Tag Archives: Amanda DeBoer Bartlett

Stranger Things

July 6, 2017 by
Photography by Justin Barnes

Jennifer Pool is doing her part to keep Omaha odd.

“I do weird things with my costumes,” says Pool of her costume designs. “I definitely like to make them strange.”

This affinity for the atypical is why Omaha Under the Radar co-founder Amanda DeBoer Bartlett approached Pool about doing costumes and design for the annual experimental performance festival’s production of Eight Songs for a Mad King (July 5-8).

No, Game of Thrones fans, Eight Songs for a Mad King does not depict Daenerys Targaryen. Nor does it have anything to do with The Donald. The 30-minute Sir Peter Maxwell Davies monodrama portrays the “tragic madness” of King George III as he toils to train his beloved caged bullfinches to sing.

Pool is excited to collaborate again with DeBoer Bartlett, whom she first met through her fashion design work.

“We originally connected around the avant-garde fashion/costume stuff I do,” Pool says. “So, when this show came up and they needed something kind of strange but rooted in some historical accuracy, she called me—because quasi-historical and really weird at the same time is my wheelhouse.”

According to Omaha Under the Radar, Eight Songs for a Mad King implements a “multitude of complex extended vocal techniques covering more than five octaves” for which they’ve crowned Kansas City baritone John J. Pearse to play the royal role. Pearse will be accompanied by an ensemble of Omaha chamber musicians.

When we spoke, Pool was still formulating design ideas for Eight Songs for a Mad King while also creating costumes for the Bluebarn Theatre’s spring production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and finishing the capstone for her MPA in nonprofit management at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. She graduated before going into tech rehearsals for Priscilla.

As for the aesthetic of Eight Songs for a Mad King, audiences can expect designs to follow the production’s essence—unhinged, strange, and erratic—reflecting the cacophonous score that careens alongside the protagonist’s mental discord and delusion.

“What drew me to this project is the opportunity to take a well-known historical figure and visually deconstruct that in a way that mimics his mental deterioration. To play with that in terms of design and see if there’s any sort of commentary to be made,” Pool says. “I love anachronisms, like the idea of an 18th-century British monarch wearing a Sex Pistols T-shirt—that’s not necessarily what I’ll do here, but just an example of that kind of anachronistic setup. I’m more interested in historical reference than historical accuracy because I think that’s more intriguing.”

As with all her theatrical work, Pool emphasizes the importance of making design choices that propel the story, serve the audience, and create the intended experience.

“I really look at the story and try to figure out what compelling visual cues I can give the audience to offer insight into the action and help them fully experience what’s happening in front of them—while also moving the story along,” Pool says. “That’s especially important [with this production] because it’s operatic and experimental, and that’s weird for some people. So my job is providing a point of entry into the piece through costumes and other visuals.”

Pool, who earned her bachelor’s in theater from UNO and her MFA in theatrical design with emphasis in costume design from the University of Georgia, is a lifelong theater devotee. She has clear childhood memories of being “utterly obsessed” with Annie and attending various local productions with her musical-loving parents. Interestingly, the former Bluebarn Witching Hour artistic director has actually been doing experimental theater from a young age.

“In third grade, I staged an immersive production of Sleeping Beauty in my backyard, where it was staged everywhere and people had to walk around to see the different scenes,” Pool says.

She credits her undergraduate studies at UNO for making her theatrically well-rounded.

“I performed, directed, did costumes, stage management, worked the box office—everything,” she says. “I find that really helpful now, because when people are like, ‘Um, we don’t have a set designer,’ I can jump in and make something work. I got a really broad-based theater education at UNO and had lots of opportunities to get involved.”

After the hectic schedule of Priscilla and grad-school-part-two subside, Pool will take some much-deserved me-time this summer to “sit by the pool and read Star Wars or something.” But first, she’s got another crazy train to catch with the Mad King.

“What’s awesome about Omaha Under the Radar is it sets the expectation that you’ll be interacting with stuff you don’t necessarily know,” Pool says. “Like, you haven’t seen 14 productions of this or you haven’t seen the movie version. It’s literally under the radar, or even totally off the radar sometimes, and this festival trusts that Omaha audiences will not only be receptive to that but excited about it. It’s awesome to be part of something that’s really asking Omaha arts audiences to just go there with us.”

Visit undertheradaromaha.com for more information.

This article appears in the July/August 2017 edition of Encounter.

Jennifer Pool

Art Farm

April 27, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Artist Cassia Kite has lived on the Gulf Coast of the Sunshine State for more than a decade, but her work remains rooted in the family farm near Auburn, Nebraska.

“I’m just so thankful of my upbringing. I love Nebraska,” Kite says. “I love the farm life. That’s probably the one reason why I’m constantly creating about it. I’m just homesick. I miss home.”

Her latest project, “Soundstitches,” captures the vibrant colors of her family farm in what Kite describes as an interdisciplinary, multimedia installation, and performance piece. Inspired by folk art, Kite created embroidered farm scenes. She then translated those images to music by assigning a musical note to each color, mapping out the music from left-to-right and top-to-bottom. The work leaves vast room for interpretation for the artists who engage with it.

This summer, Kite’s project will be featured at KANEKO as part of the fourth annual Under the Radar Festival (July 5-8). Her embroidery will be on display while the corresponding music is performed by professional musicians and a dancer. Festival director Amanda DeBoer Bartlett is excited to bring artists together to interpret Kite’s work, and she explains the piece will be presented in a way that is immersive so “the audience can walk around and experience the performance.”

“Since her piece is so open and improvisation-based, there won’t be a huge rehearsal process,” Bartlett says.

On its face, this project might seem a little outside Kite’s wheelhouse. She studied painting and sculpting in college and isn’t comfortable calling herself a folk artist, even though she loves folk art traditions. She took piano lessons for a short time as a child, and she played percussion instruments in a middle school band, but she doesn’t consider herself a musician. When it comes to “Soundstitches,” she says she’s more of a “translator” than a composer, converting colors into sound.

“It makes me feel very vulnerable in a way, too, and I think that’s good for growth,” Kite says. “This is about as honest a form as I’ll ever get.”

The project may be out of her comfort zone, but it’s also built on what she knows best—the rich hues and homespun imagery of Nebraska.

“Everything I create is a personal narrative,” she says.

Kite is an arts educator who teaches at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, but she returns to Nebraska during the summer months. Her work is on display at Anderson O’Brien Fine Art, and she’ll have a solo exhibition at the Schoolhouse Art Gallery in Brownville, Nebraska, starting in June. For Under the Radar, she’ll be one of several Nebraska-connected artists participating in the festival this summer. Bartlett explains that out of 30 to 40 acts each year, they try to reserve at least half of those spots for artists with ties to the state.

Kite is excited to have her work presented at KANEKO, especially in collaboration with Under the Radar. “I could not think of a better platform for this to happen,” she says, “because it really unifies the whole subject of the work.”

Visit cassiakite.com for more information.

This article was printed in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Greg Eklund

October 14, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Omaha’s appeal is simple for Eklund: “There’s a lot of artists and musicians, but it’s still affordable.” He says Omaha is like Portland 30 years ago: “It wasn’t a big town, but it was super cheap, that’s why all the musicians and artists moved there.”

In a previous life, Greg Eklund was pounding out noisy, angst-filled alt-rock anthems—such as “Santa Monica” and “Father of Mine”—for the Grammy-nominated band Everclear.

Eklund is a relatively new resident of Omaha. He moved here in June of 2015 with his two children and wife, Ellie Kevorkian, artistic director of residency programs at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.

He has since enthusiastically embraced the city’s art and culture scene. Meanwhile, his current job involves touring international concert halls as drummer for Le Bonheur, a band fronted by Storm Large, a Portland-based singer with cult-like following.

“My friends (back in Portland) are always telling me ‘what’s in Omaha?’” says a barefoot Eklund sitting on his home’s couch talking about the coolness of Omaha. “I tell them, ‘a ton of stuff.’”

He says Film Streams is high on his list of favorite Omaha haunts. “To be able to take my son to see Willow in the day and then go back and see a new indie film that night is so cool,” says the part-time stay-at-home dad.

Eklund references his list of Omaha highlights against his former home of Portland: “I’m a member of Hi-Fi House, which I’m excited about. Here’s Portland, the hip of the hip, and they don’t have anything like that…oh, and Under the Radar! What Amanda (DeBoer Bartlett) has done with that is incredible.”

Omaha’s appeal is simple for Eklund: “There’s a lot of artists and musicians, but it’s still affordable.” He says Omaha is like Portland 30 years ago: “It wasn’t a big town, but it was super cheap; that’s why all the musicians and artists moved there.”

He moved to Portland in 1988 after graduating from high school. He enrolled in the University of Oregon, which didn’t go well. After three semesters, he was kicked out for poor academic standing. Eklund knew what he wanted to do, and it wasn’t study. Cue the drumroll.

His drumming career first began when his parents bought him a set for Christmas in 1982. The gift was negotiated. They promised to let him play drums after he took piano lessons for two years.

But that initial drum set didn’t come with a cymbal, so he used pizza boxes to keep the beat, mowing lawns until he earned approximately $100 to purchase “the cheapest cymbal I could get.”

His passion and talent bloomed throughout high school. His career-military father moved the family from Florida, to London, to the suburbs of Washington, D.C., where Greg attended Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia. The school boasted a top-notch band and symphony program, with music teachers who performed in the military band.

The young Eklund managed to secure the last chair in the percussion section. Knowing the competitiveness of the school’s music program, he sought extra lessons to improve. He also knew Garwood Whaley, a Juilliard-educated percussionist who wrote several popular method books.

“I just happened to be dating his daughter at the time,” Eklund says. “He took one student a year. Because I was dating his daughter, she prepped me for the audition, and said, ‘don’t tell him you want to play drum set.’ So when he asked, I said I wanted to a symphonic percussionist.”

It was listening to records, however, that gave him the chance to play rock ’n’ roll. In 1994, he joined a band that was about to be signed to Capitol Records. With Everclear, Eklund rode the tidal wave of alt-rock through the 1990s, moving from city to city each night for performances. By 2003, he was ready to slow down.

He played guitar and sang vocals for another band, The Oohlas, began raising his kids with Kevorkian, and evolved from a noisy rocker to keeping beat for a symphonic performer.

“It feels more mature,” Eklund says of his current place in life. “We play in these gorgeous opera houses and beautiful old theaters. Because of her stature, we are taken care of. And the fact that I’m able to do this now, I’m really fortunate.”

Visit stormlarge.com for more information.

Encounter

gregeklund1

Omaha Under the Radar

May 6, 2014 by

Sometimes “the good life” can get a little bit blurry. When it comes to Omaha’s music scene, soprano Amanda DeBoer Bartlett is happy to see that happen and wants to help perpetuate it. “Around the country, there is less and less differentiation between genres; people are forming small ensembles that blur genre lines.” This amalgamation of styles, which can be found in big cities and small towns all over the nation, is not limited to only the world of music. Nearly every type of art form is seeing various innovative mixtures of influences and mediums emerging.

Noticing this trend in the theater field, another Nebraska native, Thom Sibbitt, began to consider starting a festival which would highlight area performers and their works. After Sibbitt and DeBoer Bartlett—who has run a contemporary classical music festival in Madison, Wis., for the past three years—had the opportunity to work together and learn about their shared interests, a natural partnership was born. The result: Omaha Under The Radar, a three-day interdisciplinary festival taking place July 11-13, which will feature the latest in contemporary music, dance, theater, and performance art.

This region is by no means lacking artists who are steering works in creative new directions. “There are a lot of amazing and interesting things happening in Omaha,” says Kayleigh Butcher, a member of the OUR Festival support team. “Installation art; new jazz music; avant garde “new” music…these all totally exist and are thriving. We are really excited to see what Omaha artists bring to the table.” However, what the area might be lacking is a soapbox from which these performers can shout locally and nationally about what they’re creating. Butcher adds that, “there hasn’t been a platform where artists can come together to showcase what they’re doing. Under The Radar is a perfect opportunity to do that—to show to Omaha and beyond what is happening artistically but might not be being highlighted the way they should be (and are in places like
New York, L.A. and Seattle).”

Festival activities will be split between a number of venues in town, including House of Loom, KANEKO, the Bancroft Street Market, The Slowdown, and the University of Nebraska-Omaha. The Joslyn Art Museum will host an opening event—free and open to the public—on Thursday, July 10. The three days that follow will feature performances, workshops, and discussions spread out among the participating venues.

Local and nonlocal artists and works will be presented, and some shows may be accompanied by a Q&A with the guest performer, composer, or choreographer. As DeBoer Bartlett points out, such discussions give one the opportunity to be “working with living composers, which a lot of classical musicians don’t do.” She continues, stressing that there are “more composers living now than ever before,” and that these dialogues can stimulate valuable conversations and collaborations. This interaction is quite possibly one of the greatest reasons for a contemporary musician to come be a part of the festival.

A complete schedule of events will be announced on May 15.

An OUR day pass is $15, while a $30 weekend pass allows you to “choose your own festival adventure.”

Find more information and updates at UnderTheRadarOmaha.com.

Small-Image