August 23, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Stage and voice actor Nils Haaland has assembled an array of roles. He’s played Pupcake, the precocious, rambunctious, and lovable puppy companion of Strawberry Shortcake. He’s also played infamous Nebraskan serial killer Charles Starkweather.

Haaland is a founding member of the Blue Barn Theatre. He studied acting at the State University of New York (SUNY) with fellow Blue Barn founders Kevin Lawler and Hughston Walkinshaw. Sitting down at a large table at the Blue Barn, Haaland said his acting career started around age four, when he performed in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

He also remembers portraying one of the children killed in the play Medea.

“I was not a very good slaughtered child,” Haaland says. “In a very somber moment, the audience sort of erupted in laughter because I was kind of fidgeting around.”

At SUNY Haaland studied under acting coach George Morrison, whose pupils include Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, Edie Falco, and Stanley Tucci.

After Haaland graduated from SUNY, he lived in Staten Island with Hughston Walkinshaw. Kevin Lawler called Haaland and asked if he would be interesting in starting a theatre company in Omaha. Haaland weighed the options: starting a theatre company in a city with a noticeably cheaper cost of living, or continue to plug away in New York.

NilsHaaland2“It’s really beneficial to be there (in New York), but you’re really at the mercy of so many factors,” Haaland says.

“To be able to determine your own art … that sounded well worth the journey.”

Since the late 1980s, Haaland has acted at both the Blue Barn and the Omaha Community Playhouse. He also was a voice actor for DIC Entertainment, whose animated shows include Inspector Gadget, The Real Ghostbusters, and Strawberry Shortcake. When it came to voice auditions, Haaland said following one’s first impulses was key to landing a role.

“To try to do a horse whinny, or a mountain lion roar, or a dinosaur roar…with a British accent…who might be a little morose.”

Haaland’s work has gone beyond acting into screenwriting. He currently is working with writer Amy Biancolli, helping her develop a sitcom tentatively titled Other Peoples’ Dogs.

Haaland has also been known to come up with a name or two, such as the Blue Barn Theatre.

While at SUNY, Haaland was supposed to present an acting piece to the class. He was totally unprepared. He gave an on-the spot monologue in front of the class. When he finished, the professor asked him about the piece. Haaland said it was called the “Blue Barn” play. Susan Clement-Toberer, who is now producing artistic director of the Blue Barn, was in class at the time.

“I knew he was lying,” Clement-Toberer says over the phone as she was in the middle of rehearsals for the play Heathers.

Hence, when there came a time to pull an acting miracle out of thin air, it was known as “Blue Barning” to the founding members. But Clement-Toberer said the name also reflected the general spirit and Haaland’s contributions to the Blue Barn.

“It’s kind of a way of creating a spur of the moment, organic experience,” Clement-Toberer says. Encounter

Visit bluebarn.org for more information.