Tag Archives: A Christmas Carol

Kimberly Faith Hickman

October 12, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Kimberly Faith Hickman isn’t a Christmas Carol rookie.

kimberlyfaithhickman3Before she took the reins as the Omaha Community Playhouse’s artistic director in June, she co-directed the Playhouse’s touring production of the 2015 show, and the year prior shadowed former artistic director Carl Beck and former associate artistic director Susan Baer Collins the last year they directed the touring production.

But the mainstage production? The one that is celebrating its 41st anniversary this year? The version those of us in Omaha know and love as the Playhouse’s time-honored tradition?

No, she hasn’t directed that one yet. But not to worry. Some familiar faces are coming back this year to pass along every little production detail to Hickman and the Playhouse’s associate director, Jeff Horger.

A Christmas Carol is simply too big of an undertaking for just one director. The transitions are complex, the technical effects are advanced, and the scenic elements are complicated—one director cannot be expected to successfully manage everything.

Just as Charles Jones, the Playhouse’s artistic director who created the production, passed along his knowledge of the production to his successors, Beck and Collins will pass along their knowledge to Hickman and Horger; so as A Christmas Carol continues into its fourth decade, nothing will be lost in translation.

“There are so many details Jeff and I just don’t know,” Hickman says. While she was involved with the touring production, the mainstage involves several more actors, as well as more complex design and technical elements. “Jeff and I are using this year as an opportunity to learn from Carl and Susie what those details are.”

For years, A Christmas Carol’s directing responsibilities have been split up among more than one director. And this year will be no different. Hickman will shadow Beck, who will direct the Scrooge, ghosts, and street scenes. Horger will shadow Collins, who will direct the party scenes and other various scenes. And local director Ablan Roblin, who has directed the Cratchit scenes in the past, will take on this role again.

“From a directing standpoint, it’s a very unique approach,” says Beck. “There is no one director who takes on the entire production.”

That’s because A Christmas Carol is simply too big of an undertaking for just one director. The transitions are complex, the technical effects are advanced, and the scenic elements are complicated—one director cannot be expected to successfully manage everything. Splitting up the responsibilities helps ensure the original intent of every part of the production, from the music to the characters to the concept itself, will remain intact.

For example, the party scenes, which Collins will direct, involve several people, all of whom are responsible for specific movements. But all of the little events within the scene aren’t necessarily in the script, Collins says. So a new director would have no idea how to incorporate everything by just looking at the script.

kimberlyfaithhickman2“You can’t just give someone a bunch of notes for this,” says Collins. “They have to be in the room.”

That’s why Hickman and Horger will be in the room this year. They will be taking notes and documenting every detail each scene requires. So when members of the Omaha community come to see the Playhouse’s Christmas Carol next year and for years to come, they will see the production Jones originally created back in the 1970s—a production intended to “recreate what you want Christmas to be in your imagination,” says Collins.

“I’m honored to be a part of this tradition,” says Hickman, “I’m honored that Carl and Susie trust us to be part of this tradition, and I’m also looking forward to having the Omaha community be a part of it.”

Visit omahaplayhouse.com for more information. Omaha

Kelli Schilken

February 18, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In many ways Kelli Schilken is just like other teens. The bubbly 17-year-old loves music, hanging with friends, making friendship bracelets, and playing video games. However, there are also differences between Kelli and her peers.

Few 17-year-olds, for example, have started college, and fewer yet can tell you stories about the time the band she’s in with her mom opened for music legend Kenny Rogers.

“I kind of grew up backstage,” Kelli says in observing the four-part harmonies of Mulberry Lane. That’s Jaymie Schilkens’ (her mother and Belles & Whistles bandmate) former ensemble with her
three sisters.

“Having those experiences as a child inspired me and helped me hear harmonies,” Kelli says.

This Belle doesn’t fall far from the family tree. Kelli got her start in local theater (including a seven-year run in A Christmas Carol at the Omaha Community Playhouse) and high school show choir. Belles & Whistles began in 2011, when the stage manager at her mom’s solo Red Sky gig—a former Judds’ road manager—suggested they bring Kelli onstage.

Fittingly, Kelli says The Judds are “a big inspiration to us.” Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, and Ed Sheeran are also musical influences.

Kelli calls their sound “a mix of old and new country, with strong harmonies.” Music News Nashville’s Janet Goodman observed that their vocals “blend like sweet churned butter on a hot stove.” Speaking of Nashville, the duo visited there last fall to meet with labels and record two new songs there.

After Belles & Whistles opened for Kenny Rogers at the 2014 Kentucky State Fair, he said they’d “pleasantly surprised” him.

“At the end of our set, we actually got a standing ovation,” says Kelli, beaming.

Kelli graduated early from Westside High School and is now enrolled at UNO. With a love of science, she’s taking chemistry, psychology, and also a music course “just to get started” on her higher education. She must also carve out time for her busy music schedule.

“This last year I’ve really learned to balance things,” says Kelli, who thrives on busyness. Kelli and Jaymie’s relationship is multifaceted. “There’s the regular, ‘Hey mom, what’s for dinner?’ side,” says Kelli. “On the other hand, [the band] is an equal partnership. She’s great at treating me like an equal. We’ve always been close and she’s one of my best friends. I can’t imagine doing this with anyone else.”

While Kelli loves performing, she says the best is when people approach her with how special the music is to them; how they relate to it, how it influences and effects their lives.

“We try to write songs with meaning,” Kelli says. “Knowing that things we’ve written have touched people is really cool.”

At the end of the day, Kelli says she’s still “pretty much a normal teen.”

“I really try to make time for my friends,” she says. “If I didn’t have them, my music could consume my life. I want to have people to share it with.”

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God Bless Us, Everyone!

December 4, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As the Omaha Community Playhouse prepares to transport theatergoers to Victorian England with their annual production of A Christmas Carol, 8-year-old Mackenzie Reidy is getting ready to be catapulted into the world of theater for the first time.

The bubbly La Vista native scored her first-ever acting role in this year’s production, and it’s a big one—she will be playing good-hearted Tiny Tim, the boy who personifies the show’s whole message of Christmas spirit. But with a toothy grin and a sense of fearlessness, Mackenzie is more than ready to spread the cheer.

Mackenzie caught the theater bug suddenly last year when she surprised her mother, Melissa, with the announcement that she wanted to audition for Papillion-La Vista Community Theatre’s production of Annie. While Mackenzie didn’t get a part in the production, she enjoyed the process and decided to give theatre another shot after Melissa saw upcoming auditions for a production of the Charles Dickens classic. While Mackenzie was gung-ho, Melissa and her husband approached the auditions with a cautious optimism.

“It’s a fine line between having faith in her and preparing her for reality. There were a lot of kids there, and obviously a lot of kids who have done it before,” Melissa says. “So I figured, if anything, maybe a choir part, not Tiny Tim.”

Susan Baer Collins, one of the show’s directors, remembers Mackenzie’s first audition well. Baer Collins mentions that one of the biggest problems with casting children is that many are
too shy. But after Mackenzie belted out two verses of “On Top of Spaghetti,” and “sang like a demon,” according to Baer Collins, the show’s directors knew Mackenzie would have no problem with confidence.

After Mackenzie’s cheesy approach won over the directors, she was called back for a second round of auditions. Melissa began to suspect that Mackenzie might have a larger role in the production than originally anticipated when the directors had Mackenzie read for Tiny Tim. But she says she was still floored when the Reidy household came home to a voicemail from the Omaha Community Playhouse—quickly followed by a scream from Mackenzie.

While the Omaha Community Playhouse’s main stage production of A Christmas Carol has never had a female Tiny Tim, it is standard on tour. Tiny Tim has to be small enough to be easily carried by Bob Cratchit, and Baer Collins says that many boys who come into audition are too tall or too large for that.

But it’s not enough to just be tiny—a Tiny Tim has to be preco-cious yet convincing enough that it’s believable that resident humbug Ebenezer Scrooge can be won over by the waif.

“People talk about Tim as being “God-like”, and you know in spite of his infirmity, he’s always thinking of others, so you’re looking for a kind of value that someone can project,” says Baer Collins.

Mackenzie has some large shoes to fill—the Omaha Community Playhouse’s production has seen 40 years’ worth of actors fill the role of Tiny Tim—but she has no qualms about getting up on stage. She says that she’s most excited for being able to act on stage and to make new friends.

While Mackenzie says she wants to try out for more plays, for now she’s simply relishing her time in the spotlight. When asked what her dream role was, she responded with a wry smile and, “Well, that’s kind of the role I just got.”

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Courtney Stein

November 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If all the world’s a stage, then 25-year-old actress, dancer, and choreographer Courtney Stein is definitely a player.

While performing in the musical Once On This Island at the tender age of 5, Stein, who was born and raised in Omaha, says she got “the itch” for theatre. “I grew up in the Ralston Community Theatre, taking part in numerous summer musicals throughout my adolescence,” she adds.

After she graduated from Ralston High School, Stein headed out to southern California for a year to join the Young Americans, a touring performance and music education outreach program. She then returned to Omaha to study vocal music education at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Shortly thereafter, she went to New York University, where she created her own program of study in various culture, dance, theatre, and music, but then returned home once more to graduate from UNO in 2010 with an individualized degree in interdisciplinary studies—specifically, anthropology with a focus on music, dance, and theatre.

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Today, Stein earns her living as a freelance choreographer and dance instructor, and she also teaches yoga, tai chi, and tap dancing at Bellevue Senior Center. Beyond her freelance work, Stein is involved with several nonprofit organizations, including WhyArts? and Arts for All, Inc. “I teach at a multitude of elementary schools in the metro, through both the Artery’s Dancing Classroom program and through the Omaha Community Playhouse’s educational outreach program. I [also] choreograph several area high school musicals and show choirs, as well,” she says.

But just teaching performance wasn’t enough for Stein; she wanted an outlet to continue the passion for performance her 5-year-old self had felt so long ago. That’s when she looked into the community theatre scene in her hometown.

“We don’t act for the money, we don’t sing for our supper, and we don’t dance for a dime.”

“Omaha is special,” she says. “It is home to so many artists—starving and otherwise, who are lucky enough to share their passion in a welcoming environment…We are privileged to have such wonderfully diverse yet mutually supportive theaters.”

One such theater is the Omaha Community Playhouse, the largest community theatre in the nation. The theater opened in the 1920s after a group of Omahans—including Alan McDonald, architect of the Joslyn Art Museum, who later became president of the Playhouse—wanted stage performances to return to a community increasingly dominated by the rising popularity of films. In April 1925, the Playhouse’s very first play, The Enchanted Cottage, opened and was directed by Greg Foley, starring Dodie Brando, mother of actor Marlon Brando. The theater later saw the acting debuts of Henry Fonda (father of actress Jane Fonda), Marlon Brando, Dorothy McGuire, and Julie Wilson. For Stein, having the chance to stand on the stage where these legends once stood was an aspiration.20121031_bs_1664-Edit copy

“The first show I auditioned for at the Playhouse was Urinetown, and I actually wasn’t cast.” But Stein was stubborn and auditioned for the Playhouse’s next big musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie, in 2007, where she was cast as a tap-dancing stenographer. During that role, Stein believes she must have done something the directors liked because she was then cast in the next show, A Christmas Carol, as fun-loving and energetic party girl Lucy.

Though she’s played Lucy for the past five years, this November and December, Stein plays Millie. “[Millie] is married to Scrooge’s nephew, Fred,” Stein explains of her character. “This is the first year since I have been a part of the Carol that I will not be Lucy, [who] is the slightly crazy, very energetic younger sister of Millie.”

Stein is slowly building a solid performance reputation with the Playhouse, as she has been involved in at least two musicals/plays each year. Her list thus far includes:

  • Thoroughly Modern Millie (as stenographer), 2007
  • A Christmas Carol (as Lucy), 2007-2012
  • The Cocoanuts (as Polly Potter), 2008
  • Batboy (as Ruthie/Ned), 2009
  • Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (as chorus member), 2009
  • All Shook Up (as Lorraine), 2010
  • Fiddler on the Roof (as Chava), 2010
  • Footloose (as Wendy Jo), 2010
  • Nunsense (as Sister Mary Leo), 2011
  • Hairspray (as Amber Von Tussle), 2012

This past year, Stein was even nominated for the Omaha Theatre Arts Guild’s awards for her supporting actress role as Amber Von Tussle in Hairspray. Though it was exciting, Stein says she was somewhat shocked about the nomination. “I’ve played several sweet, ingénue-type roles and never received as much recognition. But I was cast as Amber in Hairspray, a horribly mean-spirited—albeit charming and funny—young girl and WHAM! I’m nominated for a TAG award and an OCP award!” she laughs. “Perhaps I’m not as innocent as I thought!”

Though she has been nominated for several other awards for her performances in Fiddler on the Roof, All Shook Up, and The Cocoanuts and received the Charles Jones Director’s Award from the Playhouse in 2010, Stein feels humbled by awards and tries not to put too much stock into them, as the performance is her true honor.

During her time with the Playhouse, Stein has developed a new ambition beyond just acting, singing, and dancing in the shows—she also wants to work behind the scenes as a choreographer.

Stein as Amber Von Tussle in the Omaha Community Playhouse's production of Hairspray.

Stein as Amber Von Tussle in the Omaha Community Playhouse’s production of Hairspray.

Last year’s Carol was the first year that Stein was asked to co-choreograph the play with Michelle Garrity. “[We] used a divide-and-conquer strategy to teaching the choreography. The show is such an institution at the Playhouse, and the choreography has remained true to the original, so it was intimidating to say the least.” And this past summer, Stein helped choreograph Hairspray with Kathy Wheeldon. “It was a wonderful experience to see some of my own original choreography onstage at such a prominent theater,” she adds, hoping she’ll have more opportunities to have her choreography in Playhouse shows.

Although it may seem like a career in performance is difficult to get with all of the fierce competition, Stein feels like community theatre doesn’t work that way. “We don’t act for the money, we don’t sing for our supper, and we don’t dance for a dime. In fact, we sacrifice time, energy, and sanity for one reason—an undying passion to tell a story, to convey a message, to leave the world a little different than before. We want to reach an audience.

“In the whirlwind of everyday chaos, theatre provides an outlet for release, a platform for expression, and a vehicle for social commentary. I believe that arts education is essential to the growth of a well-rounded human being and community.”

A Christmas Carol runs from Nov. 16 through Dec. 23 at the Omaha Community Playhouse (6915 Cass St.) and will be followed by Yesterday and Today, which runs from Dec. 7-31, and Deathtrap, which runs from Jan.18 through Feb. 10. For more information, visit omahaplayhouse.com or call 402-553-0800.