Posts Tagged ‘Omaha South High Magnet School’

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

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

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

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

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

For show times and tickets, visit or call 531-299-7685.

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

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in El Perico (

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

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

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

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

South and SNAP share a message through theater.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then there’s the synergy of different ages collaborating.

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

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

Simpson said it’s a great training ground.

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

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

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

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

He appears in Island’s ensemble.

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

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

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

The productions also serve as reunions.

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

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

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

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

She said these plays showcase what South offers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

For dates, times and tickets, visit or call 531-299-7685.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at

From reporter to teacher: Carol Kloss McClellan enjoys new challenge as inner city public high school instructor

March 25, 2012 4 comments

When I discovered that an Omaha television news reporter had left that field to teach at an inner city public high school I just had to catch up with the former reporter and get the story of what led her to make the transition and what it’s been like for her.  The long time reporter who made the move is Carol Kloss McClellan and I tell her story here.  She teaches creative writing at Omaha South High Magnet School.  Some of her students participated in a school poetry slam competition and are gearing up for Omaha’s Louder Than a Bomb festival in mid-April.  Over the winter Louder Than a Bomb co-founder Kevin Coval and some of the slam poets featured in the documentary by the same name dropped in on Carol’s creative writing class and she and her students were pretty stoked by the whole experience.  Watch for my future post about the Louder Than a Bomb festival.

From reporter to teacher:

Carol Kloss McClellan enjoys new challenge as inner city public high school instructor

©by Leo Adam Biga

Published in El Perico


Leaving the life of a television news reporter for a public high school teaching job is not something second-year South High Magnet English and creative writing instructor Carol Kloss McClellan entered lightly in 2010.

After all, she distinguished herself as an investigative news reporter at KETV, winning Nebraska Broadcasters, Associated Press and Edward R. Murrow awards. But as she reached middle-age and TV news gathering became less satisfying she felt called to leave one challenging field for another.

“It had been on my mind for a long time. I took a lot of education courses as a (University of Michigan) undergrad,” says the Detroit native. She recalls seeing a TV news colleague make the transition from reporting to teaching and thinking, “That looks like something I would really enjoy.” But years went by without acting on the impulse. Meanwhile, a newsroom romance with then-KETV photographer now-attorney Mike McClellan led to marriage and a family. When the couple’s two daughters entered their late teens she finally got serious about switching careers. She enrolled in the College of Saint Mary‘s Fast Track-to-Teaching program, earning her master’s degree and teaching certificate.

Beyond her studies and student teaching, she felt the same skill set that helped her succeed in TV news would make her effective in the classroom. Cultivating sources and researching-writing-reporting stories is not so different than preparing-delivering lesson plans. Besides, she says, “I’m a people person, I’m a communicator, all those kinds of things. And I’m a mom, so I’ve got all that experience, too.”

Louder Than a Bomb’s Kevin Coval visited Carol’s class



Abandoning the new biz wasn’t as hard as you might imagine.

“It got to the point where it just wasn’t as much fun anymore. I left on very good terms and I had a wonderful job, but the opportunities to do some of the really good stories we used to be able to sink our teeth into, when we had the resources to sit on something if we needed to, were drying up.

“It used to be could travel to get a story. My photographer-producer Cathy Beeler and I were like a little team. Some of the stuff we would get into was so much fun. Those opportunities just weren’t there anymore. And then when I went back to general assignment I was like, OK, I need a new challenge. I just couldn’t go out on another snow storm story or another shooting and knock on some victim’s family front door. I had to move on.”

Does she miss the buzz of the newsroom and the thrill of breaking stories?

“I honestly don’t. I mean, I miss people I worked with. But I see a lot of them still. I enjoyed it but my life is so full right now there’s not hardly room to miss anything. And its just a whole new world.”

Carol, South principal Cara Riggs, and poetry slam students, ©photo KVNO News



That world is even tougher than the one she left behind.

“It’s hard, it’s really hard, it’s so demanding,” she says of teaching. “There’s so much to it with the lesson plans and classroom management and this whole new grading system. It’s never ending.”

The virtual audience she had as a TV reporter has been replaced by a live one subject to the distractions that come with raging hormones and identity issues.

“Most of the kids are great and want to be here, but standing up in front of the class it can feel like you’re a standup comedian having to deal with a couple of hecklers.  It’s like you’re trying to serve the majority of kids who really want to get a good education and then you’ve got a couple of kids causing a ruckus.”

She’s had to learn how to handle disruptive students within the constraints of a public school setting.

“Your heart just goes out and you have to learn to let some things go and that’s I think the hardest thing for a new teacher – to figure out what to let go of. You can only do so much, you’ve got to make the best of it and move on. It’s just this constant balancing act.”

She admits “tears” of self-doubt her first year when she often wondered, “I don’t know if I can do this. Here I am a woman in my mid-50s reinventing myself and coming from an environment where I know the game and I’m a pro to having to start all over again.” But she’s sure she made the right choice, saying, unequivocally, “I have no regrets.”

The very challenge, she says, “is what keeps you alive, so even though it’s a hard thing, it’s a good thing,” adding, “Some days are better than others as you’re trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t work, and it’s not what you expect, and that’s what makes it exciting, too.”

Moments like her creative writing students jamming at a December poetry slam to enthusiastic cheers of students and faculty “are what keep you coming back,” she says.

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