Tag Archives: performance

Divine Serpentine

October 14, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

While Dulcie Mueller has been performing since age 5 with a variety of castmates and collaborators, she finally found the perfect partner several years ago in a cold-hearted reptile. 

Mueller, who has a background in dance, performs under the stage name Dolce Vita with her seven-foot-long Colombian red-tailed boa constrictor, BlondieS. Good duos are built on a foundation of mutual love, respect, and trust, and Mueller and BlondieS have that in spades. Mueller has previously performed with other snakes, but when she met BlondieS—whom she calls “the coolest snake in Nebraska”—everything just clicked.   

“I opened up [the box she came in], put BlondieS on my shoulders, and that was it—we’ve been best friends ever since,” Mueller says. 

But long before BlondieS became the peanut butter to her jelly, the Lennon to her McCartney, the Thelma to her Louise, Mueller was fascinated with snakes. 

“I first developed an affinity for snakes through a famous magazine photo from the ’80s—maybe it was Vogue—where there’s a naked lady with a giant boa constrictor draped over her body covering her,” Mueller says. “I was a freshman in high school when I saw that picture and just thought it was so beautiful and sexy without showing anything inappropriate—but, at the same time, it was kind
of inappropriate.”

School administration was of the opinion that it was indeed inappropriate, ushering Mueller down to the principal’s office the day after she hung the photograph in her locker. But with that inspiring image, Mueller’s love of the divine serpent and subjects others might consider strange was solidified. 


Mueller considers herself more of a charming snake performer than a snake charmer. She does various themed performances at venues ranging from house parties to music clubs to retirement homes and has performed for audiences of all ages, customizing her routine and costuming for each occasion. 

Mueller carefully socialized BlondieS early on to get her used to people. Between that and BlondieS’ naturally affable demeanor, the non-venomous snake has never posed a threat to Mueller or any audience member. In fact, everywhere the pair goes, BlondieS is very popular. 

“Everybody that meets BlondieS—that actually looks at her or holds her—absolutely falls in love with her,” Mueller says. “People don’t expect her to look so pretty when they get up close or to be so chill.”

In addition to her good looks and calm demeanor, she says BlondieS is a natural-born performer. The pair rarely practice together, as Mueller opts to practice on her own, then improvise with BlondieS.    

“I work with her, she works with me, and we just make it happen,” Mueller says. “She’s great at posing. I’ll put her on somebody’s shoulders, and I can gently guide her head and let her know it’s picture time. Then she’ll hold her head facing the camera or slowly move it like a model would when she’s changing her angles a little bit for the camera. I got really lucky with her.”

On stage, the duo’s skin tones complement each other perfectly, and BlondieS drapes beautifully around Mueller’s curves. It’s an unusual, offbeat display—particularly for Midwest audiences—but it’s exquisite to behold; a unique performance that acts like kindling for the imagination’s fire, as all good art should. Mueller sometimes conceals BlondieS in a basket or other prop at the start of their performance and she says her favorite reaction is the audience’s collective gasp of delighted surprise when the giant snake is revealed.    

“I like opening minds and giving people an experience they wouldn’t normally get,” says Mueller, who is careful never to push those who are fearful of BlondieS to interact. 

While Mueller currently performs independently with BlondieS, she’s open to collaboration and partnerships if it’s the right fit. In the past she’s worked with groups like Spank Candy and OEAA-award winning band Bennie and the Gents, as well as other local burlesque groups.  

At home, BlondieS has her cage but acts more like a house cat or dog at times.

“I’ve had her in bed with us, just laying on the covers, curled up at our feet, looking at the TV, which is really funny,” Mueller says. “Of course, we can’t fall asleep like that. I’m not worried about her hurting anybody, I’m more worried about her getting stuck somewhere or getting too cold.” 

Mueller says she’s realized through the years that she’s always happiest when she’s actively performing, although she also loves her day job—working with adults with intellectual disabilities.  

“[Snake performing] is just a crazy, wild hobby that I feel especially compelled to pursue because there’s nobody else doing it, but at the same time it’s a hobby and I have a really important full-time job, so it’s hard to divide my energy the way I would like to. I need to have, like, 200 percent energy so I can put 100 percent into both the hobby and the job,” she says.

As for anyone who judges Mueller’s performances with BlondieS as weird, that doesn’t bother her one bit. In fact, she’s rightfully proud of her unique art and hopes to bring fringe ideas into the mainstream.  

“I do what I do because I want to and I don’t feel ashamed, nervous, or worried about what other people think about it,” she says. “That’s what I want the audience to get out of it too…for them to go home feeling that they can also do anything they want and that they shouldn’t be ashamed about the weird things they might want to do or think. I just want people to feel free because I definitely feel free in my choices as a performer.”  


For more information, visit omahasnake.com.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Encounter.

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. 

Required Listening

June 11, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For years, Chelsea Balzer and Matt Walker ran in the same circles, but somehow didn’t cross paths until Balzer joined the art performance group aetherplough in 2010 and was suddenly thrust into a musical relationship with Walker. Their undeniable compatibility was too much to ignore, and the duo soon formed their own outfit—Vital Organs—a band that fosters Walker’s unquenchable thirst for bold melodies and cinematic qualities, but is danceable at the same time. 

“Back in the day, I was exclusively into hard rock music,” Walker says. “In recent years, I had been dying to write something that made me want to dance.”

Balzer, on the other hand, gravitated toward country artists like Reba McEntire and early LeAnn Rimes because of her father, a loyal country music fan. 

“I would perform for our neighbors and their friends, which I think helped me develop that frontwoman identity from early on,” Balzer says. “But once I hit middle school, I was pretty into Alanis Morissette and Fiona Apple, and then soon after I got into stuff like Nine Inch Nails, P.J. Harvey, and The Cure. I’ve always loved vocalists who are brave and provocative—from Christina Aguilera to Zach de la Rocha.” 

Fortunately, Vital Organs isn’t their first endeavor, as aetherplough thoroughly prepared them for what they would do in the future. The collective was built on collaborative creativity and taught them how to compromise.

“It always felt a little like we had no idea what we were doing at the beginning of a project,” Walker says. “As more people threw in their ideas and questions, it would start to take on a life of its own, and suddenly you’re rehearsing a full piece that you all helped bring into being. It was magical.

“I would say our whole philosophy for creating and collaborating is informed by that experience,” he continues. “aetherplough taught us to say, ‘Yes,’ to go all in, to be flexible, and also to listen to each other in a dasdrtist, and I’m so grateful to have been encouraged to play and explore in that community.”

“I personally feel that it taught me to think of all art and performance as ritual that has the power to change its players,” Balzer adds. 

Officially established in 2015, Vital Organs dove right in and pulled from Omaha’s rich musical community, including Make Believe Recordings’ CEO/engineer Rick Carson. The Grammy Award-nominated producer worked on the group’s debut album, The Hysterical Hunger, a decision they didn’t hesitate to make once they fully realized Carson’s “rare combination of expertise, intuition, and top-notch gear.” The album itself gave Balzer and Walker opportunities to explore feminist ideals and the theme of honoring inner desires. 

“We were both going through some real loss, and we needed to rediscover some kind of inner guidance toward true north,” Balzer explains. “For us, that feels like a hunger. We liked the idea of reclaiming the word ‘hysteria,’ which has previously been used as a weapon against women and as a form of gaslighting, but ultimately implies that emotion itself is untrustworthy and that giving yourself over to an experience is dangerous and even insane. We feel that this message is really prevalent in society today and continues to cause harm. We wanted the album to be a way of proclaiming to ourselves and others that we are taking the leap and giving in to that hunger.” 

Drawn to synthesizers and soaring melodies, Vital Organs is actively honing in on its distinctive sound. However, they’re admittedly still trying to figure out how to navigate the rough waters as an indie band. 

“It’s a lot of work and also a lot of head-scratching,” Walker says. “We have been both discouraged and really honored by the process of getting our work ‘out there.’ Some aspects of it are much harder than we anticipated, and yet there are these people who seem to appear from thin air and develop this relationship with your music, and really want to help you succeed. That has been a beautiful experience.”

Vital Organs plans on hitting the road this summer, despite Balzer being in grad school in Boston and Walker busy working at Omaha Children’s Museum. They managed to carve out a few weeks to play some new cities and share the bill with other bands. 

“We know that the music will always mean something different to us than it means to others,” Walker says. “Every song reflects a time in our lives and a message we felt we needed to express. At the same time, we hear the songs and sort of forget that we wrote them. There is a kind of energetic release that comes from finishing songs and letting them exist in the world. It feels simultaneously intimate and mysterious.” 

facebook.com/vitalorgansband

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

 

Mr. & Mrs. Fink

June 1, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The evolution of CLOSENESS was quite literally a matter of the heart—not in a cheesy, romantic musing type of way, but the actual blood-pumping, life-sustaining muscular organ. Husband-wife duo Orenda Fink (Azure Ray) and Todd Fink (The Faint) are the masterminds behind the electro-dream-pop project. The couple say they always wanted to merge musical styles, but they could never quite find the time. Todd was touring in support of The Faint’s last album, Doom Abuse, and Orenda was involved in her solo work. As fate would have it, a frightening medical emergency involving Orenda’s heart temporarily brought everything to a screeching halt. In November 2015, she went under the knife to repair a birth defect that was
originally misdiagnosed.

“I had it my whole life, but never knew how dangerous it was,” Orenda admits. “They couldn’t believe I was still alive [laughs]. With my condition, I had a bunch of extra electrical pathways on my heart that were not supposed to be there. They had to get rid of them.”

“We realized there was no better time to do this,” Todd adds. “If we were going to do it, we had to do it now. After her surgery, everything became more urgent.”

Todd and Orenda have been a unit for more than 15 years, and it just so happens both are incredibly talented musicians in their own right. It was because of this shared love and compassion for one another that Orenda finally took her arrhythmia seriously. 

“I’ve had episodes my whole life,” she says. “A couple of weeks before I was diagnosed, my heart went into an abnormal rhythm. Normally, it would kick back in, but this time it just stayed. I was just so used to it that I was traveling, smoking cigarettes, hanging out with friends—but Todd was like, ‘Um, you need to go to the doctor immediately [laughs].’”

Orenda flew back to Omaha and went straight to the doctor. Two-and-a-half weeks later, the Georgia native was having heart surgery, which was the first time she’d ever had any kind of surgical procedure. What was supposed to be a three-hour event turned into 12 hours, but thankfully she pulled through. 

“Your heart is such an immediate thing—it has to be going,” she says with a hint of sarcasm. “It made us kind of realize how precious and fragile life is, I guess.” 

Back at home, she sunk into a depression, which can be common for heart patients. 

“When you are faced with your own mortality so intensely, you get depressed,” she says. 

Still recuperating in sweatpants and socks, CLOSENESS took its initial steps and Orenda quickly found solace in making music with her husband. 

“We started the band almost immediately,” she says. “It was cathartic. Something about that experience [surgery] made me realize now there were no more excuses not to do it.” 

On March 10, CLOSENESS unveiled its debut EP, Personality Therapy, and had its album release party later that night at Omaha’s beloved hole-in-the wall O’Leaver’s, where Todd and Orenda played to a packed house. Naturally, the Omaha music community came out in droves to support one of their own. Shortly after, the duo hit the road for Austin’s annual South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival and continued their road trip to New York City, something they’ve wanted to do for years. 

“We’re looking to tour as much as possible,” Todd explains. “It’s part of why we wanted to do a band with just the two of us—to be able to make kind of, like, a vacation out of it, where it’s just the two of us together, and we’re able to drive around in our car. It’s not like working. We don’t have to be away from each other to do what we’re doing. I am really looking forward to that aspect.” 

While traveling with other people has its merits, it also has its challenges. Oftentimes, the vastly different personalities can throw a wrench in the process, but for the Finks, it makes more sense. 

“We’ve been together for so long that our tastes have melded,” she says. “From what we like to do to where we like to eat—we just know each other. That’s one of the hardest parts about being on the road with other people—always having to compromise. This seems like a dream scenario.” 

Being a quintessential “rock-star couple,” however, didn’t always come easy. In the beginning, like all relationships, there were some hiccups, but it was nothing they couldn’t work through. 

“He got in trouble in the beginning years,” she jokes. “Not like cheating or anything, but figuring out what a married man can do—like he couldn’t go skinny-dipping with girls on tour anymore [laughs].”

“I thought the ocean was huge [laughs],” he replies. “You don’t get a manual when you get married. You don’t know exactly where the line is.” 

One big lesson they learned, however, is to not get caught up in the minutiae of everyday life. 

“Pick your battles,” Orenda says. “You have to keep the greatest good of the relationship as the highest priority. Everyone slips on that in any relationship. If you’re in a really intense working relationship together, you’re going to have friction. It’s figuring out how to deal with that friction. You want the outcome to be forgiveness and loving each other. If you slip up, remember that’s the ultimate goal.” 

“Winning an argument really isn’t worth anything,” Todd adds. “The goal isn’t to win. It’s to get back to a place of love.”

facebook.com/closenessmusic

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

Sales Insider

April 5, 2017 by

I love sales. It is a career where you, the sales professional, determine your income based on how skillfully you execute the duty. It has a feel of independence, ownership, and entrepreneurship, and it can be extremely rewarding. Professional selling is regarded as one of the top-earning careers on the the planet. Note to you business owners out there: If your salespeople are making more money than you, don’t be jealous, be excited because they are building your business and increasing its value.

The term “commission” is familiar to ranks of sales professionals. However, I want you to think about your income a little differently. Rather than earning commission when a sale is made, think about your pay as an hourly wage. What makes your hourly pay different from the familiar, traditional hourly jobs is that your hourly rate will change based on the activity you happen to be doing at the moment. For example, in my previous career, for every 10 presentations I made, I would close on, and get paid commission for, three orders. On the three projects I won, my hourly rate was great, but on the projects I lost, my hourly rate was $0/hour. I thought “this is just how it is in sales,” so I did little to change or improve my sales performance until I was taught to think of my compensation as hourly. Spending 60 hours per week on sending proposals to my customers meant missing out on my kids’ activities and time with family, all so I could get paid for 30 percent of my time. That made me angry. This is madness, yet a vast majority of salespeople would give you a similar story.

I think there is a better way to sell that will pay more per hour, which means one can earn their desired wage in less time. I just need to figure out how to get rid of the seven prospects who don’t buy quickly and only spend time on the three who will buy. If I can figure this out, then I will close the three orders, so my pay is the same as before, but I do not spend much time on the seven who do not buy. Can you see how my hourly wage more than doubles?

Since your time is just as valuable as your prospects’ time, only the prospects who plan to buy from you get any of it. In order to do this, you must sort all prospects who talk to you as either buyers or window shoppers. The first step in doing this is to recognize that there are four possible outcomes of a sales call: yes, no, maybe, and clear future. Let’s examine each one.

Yes: Congratulations! You achieved an order and you will earn money.

No: Shoot! Shake it off. There are plenty of other customers out there who will buy. Did you know that “no” outcomes are good, and they can actually make you money? If you get a “no,” that opportunity no longer consumes your time, which means you can divert time to those who buy, and your hourly rate actually increases.

Maybe: Stay away from the dreaded “I need to think it over.” These outcomes represent the “window shoppers” and will cost you money. These prospects waste your time and consume your resources. Therefore, when a prospect stalls, push them to “no.”  At least a “no” will make you money.

Clear future: Sometimes your product or service cannot be sold in one call. You might need multiple meetings to formulate the solution and make the sale. This positive outcome is for those prospects who see value in your solution, are willing to move the process forward, and want the sales conversation to continue on a specific day at a specific time.

Thus, the rule is “No more maybes.” If you can make this rule part of your selling system, you will increase your hourly rate and significantly grow your sales. You effectively sort the buyers from the window shoppers and spend more time on those who buy. Now, I close three out of four presentations I make, my income has increased by triple digits, and I spend less time doing it all.

So, what is you hourly wage?

Karl Schaphorst is a 27-year veteran of sales who now specializes in training other sales professionals. He is the president of Sandler Training.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

Art Rage

February 23, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Editor’s note: Cassils is a gender non-conforming trans-masculine visual artist. Cassils uses plural gender-neutral pronouns (they, them, their) and asks that journalists do likewise when referring to them. This plurality reflects through language the position Cassils occupies as an artist. For more about gender non-conforming issues, go to: glad.org/reference/transgender 

Powerful art does not need to be explained, though for the uninitiated, sometimes it helps.

Canadian-born, Los Angeles-based multimedia artist Cassils thrives on the power of art. The artist (who prefers to be referred to in plural, gender-neutral pronouns) launched their latest exhibit, Cassils: The Phantom Revenant—now on display at the Bemis Center— Feb. 2 with a thrilling live performance called Becoming An Image.

Cassils’ performance involved the transgender, body-building artist attacking a 2,000-pound block of clay using only their body, in complete darkness, with the occasional flash of a camera that illuminated both artist and object, burning the images into viewers retinas.

It was a blend of performance, photography, and sculpture. “I use all parts of my body—my fists, my knees, my elbows,” Cassils says. “I beat this clay to the best of my ability, blind, until I’m basically compromising my ability to hit it properly.”

At the performance, the only sounds were those of Cassils’ labored breathing, as the artist kicked, punched, and even jumped on the earthy clay, accompanied by the click of the camera as the photographer blindly tried to capture the “full-blown attack.”

Becoming An Image was originally conceived of and executed for ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives, the oldest existing LGBT organization in the United States, which also happens to house one of the largest repositories of LGBT materials in the world.

“I was asked to make a piece in relationship to the missing gender-queer and trans representation in that archive, because like many archives in museums, it’s filled with the work of, in this case, dead, gay white guys. So rather than making an artwork that spoke to the one or two subjectivities that perhaps matched this description in the archives, I decided to make a piece about the troubling mechanisms of what makes it into the historical canon and what doesn’t.”

Cassils’ Powers That Be installation—on display through April 29—presents a six-channel video that is a simulation of violence, a staged fight that could be taking place between two, three, four, or five people. But in this fight, Cassils plays the role of both victim and perpetrator. “If you have two people doing stage combat, it looks really realistic, but if you take one person out, and the other person’s doing it well, it really looks as if they’re fighting a ghost, or a force.”

Cassils says “Any work is about responding to the socio-political circumstances that we’re living in …  Art doesn’t change things like laws do, but it generates discussion.”

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

Performance Man

December 25, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

By day he’s a mild-mannered assistant director of learning and development at Omaha’s Hyatt hotels. By night and during weekends, though, Doug Hayko is one the city’s most well-known—and perhaps most infamous—performance artists, one who frequently makes people uncomfortable in the most thought-provoking ways.

The 44-year-old became interested in performance art while studying theater at Creighton University. “It was pretty basic,” he remembers, “but I had an affinity for unique performance pieces.” He continued his studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he again focused on theatre as well as the history of theatre and its more academic side. “I was interested in techniques that did something to engage the audience in different pieces,” he explains, “and I was really interested in doing and embracing and watching pieces that were fused with societal issues. Here were really profound, engaging issues.”

But Hayko found that performing in a university environment was doing so to a limited audience—one who already understood what performance art could deliver intellectually—rather than to the general public, with whom he could more profoundly engage. For that reason, he left graduate school and put performance art on hiatus and instead moved to southern California where he began working for Hyatt.

In 1998, though, Hayko returned to Omaha and in 2005 staged an ambitious adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard at the Bemis Underground. It involved layers upon layers of text, with each audience member taking something different from the experience. That’s something Hayko strives for with every performance he gives. “Even though we can’t catch it all,” he emphasizes,  “we all carry away something unique.”

Since then, Hayko has offered numerous such experiences, each exploring a situation designed to create provocative encounters, such as East of 72nd: Disrupting the Omaha Landscape in Six Acts (2007), Toxic Lawncare (2010), and Experts at the Museum of Alternative History (2013), each of which represents a small selection of his work. At times, Hayko’s performances have been controversial, such as Sickened at the Shelterbelt Theatre in 2008, which featured the artist curled in a fetal or a kneeling position smeared in fake blood while holding a doll.

Controversial or not, each piece has Hayko’s inimitable sense of intensity. The artist remarks: “Even if it’s a one-time performance, my hope is that it sticks with people and continues conversations long after the piece is over—not the next day, not the next month, but something they recall, and talk about. Isn’t that what any artist wants —for art to have legs and continue to be talked about?”

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RAW Aesthetics

January 22, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Other than a rather arid climate and the identical first four letters of their names, Australia and Austin, Tex., share little in common, but those are the places that cemented an artistic vision for Amber Keller.

“I had worked a couple graphic design jobs here [in Omaha] before I realized something was missing,” Keller says, “so I sold most of my belongings, threw my art supplies in the car, and hit the road, creating as much art as I could along the way.” It was when she unpacked her bags in Austin for a few months in 2011 that she discovered RAW: Natural Born Artists, an international nonprofit program that acts as an incubator for new and emerging artists. They described themselves, Keller recalls, as being “for artists, by artists.”

“I did my first RAW show in Austin,” says the woman who is now director of Omaha’s RAW affiliate. “I knew the model could succeed here because our city has such a strong arts community. There’s just an amazing amount of talent here.”

Before returning to Omaha, Keller further satisfied her wanderlust by paring down her already meager possessions to backpack through Australia, where she did a RAW show in 2012.

RAW held its first annual local RAWards Semi Finals in November at Sokol Auditorium. Three finalists in nine disciplines showed their work to vie for the honor of winning a shot to advance to nationals in Los Angeles. Artists competed in the categories of visual arts, photography, film, music, performance, fashion, accessories, makeup, and hair.

Amber Keller’s look is thanks to a few RAW:Omaha artists: Her dress is by Haus of Donna Faye, her earrings by Juan Mora-Amaral, makeup by Lyndee Marie, bodypaint by Alyssa Keller, and haircolor and style by Tammy Cox.

Amber Keller’s look is thanks to a few RAW:Omaha artists: Her dress is by Haus of Donna Faye, her earrings by Juan Mora-Amaral, makeup by Lyndee Marie, bodypaint by Alyssa Keller, and haircolor and style by Tammy Cox.

The L.A.-based RAW now operates in 60 American cities along with an increasing footprint in foreign countries. Omaha’s roster of 120 RAW artists ranges in age from 17 to near retirement age, and various artists displayed their work in a series of four showcases throughout 2012. There are no membership fees to become a RAW artist, but showcase participants are expected to sell tickets to the events so that RAW reaches the widest possible audience.

“RAW helps build an artistic community, but we do it as team,” Keller says. “The semi-final event was a competition, yes, but we’re still working together, not against each other. RAW helps foster collaborations between artists, and we support each other here in Omaha in a way that is kind of rare for a city our size.”

Tim Guthrie, a visual artist and experimental filmmaker who is a Creighton University professor of journalism, media, and computing, was one of three judges for the event. Joining Guthrie on the panel were Andrew Norman of the music-centric Hear Nebraska and Shane Bainbridge of design-focused The New BLK.

“It wasn’t that long ago that I didn’t know anything about RAW,” says Guthrie, “which is almost kind of appropriate in that it parallels the theme of what RAW does in terms of building visibility for artists. Omaha’s art scene is amazing, but it can be a little cliquish. It’s still a very friendly atmosphere, but there is a hint of ‘the haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ when it comes to being widely known. With a lot of dedication and hard work from these artists, it is my hope that RAW helps more of them into the category of ‘the haves.’”

RAW Artists 
Advancing to 
Nationals:

Film: Rob Kasel

Visual Art: Madeleine Thoma

Photography: Michelle Woitzel

Fashion: Haus of Donna Faye

Makeup: Lyndee Marie

Hair: Brogan

Accessories: Casey Jones

Performing Art: Flying Eagles Acrobalance Troupe

Music: Omaha Street Percussion

Work and videos by these and other RAW artists may be seen at 
rawartists.org.

The Hip Hop Transformer

November 18, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A man wearing a backpack walks up to the stage where a DJ sets up a turntable. He sets his backpack down, takes a swig from his water bottle, and checks the microphone once, twice, three times. When the lights dim, he is no longer “the guy with the backpack” to the audience. He is Marcey Yates (Op2mus).

Yates, 28, was born and attended school in Omaha. He studied at University of Nebraska-Omaha for four years but found himself often escaping class to make music. “I tried the music program at UNO, but it wasn’t as advanced in mixing and recording music.” So he headed to Arizona, where he attended the Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences for two years. There, Yates learned studio engineering, sound production, recording, and more. But when he finished, he realized his true passion was making music, not just producing it.

That’s why he returned to the Omaha music scene in 2011. Compared to the music on the West Coast, Yates saw progression in Omaha, and that was a huge draw. “I would rather be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond,” he says. “I wanted to bring something to the table and represent hip hop here.”

Yates started performing under the stage name “Op2mus” when he was in college. The name, he says, came from one of his three kids. “My son likes to play Transformers. So we’d be playing, and he’d call me Optimus [Prime].” The name just seemed to fit since Yates longed to transform hip hop music.

Over the last few years, however, he’s been trying to wean himself off the moniker. That’s when he adopted the name “Marcey Yates,” which, by the way, is not his real name. If you try to ask him what his real name is, he’ll just smile and shake his head. “I wanna brand myself as Marcey Yates. That’s how people know me.”

The backpack, on the other hand, has remained his thing. He wears it everywhere. He even wore it when he performed on KMTV’s “The Morning Blend.” In it, he carries whatever he needs—laptop, notes, music. But above all, the backpack reflects his transformative journey as a student of life, he says.

“He’s out there, he’s talking to people, he’s working. That’s what’s really special about Marcey Yates. He understands that, to get it, it takes work, not the easy decisions with the hard consequences.” —Rick Carson

It’s that journey that permeates his latest album, The MisEducated Scholar, according to Theardis Jay. “It’s about his story through school, through going to Arizona, through it all.” The graphic designer has seen a good deal of Yates’ story, helping to brand his albums since 2009. “I try to just help him any way I can. I remember I went over to his apartment for the first time, and I saw his studio in his basement that he put together himself. No one taught him that or showed him that.”

Today, Yates produces, writes, and performs hip hop. His most recent work includes writing and producing The MisEducated Scholar, and producing the hip hop album Eat, Drink & Be Merry for Blk Diamond out of California. Currently, he’s working on producing several new records for other artists and writing new songs for upcoming albums of his own.

“I don’t write songs for other [artists],” he explains. “Sometimes, I’ll ghostwrite if I’m in a studio session and an artist needs help. Otherwise, I write for myself.”

Listening to Yates’ music, you can hear various hip hop and rap influences. Kanye West is one that comes to mind. But Yates has taken those influences and breathed some fresh air into them. And “fresh” is exactly how he describes his music. “The genre’s so muddy,” he explains. “I feel like hip hop has been saturated with a certain sound. So when I write, I write against it.”

“Vinyl hip hop that’s smooth and soulful” is what Yates wants his music to sound like. The track “Soda N Cream” off of The MisEducated Scholar is the perfect example of this sound, as Yates raps over a doo-wop mix in the background.

Even more interesting is that he wants to get away from the whole “gangster” feel of the genre. “I wanna use the platform for something good. If you’re speaking in this outlet, don’t waste it with feeding listeners garbage. Feed them positive things that make them think, you know?”

“The thing about Marcey Yates is he’s one of the only people out there making real hip hop but also party music.” Rick Carson, owner of Make Believe Studios, pauses before going into detail about the artist whose records he mixes. “A lot of people get into hip hop to just talk [crap] on each other. I’ve never seen that from him.”

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Yates respects rappers who don’t need to cuss to sell records. “If you do it, it’s gotta have meaning. Don’t just do it to do it. Like I only have four songs where I cuss, and I dropped a full-length record with 19 tracks. You gotta step up your game by stepping up the substance.”

“He grinds,” Carson emphasizes. “He’s out there, he’s talking to people, he’s working. That’s what’s really special about Marcey Yates. He understands that, to get it, it takes work, not the easy decisions with the hard consequences.”

You can find Yates performing all over Omaha. Barley Street Tavern in Benson, The Slowdown in NoDo, and House of Loom in the Old Market are some of his frequent stages. He has done a few showcases and business openings as well. Lately, he’s performed with bands instead of other hip hop artists, which he says he likes because he can introduce his music to a completely different crowd. “I’m just trying to market myself a lot,” he says.

“He put together a plan, and he’s stuck with it,” Jay adds. “There’s a system to it. It’s an exciting time to see what happens when you work so hard.”

A tour in the Midwest is Yates’ five-year goal. A Grammy® is the big game for him though. “I want this. I’m not just doing music to say I’m doing it.”

 

Find Marcey Yates’ music at op2mus.bandcamp.com or on YouTube by searching “Marcey Yates Op2mus.” Follow him on Twitter @op2mus or find him on Facebook.

Hitting the High Cs

October 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann, Aetherplough, and Scott Bookman

The winter solstice seems the ideal date for a mittens-and-music caroling party. However, when the Aethertones gather for a performance in the Old Market Passageway on December 21st, expect a decidedly “anti-caroling” caroling event.

The musical ensemble is an offshoot of the performance company Aetherplough and, like a certain team of eight tiny reindeer, they do their thing for only one magical evening each year. At press time, this year’s playlist was still double-super-secret, but the repertoire from previous Contemporary Caroling gigs—this will be the sixth annual event—sports such eclectic oddities as a campy homage to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” an appropriately raspy rendition of Tom Waits’ “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up,” and a humorously cloying version of Katy Perry’s sugar-coated “Firework.”

“It’s about the simple joy of singing on the longest, darkest night of the year,” says Aetherplough co-founder Susann Suprenant, who recently retired as Dean of Communications and Humanities at Metro Community College. It’s also Aetherplough’s way of perhaps countering prevailing culture. “Our intent is building community through singing,” she adds before pointing to the “potentially crass, commercialized music piped incessantly throughout the holidays.”

The Aethertones’ formula is a simple one. The program is secular. The voices are a cappella. Sometimes they toss in an acoustic guitar.

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“Contemporary caroling is a reboot of the traditional folk form,” says Thom Sibbitt. He’s the education coordinator at The Kent Bellows Studio and Center for Visual Art who, along with Suprenant, founded Aetherplough. “People have always come together to sing. It’s something that’s just natural, something we’re drawn to. Communal song has a power that is central to who we are. It’s an important part of being human.”

Aetherplough, which took home an Omaha Entertainment and Arts Award for best original script with their 2009 performance of Knives Out at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, has carved out a niche sometimes far beyond the fringes of the local theater scene. The company is known for work that is often of the heady, intoxicating, and deliciously noggin-scratchin’ variety. They’re the kind of artists who believe that if a scene is good, it’d probably be even better if the actor performed it perched atop a ladder.

So it should come as no surprise that the boundary-busting Aetherplough has now added an operatic voice to its talented ensemble of actors, dancers, poets, composers, musicians, and visual artists.

Credit-Scott-Bookman

Hitting the high Cs on caroling night will be soprano Amanda DeBoer Bartlett. An Omaha native, she recently returned home after launching a career that found her floodlit on stages across three continents.

“I started out as a straight-ahead opera singer, but met a lot of really interesting people along the way,” DeBoer says of the contemporary composers and other artists who helped fuel her interest in new, often experimental modes of creativity. “I can talk to the composer about the music being made. I can talk to the poet about the lyrics. You can’t do that with dead guys like Mozart and Beethoven. It becomes music of my time, music about all of us.”

Specializing in contemporary vocal literature and project-based performances that integrate classical music into modern social contexts, DeBoer has performed with such disparate names as minimal music legend Phillip Glass and the idiomatic noise pop band Deerhoof. Earlier this year DeBoer released her first solo album, I Vapor Breath, and will record a full album with Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble in 2014.

DeBoer also performed in August at Omaha Fashion Week. And, yes, that’s her on the cover of this issue of The Encounter wearing some of the dramatic Omaha Fashion Week pieces created by local designer Jenny Pool.

The 28-year-old artist is a member of Chicago’s Ensemble Dal Niente and a co-founder of the Color Field Ensemble and Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble—both based in New York City. She is also a co-founder of Omaha’s Ars Cantus Antiquitas, which is known for its modern interpretations and unique presentations of early music.

“When I came back to Omaha I looked for opportunities for collaborative experiences,” says DeBoer. “At first I felt like I was shouting into a void. It was like, ‘Is there anyone out there?’ Susann and Thom’s voices were the first to echo back. So I sat in on a rehearsal of theirs, and my head just began swirling.

“Aetherplough allows artists to bring their own experiences to create something completely new and completely personal,” she continues, “but it’s all rooted in a shared tradition that makes it universal and accessible to all.”

Even when it comes to opera?

“Especially opera.”

The Aethertones will perform their 2013 Contemporary Caroling program Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m. in the Old Market Passageway; 417 S 11th St. The event is free.