwrights

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/05/29/attention-must-b…s-and-their-work/

Q & A with Edward Albee: His thoughts on the Great Plains Theatre Conference, Jo Ann McDowell, Omaha and preparing a new generation of playwrights

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/05/29/a-q-a-with-edwar…n-of-playwrights/

Great Plains Theatre Conference ushers in new era of Omaha theater

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/05/28/great-plains-the…of-omaha-theater/

 

John Guare

 

 

Hard times ring sweet in the soulful words of singer-songwriter-author Laura Love, daughter of the late jazz man, Preston Love Sr.

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/01/hard-times-ring-…uthor-laura-love

Gospel playwright Llana Smith enjoys her Big Mama’s time

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/07/gospel-playwrigh…r-big-mamas-time

Blizzard Voices:

Stories from the Great White Shroud

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/07/27/blizzard-voices-…eat-white-shroud

Click Westin, back in the screenwriting game again at age 83

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/11/click-westin-bac…-again-at-age-83/

“The Bagel: An Immigrant’s Story” – Joan Micklin Silver and Matthew Goodman team up for new documentary

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/03/16/the-bagel-an-imm…documentary-film

Actor Peter Riegert makes fine feature directorial debut with “King of the Corner”

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/05/12/actor-peter-rieg…ng-of-the-corner/

Talking screenwriting with Hollywood heavyweight Hawk Ostby: Omaha Film Festival panelist counts “Children of Men” and “Iron Man” among credits

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/03/02/talking-screenwr…mong-his-credits/

 

Hawk Ostby

 

 

Tempting fate: Patrick Coyle film “Into Temptation” delivers gritty tale of working girl and idealistic priest in search of redemption

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/09/tempting-fate-pa…ch-of-redemption/

Otis Twelve’s Radio Days

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/otis-twelves-radio-days/

Three old wise men of journalism – Hlavacek, Michaels and Desfor – recall their foreign correspondent careers and reflect on the world today

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/18/three-old-wise-men-of-journalism/

John and Pegge Hlavacek’s globe-trotting adventures as foreign correspondents

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/02/john-and-pegge-h…n-correspondents/

 

 

John Hlavacek

 

 

Preston Love: His voice will not be stilled

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/03/preston-love-his…l-not-be-stilled/ 

 

Marguerita Washington: The woman behind the Star that never sets

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/02/marguerita-washi…-that-never-sets

“Walking Behind to Freedom” – A musical theater examination of race

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/21/walking-behind-t…mination-of-race

Sacred Trust, Author Ron Hansen’s Fiction Explores Moral Struggles

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/06/sacred-trust

Jim Taylor, the other half of Hollywood’s top screenwriting team, talks about his work with Alexander Payne

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/06/30/jim-taylor-the-o…lexander-payne-2/

Author, humorist, folklorist Roger Welsch tells the stories of the American soul and soil

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/19/author-humorist-…he-american-soul/

 

From the Archives: Warren Francke – A passion for journalism, teaching and life

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/11/from-the-archive…eaching-and-life

Author Scott Muskin – What’s a nice Jewish boy like you doing writing about all this mishigas?

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/05/author-scott-mus…ll-this-mishigas/

Vincent Alston’s indie film debut, “For Love of Amy,” is black and white and love all over

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/11/29/vincent-alstons-…nd-love-all-over

Screenwriting adventures of Nebraska native Jon Bokenkamp, author of the scripts “Perfect Stranger” and “Taking Lives'”

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/11/28/screenwriting-ad…ve-jon-bokenkamp/

 Taking Lives

Murder He Wrote: Reporter-author David Krajicek finds niche as true crime storyteller

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/10/28/murder-he-wrote-…rime-storyteller/

Bobby Bridger’s Rendezvous

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/11/bobby-bridgers-rendezvous/

Nancy Duncan: Her final story

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/09/her-final-story/

Nancy Duncan: Storyteller

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/02/nancy-duncan-storyteller/

From the Archives:

Nancy Duncan’s journey to storytelling took circuitous route

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/01/from-the-archive…circutious-route

Joan Micklin Silver: Maverick filmmaker helped shape American independent film scene and opened doors for women directors

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/10/10/joan-micklin-sil…-women-directors/

Joan Micklin Silver: Shattering cinema’s glass ceiling

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/18/shattering-cinemas-glass-ceiling/

Joan Micklin Silver

 

 

Doug Marr, Diner Theater and keeping the faith

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/06/doug-marr-keeping-the-faith/

Short story writer James Reed at work in the literary fields of the imagination

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/03/short-story-writ…-the-imagination

Culturalist Kurt Andersen wryly observes the American scene as author, essayist, radio talk show host

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/18/culturalist-kurt-andersen/

Slaying dragons: Author Richard Dooling’s sharp satire cuts deep and quick

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/18/slaying-dragons-rick-dooling/

 

K

Kurt Andersen

Hispanic Authors-Artists Part of Omaha Lit Fest Experience

August 8, 2018 Leave a comment

Hispanic Authors-Artists Part of Omaha Lit Fest Experience

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in El Perico (el-pericp.com)

 

The September 10-11, 2010 (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest gathers authors and artists to investigate the theme Curiouser & Curiouser: The Book in Flux.

Some guests, like University of Nebraska-Lincoln Ph.D. candidate Sarah Chavez, are Hispanic, Others, like first-time festival panelist Peter Kuper of Manhattan, New York, are not, but explore Hispanic themes.

Nebraska native Belinda Acosta, the Latina author of two Quinceanera Club novels, was a panelist last year and the Austin, Texas resident would like to come back again.

Chavez, a Fresno, Calif. native poet, has completed a chapbook she’s expanding into a full-length volume. This will be her first Omaha Lit Fest. She read some of her original work at an August 26 preview. She looks forward to the fest, saying she’s “impressed” by the supportive literary community here and by the diversity and quality of writers presenting at area lit events.

In her poetry Chavez explores the working class character of Fresno. She also explores borders and boundaries of identity. Her father is a first generation Mexican-American migrant worker. As a girl she joined her father laboring in the fields. Her Irish-American mother comes from upper middle class roots.

Chavez said by phone, “I was always sort of aware of this transferring back and forth between cultures. My parents divorced fairly early on, so I was always going back and forth, crossing like city and cultural borders, learning you act like this in this environment but then you can act like this in this other environment.

“So I was always aware of this mobility and the tenuous nature of environment. I was also aware of being, like my sister and I joke, ‘half breeds.’ Because of that mix we’re able to pass in different areas. I go to minority programs and have cultural cachet as a Mexican there but then people don’t automatically assume I am of that heritage. I don’t quite fit, I don’t look like this but I don’t feel like this other group.”

She considers different cultural expectations attending Latinas or African-American women and white women. She examines what it means for women of color to move away from traditional domestic duties to inhabit professional and academic roles.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Political cartoonist and illustrator.Kuper anticipated a two-year siesta in Oaxaca, Mexico with his wife and daughter, but when a teachers’ strike there was violently put down by government forces, he went from casual tourist to engaged reporter. His visceral Diario de Oaxaca journal sketches and commentaries capture how nature and civilization, history and modernity, bounty and deprivation are intertwined there.

He prized playing the role of first-hand witness and participant. In a phone interview he said this active, intimate experience “made it feel we were inside of Mexico rather than standing on the edge regarding it from a slight distance.” He said when he first arrived he made up for his “lousy” Spanish by using his sketches to communicate with people, adding that his habit of walking the streets offered interactions that drew him deeper into local rituals and customs.

His work expresses the surreal-like quality of nature run riot amid a busy tourist trade, an oppressive regime, crushing poverty and citizen protests.

“It’s fascinating. I kept on feeling I was walking through a metaphor.”

Perhaps most striking to him is how people risk everything to oppose an unjust ruling class. He’s quite taken by the politicized street art there. He’s also impressed by how every day people make art an expressive part of their life, whether arranging flower and candle homages for Day of the Dead festivities or painting murals.

“There’s so much creating of art that goes on in daily life as a natural thing to do,” he said. “It really gives me a sense of art having purpose, enriching and playing a role.”

He said the whole experience shook him up artistically, putting him on a different track once he returned home.

“It challenged and opened me up to trying different approaches. I had to sort of reinvent myself with the new information.”

Acosta grew up in Lincoln. She was active in Omaha theater, helping found the Center Stage Theatre and touring a one-woman show on Midwestern Latinas, before attending the University of Texas at Austin to focus on writing.

A freelance journalist by trade, she’s a contributing writer for the Austin Chronicle and Texas Observer. Her books Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz and Sisters, Strangers, and Starting Over chart family relationships within the backdrop of the quinceanera, which she finds ironic since she never had a quince herself. But she said she researched the coming-of-age celebration in preparation for her books.

She’s presently working on a new book set in Nebraska.

For event details, visit www.omahalitfest.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.

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