Tag Archives: The Rose

Sustainable and Authentic

July 3, 2018 by
Photography by Keith Binder

Andrew Saladino could work anywhere in the United States, but he fell in love with, and in, Omaha.

The executive director of the Omaha Creative Institute feels pride for his adopted hometown, and he is invested in unifying, fostering, and growing Omaha’s artistic community.

OCI provides professional development, grants, connections, and advocacy for artists. The nonprofit operates out of a small office kitty-corner to the former Bohemian Cafe on 13th Street.

The 29-year-old is not who you would typically imagine leading such an effort. Saladino grew up in Bedford, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston.

After planning to be a musician, he caught the acting bug and ended up studying theater education at the University of New Hampshire. He landed an internship at The Rose between his junior and senior years, spending his time teaching children’s theater in Omaha.

“I taught all summer long,” Saladino says. “I basically didn’t leave the building.”

The Rose invited him back for a yearlong fellowship program, and he was a teaching artist for another two years at the theater. He met his future wife, Omaha native Jennifer Ettinger, at The Rose after she was hired for the next fellowship.

Saladino followed her to graduate school in New York City for almost two years, but being in such an “exhausting city” made him eager to get back to this “big and small” town.

“I was the one pushing to come back to Omaha,” he says. “This is a great city…I’ve never been in a city that was so active in making itself better.” He was especially attracted to the up-and-coming arts scene, and enjoys spending time at the Bemis Center, KANEKO, the Old Market galleries, and Benson First Fridays.

They moved back in 2015, and he worked at the American Red Cross before landing at OCI.

Watie White, a local artist and OCI board member who was involved in Saladino’s hiring, says the institute needed someone young and talented, “eager for a place to not just call home but a place to really get to grow.” Saladino fit the bill.

“He didn’t come in knowing everything,” White says. “He came in eager to learn everything.”

Since taking over as executive director, Saladino has focused on growing OCI’s programs and the service it provides for artists working in the community. His primary work is long-term strategy, sustainability, fundraising, and the nonprofit’s finances.

One area where Saladino has focused his efforts is growing OCI’s grant program, building off an initial grant funded by donations from an Omaha Gives! campaign to create an established program with funding committed to keep making awards.

OCI currently has a twice-a-year grant cycle, giving four unrestricted artist grants of $3,500 each, with one earmarked for a working parent and one for a new American immigrant or refugee; two public project grants of $5,000 each; and $6,000 in emergency grants, given on an as-needed basis within 48 hours.

Angie Seykora, an artist living and working in Omaha, received one of the 2018 unrestricted grants. She says that she used the money to pay for an assistant, an art history graduate who relocated from New York for a few months to gain experience in a studio environment.

With the assistant’s help, Seykora says she was able to speed up production of her artwork and have more time to refine her pieces.

“It is giving artists an opportunity to make their practice a little more sustainable,” Seykora says. “This grant program has allowed me to organically make my work.”

Promoting more sustainable, authentic careers for working artists is what OCI seeks to do each day. Under Saladino’s leadership, the nonprofit will continue to value artists’ careers in Omaha and provide support for their contribution to the community’s culture.


Visit omahacreativeinstitute.org for more information.

This article was printed in the June/July 2018 edition of B2B. 

Andrew Saladino

Stephanie Kurtzuba

August 8, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Stage and screen actress Stephanie Kurtzuba has graced Hollywood red carpets and Broadway billboards, but she is most comfortable at her family’s West Lanes Bowling Center in her hometown of Omaha.

The Central High School graduate’s maternal grandparents, Tony and Nellie Pirruccello, built the place at 151 N. 72nd St. Her late mother, Connie Pirruccello, had grown up there in the 1950s. Stephanie, a co-owner with her father, Ray Kurtzuba, spent countless hours at the bowling alley as a stage-struck kid. It’s now a favorite hangout for her two boys when they visit from New York City.

“I remember running up and down the concourse practicing cartwheels and using the dance floor in the lounge after school to rehearse my dance recital numbers,” recalls Stephanie, who displayed her cartwheel moves in the 2014 movie Annie. “It was a second home to me and now my children. My boys only get to visit about once a year, so when they do, they eat it up.”

Stephanie’s mom encouraged her to perform in Omaha Show Wagon. Her breakout came in Oliver at the Music Hall. She performed at the then-Emmy Gifford Children’s Theater (now The Rose) as well as the Firehouse and Upstairs dinner theaters. When the original Broadway Annie became a sensation, she sang its anthems around the house. Stephanie says, “It’s the ultimate irony” that three decades later she played Mrs. Kovacevic in the movie.

A local choreographer planted the seed that she had the chops to pursue a professional acting career. But talent only takes you so far. The rest is desire and discipline.

“It’s almost like what some people would call a calling. But it’s almost like there’s nothing else I can or want to do with my time and energies than pursue this, and that’s a real motivator.”

Her theater passion may not have gone far without tragedy befalling her biggest champion.

“If I had not lost my mother when I did, I don’t know that my choices would have been the same in terms of following my dream. We were so incredibly close, my mother and I. When everything went down with her health, it became very clear to me in a very short amount of time, tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone. Losing her rocked my foundation, my very being, but it taught me some really valuable lessons about carpe diem.”

Stephanie won a full-ride to Drake University but got cold feet being so far from home. She briefly attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. With her mom gone, she resolved it was now-or-never. She prepared an audition with help from The Rose’s James Larson and got accepted to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Off-Broadway and regional theater parts honed her craft.

“My goal has always been to be a working actor.”

Her credits include Broadway’s The Boy from Oz, Mary Poppins, and Billy Elliott; the feature films Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and The Wolf of Wall Street; and TV’s The Good Wife.

She hopes one day to perform again where it all started.

“The Emmy Gifford was so seminal in my development as a young artist. I loved it deeply. I still remember the smell of the place. It was home. It would be singularly fulfilling to be able to come back and rejoin the Omaha arts community. That would be some deeply felt, full-circle kinda stuff right there.”

Meanwhile, she’s found a new love: producing. She has several projects in the works. She’s also developing a TV series set in Omaha, which is loosely based on her life, for local Syncretic Entertainment. The pilot is due to shoot here in the fall. They look to put local talent to work. Paying it forward.

“It’s my passion project. I love it so much.” 

To learn more, visit stephaniekurtzuba.com. Omaha Magazine

StephanieKurtzuba

In the Spotlight

November 24, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There aren’t many actresses who could say they “sculpt faces” by day and shape the local theater scene by night.

But that’s the story of leading lady Leanne Hill Carlson of Omaha, who has squeezed in more starring roles, costume changes, and hair colorings than she can count—all while building a family and a medical career.

“I have been so blessed with all the opportunities I’ve had here in Omaha,” Carlson says. “It’s not the plan I would have picked from the beginning, but it’s been amazing.”

That’s a good word for the star performances Carlson has logged since getting her start as a sophomore at Papillion-La Vista High School—one of five times she has played Hodel in Fiddler on the Roof (all requiring dye for hair that is naturally perfect for a lead in Legally Blonde).

Carlson knew she desired a career in musical theater after that role and others in high school that included Sandy in Grease and Ado Annie in Oklahoma. “I had two wonderful teachers who fostered my interest in theater and music,” Carlson says. “I was hooked.”

From there, Carlson pursued a musical theatre degree at Sam Houston State. She was part of the College Light Opera Company, which performed nine shows in 11 weeks on Cape Cod and gave her the chance to play Nellie in South Pacific and Lalume in Kismet.

Carlson had aspirations of making a theatrical run in New York City, “but the cards never turned that way for me,” she says.

Instead, she came home to Omaha and turned an interest in medicine into a master’s of physician assistant studies from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She is a physician assistant at a dermatology clinic and uses her artistic eye to change the faces of Omaha.

“I’ve had a few patients recognize me from the theater,” says Carlson, who also performs regularly as an in-demand vocalist. “They’ve asked me to sing and dance in the office, and I’ve done it a couple times.”

The proverbial go-to leading lady thrives on the big stage. She has played in roles at the Omaha Community Playhouse, The Rose, the Orpheum, and others.

Along with playing the role of Pitti-Sing in Opera Omaha’s The Mikado, Carlson has starred in Annie, 42nd Street, Beauty & the Beast, The Sound of Music, A Streetcar Named Desire, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and has been cast in two movies.

Her favorite theatrical role has been Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, probably because that character most mirrors her personality. “That was so intense,” says Carlson, who is married to physician Mark Carlson and has two children. “I never had a moment off stage, and there were 14 costume changes. But it was so fun!”

Carlson recently had the chance to fly as Mary Poppins in a blockbuster run at The Rose—a feat that went smoothly until the last of 13 songs in her final performance. Carlson was ready to soar when she got stuck in the lights. Making a quick midair maneuver, she avoided a serious mishap and brought down the house.

“The whole cast was waiting for me backstage, and we got a huge ovation,” she says. “It was wonderful—the kind of moment you relish when you love something as much as this.”

LeanneHillCarlson