Tag Archives: Kimberly Faith Hickman

Eliminating The Impossible

March 28, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Zhomontee Watson first took the stage when she was a sophomore in high school. Completely new to the world of acting, her first director chose her to play the lead in The Princess and the Pea. As a college senior, Watson found herself nominated for Best Actress in a musical in the 12th annual Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards.

Watson netted the nomination (and a win)* in this year’s OEAAs with her performance as the lead character in Sister Act at Omaha Community Playhouse. She says she’s grateful, but it did catch her off guard. Her portrayal of Deloris Van Cartier was in September 2016—just before the cut-off date for OEAA qualifications.

“I did not expect this. Since it was over a year ago, I didn’t expect it to be part of the awards,” Watson says.

Sister Act, the musical comedy based on the 1992 film by the same name, follows Deloris Van Cartier on her journey into the Witness Protection Program after she sees a murder that she shouldn’t have. For her own safety, Deloris is sent to live in a holy convent. She struggles as she learns to adapt to her new life among the nuns.

“In this role I really had to connect to the words. There was no way you could sing those songs without connecting something to it,” Watson says.

Watson notes that most of her previous roles have been characters in established positions of power—such as a principal or mother figure—but Deloris Van Cartier was a different challenge for Watson to tackle. Completely removed from the security of her old life, Deloris must put her trust and safety into other people’s hands.

“I also got to have a sensitive and tender moment in the show where I had to connect with people who I love and who love me,” Watson says.

Sister Act displays a family-like bond between the nuns and Deloris, and Watson says that bond didn’t end when the curtain dropped. She says that her real-life connection to her fellow cast members helped bring her performance to life.

Director Kimberly Faith Hickman remembers Watson for her strong stage presence and work ethic. “She takes on the challenge and always accomplishes what you asked her to do, no matter how difficult it may be,” Hickman says. “You should never miss out on an opportunity to collaborate with Zhomontee.”

Acting has always been a passion for Watson. She doesn’t get compensated for her hours of devotion to the theater, but she does find acting to be an important outlet in her life.

“Acting definitely gave me a home away from home,” Watson says.

As someone who experienced some instability while growing up, acting was a way for Watson to find a support system and consistent group of people. Additionally, she’s found that acting puts her mind at ease.

“I can be myself with not being myself,” Watson says. “I get to dive into another character and leave my life at the door.”

In March, Watson is appearing in the Omaha Community Playhouse’s production of James and the Giant Peach. Like Sister Act, it is a musical directed by Hickman.

Watson plays the Earthworm in this beloved children’s story. Despite the role originally being intended for a man, she has taken on the challenge of portraying the character.

“She’s a risk-taker. I don’t know if she describes herself that way, but as someone who directs her I see her as a risk-taker,” Hickman says. “She asked if she could sing a part that wasn’t written for her gender and she was fantastic.”

Even through all her positive experiences in Omaha’s theater community, Watson does believe there’s room for improvement. Now, more than ever, she believes that conversations about inclusivity and diversity should be taking place.

While the OEAAs are taking steps to be more inclusive—such as changing their awards to be gender inclusive—there are other organizations that are failing to hit the mark.

“In our theater community now, it’s very important to know that inclusion is a thing and that it needs to remain a thing. It needs to become more a part of the narrative than it currently is,” Watson says.

She hopes that more theaters become proactive in finding diversity for their performances. There’s plenty of talent in Omaha’s minority communities, but theaters must create an inviting space. Watson says that they can’t just expect their theaters to develop a perfect cast—they have to actively seek and promote.

Additionally, she encourages those in the community to be accepting and understanding of newcomers. She believes that theaters can get stuck in a “comfort zone” that includes only casting a handful of frequent actors and actresses. By taking time to teach new thespians, Watson believes that Omaha’s already-impressive theater community can soar to new heights.

Her educational goals don’t stop with the stage. Her final year of undergraduate studies has taken up plenty of Watson’s free time, but she’s still managing to put the hours in for rehearsal and performance. Her current plan is to graduate in May and apply for UNO’s graduate counseling program.

“Grad school is a whole different ball game, so I’ll see how time management factors in, but I definitely don’t plan on stopping,” Watson says. “If I can squeeze in a show or two then I will.”

*Article updated after the OEAA winner announcements. 

This article appears in the March/April 2018 edition of Encounter.

Curtain Calling

March 2, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Growing up, Laura Leininger-Campbell was an introverted bookworm who dreamt of being an actor and had an imagination that ran as wild as her naturally curly hair. She would go on to establish her own singular course in the arts, with a steadfast love of theater and storytelling acting as her compass.

Leininger-Campbell avidly participated in high school plays before earning a degree in theater from Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. She’d have her first run-in with the legacy of famed playwright Eugene O’Neill there—though it wouldn’t be her last.    

“[Connecticut College] had a great theater program and many ties to the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center the next town over in Waterford,” she says. “New London is actually where O’Neill lived. His childhood home—the Monte Cristo Cottage, [depicted] in Long Day’s Journey Into Night—is there.”

After college, Leininger-Campbell moved to New York City, where her expectations of an acting career were humbled by the reality of paying the bills. Three years later, she realized her day job with hat designer Tracey Tooker left little time for auditions and the then-nebulous-to-her concept of networking.   

“They do a much better job teaching kids to manage creative careers now,” she says. “I ended up getting pretty fried, so I gave up on it, moved back to Omaha, and started over. I told myself I wouldn’t do theater anymore, and tried to make peace with that.”

But her calling kept calling. A role in Brigit Saint Brigit Theatre’s The Cherry Orchard helped her establish strong ties there, which extended throughout the Omaha theater community as she took on more roles. Leininger-Campbell found herself living the dream on her own terms. 

“I was actually enjoying a life of theater and making a living,” she says.

Leininger-Campbell’s next star turn emerged when her career as a playwright germinated. She says it began with several adaptations she wrote for the Joslyn Castle Literary Festival: Wuthering Heights, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and The Jewel of Seven Stars.   

“At that point, I really liked the idea of writing—taking specific ideas from the [original] writer and putting them on the page in a compelling way,” she says. “My acting background really helped me understand the structure of compelling scenes and what makes for good conflict.”

Playwright Ellen Struve noticed her knack for theatrical storytelling and encouraged her to create original script work.

“Ellen was instrumental in getting me going. She gave me a little notebook and said, ‘I think you have real stories in you. Go write them down.’ She was very influential, and she was the first person I called when I was done. I said, ‘I think I wrote something.’ And that something I wrote was Eminent Domain,” Leininger-Campbell says. 

The play employs wit, humor, and powerful emotion to tell the poignant story of a Nebraska family whose farm is threatened by the construction of an oil pipeline. Leininger-Campbell spent lots of time on her own family’s farm growing up. The agrarian inspiration motivated her to write something inspired by news about the Keystone XL pipeline.        

“I wanted to write about a farm family…and those memories of people who just remain in your heart. That story fit so perfectly with what I saw happening with KXL,” says Leininger-Campbell. “Much of my impetus to start writing comes from outrage, and once I identify my outrage, I try to understand both sides and expose them so people have something to talk about on the way home from the theater…I tried to depict both sides in Eminent Domain.”

Eminent Domain progressed from a notebook to a reading at the Shelterbelt Theatre to its world premiere, sold-out run at the Omaha Community Playhouse in 2017. Leininger-Campbell’s next touchpoint with the legacy of Eugene O’Neill came when Eminent Domain was named a 2016 Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference finalist.     

“Laura’s script came to my attention after its public reading at Shelterbelt Theatre, and I fell in love with it immediately,” says Kimberly Faith Hickman, artistic director at Omaha Community Playhouse. I’m proud and honored to see this story enter the canon of American theatre, and for Omaha Community Playhouse to have been the home for its world premiere.”

“The reaction we had at the Playhouse was great,” says Leininger-Campbell, who’s sent queries nationwide for the piece. “Part of it’s about the pipeline, but really it’s about a family that has to join together in trying times, and I can’t think of a better time than right now, when people are so polarized, to see a polarized family having to cleave together to solve their own problems. It’s a Nebraska story, but it’s an American play.”

Leininger-Campbell credits director Amy Lane for helping to clarify and enhance aspects of the script, and the cast for bringing the show to life. She also cites her husband, author/musician Michael Campbell, who was the first to read the play and later contributed the production’s music.

“He wrote these beautiful, amazing tunes, just on the knowledge of what he’d read about the characters. I was really lucky to have him as a collaborator,” says Leininger-Campbell.

KXL pipeline fighter Jane Kleeb attended the Shelterbelt reading—offering helpful feedback afterwards—and the Playhouse premiere.

While she plans to do some acting in 2018, Leininger-Campbell is fully embracing the role of playwright. This year, audiences can anticipate Leininger-Campbell’s Terminal. The comedy tells the story of a group of people stuck inside an airport terminal who “get on each others’ nerves and slowly their humanity begins to melt away.”

Leininger-Campbell says her biggest wish is more time to write, and while time is a finite resource, she has ideas aplenty.

“I like to identify stories and then just tuck them away to mine later,” says Leininger-Campbell. “I love the process of writing and bringing those stories to life.”

Learn more about Laura Leininger-Campbell at lalaplaywright.com.

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

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