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.”