Tag Archives: theater

God Bless Us, Everyone!

December 4, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As the Omaha Community Playhouse prepares to transport theatergoers to Victorian England with their annual production of A Christmas Carol, 8-year-old Mackenzie Reidy is getting ready to be catapulted into the world of theater for the first time.

The bubbly La Vista native scored her first-ever acting role in this year’s production, and it’s a big one—she will be playing good-hearted Tiny Tim, the boy who personifies the show’s whole message of Christmas spirit. But with a toothy grin and a sense of fearlessness, Mackenzie is more than ready to spread the cheer.

Mackenzie caught the theater bug suddenly last year when she surprised her mother, Melissa, with the announcement that she wanted to audition for Papillion-La Vista Community Theatre’s production of Annie. While Mackenzie didn’t get a part in the production, she enjoyed the process and decided to give theatre another shot after Melissa saw upcoming auditions for a production of the Charles Dickens classic. While Mackenzie was gung-ho, Melissa and her husband approached the auditions with a cautious optimism.

“It’s a fine line between having faith in her and preparing her for reality. There were a lot of kids there, and obviously a lot of kids who have done it before,” Melissa says. “So I figured, if anything, maybe a choir part, not Tiny Tim.”

Susan Baer Collins, one of the show’s directors, remembers Mackenzie’s first audition well. Baer Collins mentions that one of the biggest problems with casting children is that many are
too shy. But after Mackenzie belted out two verses of “On Top of Spaghetti,” and “sang like a demon,” according to Baer Collins, the show’s directors knew Mackenzie would have no problem with confidence.

After Mackenzie’s cheesy approach won over the directors, she was called back for a second round of auditions. Melissa began to suspect that Mackenzie might have a larger role in the production than originally anticipated when the directors had Mackenzie read for Tiny Tim. But she says she was still floored when the Reidy household came home to a voicemail from the Omaha Community Playhouse—quickly followed by a scream from Mackenzie.

While the Omaha Community Playhouse’s main stage production of A Christmas Carol has never had a female Tiny Tim, it is standard on tour. Tiny Tim has to be small enough to be easily carried by Bob Cratchit, and Baer Collins says that many boys who come into audition are too tall or too large for that.

But it’s not enough to just be tiny—a Tiny Tim has to be preco-cious yet convincing enough that it’s believable that resident humbug Ebenezer Scrooge can be won over by the waif.

“People talk about Tim as being “God-like”, and you know in spite of his infirmity, he’s always thinking of others, so you’re looking for a kind of value that someone can project,” says Baer Collins.

Mackenzie has some large shoes to fill—the Omaha Community Playhouse’s production has seen 40 years’ worth of actors fill the role of Tiny Tim—but she has no qualms about getting up on stage. She says that she’s most excited for being able to act on stage and to make new friends.

While Mackenzie says she wants to try out for more plays, for now she’s simply relishing her time in the spotlight. When asked what her dream role was, she responded with a wry smile and, “Well, that’s kind of the role I just got.”

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The 
Theatrical Design of Jennifer Pool

January 24, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jennifer Pool is a tad hoarse. “I’m recovering from the football game.” She was in the stands for Ron Kellogg III’s Hail Mary pass on Nov. 2, a Husker win that will go down in history. “I must have screamed for three minutes straight.”

The mind boggles, but football just might be more important than fashion to this freelance clothing designer from Papillion. Case in point: The second time Pool showed at Omaha Fashion Week, her collection was chosen for the finale. “But they announced it the day after my sister got tickets to the Washington/Nebraska game in Seattle. So I was like, hey, cool, I’m not gonna be at the fashion show cuz I’m gonna be in Seattle at a football game.”

Nevertheless, her collection still walked that fall 2010 runway. Theater friends stood in as her wardrobe crew.

The combo of theater and fashion has been in Pool’s blood for years now. She started sewing when she was 8. “And when we played pretend,” she adds, “it was very important to me that we all knew what we looked like. We are princesses, and you are wearing this colored dress, and your hair looks like this…very important that we got that clarified right up front.”

While she was finishing her master’s in costume design at University of Georgia in 2003, some friends began an alternative theater group at Blue Barn Theatre called Witching Hour. But Pool took her expertise first to the Indiana Repertory Theater before coming back to Omaha to fall in with the group. “I started out there as a helper, worker-bee type person.” Ten years later, she’s now Witching Hour’s artistic director.

“We’re kind of nonlinear,” Pool explains. “We’re experimental. We can set up some rules and then break them as soon as we set them. It’s not like watching a sitcom. We jump in and out of narrative theater.”

Witching Hour will only have two shows this season, due to a smaller ensemble (Sineater played in December, and How to Be Better runs Fridays and Saturdays from Feb. 28 to Mar. 15 at 11 p.m.). That’s it for fully mounted productions by Witching Hour on stage at Blue Barn, but there’s still their second annual Christmas Rumpus in July.

An out-of-season holiday observation is, frankly, right up Witching Hour’s alley. “Naysayers will say we reinvent the wheel a lot,” Pool says. “But we simply start with no rules.” Consider that a note to be open-minded if you’re planning to attend a performance.

“I think the best shows are the ones you need the thickest skin for,” Pool says. It’s a frame of mind she kept while constructing her fall 2013 collection for OFW.

“This was a very Witching Hour collection,” she says. “I approached it in much the same way I approach a show. What can I push myself to explore in an unexpected way? I felt stuck, trapped. I love to do crazy, avant garde things, I design costumes for drag queens. And the last two shows I did were contemporary.” Which, the history lover admits, isn’t her favorite style to design.

Bloodied models clothed in different stages of confinement—body cages, hoop skirts, neck braces—evoked a battle for release. “It’s about the struggle,” Pool says, “the getting out. Not whether or not you end up a beautiful butterfly.”

She’s interested in continuing the story for her next OFW collection. “If the first one was about breaking free and getting loose,” Pool says, “then you’re left with a chaotic mess. And the next collection might be about how you make sense of that.”

It might also be a response to the one negative comment about her fall 2013 show that stung. “Someone said I didn’t know how to sew,” she recalls. “And looking at my collection, yeah, there was a lot of design but not a lot of technique. So I feel like the next thing I’m going to do is going to be really structural. That’s the only thing I’m interested in responding to. Because that is wrong. Yes, I can.”

Choose Your Own Adventure

August 27, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ted and Wally’s. Tannenbaum Christmas Shop. The Passageway. These are staples of Omaha’s historic Old Market neighborhood. But what if you looked beyond the traditional to find the hidden heart of downtown? Do you dare venture down the road less traveled to find the secret spaces and hidden gems of the Old Market?

You are traveling down 10th Street, looking for an outdoor space to spend the warm, fall afternoon, when you stumble upon Lucile’s Old Market. This historic, two-story, brick building is wrapped with an iron gate and was originally owned by Lucile Schaaf, an architectural salvager. You remember being told there is a courtyard somewhere near her home, but all you see is a 10-foot-high brick wall.

You sneak down the alley between Jackson and Howard streets, only to find a large, locked, wooden gate. Disappointment seizes you, until you notice an iron grate in part of the brick wall. You decide to take a peek.

Terracotta landscape pavers line the three-tiered garden, and ivy consumes each wall. Grass and beautiful flowers overflow the 2,600-square-foot space, sharing occupancy with architectural pieces like two griffin wings, salvaged from the old First National Bank building. The wings form a walkway to the third level of the garden.

You hadn’t noticed, but the owner of Lucile’s, a man named Brian, has come up behind you.

“We have the only private backyard in the Old Market that includes grass and flowers. It’s just priceless; it’s literally priceless,” Brian says. He goes on to tell you that the courtyard is only accessible if you have a private event at Lucile’s. You decide to go on with your day, content with having enjoyed a view into the small paradise.

You’ve had enough of walking around, and decide that catching a movie sounds nice. Unfortunately, there is no movie theater in the Old Market. But you have heard about a tiny theater inside Fairmont Antique & Mercantile Store on 12th and Jackson streets.

Winding through stalls of vintage signs and retro clothing, you come across the theater, a walled-off section complete with marquee, deep in the heart of the store. It plays movies on Saturdays and Sundays. You recall what a friend, Alicia Smith Hollins, told you about her experience seeing Jack White play in the theater last August.

“The small, vintage venue felt more like where you should see Jack White play than a big auditorium. It was the coolest thing I have ever seen in Omaha,” says Smith Hollins, who was previously unaware that the theater existed.

After sitting through The Goonies, you are ready for a night on the town. You call up a few friends and decide to go bar-hopping. However, none of you are keen on anything rowdy or loud, so you attempt to confirm rumors about a speakeasy-type place. It’s hidden under the Indian Oven restaurant at 10th and Howard streets.

When you and your friends arrive at the restaurant, you notice that two horse statues are lit in the window. You’ve heard that this means the basement bar is making drinks that night. You enter the basement to find a cozy, newly renovated space.

“It’s a calm atmosphere that’s about celebrating the drinks and the conversations going on,” says Binoy Fernandez, the I.O. Speak’s owner and bartender. He talks with passion about how the I.O. Speak focuses on craft cocktails, drinks that go beyond standard two-ingredient mixers and that take a little longer to concoct.

Fernandez chats with your group to find out what each of you are looking for in a drink tonight. This is standard practice in the bar, he explains. Based on what customers enjoy drinking, he can provide recommendations from his list of pre-Prohibition and Prohibition-era drinks. For such special cocktails, he and other bartenders only use fresh-squeezed juice and syrups, bitters, and even ice made inhouse.

“[Old Market residents] are a great set of people that have, throughout the years, shown a willingness to try new things out, and, in a large way, to be the trendsetters of what’s happening in the Omaha community,” Fernandez explains as he makes your drinks. “Them, and the history of the Old Market, when speakeasies were running down here, make this the perfect place for my concept.”

You head home from the bar, content in knowing that you took the road less traveled. You found the Old Market’s diamonds in the rough.