Tag Archives: Blue Barn Theatre

Drop It Like It’s…Eggs?

March 22, 2018 by

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Pick of the Week—Saturday, March 24: It’s raining eggs this weekend! Well, kind of. There will be eggs dropping from a helicopter at the Easter Egg Drop at Brookside Church. But don’t worry, the eggs are plastic and will contain one piece of candy each. What’s better than candy, you ask? Well, one lucky kid from each age division also has the chance to win a helicopter ride if they find the hollow plastic egg with a small helicopter in it. This event is for children from the age 3 up to those in the 5th grade. While they’re waiting to scramble for their eggs, they’ll have plenty of other activities to entertain, including inflatables and even petting goats. And of course, the Easter bunny will be available for photo ops. Hunt for all the details you need here.

Thursday, March 22 to Sunday, April 15: Rudolf Nureyev was an international sensation for more than just his dancing prowess—he was the first Russian artist to defect to the West during the Cold War. The man known as the “Lord of the Dance” would eventually become the subject of hundreds of sketches and canvases of artist James Wyeth. Nureyev’s Eyes at the Blue Barn Theatre imagines what the relationship between the two creative men must have been like. If you can’t make it tonight, don’t worry. This show goes on for several weeks, so you still have time to catch the incredible performances of this cast. Get your tickets here now.

Friday, March 23: Don’t miss the first show of the season for Hugo’s Art Galleries, a showing of The Art of Di Farho. The show is also Farho’s first since her return to Omaha five years ago after living in Colorado for two decades. She noticed that her old neighborhood (31st and Leavenworth area) had changed significantly, so she started documenting the changing urban landscape in her sketches and oil paintings. Be among the first to see Farho’s impressions of her beloved neighborhood. Head here for more information on the show and here to find out more about Hugo’s Art Galleries.

Saturday, March 24: It’s been over two years since the death of legendary performer David Bowie. If reading that sentence hurt your heart a little, take solace this weekend at the Holland Performing Arts Center with a Tribute to David Bowie by the Omaha Symphony. Led by Principal Pops Conductor Ernest Richardson, this show will bring you all the classics, from “Space Oddity” to “Under Pressure.” No matter which Bowie you preferred, this performance will help fill that little black, star-shaped hole in your heart. Head here to get your tickets now, you pretty things.

Sunday, March 25: Is there a better way to spend a Sunday Funday than drinking half-off beers while shopping half-off books? If you said no, then Day Drinking with the DBCSpring Cleaning Edition at Pageturners Lounge is where you need to be this Sunday. The Dundee Book Company is making room for new stuff, so help them (and yourselves) out by buying some books while you’re drinking some beer. To find out more, lick your finger and turn the proverbial page here. (Just kidding, there’s really no need to lick your finger.)

2017 July/August Performances

Shakespeare On The Green: The Merry Wives of Windsor: July 1, 2, 7, and 9 at Elmwood Park, 411-1/2 N. Elmwood Road. Windsor is at a crossroads. All the elements that constitute the town—social strata, tradition, morality, religion, characters, the English language itself—are turned upside down. Don’t forget a picnic basket and seats. Times vary. Admission: free.
nebraskashakespeare.com

Omaha Under the Radar: July 5-8 at multiple locations. The experimental performance festival returns for the fourth year, charging the galleries and open spaces of Joslyn with live music and dance. Other locations include KANEKO, OutrSpaces, project project, and Reverb Lounge. Times vary. Event passes $10, festival passes $40-$75, some events free.
undertheradaromaha.com

Shakespeare On The Green: King Lear: July 6 and 8 at Elmwood Park, 411-1/2 N. Elmwood Road. Pack a picnic and bring lawn chairs or blankets, as King Lear attempts to fight against impending mortality along with the inevitable loss of his kingdom and his crown. Times vary. Admission: free.
nebraskashakespeare.com

Juno’s Swans: Richard III: July 9 at Blue Barn Theatre, 1106 S. 10th St. A part of the Connect with Shakespeare series, Juno’s Swans uses an all-female ensemble to explore Shakespeare’s characters and text through the feminine experience and outlook. 2 p.m. Admission: free. 402-345-1576.
bluebarn.org

Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist: July 12-23 at Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St. This world premiere of McGuigan’s brand-new show features classic rock tunes with a big band twist, backed by a full horn section and an all-star lineup of Omaha’s finest musicians. Times vary. Tickets: $40. 402-553-0800.
ticketomaha.com

Neighbors, Lovers, and All the Others: July 14-Aug. 6 at Shelterbelt Theatre, 3225 California St. Facing a serious bout of composer’s block, Loyal Guerre finds inspiration in an unlikely source–his handsome, talented neighbor who has no idea that he needs a set of curtains to separate his apartment from the rest of the world. Times vary. Tickets: $20 general, $15 students/seniors/TAG members. 402-341-2757.
shelterbelt.org


This calendar is published as shown in the print edition

We welcome you to submit events to our print calendar. Please email event details and a 300 ppi photograph three months in advance to: editintern@omahamagazine.com


*Event times and details may change. Check with venue or event organizer to confirm.

Roni Shelley Perez

October 13, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“I never told my parents about having a fake sex scene. I just let them watch the show.”

-Roni Shelley Perez

Roni Shelley Perez wonders whether she should have warned her Catholic parents about a certain scene in the recent Blue Barn Theatre production of Heathers: The Musical.

“I never told my parents about having a fake sex scene. I just let them watch the show,” she says with a laugh.

Her parents, Ranilo and Selena Perez, never mentioned that scene to her, but Roni says they liked the play. They weren’t the only ones. Heathers received rave reviews and a lot of local recognition, including award nominations for Perez. It’s an impressive achievement for a 20-year-old who entered college only a few years ago with limited musical theater experience.

Perez is now a junior at UNO studying music with a theater minor. She burst onto the Omaha theater scene in 2015 when she played Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar at the Omaha Community Playhouse. That debut earned her the Elaine Jabenis Cameo Award and a nomination for an Omaha Entertainment and Arts Award.

roni-shelley-perez2However, performing the lead role of Veronica in Heathers was the watershed moment in her
budding career.

“I wanted it so bad. So bad. That was definitely a breakthrough role for me,” she says. “I ran here (to UNO) every morning and sang just to get that role down.”

Perez says that working in the Blue Barn’s new space on 10th Street was “inspirational” and that she was determined to live up to her artistic surroundings. “Well, the venue was going to be beautiful. I felt like the performance should be, too,” she says.

A musician since she started studying guitar at the age of eight, Perez entered college planning to major in music composition or music technology. She was involved in theater at Marian High School, but thought it was a vocation better suited to others. Her parents, who own a physical therapy practice in Omaha, were skeptical about the viability of a music career and suggested actuarial science or engineering as practical occupations.

“Music scared them because they’re immigrants from the Philippines that had their mind on an American dream to get money, and now I’m going backwards,” says Perez with self-deprecating humor.

A Goodrich scholarship covers her tuition, and being free of student debt will certainly help Perez, who plans to eventually relocate to New York City to pursue a theater career.

In addition to her tour-de-force performance in Heathers, Perez thinks that her second-place finish in a national singing competition this summer went a long way toward convincing her parents that she is on the right path.

She is also not resting on her laurels. After studying at New York University in the summer of 2015, Perez returned to New York City this past summer for an intensive audition workshop with The Open Jar Institute. Upon returning to Omaha, she was rehearsing a play called Love and Information at Do Space, and she is slated to appear in Hand to God! at Shelterbelt Theatre, which runs Nov. 18 through Dec. 11. Oh, and she also has a part-time job.

Omaha has produced several notable Broadway performers in recent decades. With her buoyant personality, stellar voice, and work ethic, it is not hard to imagine that Perez could be the next.

Visit snapproductions.com for more information.

Encounter

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Nils Haaland

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.

Matthias Jeske

June 22, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Matthias Jeske sits at a red leather booth in The Diner in downtown Omaha looking like he belongs there. It’s his leather jacket, plastic-framed glasses, and plaid shirt that probably came off the rack of a Woolworth’s 50 years ago. On him, the shirt still looks so fresh, so cool.

“I’m a Cold War boy with a Buddy Holly style,” Jeske quips.

The 25-year old refers to things as “groovy” and “swell.” He owns numerous vintage furnishings, from a custom-made 1962 sectional sofa by designer Milo Baughman to a stereo console. You might even call him Mister 1960.

Listeners at MavRadio did. The recent UNO graduate spent the last four years spinning music of the early 1960s on his show, “The Waxx Museum by Mister 1960.”

It was this music that started his love of all things vintage.

MatthiasJeske2Jeske says, “My mom (Liz Jeske) would play Patsy Cline in the kitchen while she was making dinner. Then I fell in love with the cars in high school.”

His beloved ride is a 1960 Chevy Impala he named Black Betty. He evoked Danny Zucko in high school, sporting a pompadour while wearing dark jeans and a leather bomber jacket.

As he graduated from high school in 2009, he graduated from the post-war ideals of the 1950s into polished chrome and futuristic patterns. He began to favor tailored suits and skinny ties.

“I traded my pompadour for a side part. I fell more in love with the atomic era,” Jeske says. “The atomic era applies more to my every day life.”

A friendship with the general manager at MavRadio led to the opportunity to create his radio show in fall 2011, spinning the pre-1966 music he loves so well and joking around with his listeners. Professor Jodeen Brownlee entered his radio show into the Broadcasting Education Association Awards. In April 2014 he won Media Personality of the Year and flew to Las Vegas for the ceremony. He came back to Omaha, spun more pre-1966 records, and flew back to Las Vegas to pick up the same award in April 2015.

He picked up a theater minor at UNO and graduated from spinning records behind a booth to performing onstage. Even with the theater it’s been his love of retro that brought him to award-winning roles.

“I’d never done a show at the (Omaha Community) Playhouse before, but being a nerd, I’d always loved Monty Python.” Jeske says.

He landed seven supporting roles in Spamalot and won awards for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical from the Theater Arts Guild, Omaha Community Playhouse awards, and Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards.

“I felt like I was just running around being a goof, but the voters must have loved it,” Jeske says.

He also held the supporting role of John Burt in Frost vs. Nixon at the Blue Barn Theatre.

“The two theater parts I have played this year have been satisfying,” Jeske waxes. “At first I thought, ‘theater is great fun,’ but I have been pleasantly surprised by how great the theater community has been.”

MatthiasJeske3

Nichol Mason Lazenby

April 22, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Nichol Mason Lazenby left the L.A. Contemporary Dance Company to relocate to Omaha less than two years ago, she knew nothing of her new home and had decidedly low expectations regarding the breadth and depth of any opportunities that might await.

“I had no familiarity with the Midwest, let alone Omaha, and I panicked a bit at the thought of moving here,” says the southern California dancer/choreographer who had been a professor at the University of Arizona and now teaches at the Omaha Academy of Ballet. So Mason Lazenby decided to send out some feeler emails to the usual suspects in the dance community here. Less than 30 minutes later in some cases, she recalls, replies came pouring in from the likes of Creighton University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Omaha may have been a big fat question mark for her, but no question mark is needed when assessing the immediate impact she has made on the local scene.

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This winter found her in performances with both the Omaha Dance Project (at Marian High School’s new Mary Joy and Tal Anderson Performing Arts Center) and the tbd Dance Collective in “Making Space II: An Evening of Curated Choreography” (at KANEKO).

In April she had a hand in choreographing “Vive Paris” at Creighton University and “Evenings of Dance” at UNL. In May she’ll choreograph Heathers The Musical at the Blue Barn Theatre. And she is now preparing for a yet-to-be-named performance of her work in Motion41’s Encore space as a result of her winning last year’s OMAHAgraphy competition.

“I’ve been fortunate to be embraced by the dance community this way,” Mason Lazenby says, “especially the women of tbd.”

She was a guest artist last year when tbd took the Encore stage for its own OMAHAgraphy gig. Lazenby’s “Strange Mercy,” a solo work that she both choreographed and danced, was the showstopper of the evening and drew the loudest and most sustained applause.

“Lazenby’s movements,” this reviewer wrote at the time, “had me conjuring images of Anna Pavlova dancing Mikhail Fokine’s ‘The Dying Swan.’ Except that Pavlova was dancing all the wrong steps. And that she was thoroughly, over-the-top insane. And on acid.”

The art form has always had an intractable power over me. My most spine-tingling encounters with the genre, as was the case with Mason Lazenby and “Strange Mercy” and just as it is with any theater or performance art or opera or visual art that pushes boundaries and pushes buttons, runs along the lines of “I’m not exactly sure how to process what I just saw…but I love it.”

“That’s what’s amazing about modern dance, Mason Lazenby says. It is innate…primal. It can be just as percussive and frantic as it is sinewy, graceful, and luxuriously indulgent.” The key, she adds, is that modern dance is thoroughly experiential. It can be no other way.

“Every audience member will react in their own way,” she says. “It’s a form of communication…a movement-based form of communication. Every dancer communicates in a way that translates their world. And every audience member will experience those movements as framed by their world.”

Visit nicholmason.com to see her work.

NicholMason

Rustic Roots

October 30, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It took two-and-a-half years of eager anticipation for the new Blue Barn Theatre to take shape at 10th and Pacific streets, as producing artistic director Susan Clement-Toberer waited impatiently to start creating in the new space. The wait was worth it.

This welcome addition to the booming 10th Street corridor gives her a new playground in which to produce stage magic.

Blue Barn is part of a mixed-use project on the site, which also houses the Boxcar 10 condos and restaurant on the south side, and public green space to the west that the theater opens onto.

The theater’s distinctive design by Omaha architect Jeff Day of Min|Day, with input from international theater space consultant Joshua Dachs, is a whimsical play on the Blue Barn name and purpose. Weathered steel and slatted wood evoke the barn motif. A vertical wall of rebar suggests a curtain. Splashes of blue appear throughout.

Great pains were taken to express the organic qualities that distinguish the way the company makes theater, including the use of salvaged materials and hand-made fixtures by area artists. Elements from the old 11th and Jackson space were integrated. The house was kept small to preserve intimacy with audiences.

“Rehearsing our opening play I had a moment where I was transported back to our old space and it felt like I was home. We worked long and hard to create a space that felt familiar from our old digs but also inspiring in new ways, and I think we have done that,” Clement-Toberer says. “For awhile during the building process I was a little freaked out that it was too big, but it’s not. Once the walls and the reclaimed wood slats got put up and our comfy chairs from the old space were installed, I clearly saw this new building—with the expanded lobby and adjoining back garden—offers incredible new spaces for us.

“But they still feel like the Blue Barn. I feel like the building is a body that warmly embraces our work.”

Occupying a permanent, dedicated space is a giant leap forward for a theater that rented and repurposed venues for more than 27 years, and even went homeless for a time.

“It’s very exhilarating to know we actually have a full space of our own that we will get to know every nook and cranny and creak in the floor and not have to go anywhere else to create our art.”

Amenities include larger dressings rooms, and, for the first time, backstage restrooms the actors won’t share with patrons. There are also enhanced lighting and sound systems, more expansive wing and storage areas, and a much higher ceiling for flying props and lights.

Clement-Toberer says, “I became adept at creating around limitations. Now my head’s spinning with the possibilities. We don’t have to have any confinement in how we create anymore and that’s the biggest transformation—what we’re able to do on our stage.

“If we want a scene to take place outdoors we can open the back doors of the house out onto the porch yard. We can let the actors and audience feel the wind blowing and see the moon. That to me is a gift.”

The potential configurations excite the director in her.

“I can see us…putting in a long table that runs from the indoor space all the way outdoors and having a beautiful dinner with the show happening around on the green space. I can see seating on the fixed stage and the performance being on the porch yard.”

Indeed, she regards the building and its signature indoor-outdoor flex space as “a set design malleable enough to allow the Blue Barn to grow into it and find different ways of utilizing it. Hopefully we have created a palette and a place that will continue to inspire us as artists as well as our audiences in the different forms we can create and in the different feelings we bring about through the stories we tell.”

Blue Barn hasn’t come to all this without struggle. The building’s a testament to resilience and community support built over time.

“We’re very lucky and full of gratitude that people in Omaha believed in us enough to help us grow ourselves in all the right ways,” she says.

Through it all, Blue Barn stayed true to itself.

“Our voice is a little more grown-up but it’s still speaking the same language we were 27 years ago.It is kind of like having our child grow up, and we still get to play hard and fierce.”

The new theater also strengthens Blue Barn’s position as a regional professional theater now that it meets equity standards.

Clement-Toberer credits Omaha philanthropist Nancy Mammel—who donated the land to Blue Barn and developed the adjoining Boxcar project—“as the real visionary for knowing 10th Street deserved a revitalization.”

This 2015-2016 season Clement-Toberer’s making sure to “savor every moment.”

Visit bluebarn.org to learn more.

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The 
Theatrical Design of Jennifer Pool

January 24, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jennifer Pool is a tad hoarse. “I’m recovering from the football game.” She was in the stands for Ron Kellogg III’s Hail Mary pass on Nov. 2, a Husker win that will go down in history. “I must have screamed for three minutes straight.”

The mind boggles, but football just might be more important than fashion to this freelance clothing designer from Papillion. Case in point: The second time Pool showed at Omaha Fashion Week, her collection was chosen for the finale. “But they announced it the day after my sister got tickets to the Washington/Nebraska game in Seattle. So I was like, hey, cool, I’m not gonna be at the fashion show cuz I’m gonna be in Seattle at a football game.”

Nevertheless, her collection still walked that fall 2010 runway. Theater friends stood in as her wardrobe crew.

The combo of theater and fashion has been in Pool’s blood for years now. She started sewing when she was 8. “And when we played pretend,” she adds, “it was very important to me that we all knew what we looked like. We are princesses, and you are wearing this colored dress, and your hair looks like this…very important that we got that clarified right up front.”

While she was finishing her master’s in costume design at University of Georgia in 2003, some friends began an alternative theater group at Blue Barn Theatre called Witching Hour. But Pool took her expertise first to the Indiana Repertory Theater before coming back to Omaha to fall in with the group. “I started out there as a helper, worker-bee type person.” Ten years later, she’s now Witching Hour’s artistic director.

“We’re kind of nonlinear,” Pool explains. “We’re experimental. We can set up some rules and then break them as soon as we set them. It’s not like watching a sitcom. We jump in and out of narrative theater.”

Witching Hour will only have two shows this season, due to a smaller ensemble (Sineater played in December, and How to Be Better runs Fridays and Saturdays from Feb. 28 to Mar. 15 at 11 p.m.). That’s it for fully mounted productions by Witching Hour on stage at Blue Barn, but there’s still their second annual Christmas Rumpus in July.

An out-of-season holiday observation is, frankly, right up Witching Hour’s alley. “Naysayers will say we reinvent the wheel a lot,” Pool says. “But we simply start with no rules.” Consider that a note to be open-minded if you’re planning to attend a performance.

“I think the best shows are the ones you need the thickest skin for,” Pool says. It’s a frame of mind she kept while constructing her fall 2013 collection for OFW.

“This was a very Witching Hour collection,” she says. “I approached it in much the same way I approach a show. What can I push myself to explore in an unexpected way? I felt stuck, trapped. I love to do crazy, avant garde things, I design costumes for drag queens. And the last two shows I did were contemporary.” Which, the history lover admits, isn’t her favorite style to design.

Bloodied models clothed in different stages of confinement—body cages, hoop skirts, neck braces—evoked a battle for release. “It’s about the struggle,” Pool says, “the getting out. Not whether or not you end up a beautiful butterfly.”

She’s interested in continuing the story for her next OFW collection. “If the first one was about breaking free and getting loose,” Pool says, “then you’re left with a chaotic mess. And the next collection might be about how you make sense of that.”

It might also be a response to the one negative comment about her fall 2013 show that stung. “Someone said I didn’t know how to sew,” she recalls. “And looking at my collection, yeah, there was a lot of design but not a lot of technique. So I feel like the next thing I’m going to do is going to be really structural. That’s the only thing I’m interested in responding to. Because that is wrong. Yes, I can.”

Dave Wingert Walking on Sunshine

December 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

He addresses his fans as “doll,” “girlfriend,” and the occasional, Zsa Zsa Gabor-esque “dahling.” And those are for his male callers.

“C’mon in, pussycat,” the man known as “Wingy” beckons with a broad smile. “We’re on the air!”

It’s a damp, gluey-eyed, pre-dawn hour, but Dave Wingert is already deep in a groove. The perpetually perky Big O 101.9 FM personality effortlessly manipulates a dizzying array of sliding control panel buttons while simultaneously juggling coffee, headphones, mic, and a trio of computer mice below a quartet of monitors. It’s the most improbable of ballets, all perfectly choreographed for the sole purpose of transitioning into the bouncy intro of a Men at Work tune, the one about a man in Brussels who was full of muscles.

Such dexterity is a skill the New York City native honed in a broadcasting career spanning six decades. First coming to Omaha in the ’70s, he had four radio and two television programs before spending the next 20 years in Seattle hosting the nationally syndicated Dave ’Til Dawn show.

LBJ was in the Oval Office when Wingert landed his first gig, an unpaid one on Ohio University’s campus radio station. “I wanted to be an actor,” he explains, “but the radio studio in the basement of the school’s theater building caught my attention. My very Jewish mother had an [insert wagging finger] ‘Over my dead body’ attitude about acting. She insisted I do something that promised a regular paycheck.”

Wingert found that regular paycheck and many more among an alphabet soup of radio station call letters but never abandoned the stage. He has been featured in the footlights of countless community theater, Off-Broadway, and Actors’ Equity stage roles, garnering several awards along the way.

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“I’ve always considered myself an actor who just happens to do radio,” says the member of the Nebraska Broadcasting Association Hall of Fame who now serves on the board of Omaha’s Blue Barn Theatre. “Whether behind the mic or on stage, it’s just like sitting around a campfire telling stories. Storytelling helps us understand how we—all of us—are alike. Storytelling erases our differences.”

The radio celeb known for his conversational, authentic, and hilariously over-the-top banter admits to not always being so comfortably at ease behind the mic.

“Do people like me? Am I doing okay? How did that last show go?” he recalls of his earlier days in radio while, in the background, the Thompson Twins insist, as if on cue, that someone “Hold Me Now.” “I had a million unanswered questions,” says the man who now peppers his program with self-help segments that have a deeply personal meaning for many in his audience. “Now I’m at a place where I no longer question myself; I just enjoy being myself. I’m okay with that.”

It’s a sentiment that also seems to be more than okay with legions of loyal followers.

“What’s big for me now is a sense of belonging, community, the satisfaction of making a difference,” he adds. “My ability to help the Blue Barn raise big money for a new theater, for example, is probably the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my return to Omaha. My role there is to connect with the community just like my role here at the station is to connect with the community. The only way for me to do that is to just be me.”

Wingert reaches for his headphones as the interview closes and he lapses into his best Yiddish to offer a cheerful “Bye-bye bubbe! Come back any time!”

And with that, Wingy was back on the air, this time playing the infectiously upbeat Katrina and the Waves number that could easily pass for his personal theme song—“Walking on Sunshine.”

Craig Lee

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Do you ever wish to go to sleep under a star-filled sky? Create a woodland view in that drab and windowless back room? Or present a unique atmosphere for your office? Craig Lee can and does make wishes come true. He has won praise and clients for his trompe l’oeil murals and paintings that do indeed fool the eye into believing the unbelievable.

Most of his commissions are for home or business interiors. A ceiling may become a field of stars or an elaborate Renaissance-style illusion with figures and architectural features; walls may open onto a view. Faux finishes are a choice for details or an entire surface.

Take time to see his outdoor mural at 35th and Center streets. Lee’s gift to Omaha [he donated his time and materials] is an homage to the Hanscom Park neighborhood, where he lives, and to the sensual delights of spring and summer. You’ll find sweetly perfumed lilacs, wide-porched houses shaded by a great silver maple, butter-yellow lilies, and tantalizing tomatoes. “I want people to be able to hear cicadas when they look at it,” Lee says.

One of Lee's murals at the Hands of Heartland Center in Bellevue.

One of Lee’s murals at the Hands of Heartland Center in Bellevue.

The 18’ x 62’ mural was painted last summer. Preparation of the badly damaged wall required a week of painstaking cleaning and restoration, plus a month to cure the lime-based mortar. Painting the mural took a full month (A video of the process is available here).

Eddith Buis, an artist, educator, and longtime public art advocate, is thrilled with the Center Street mural. “It brings good art to the public,” she says. And per this feature, “As a muralist, he doesn’t have exhibitions, so it’s important that his work be recognized.”

While a graduate student at the prestigious Cranbrook Academy of Art, Lee followed the gestural style of the Abstract Expressionists until an instructor challenged him with the question, “What is your experience?” Lee recalls, “Art got really hard after that because realism involves so many brain cells. I want to leave some room for the viewer to be creative, and not simply reproduce what I see.” To that end, Lee uses line and color to create directional rhythm, highlights, and markers so that viewers can “read” the painting. All the senses are enlisted so one can almost feel the breeze and smell the flowers. By engaging viewers in these ways, their own stories are interwoven into the one depicted.

Sometimes, the narrative requires Lee to work against such realism. Painting scenery for Blue Barn Theatre’s Christmas spoof, Who Killed Santa?, he sought a more limited, generic representation; the kind we’d see in advertising or packaging. Every log in the cabin wall, while recognizable, is similar. “They’re more toy logs than real logs,” he says. “It’s hard to pull back, but the painting is in service to the story.”

A backdrop for Creighton University's production of The Nutcracker created by Lee.

A backdrop for Creighton University’s production of The Nutcracker created by Lee.

Lee’s mural subjects are often larger than life and highly individualized. Three murals at Domina Law Group picture Nebraska history, renowned trials, and the firm’s own key cases. The first is encountered in the reception area, on a curved wall opposite the entry. Large portraits beg identification; soon, we are lured by details and following the ever-modernizing route that winds through the prairie.

Lee began his professional life as a scenic artist at Omaha Community Playhouse. He began to get private commissions for murals as well as other freelance work and formed his own business, Craig Lee Fine Art, about 15 years ago. (One of his early murals, of Downtown Omaha, graces the wall of Omaha Magazine’s conference room, in fact.) “There were some lean years,” he admits, but he felt compelled to paint. “You only get one life, so your work has to have meaning.”

Lee's yellow lab, Georgia, who is inspiration for his mural on Center Street.

Lee’s yellow lab, Georgia, who is inspiration for his mural on Center Street.

Georgia, a yellow lab, looks at him with adoring, melted-chocolate eyes. Her response to his comment is clear. Lee rescued her from a puppy mill where she was a breeder. Slowly, she achieved physical and emotional health, and has a starring role in the Center Street mural. Any of us, however, can find our own imaginary place in the scene, our own private entrance. And with Lee’s painting as medium, the story becomes both personal and plausible.