Tag Archives: Minnesota

Be Your Own Pit Boss

July 17, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Growing up on a farm in northern Minnesota, barbecue enthusiast Gary Dunteman learned many skills. “When you’re a farm kid, you’ve got to be your own mechanic, you’ve got to be your own carpenter—you’ve got to learn how to do everything.” 

At 13, his dad taught him how to weld to fix machinery. Now his welding comes in handy as he tries out various techniques to create the perfect smoker.

Dunteman once built a 120-gallon smoker with a customized rotisserie rack out of an old air compressor tank from a service station. “People look at it and ask, ‘What is that?’” he says. “I can do 16 racks of ribs at one time.” 

He competes in statewide barbecue competitions on the team Hawgenz Heroz, and he gets a lot of looks when traveling to contests in his decommissioned ambulance. “I call her Rosalie,” he says. The ambulance used to serve the village of Rosalie, Nebraska. “Everybody should have an ambulance. An ambulance has a lot of storage room.” 

Dunteman, who works in packaging sales, first became interested in meat smoking when his former warehouse manager built a barrel smoker. “He brought it into work one day and made some ribs on it. I thought that was the most awesome thing that ever happened.” So Dunteman taught himself how to make his own smoker by watching “ugly drum smoker” videos on YouTube. 

Dunteman says his specialty air compressor smoker would be difficult for most grilling enthusiasts to make (due to the types of tools necessary). But he says that anyone can build their own barrel smoker. Dunteman built his in an afternoon and it cost him around $100 in materials. 

Steps: First, treat your barrel by “starting a big old fire” in it with wood and charcoal to season it. “You want to get it smoked up before you actually start cooking the meat in it.” He then took pieces from an old 21-inch Weber Grill. He repurposed the racks and used the bottom of the grill to make the lid. If you don’t have an old grill, you can purchase a smoker cover and a replacement cooking grate for the racks separately. 

To make the coal basket, he attached four carriage bolts to the bottom of the rack and then attached a 6-inch piece of expanded steel around it to make a basket. “I wrapped it around it and wired it to the rack.” He removed the handle from the side of the grill and put it on top of the smoker lid. He then drilled holes in the bottom of the barrel and attached caster wheels. 

He also put in a suspended water pan (a disposable aluminum dish) between the coal basket and the rack of meat. “The water simmers and keeps it moist and steams the meat as it’s getting smoked, so it doesn’t dry out the meat.” He recommends buying a smoker cover to protect from the rain. Dunteman says if taken care of, a barrel smoker will last a very long time, giving the user many years of savory memories.

Materials Needed 

  • 55-gallon refurbished steel barrel ($29.99 from Jones Barrel Co.) 
  • 4 caster wheels
  • Replacement cooking grate or a secondhand grate sourced from a 21-inch Weber Grill
  • Expanded sheet steel (12-by-24 inches)
  • 4 carriage bolts
  • Smoker cover
  • Disposable aluminum dish for water pan

Aside from the 55-gallon barrel, all of these parts can be purchased at local hardware stores.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of OmahaHome.

Reggie LeFlore’s Street Art

March 19, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann, artwork images provided by Reggie LeFlore

His portraits may share similarities to the vandalism-tarnished genre, but for LeFlore, his art form is all about transforming communities.

“I love working with organizations and community leaders to create a series of work that’s out in the public,” explains LeFlore, who works primarily in portraiture. “My portrayals can help uplift an otherwise drab space with art.”

LeFlore’s mission started from humble beginnings, including art classes at Benson High School where he would meet his friend Gerard Pefung. After high school, LeFlore’s aspirations to illustrate cartoons and comic books led him to pursue graphic design while Pefung went in a different direction. A chance meeting years later would lead to LeFlore’s first foray into street art.

“I go to a party, and I see this massive indoor mural and Pefung is standing in front of it,” LeFlore reminisces. “I find out that he created it, and I’m flabbergasted. At that moment I decided to take my craft and elevate it by jumping into public art.”

Leflore would pick up an aerosol can for the first time at Pefung’s studio, eventually developing a signature style remixing existing images with his hybrid stencil method. He became acquainted with community art organizers—including folks involved with Benson First Friday—and he started to pay more attention to public art and murals around town. With his desire to showcase his art, LeFlore participated in shows at The Union of Contemporary Arts’ Wanda B. Ewing Gallery in North Omaha and exhibited in Chicago (in a gallery and on the street). But he longed for an international platform.

After admiring constant social media posts about Hong Kong’s street art scene from a Nebraska friend (Craig Schuster) living in the Chinese territory, LeFlore became determined to showcase his art there. With income earned from personal commissions and teaching at The Union of Contemporary Arts, he was able to move toward his goal with a trip to the former British colony.

“I did research and found that I didn’t need to know Cantonese or Mandarin to live in Hong Kong,” LeFlore says. “It made it easy for me to adapt, and I utilized my time there to build opportunities and meet my friend, Hughie [Doherty], who owns a screen printing shop in Stanley, Hong Kong.”

During the day, Stanley is a busy seaside marketplace with a labyrinth of shops selling clothing, trinkets, and toys. When the neighborhood shops close for the night, a vibrant street art scene emerges. Artworks reveal themselves, painted on the shutters of local establishments.

Schuster, his Nebraska expat friend, introduced LeFlore to a local arts nonprofit called HK Walls. HK Walls “aims to create opportunities for local and international artists to showcase their talent in Hong Kong.” The nonprofit helped LeFlore with resources in Hong Kong, introducing him to Doherty and a host of local street artists. From there, LeFlore set off to create his masterpiece amongst the shutters.

A collaboration with Schuster led to “Kowloon Influence,” an art piece depicting Tsang Tsou Choi, a legendary Hong Kong graffiti artist (known as the King of Kowloon) who spent decades scrawling his family’s ancestral claims to Kowloon—a large portion of Hong Kong’s land area—in calligraphy that he painted on public walls throughout the bustling city.

In order to pay homage to the King of Kowloon, LeFlore made stencils of Tsang Tsou Choi’s calligraphy and combined them with a friend’s referenced photographs creating a surreal portrait on a city street.

LeFlore’s recent move to the Twin Cities has immersed him in Minnesota’s own thriving visual arts community. While his girlfriend, Heather Peebles, pursued her Master of Fine Arts at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, he linked up with a comprehensive group of like-minded creatives.

“I still keep my connections in the Big O,” LeFlore says. “I consider Watie White as a mentor, and my cousin, Joanna LeFlore helped me establish my style. The Union for Contemporary Art has also been amazing.”

LeFlore is in the process of pursuing a collaborative project with Omaha photographer Alicia Davis, but here is where street art clashes with the rebel spirit of graffiti. Their project has run into some unexpected roadblocks.

“The graffiti artist in me says to stop asking for permission, come down, and get some stuff up there,” he says. “North Omaha should have a bigger public art presence. The conversation behind street art is what makes it cool, and I’m sure it could help reinvigorate the community.”

Visit ral86.com for Reggie LeFlore’s personal website.

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

 

The Man Who Invented the College Football Playoff

December 28, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There are scripts,but there’s also all kinds of room for improvisation. It’s improv. You get into character and run with it.

Larry Culpepper is either delusional or a consummate bullshitter, claiming, among other whoppers, that he created the College Football Playoff. He is raucous, chippy, and self-absorbed. His hair, shirt, visor, and flip-up glasses scream 1976. He’s a guy you’d buy a pop from, but likely shy away from having a beer with.

But Culpepper, the fictional character brought to life by actor/improv pro Jim Connor, is an increasingly beloved traveling minstrel who now transcends the Dr. Pepper brand he was created to peddle. Three years after his birth in an ad campaign with a potentially short leash, Culpepper now is mobbed by fans during live appearances; is part of a 10-part, football-season-long ad series; is the face of Dr. Pepper’s $35 million sponsorship of the College Football Playoff; and, increasingly, is a media darling beyond the confines of paid advertising slots.

For marketing purposes, Culpepper is from nowhere in particular. But in late August, Culpepper appeared on ESPN’s College Football Live and was asked to give his prediction for the playoff’s final four teams. His answer: Alabama, Clemson, LSU, and Nebraska (fresh off their losing season).

“Nebraska?” One commentator scoffed, before asking a cohort, “Is he from Nebraska or something?”

larryculpepper2Culpepper isn’t, but Connor is. For the Omaha native and Husker fan, that moment on ESPN illuminates why he has enjoyed playing Culpepper so much. “There are scripts, but there’s also all kinds of room for improvisation,” Connor says during a call from his home in Los Angeles. “It’s improv. You get into character and run with it. It’s a great time.”

Connor, the youngest of seven children (“which explains my personality right there,” he says), attended Creighton Prep, where, along with classmate Alexander Payne, he performed with the school’s improv acting troupe. He remembers one gig in particular that fueled his passion for the rush and satisfaction of successfully winging it for a crowd. “It was for a local service group,” he says. “We did some silly birthing scene, and the women in the group—you know, who had some experience with such a thing—really had a good time with it. It’s so cool when you connect with an audience.”

Connor was a gifted ham and public speaker. He served as vice president of the student council at Prep, wrote and acted in pep rally skits, and even placed first place for Humorous Interpretation at the National Forensic League’s National Speech Tournament in Minnesota.

After what he described as a “difficult” freshman year at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (“it just wasn’t for me”), he transferred to Saint John’s University in Minnesota. After college, he moved to Boston and worked as a carpenter while performing in theater and short films, then moved to Denver to pursue his MFA in acting at the famed National Theatre Conservatory.

The goal, “was never to get famous,” he says. “I just wanted to make a living being an actor. I wanted acting to be my full-time job.”

A dream of tens of thousands who have moved to Los Angeles. And while at 54, Connor is no household name, he has succeeded at stringing together enough commercials and small parts to make acting his career.

Besides nearly 150 commercials, his film credits include Watchmen, Meet Dave, Blades of Glory, The Onion Movie, Home Invasion, and Horrible Bosses 2. Alexander Payne asked his old friend to give the drunken wedding-reception toast in About Schmidt.

He also had numerous recurring roles in television comedies such as Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Scrubs, and The King of Queens.

In 2014, Connor and about 500 other actors auditioned for the role of the Dr. Pepper concessionaire in a national ad campaign targeting college football fans. Actors were given latitude to define the character and riff. Connor created an amalgam of “a lot of people I’ve known” to create Culpepper, a loud, proud, gregarious huckster who seems to actually believe—in the face of constantly presented information to the contrary—that he created the four-team college football playoff system.

For all of Culpepper’s failings, he’s also affable, wide-eyed, and childlike in his zeal for the job and the game, appealingly un-self-aware, and extremely clever. “Larry is a real guy, he’s a smart guy,” Connor says. “He’s just got some unusual ideas sometimes.”

larryculpepper1Among myriad other reasons why he claimed the Cornhuskers would make the playoffs: “Nebraska runs that classic passive-aggressive offense,” he told the ESPN crew. “They’re playin’ real nice, and then you’re like a puddle on the 50-yard line.”

It was inspired nonsense, which is the foundation to good improv, which is what Connor would love to spend the rest of his career getting paid a living wage to do.

Indeed, as Culpepper increasingly becomes a star beyond the confines of college-game broadcasts, as Dr. Pepper continues to expand the ad campaign (Connor’s character is now essentially the spokesman in football matters for the company, which AdWeek magazine estimated paid at least $35 million to be a “championship partner” in the College Football Playoff).

He is hoping to land more significant movie and television roles, especially in one of the increasing number of loosely scripted, improv-heavy comedies.

“I’m not going to get cast for scripted stuff in front of a studio audience,” he says. “That’s not what I’m built for.  Shows like Parks and Recreation—where you have space to work more freely with a talented group—that’s where I belong. That’s where I love to be.”

Visit larryculpepper.com for more information.

Cirque de Amateur

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The term “amateur” gets a bad rap. While suggesting a lack of skill, the word actually comes from the Latin “amator” or “lover.” An amateur is someone who does what they do for the love of it, and in Omaha, some love the circus arts. People are flocking to the traditions of the big top for myriad reasons: hobby, self-expression, exercise, paid performance, or social activity. 

Ciara Searight is a professionally certified aerial trainer who studied with Aircats at the Boulder Circus Center, Aloft Loft in Chicago, and Circus School of Arizona. Searight is an aerialist, acrobat, and dancer. Gracefully, she performs above the ground, defying fear with seeming effortlessness.

“I’m a certified teacher, but I’m an amateur performer,” says Searight, who started FreakWorks Entertainment in Omaha to teach and reach out to those with a similar love for the art of the aerial performance. The group meets frequently on Sundays in Elmwood Park, and she welcomes the public to join them. Parks have always allured young acrobats.

“I did gymnastics when I was younger, but I was inspired by playing around on tall swings, flipping around and hanging upside down. I thought, ‘there’s got to be something like this out there,’” says Searight of what led her to aerial arts such as silks, corde lisse, sling, lyra, trapeze, flying trapeze, straps, chains, pole, Spanish web, and more.

Anyone can do something in the circus arts, from the highest tightrope to yoyo tricks, unicycling, or sleight of hand—the possibilities are limitless. All it takes is one specific talent and to know approachable circus folks like her, according to Searight.

Circus-Arts2“Even pets can be taught tricks to perform. FreakWorks has had fire breathers, sword fighters, aerial silk performers, a lyrist, unicycle, whip, rola bola, breakdance, acrofusion, juggling, fire fingers, fire staff, poi, ballet, hoopers, flag, hand tut, pole. I wish we had BMX and skateboarders. Contortion and hand balancing would be great. Also teeter totter and trampoline artists would be amazing.”

The athleticism in aerials is obvious, but performing in most circus arts is a guaranteed workout.

“It’s great exercise. It works every part of your body,” Searight says, adding that core strength is what makes it look so easy. “I always enjoy watching people for the first time and how proud they are after doing their first real pose.”

Sara Gray describes herself as one of the obsessed ones. As Purple Pyro (her pseudonym), Gray is pushing her limits.

“I practice several movement arts: I breakdance with a local dance crew, Organix, I perform fire spinning and fire eating with Animatikz Entertainment, and aerial acrobatics with Flight Motion Studios.”

As a kid, Gray used to attempt handstands and splits with her friends with little success.

“I never got them. I decided that it would just never happen for me, and that’s what I told myself my entire life. Now I can hold a handstand with a fire staff on my neck and do the splits.”

Gray believes everyone should revisit the limits they have set for themselves as she did when she came across FreakWorks.

“I got into the circus arts last summer when my boyfriend and dance partner introduced me to a small circus group in Lincoln. After climbing into the aerial hoop for the first time, I was hooked,” says Gray. “I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life and I can never get enough. When you start off barely being able to get into the hoop, and then you work hard enough to build up the upper body strength that most people lack, there is a sense of empowerment that becomes addicting. It really helps you realize that you can break any limit that you may have set for yourself at an early age.”

Andrea Grove fits the enamored hobbyist profile. She discovered circus artistry through a roundabout route. While she had excelled at gymnastic floor exercises as a child, she eventually gave up the sport. She tried replacing gymnastics with cheerleading, but she hated it.

“Unfortunately, I felt too old to be a gymnast, and then I eventually got caught up in being a confused teenager,” says Grove. Around 20, she began attending music festivals, where circus performers flourish.

“I saw my first hula hoop dance at a festival in Minnesota and was blown away. It looked like magic. So I went home, bought a hoop from Target, and started teaching myself through YouTube tutorials.” 

Elmwood meet-ups with FreakWorks, as well as contortion training at Laurel Feller’s FlightMotion Studios, helped Grove branch out, adding to her list of skills and her family. Because circus people are tight like that.

“It captured my heart,” Grove says. “That magical feeling of seeing my first hoop dance hasn’t gone away; it’s only grown. That’s why I do it. It is an escape from the mundane, and I hope to someday spark that magic in someone else’s life. They can join my family.”

Visit facebook.com/Freakworks for more information. Omaha Magazine