Tag Archives: Omaha Performing Arts

Foxes at Play

July 24, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Charlie Fox spent years on the road working for rock bands as a tour manager, front-of-house sound engineer, and production manager.

For much of his career, all that time away from home wasn’t a problem. He was single and could go wherever, whenever.

Fox was already used to changing his location.

“I was a military brat, so we moved around a bunch when I was a kid,” he says. His father, a native of O’Neill, Nebraska, was in the Air Force and had long worked toward getting back to his home state.

“When I was a junior in high school [in 2001], he got stationed at Offutt, ” Fox says.

Teenaged Charlie was a drummer in a couple of bands that played the Ranch Bowl and a Papillion venue called The Rock. “Nothing that ever really went anywhere outside of Omaha, or really even drew a whole lot of people to the Ranch Bowl,” he says.

Yet the experience helped spark his interest in recording and sound production.

After high school, he enrolled at the University of Nebraska-Omaha for a year before transferring to UNL.

Though neither school had a live sound program, his time in Lincoln proved beneficial. It was there that he began working at Midwest Sound & Lighting Inc., where a co-worker who owned the public-address system at Duffy’s Tavern gave him opportunities to run the sound board there.

“It was a great place to start really honing my skills,” Fox says. “That was my first live sound gig.”

The experience led him to a career working for rock bands including Cage the Elephant, Needtobreathe, Yellowcard, Mayday Parade, and The Used.

For more than a decade, from 2005-2017, he was on the road for six to nine months out of the year.

“Even though technically my residence was Omaha, I was rarely in town,” he says.

Time went on, and, on his 28th birthday (Aug. 11, 2013) he met Beth, now his wife of three years. Beth spent several weekends on the road with Fox.

“We had a rule that we didn’t go more than three weeks without seeing each other,” Fox says. “So either I would go home or she would fly out to see me.”

Bothersome though the distance may have been, Beth enjoyed the perks of being part of roadie’s life.

“She had only been in four or five states prior to meeting me,” Fox says. “She’s now doubled, or tripled, that.”

Fox also enjoyed the side benefits of being in rock ’n’ roll. The couple state one or their favorite experiences was spending a week at a resort in Hawaii, courtesy of singer/songwriter Mat Kearney, for whom Fox was then working.

“We still talk about that trip, how much fun and relaxation we had that week,” Fox says.

Another of Beth’s favorite trips was going to New York City when Fox was working for Yellowcard. She had never been to the Big Apple before, and Fox wiggled a day off into his schedule to take her sightseeing.

As time went on, being away for weeks at a time became increasingly bothersome, and by 2015, Fox knew the gig was about up.

“When I got married, we had already started talking about what was going to happen with our future,” he says. “Was I going to stay on the road? Would I eventually get off the road? Would we move out of Omaha? In the line of work that I was in with touring, I wasn’t sure that there was going to be a possibility of staying in the music industry and in Omaha.”

At the time, Fox didn’t see a lot of Omaha-area openings.

“I just kind of assumed I would have to move to Nashville, or L.A., or New York,” he says.

As it turned out, that wasn’t necessary.

In May 2017, opportunity knocked when Omaha Performing Arts had an opening for a booking manager.  

“I had relationships with agents and promoters from all across the country from my touring days, but really hadn’t done a whole lot of booking,” he says.

Yet Fox wasn’t without booking experience. Earlier in his career, he had booked empty calendar spots at The Rock with local bands.

At Omaha Performing Arts, he is booking at a national level.

“I’m reaching out to agents for these national bands and trying to bring them in myself,” Fox says. “We do work with outside promoters as well on occasion, so I am still using those relationships with regional and national promoters to try and bring the highest quality of artists that we can into our venues.”

He says his focus has been to expand what Omaha Performing Arts offers.

“One of the first shows that I booked here when I came on was St. Vincent (Annie Clark), which I think probably shocked a lot of people when Annie was playing here as opposed to a traditional rock club. But that’s what the agent was looking for, and I think that as St. Vincent had grown, that was where her career was going to. She needed a larger venue.”

He says Omaha Performing Arts venues—the Holland Performing Arts Center and Orpheum Theater—occupy a particular market niche for a mid-level space. One of his goals is to maximize the use of Omaha Performing Arts venues by artists who might not otherwise play Omaha as their popularity increases.

“A lot of artists, they play the small clubs, and then they kind of disappear from Omaha for a few years for a lack of venue space,” he says. “Maybe they play in Kansas City or Des Moines or Chicago. My goal is to try and get those artists to keep coming here so people can see them and not have to wait until they’re big enough to be playing in the arenas.”

In addition to career satisfaction, Fox’s work gives him an opportunity to come home each night to his wife and Theodore, the couple’s nearly 2-year-old son. Beth, now a stay-at-home mom, is expecting the couple’s second child.

“Working with Omaha Performing Arts has been an amazing experience,” he says. “Being able to come home every day at the end of the day and see my family, to sleep in my own bed, to have dinner with my wife and son every night…that wasn’t possible in my old career.”


Visit omahaperformingarts.org for more information about Charlie and the artists he is booking for OPA.

This article was printed in the Fall 2018 edition of Family Guide.

Clockwise from top: Charlie, 
Beth, and Theodore Fox

Dinner, Drinks, and a Show At the Holland

July 23, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Dinner and a show is essentially the “little black dress” of nights out on the town. The combo is always relevant, always in style, and it looks great on everyone. 

Since opening in 2005, the Holland Center has offered a wonderful venue for enjoying a performance or concert; the deal is even sweeter now that they also welcome audiences for dinner, drinks, and even a pre-show performance on some occasions—all under one roof.  

“Zinc is our full-service restaurant and Ovations is our bar in the lobby,” says Danyel Siler, vice president of marketing and communications for Omaha Performing Arts. “They’re both located right in the Holland Center, so you can plan an entire night out here, park once, and visit Ovations for drinks and an appetizer or go to Zinc for an excellent meal made by a local chef with fresh, seasonal ingredients. We also offer valet parking to make the experience complete, so people can just come once, have a nice meal or drinks before the show, and then enjoy a night of entertainment.”

Zinc, which opened in 2015 and is helmed by chef Diana Browder, is open two-and-a-half hours before all Omaha Performing Arts performances, as well as all Omaha Symphony shows except their family series. Siler recommends making reservations via OpenTable or by calling Ticket Omaha, as Zinc fills up fast. 

Foodies will find that Zinc offers creative, flavorful cuisine—from flatbread appetizers, to sandwiches and salads, to entrees—on par with some of Omaha’s best dinner destinations. Dishes feature flourishes and elements that elevate the menu; one of those attributes is the fact that Zinc is an environmentally conscious restaurant.  

“Zinc’s menu changes with the season to ensure freshness,” Siler says. “The menu features fresh, organic, seasonal, locally produced food. We also feature grass-fed, free-range, hormone-free meat and sustainably caught and handled seafood.” 

If you’re just in the mood for drinks or perhaps a smaller bite, the Holland’s lobby bar, Ovations, has you covered. Ovations, which opened in 2012, is open for all Omaha Performing Arts and Symphony performances. 

“Ovations offers a variety of drinks and some great small plates and appetizers,” says Siler, noting that the bar menu rotates frequently. Some of her recent favorites have included mini Asian tacos, stuffed tater tots, and a charcuterie board with specialty jam, mustard, pickled vegetables, and lavosh.  

“They’re just really nice, easy bites to eat while you enjoy a drink before you go see the show,” Siler says.  

Adding another layer to the experience, Omaha Performing Arts added a cover-free, pre-show happy hour performance series in 2017, adjacent to Ovations. After sporadically offering them in the past, they hosted five happy hour performances throughout the 2017/2018 season, and plan to double that for the 2018/2019 season due to the great response they’ve received. Siler says the new lineup will be announced in September, closer to the start of the season.   

“Our happy hour performances encompass all ages and genres of music, and we help spotlight our community partnerships and education programs,” Siler says. “For example, this year right before the Hot Sardines performed in the main hall, we featured Sophie & Evan [a group consisting of Sophie Keplinger and Evan Johnson] from the Blues Society of Omaha’s BluesEd youth artist development program. It’s an opportunity to enjoy the Holland in a different way, and it brings the lobby to life with great atmosphere. There’s plenty of space to gather with friends, to visit and enjoy each other, but then also enjoy the music.”

While the Holland offers a great one-stop-shop for folks with tickets to the main event, Siler says that everyone is welcome to visit Zinc, Ovations, and happy hour performances even if they don’t have a ticket to the main show. 

“We really encourage everyone to come to a happy hour or for dinner and drinks at Zinc or Ovations,” Siler says. “It’s an amazing experience that we want to share with as many people as possible.”


Visit omahaperformingarts.org for more information.

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

Finding National Limelight For Local Work

May 15, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you’ve attended a performance or event at the Holland Center or Orpheum Theater during the past 16 years, you’ve witnessed the work of Omaha Performing Arts. If you’ve purchased tickets using Ticket Omaha, you’ve used services provided by Omaha Performing Arts. If your family or children have participated in an education program like the Nebraska High School Theater Awards or attended a community engagement program like Jazz on the Green, you’ve benefited from programming offered by Omaha Performing Arts.

Over the past 16 years, the organization has grown to reach nearly 500,000 people annually, support a budget of about $20 million, and generate an economic impact of about $40 million, making it difficult to find anyone in the Omaha area who hasn’t at some point been touched by the organization.

And the woman who has been at the helm of OPA since it was founded is president Joan Squires.

“Joan is an extraordinarily valuable asset,” says OPA Chairman John Gottschalk. “The fact that she came here when we were at the threshold of enormous growth in performing arts is fantastic. She started almost from scratch when we were getting ready to open the Orpheum [for more performances] through the Holland. It’s changed not only the volume, but the quality, of the performing arts available in this city.”

Squires has received accolades for her pioneering leadership since OPA was founded in 2002. But lately, even more national organizations and publications are noticing her continued excellence.

In spring 2017, Squires was given the Samuel J. L’Hommedieu Award for Outstanding Achievement in Presenter Management from the Broadway League in recognition of her contributions and service to the Broadway industry, and in December, she was elected to a two-year term on the national Broadway League’s board of governors. Also in December, Musical America magazine named Squires one of 30 U.S. “Movers and Shapers” for 2017. And OPA will receive the 2018 Governor’s Arts Award for Organizational Achievement at the prestigious biennial event organized by the Nebraska Arts Council.

Squires is grateful for these recognitions; however, she attributes her success and OPA’s continued success to many factors.

The two venues the organization operates—the Holland Center and the Orpheum Theater—offer the community “some of the best venues anywhere,” she says, making them a popular destination. The high quality of performances, presentations, and artists OPA brings to Omaha—Broadway, dance, jazz, popular music, family presentations, world music, and speakers—continue to draw robust audiences.

Gottschalk attributes the OPA’s quality to Squires’ management abilities.

“To start a business up from scratch is no mean feat,” Gottschalk says. “You have to manage the product, manage the costs, and you have to market the place. Joan has never failed to meet the targets that are set in our budgets.”

“When we started, there was no one in this community to present these great artists,” Squires says. “Not only do we have an organization that can support them, but when [the artists] come to Omaha they’re always amazed by the quality of venues and response of the audiences.”

Finally, the community’s support through philanthropy, ticket sales, volunteer hours, and board leadership have helped OPA establish and sustain its presence. And Squires says OPA isn’t finished growing.

Looking ahead, Squires says OPA’s biggest area of growth is in education and engagement. OPA currently partners with national organizations including Jazz at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Disney Theatrical Group, and the Broadway League.

“We’re really developing those programs and continuing to seek out national partnerships to bring new things to young people…and also look for opportunities to further deepen and strengthen our relationships throughout the community.”


Visit omahaperformingarts.org for more information.

This article was printed in the April/May 2018 edition of B2B.

Louder Together

August 17, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Lauren Martin was a small-town farm girl from McCook, Nebraska. She loved country music and never expected she would one day lead Maha—Nebraska’s pre-eminent annual music festival.

On Aug. 19, Martin oversees one of Maha’s boldest lineups ever. Headlined by the controversial hip-hop group Run The Jewels, Maha 2017 is poised to be one huge spectacle that promises to bring together a diverse group of concert-goers.

That kind of unity through music drives Martin, who got her first taste of it when she was a college student working on the campus program council at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “All of the sudden, I realized my favorite thing was to bring people together around experiences,” says Martin, who was named Maha’s first executive director in 2015.

While attending UNL, Martin helped bring such performers as singer-songwriter Jason Mraz and comedian Kathy Griffin to the university. After graduating, she wanted to continue exploring a career of booking musical talent.  Martin interned at Omaha-based Saddle Creek Records in 2007. The following summer, she found herself working at Live Nation, a global entertainment company in St. Louis. However, the Great Recession of 2008 cut her career plans short, forcing her to move back home and assess her future in the music industry.

“I came back to Omaha and felt like a dog with my tail between my legs because I failed—or because I couldn’t hack it—whatever it was” Martin says.

In 2009, Maha was born, and Martin took interest. Over the next few years, she wore many hats, including working as a house manager at Omaha Performing Arts and as programming director at Hear Nebraska. In 2012, she was given the reins to Maha’s social media accounts. She was also named to Maha’s board of directors that same year, eventually serving as vice president.

As she continued to work with Maha, Martin’s view of music changed, especially how it can affect people and bring them together. This feeling and sense of community is something she continues to incorporate into Maha.

“Now I realize music is something we all share, and it has a power to connect. It’s everything from a release, to a way to express yourself,” she says. “And while I myself am not a musician, I find that music helps me process things. It helps me connect with other people. It’s a passion in a way that music is an avenue for my fulfillment.”

Martin also worked in communications at the Omaha Community Foundation, where she helped implement Omaha Gives!, a 24-hour charity event aimed at raising money
for nonprofits.

Then, in 2015, something big happened—Maha sold out for the first time, thanks in large part to a phenomenal lineup that included Modest Mouse and Purity Ring.

“It caused everyone involved with Maha to realize that, if we want the event to continue and really be sustainable and see what even further impact we could have on the community, we needed someone full-time. That’s when I became the executive director,” Martin says.

She also emphasized that the popular festival, currently held at Stinson Park in Aksarben Village, is much more than music. The event serves as a medium for other nonprofits to receive attention.

“It’s about raising awareness,” she says, “not forcing anyone to learn about something or expose them to potential trigger topics.”

For example, this year the festival will have information about suicide, the second-leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 34 in the U.S. Martin says the majority of Maha’s demographic falls in this age range.

“Maha is more than a music festival. It’s a platform for engagement,” she says. “We realized not only can we be a platform for other organizations, but we can help spread education.”

Martin adds that while information is available to event-goers, the staff aren’t trying to make attendees uncomfortable. “Because that isn’t the intent of anyone,” she says. “We’re not impacting the experience by throwing mental health in your face,” Martin says. “We’re not scared to talk about this. We want to be an organization that is listening to what is going on in our community.”

In addition to providing mental health information, other nonprofits team up with Maha as part of its community to culture and social activities.

This year Maha has again partnered with Louder Than a Bomb, an annual youth poetry slam with roots in Chicago that focuses on bringing teens together across all divides. The group was recently the subject of an award-winning documentary of the same name.

Another repeat partner is Omaha Girls Rock, a nonprofit that typically draws plenty of attention. The group empowers young women to voice creativity through music education and performance. In general, to “rock.”

“Maha is an event that connects and reflects the community,” Martin says. “In that kind of structure, you get to walk away saying ‘Omaha’s got some really cool stuff going on.’”

As Maha continues to grow, Martin says people are getting even more out of the music festival. To this date, the event has drawn music fans from 46 states, according to its website.

“While the music is seemingly the main event, you come to Maha and get so much more than that,” Martin says. “I thought I was getting involved with Maha for the music, but what kept me involved with Maha was all the people I’ve gotten to meet.”

Visit mahamusicfestival.com for more information.

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

 

Lauren Martin

Seamus Campbell Takes the Stage

June 14, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Like so many kids, 9-year-old Seamus Campbell loves The Jungle Book. He’s one of countless children to be enchanted by the thought of boppin’ around the jungle with cool, scat-singing Baloo, relishing the “Bare Necessities” that can make life so grand.

But he’s not just another kid imagining himself to be Mowgli, the freewheeling man-cub searching for his place in the jungle. This year, Campbell became Mowgli.

Omaha Performing Arts’ Disney Musicals in Schools program, produced in collaboration with Disney Theatrical Group, let Campbell and some of his Harrison Elementary classmates take on the role of storyteller and perform in their own production of The Jungle Book.

Campbell, who played the role of Mowgli, uses words like “proud” and “fun” a lot when describing his experience.

“It’s been so fun,” Campbell says. “Mowgli gets a lot of lines and gets to move around a lot. I like the dancing, running around, talking, getting to put on costumes…It’s fun that we all get to know each other better.”

Campbell’s love of The Jungle Book—particularly Disney’s 1967 animated movie version—was his original inspiration to participate. He describes Mowgli as “very stubborn,” but says his character learns “a whole lot, like trusting your friends and listening to others.”

Kathleen Lawler Hustead, Omaha Performing Arts’ education manager, says her team kicked off the program for the 2016/2017 school year, letting third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade students from five OPS elementary schools explore musical theater from a new angle. Omaha Performing Arts is the 13th arts organization in the nation to implement the Disney Musicals in Schools program, which began in 2009.

“Disney only selects performing arts organizations with strong education departments, so we were thrilled to be among the select few brought into the program,” Lawler Hustead says.

The program is designed for sustainability, so Disney-trained, local teaching artists work with each school in its first year to develop school team members into music directors, choreographers, and stage managers, with the skills and confidence to continue the program when the teaching artists transition to the next batch of first-year schools.

“The great part about this program is it will continue for many years to come,” Lawler Hustead says, noting that after schools complete year one, they move to alumni status and continue to receive support and free or discounted materials in subsequent years. “We’ll add five new schools each year, with the eventual goal of nearly every elementary school in the Omaha area, and potentially beyond, having these sustainable musical theater programs.”

“It’s been so fun,” Campbell says. “Mowgli gets a lot of lines and gets to move around a lot. I like the dancing, running around, talking, getting to put on costumes…It’s fun that we all get to know each other better.”

Participating elementary schools are chosen based on need and commitment to sustaining the program in coming years. In addition to Harrison performing The Jungle Book, Omaha’s other Disney Musicals in Schools pioneers were Crestridge, Kennedy, and Wilson Focus—each performing The Lion King—and Liberty performing Aladdin.

After 17 weeks of preparation and rehearsal, Campbell and the other participating students performed the 30-minute shows at their schools. They also performed select songs at an all-school Student Share Celebration, produced by Omaha Performing Arts and held at the Holland Center.

“I am so proud of our kids and staff,” Harrison Principal Andrea Haynes says. “It just shows you that kids have this capacity and latent talent, and it’s our job to give them opportunities to cultivate that.”

Teaching artists Kelsey Schwenker and Sarah Gibson coached the Harrison team, which consisted of (director) fourth grade teacher Callen Goodrich, (music director) first grade teacher Anna Rivedal, (choreographer) librarian Rachel Prieksat, (stage manager) parent Danielle Herzog, (costume and set designer) paraprofessional Elizabeth Newman, and (production assistant) school secretary Linda Davey.

While the team successfully conjured Disney magic, there was much more to it than a simple flick of Tinker Bell’s wand. The school team and students devoted many extra hours of hard work and practice. Campbell is quick to agree that being in a musical is part work and part play—so what made him want to devote extra time between busy school days and evening Boy Scouts meetings?

“To make everyone like the play,” he says. “Since my parents and everyone are going to see it, I want to do a good job and make my family proud.”

Campbell’s eyes light up when he describes seeing the set and costumes for the first time.

“When the door opened, we saw there were vines, plants, and a rock—and it was raining glitter!” Campbell says.

The Harrison team created a vibrant jungle atmosphere and costumed the cast into a believable band of panthers, monkeys, snakes, tigers, wolves, bears, and, of course, one “man-cub.” At the Student Share, the creative, colorful costumes on display from all the schools were second only to the students’ enthusiasm.

“It’s been so inspiring to see what this program does for students and teachers, and to watch the students light up and grow over the process,” Lawler Hustead says. “Not only are they learning to sing, dance, and act, they’re learning critical thinking skills, problem-solving, communication, self-confidence, and how to be a team player.”

Campbell, who also loves Star Wars, football, and Percy Jackson, says his experience taught him to be brave and, of course, that the show must always go on.

“[If you mess up], you just redo the line or skip by that line,” he says confidently.

Haynes says exposing young kids to the arts fosters an important self-reliance.

“It can plant the seed in them that they can do anything,” she says. “That sense of self-confidence is so important in this world, and will carry you through all kinds of obstacles.”

Visit omahaperformingarts.org for more information.

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

Seamus Campbell

The Secret of the Shimmy

January 5, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Inhale. exhale.

The slow Middle Eastern music increases in tempo.

The ladies’ hips sway side to side in rapid repeat. All three wear black spandex pants and V-neck T-shirts. Scarves, loosely wrapped around their waists, accentuate their movements. Bells jingle in time with the rhythm of the beat.

“Don’t give away the secret,” Carol Wright warns as her hips pop. “If they want to know the secret to the shimmy, tell them to come and see Della.”

The other two women laugh as their torsos undulate. Wright closes her eyes in a losing-herself-to-the-music moment, hands on her rolling and rippling hips.

“Is this too fast?” instructor Della Bynum asks from the side of the room. She has been watching this improvisation for a while, a half-smile on her face, relishing the freedom and artistry of the belly dance.

“We will have to find out,” Wright says.

“This is where you just have fun exploring,” Bynum explains.

Anna Lewis, 22, struggles for a moment, “Which way should I go?” 

Lewis has been shaking her hips for about a year now. At 6 years old, she watched her mother and Della’s group perform for her Girl Scout troop. 

“My mom is re-inspired whenever she comes to visit and will always make sure she comes back to Della’s class,” Lewis says.

Bynum steps in to help Lewis and demonstrates a front and back roll to add to the dance. The women continue as a solid unit.

It isn’t the shimmy that is the secret, but it is this connection of women coming together to celebrate themselves and each other. Feeling that connection is one of the main reasons why Bynum stays in dance. Bynum, 67, believes belly dancing creates a bond regardless of age, ethnicity, or size.

bellydancingShe should know. She’s been dancing since she was 8 years old and aging hasn’t stopped her. It is a vivacious, beautiful, and uplifting experience.

“It makes you aware of your senses—how you see, hear,” Bynum believes.

Bynum began with traditional ballet, then shifted to modern dance. She moved from Baltimore at 19 to begin school at Creighton University. A business degree wasn’t important to Bynum. 

“Dance classes were my love,” she says. “But unless you are teaching dance, you are not assured a position to support yourself.”

She continued taking dance classes and studied ethnic forms of popular dances of the 1970s, including African, Polynesian, and belly dancing. In addition, she performed modern dance with the UNO Moving Company. In 1980, Bynum started teaching her first classes at the YWCA and continued to do so for the next 25 years. 

When Bynum retired seven years ago from her day job as a timekeeper for the Omaha Fire Department, she needed…well…something more.

“You need to move more as you age, not less. If you don’t move, you aren’t able to move as well,” Bynum believes.

“You should open up a studio,” a long-time friend and fellow dance instructor told her.

“Hmm…that’s what people do when they are young,” Bynum replied.

With some help from her friend, Bynum did the unthinkable by opening her first studio. After three years, Bynum realized the ceiling was too low for the wavy and slinky arm movements of belly dance. After searching, she discovered a spot in the Center Mall on 42nd Street. After that, it was just a matter of finding economical ways to create a studio.

Bynum teaches four days a week and her crew puts on performances for The Durham Museum, Omaha Performing Arts, Renaissance fairs, and other organizations. The women sew their own costumes for a variety of different styles including tribal, folkloric, and Oriental belly dancing. 

A six-year attendee, Michelle Widhalm, 50, says Bynum is holistic in her approach. It is emotional and spiritualistic.

Bynum’s mantra: breathe. 

“When I tell people I belly dance, it is interesting to see their reaction. Eyebrows raise,” Widhalm says. “Western culture sexualized the dance. For me, it is about the female connection.”

Widhalm was surprised the older generation seemed more open to the idea, commenting only on how it must be a good form of exercise. In fact, a 2003 study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported social dancing lowered the risk of dementia in the elderly by 76 percent—more than reading. It also reduces stress, releases serotonin, and improves overall physical health.

Bynum’s parents passed away in their 50s, which has motivated her to keep exercising. If someone likes it, he/she will keep active. Belly dancing is multi-generational. 

“It’s more of an ageless environment,” Bynum says.

Her oldest client started when she was 80 and quit at 90 due to arthritis.

When Shakira entered the scene in the 2000s, shaking those hips that don’t lie, the belly dancing industry boomed.

So what about those ripped abs?

“I had those when I was young,” Bynum says tapping her black-stockinged feet on the floor to the beat of the music. “But it isn’t about that for me anymore.”

Bynum steps in the front of the class in black leggings with a bright orange scarf tied to her waist, a dark blue shirt, and a whole lot of confidence.

Bynum works with the three women on choreographed moves based on an old saying she modified. 

Walk forward, beauty before us.

Walk backward, beauty behind us.

It continues with the side, upward, and downward until the climax.

Beauty within us.

Wright squeals at the end in time with the music, arms raised, and all of them laugh together. 

Oh, and the secret to that shimmy?

Bending the knees, breathing, and relaxing.

Visit delladancing.com for more information.

You Only Live Twice

October 15, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Omaha’s Orpheum Theater was designed to impress. Those vaulted, gilt ceilings. The 1920s Czech crystal chandeliers and gold leaf and ivory finishes. Its similarities to the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles are intentional. The Orpheum’s architects were inspired by the French Renaissance.

But, the French weren’t the sole inspiration.

The architectural styles found within the Orpheum Theater are as eclectic as the performances on stage. Designed to be a vaudeville house in 1927 by the firm Rapp and Rapp, lush Louis XIV influences mingle and complement other styles, particularly Italian. Look up as you enter the Orpheum by the ticket booth and inside the second set of entry doors. The French grandeur blends with urns and grapes typical of Italian architecture on the ceilings.

orpheum1“What the audience sees is Rapp and Rapp’s interpretations,” says Ed Hurd, who has spent several years researching the history behind the theater. He calls them interpretations because burgundy draperies and some chandeliers inside aren’t typical of French Renaissance design.

Other architectural elements sneak in elsewhere, such as a 1920s Greek Romanesque feel in the Exhibition Lobby and English-looking flowers and symmetrical design found on the ceiling by the ticket booth.

Hurd, as the performance rental director for Omaha Performing Arts, the nonprofit that manages the theater, started digging into the story of the Orpheum in order to better sell the venue to touring artists. The strategy has worked. “Without exception, the artists are amazed by the quality of this theater and the beauty,” says Joan Squires, president of Omaha Performing Arts.

“Omaha’s really lucky this place didn’t meet the wrecking ball.” Ed Hurd

Most of the elements found in the theater’s lobbies and its concert hall are original to the building, including the furniture, wrought iron grill work, draperies, marble, plaster sculpture, and the terra-cotta drinking fountains.

It wasn’t always so well maintained.

“Omaha’s really lucky this place didn’t meet the wrecking ball,” says Hurd.

In 1971, the theater had fallen into disrepair—nets under the ceiling kept plaster from falling on the audience. The following year, the building was purchased and donated to the City of Omaha and renovations began. The lobby space grew and a permanent concession area was added. While the city still owns the building, Omaha Performing Arts assumed management in 2002 and began its own extensive renovations. While heavy duty work has been done backstage and on-stage, plenty has been improved in the front of house.

That’s where James Bond comes in. Not THAT James Bond. The James Bond of Custom Artistic Finishes in Omaha, who has been touching up the Orpheum’s interior for years. He was hired to restore and accurately reflect what the building was like, says Squires. The fact that no one notices his touch-ups reflects the quality of his craftsmanship.

Bond is a former artistic apprentice to Salvatore Nespolo, the lead foreman on the original Orpheum renovation in the 1970s. He meticulously applied gold leafing, or gilding, throughout the bottom floor of the Orpheum, restoring the luster once tarnished by smoke damage. The extensive retexturing and color matching on the Lauritzen Lobby ceiling is another example.

“I’m very proud of every bit of the work I’ve done here,” says Bond.

Through the hard work of Bond and others, the ornate theater’s appearance has been restored to the level it deserves.

“What saved this building is the love people have for it,” says Hurd. 60-Plus in Omaha.

Bravissimo! The Holland Performing Arts Center

August 10, 2016 by
Photography by provided

Dick and Mary Holland didn’t sit in their well shaded home all summer, waiting for the grand opening of the performing arts center that bears their names. By early May, they’d toured construction progress a dozen times.

But the privilege of joining them on a progress tour in late August proved that they see the great effort with fresh eyes on each visit. Both Dick and Mary asked pointed questions of project manager Steve Smayda, and Holland had friendly greetings for the men laboring on the job.

He’d recently treated the workers to ice cream, hiring three of those ding-dong trucks and sending them to the 11th and Dodge work entrance. “I’ve never been around guys so damn proud
of what they are doing,” he says. He’d long since donned his yellow hard hat to become the first to sing from the new concert hall stage.

“La Donna Mobile?” “No, something from Faust,” he jokes, but more like scales. The former member of the Opera Omaha chorus then offered a few baritone notes.

DickHolland1

Make no mistake, the Hollands are enjoying their singular involvement, starting with a major gift and a hand in planning the $92 million Holland Performing Arts Center at 13th and Douglas. Any discomfort comes from their more specific roles in that Oct. 21 grand opening performance, emceed by Oscar-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss.

A news story reported that Dreyfuss was chosen partly because of starring in the movie, “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” That got a groaning “I hope not” from Omaha’s Mr. Holland. As for that opening night, “We’re certainly going to be there, but I haven’t asked for anything.”

Such reluctance won’t surprise anyone who has followed the story of the Hollands and their “enormously successful” investment with Warren Buffett. When the Omaha World-Herald ran a big spread on their philanthropy (“Giving Their All”) a few years ago, it was noted that they don’t talk about their fortune “and declined to be interviewed” for the article.

When questioned by this writer last year for the University of Nebraska at Omaha magazine Alum, Dick added to the basic account in a Buffett biography. Married a month after his 1948 graduation from then Omaha U., Holland took over his father’s advertising agency and the newlyweds moved into their present home near 80th and Pacific in 1957.

That left him short of funds when he found Buffett, the first person he’d met whose investment ideas “made sense.” So Dick borrowed $10,000 on his life insurance policy and Mary contributed a “significant” amount from her own resources. The rest is history oft-told by biographers of “the Oracle of Omaha”: The insightful ones who invested $10,000 with Buffett in 1957 and let it ride through the founding of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc., saw it grow to roughly $280 million.

Still, the Hollands remained in that same modest house, but gave away millions to causes ranging from the fight against poverty to arts organizations. Last year, $43 million remained in their charitable foundation, despite the many gifts.

Anyone tempted to second-guess their large contribution to the Holland Center must challenge two points: “Our top giving goal is to raise a whole lot of people,” especially children, “out of poverty.” And they both place great importance on the arts.

Born in Dundee and a graduate of Brownell Hall, Mary majored in childcare at Mills College in California. Dick, who grew up near 60th and Pacific, and Mary had attended the same Brownell dances, but didn’t meet until after World War II, when he returned to studies at Omaha U. “Mary still loves to dance,” Dick says, “and she’ll dance till the stars fall out of the sky.”

On music, “We’re all over the map,” he observes. “I like the modern Russians, Mozart, Brahms, some Beethoven. Mary likes some things I don’t particularly like, those compositions full of approaching doom. We go to some Broadway shows twice. We always go to Fiddler on the Roof twice, but this last time we were in Arizona.”

Mary puts it this way: “Life isn’t just reading, writing and arithmetic. It’s more than that. Music penetrates the soul. It causes us to reflect. Painting, dance and creative writing work that way, too. Observe the joy it brings. Not just the applause and cheers, but the quiet pleasure.”

Though Dick’s singing in the Opera Omaha chorus was his most recent performance participation in local arts activity, he came close to a career as an artist. His father, Lewis, had been a talented painter, and Dick won an art award while playing football at Central High School.

“Growing up,” he recalled, “I was nuts about Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton. Now I like the contemporary—the Jackson Pollock is the best art at Joslyn.”

He started college planning to be a chemical engineer, like his older brother William, but military duty in that field turned him to art on his return to the classroom at Omaha University, the alma mater of Dick and his three siblings. “I never carried it far enough,” Holland explained. “I was just learning to draw, to paint, but I was still an amateur.”

He dreamed of going to the Art Students League in New York City, but then met Mary. “She wasn’t going with me, and I needed to make money” to support her “in even half the style to which she was accustomed.”

That explains the goal, one he now calls “tasteless,” that ran beneath his senior photo in the university yearbook: “To have money and a business in art and advertising.”

That business, for many years, was known as Holland, Dreves and Reilly, second only to Bozell and Jacobs in its advertising/public relations heyday. (Valmont, UniRoyal and Omaha National Bank were prime accounts.)

Dick didn’t entirely abandon art when he delved into vocal music. He tried some life drawing, some painting. “The thing about it,” he notes, “is I’m just so totally into myself when working on canvas,
so absorbed.”

But football and fencing gave way to golf. The tall man shot in the upper 70s in his prime at the Omaha Country Club, and freely advised fellow golfers. And painting gave way to five years of voice lessons, studying with the Germanic Josie Whaley.

“She’d say, ‘Meester Holland, if you keep doing the baaaa, the scales, you’ll have a remarkable voice.” In Dick’s words, “Keep training and your range is raised a hell of a lot.”

In the course of their board work and their contributions to the opera and the symphony, the Hollands and others developed a vision that led to the Performing Arts Center opening in October. Joan Squires, in her third year as president of Omaha Performing Arts, cites that vision and “Dick’s perseverance for eight years or more” as a key to the center’s completion.

She has toured construction with the Hollands and “wished I had a tape recorder and a camera. It’s a thrill every time thru with them.” She joined them again, along with their daughter, Andy, when this writer shared the experience.

In particular, Squires recalls Dick’s first reaction to the downtown center: “It’s so big.”

Yes, that was a surprise, he admits, having viewed it first in model form. He’d visited other arts centers and the committee headed by World-Herald publisher John Gottschalk added sites as far as Vienna and Lucerne to their tours.

The Hollands helped engage architects famed for the renovation of Carnegie Hall and design of the Clinton presidential library, along with the Fisher Dachs Associates as theater consultants who’d done work for the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and the Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Even more intriguing were the acousticians from Kirkegaard Associates.

“I had to learn how to pronounce AK-u-stishun,” Holland noted. And, of course, to test their talents by singing that passage from “Faust.”

He stood on that 64 by 48 feet stage in the classic shoebox configuration of the main concert hall, 80 feet wide by 180 feet deep, where 2,000 will hear sounds ranging from soloists to full orchestras. Later, the Hollands will sit sans hard hats in what the architects call a surrounding of “warm, fine-grained woodwork.”

Concert-goers won’t see that the hall is “sheathed in zinc,” but before entering they’ll eye the great illuminated glass lantern above and they’ll see that the acoustically isolated hall is clad in limestone. A thousand will sit at orchestra level, with 400 in the mezzanine, and 600 in the upper balcony.

Squires is quick to remind that the $75 to $150 tickets are just for opening night, with early activities including two or three free events, plus tours, and other performances in the $35 and $45 range.

The “black box” recital hall will seat 450, and the terraced courtyard, designated as a third performance venue, will hold 1,000. The Holland Center will house parties and educational activities as well. The Orpheum, fully equipped with stage rigging, will remain home for Broadway musicals and other events.

Squires, who came to Omaha from the Phoenix Symphony, commented on the wide range of upcoming performances. “One of the reasons it’s a joy to work with the Hollands is because they bring such broad understanding and interests,” she says. “They’re eclectic, but don’t impose their taste. It’s a low key, quiet influence, and we respect their desire to stay out of the spotlight.”

“We won’t attend all the early events,” Dick adds, “but there are some we’ll definitely see.” They especially anticipate Renée Fleming’s appearance with the Omaha Symphony on Dec. 9. “I was president of Opera Omaha when she first sang here.” He also takes pride in their presenting of the great Beverly Sills, but notes that the biggest local paycheck of $100,000 went to Placido Domingo.

But now comes that grand opening with Dreyfuss, the other “Mr. Holland,” and a program that includes Oscar winner Alexander Payne, U.S. poet laureate Ted Kooser, bandleader Branford Marsalis and others, including the symphony and the opera chorus. Squires takes pains to point out even this higher-priced event is not black tie, but cocktail attire.

Tickets went on sale in mid-August and began to sell quickly. A pre-event cocktail party sold out almost immediately.

Lest purists fear that Dick Holland’s brief aria was the only pre-testing of the acoustical marvels, it must be noted that an extensive “tuning” process gave professional musicians ample opportunities to experiment with the new concert hall, even before a long rehearsal period.

During the run-up to the grand opening, acousticians “tuned” the hall. Musical ensembles of varying size and style (classical, symphonic, chamber, pop, rock and jazz) performed during the weeks of late September. At each performance, acousticians positioned each of the moveable acoustic reflectors and panels, matching the reverberations to the size and sound of each group. The positions were locked into preset configurations, which could be used for future performances with ensembles of that size and style.

That’s fine by Holland who recalls his first piano lesson: “Auto stop, I’m the cop, drivers take warning.” The memory brings a smile and makes him happy to give the stage to the pros while he sits back with Mary in Row P of the Holland Center and enjoys their talents.

It’s not just a new asset for the performing arts. It enriches the city where both were born and where they stayed to make good use of their “enormously successful” investment.

The Essential Conor Oberst

October 15, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Conor Oberst, since age 13, has released one of the strongest catalogs in modern American music. His unmistakable voice and penetrating lyrics stand front and center, whether under his own name; the adolescent, yet strangely adult Commander Venus; the defining work of Bright Eyes; the all star Monsters of Folk; or the topical rock of Desaparecidos.

Do You Feel At Home – The title track from Commander Venus’s 1994 debut presents many Oberst signatures: wise-beyond-years lyrics; a controlled, yet shaky delivery; catharsis; and hooks that set the singer-songwriter apart.

Touch – Bright Eyes’ Jan. 1998 debut A Collection of Songs presented the lo-fi blueprint of the confessional songwriting to come, yet their September release, Letting Off the Happiness, is where the magic happened. “Touch” blends the manic vocals of Oberst’s acoustic songs without acoustic: blitzed out drums and “broken” keyboards make “Touch” an amazingly honest, fractured gem.

Something Vague – 2000’s Fevers and Mirrors solidifies the eclectic instrumentation of modern Bright Eyes. “Something Vague” perfectly expresses the confusion and passing of adolescence to early independent adulthood.

You Will. You? Will. You? Will. You? – 2002’s Lifted is the album that placed Oberst in the national spotlight, with ambition bursting from everywhere. “You Will …,” is a simple message and melody that not only sticks in one’s head but practically signs a lease on the place.

Poison Oak – Bright Eyes most popular album, 2005’s I’m Wide Awake it’s Morning, is a classic. “Lua” and “First Day of My Life” are Oberst staples; however, his work is rarely more personal than on “Poison Oak.” The humanity and pure emotion Oberst displays across this track is staggering.

Easy/Lucky/Free Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, also released in 2005, explored Oberst’s electronic inclinations. Digital Ash brought a new sheen and darkness to Bright Eyes’ take on electro rock. “Easy/ Lucky/ Free” closes this underrated collection with a meditation on an apocalyptic mortality.

Cape Canaveral– Oberst returned to the stripped down leanings of earlier releases for his 2008 self-titled solo album. Weaving vivid imagery and mysticism, Oberst achieves a new sense of universality on “Cape Canaveral.” Using acoustic guitar as accompaniment, Oberst wisely sings: “Victory’s sweet even deep in the cheap seats.”

Time Forgot – Oberst entered the major label world in 2014 with the well-polished Upside Down Mountain. “Time Forgot” presents us with a familiar Oberst landscape, though with a new sense that with fight and dedication, the tunnel may just have some light.

City on the Hill – Desaparecidos have become one of America’s more relevant rock bands. Despite a 13-year gap between their debut and the 2015 release Payola, Denver Dalley, Matt Baum, Landon Hedges, Ian McElroy, and Oberst have only gained strength. “City on The Hill” exhibits one of the strongest-ever Oberst vocals as he joins the body count of a nation needing, hoping, and fighting for something more.

Oberst will headline the Holland Stages Festival on Saturday, Oct. 17. The free, all-day event celebrates the 10th anniversary of Omaha Performing Arts and the Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St., and will be held on five stages inside and outside the building.

Oberst1

Omaha Performing Arts

October 13, 2015 by
Illustration by Devin Golden

When Tony Bennett took to the stage at Holland Performing Arts Center in 2005, it was just another in the long list of innumerable venues he had played over the course of his legendary career. By the time he left, it stood out as one of the best.

That’s because as he began to sing, he paused, put aside his microphone and said, “I don’t need this.” Bennett was able to perform without technical enhancement, a rarity among performance venues. Not, however, at the Holland. The facility boasts state-of-the-art acoustics, and whether front-row-center or in the uppermost tier, there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

Making sure there aren’t any bad seats is the job of Omaha Performing Arts, which is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary. The nonprofit organization manages both the Holland Center, which opened in 2005 and is home to the Omaha Symphony, and the Orpheum Theater, built in 1927 as a premier venue for vaudeville acts. Together the two dominate the city’s performing arts scene and feature an eclectic array of talent ranging from classical ballet legends to Broadway blockbusters to jazz giants to even political pundits.

That kind of variety was unimaginable 10 years ago when the Orpheum served as Omaha’s primary performing arts venue. It hosted Opera Omaha, the Omaha Symphony, and limited-run Broadway productions as well as community events such as high school graduations, dance recitals, and fashion shows. “The Orpheum’s schedule didn’t allow for the majority of artists and performers we have today,” explains Joan Squires, Omaha Performing Arts’ president since its founding. “It was a very confining schedule.”

Omaha also lacked a venue with the sound quality necessary to showcase singers and musicians to full effect. “One of the problems we had in the performing arts was that the music hall at the Civic Auditorium had fairly poor acoustics,” explains John Gottschalk, the organization’s chairman of the board. “You can’t have performers if you don’t have a place where what they do on stage isn’t getting out to the audience.”

HollandGraphicDick Holland, who, along with his late wife Mary, provided the main bequest for the $102 million performing arts facility that today bears their name, elaborates, “We had no good place for the symphony orchestra. The symphony is an expensive damn thing to have. And it needs full support to have first class musicians.”

The Holland Center provided that support and opened up the Orpheum’s schedule, making it possible for Omaha Performing Arts to offer a wider selection of performances. “We bring in the kinds of performances that would not appear here otherwise,” Squires notes. “We really seek to bring in top artists and have brought in a wonderful array. That’s a large factor in our success.”

Deborah Ward, director of marketing and communications for the Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau, loves that success. “Omaha Performing Arts has really enhanced not only downtown’s cultural landscape but also the entire city’s,” she comments. “It’s provided unique performance venues and equally unique performances and has been really clever in the acts it’s brought in. We recently did research for the Kansas City, Des Moines, and Sioux Falls markets. We specifically wanted to know why those people come to Omaha. We found that 11 percent come for arts and culture.”

Less quantifiable are the educational benefits to the community, which are just as important and exist as one of Omaha Performing Arts’ primary missions. “We look for community opportunities that don’t always exist,” explains Squires. “We use performances to partner with the community and find ways to connect and build community engagement.” This includes master classes taught by performers, student matinees, discounted tickets for underserved communities, and a host of other offerings. In 2011 the Broadway show Wicked, for example, provided an opportunity for an anti-bullying summit involving cast members, school students, and the Anti-Defamation League. This year, the organization is introducing Carnegie Hall Musical Explorers, a program that builds basic music skills for students in kindergarten through second grade.

“The experience for our community is wonderfully enriching, and people understand that,” notes Gottschalk. “We have these professionals in town and the great gifts they give to people in terms of their time and talent. When a young person walks into a great hall, they’re inspired.”

As Omaha Performing Arts celebrates its first decade, Squires can’t help but be enthusiastic about its future. “As we get into the 10th anniversary, our real focus is to engage the community,” she says. “There’s still so much we can do.”

Holland agrees. “We’re damned proud of what we’ve done. We’re going into the coming 10 years terribly enthusiastic about everything and about growing more.”

HollandGraphicWide