Tag Archives: Blue Barn Theater

Controlled Chaos

August 4, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article appears in Summer 2015 B2B.

Jeff Day will not apologize for his messy studio.

It was expected it would boast cutting-edge horizontal and vertical features, or perhaps make some sort of interesting artistic statement. Instead, it is rather cold with chipped white walls. But to Day, it is the perfect place to take a client so he or she is right in the mix of things.

His studio is an open, creative space, waiting to be filled, which symbolizes the artistic philosophy of his architectural firm Min|Day. Plus, he loves the way the client can interact with the designers as the process unfolds.

A little bit beautiful and frightening all at the same time. “I like being here,” he says. “I have no energy to find a new place.”

He is a busy guy, to put it mildly. Day can’t even count the number of hours he works each week. Whether it is running Min|Day, directing the architecture program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, or working on his MOD furniture company, Day has a lot of creative balls in the air all at once. Just the way he likes it.

One major project on his untidy design table: the Blue Barn Theater.

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Day, ever somber, perks up when discussing the new body that will soon inhabit eager theater-goers. He rarely glances anywhere but at his model encased in glass. Along with partner E.B. Min, who is based out of their San Francisco office, it is their creation and beauty.

“Our strategy was to design a building that can evolve with users,” Day says.

It will include such things as steel that, with time, will look like rusty metal, salvaged timber to adorn walls, and maybe even some artificial turf on the gray roof.

Day graduated from Harvard magna cum laude with an A.B. in visual and environmental studies. He received his master’s in architecture from the University of California-Berkeley.

His art interests led to commissioning four local and regional artists (Chris Kemp, Michael Morgan, Daniel Toberer, and John Woodfill) to develop components of the Blue Barn.

Day likes to steal his ideas from the environment around him. The Blue Barn will include sustainability aspects such as salvaged trees for squares on either side of the aisles in the theater.

Day wanted this to be a creative venture to develop an “open space…to treat it as a test case as a public/private space.” Flexibility, such as creating inside/outside performance areas, was essential.

This will include Green in the City, a simplistic outdoor area in which to produce the cutting-edge work the Blue Barn is known for, or even just a place for the public to hang out. The designs of El Dorado (a Kansas City architectural firm) and Urban Rain Design from Portland were selected out of 60 entries in a national contest sponsored by Omaha by Design to create this community space.

Day believes Omaha has not seen a lot of risk-taking or innovative architecture. Even with a limited budget, he hopes the Blue Barn will appeal to a broader audience.

“It is not mainstream, Pollyanna theater, but edgy and provoking,” states Nancy Mammel, the program director of the Mammel Foundation, which helped fund the project. Blue Barn launched a seven million dollar campaign to raise donations and this fundraising venture will continue even when the building is complete.

Day has been passionate about building since he was young. He recalls one condo project he worked on while he was a high school intern in Maine when he realized something important about the design and construction of buildings.

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“The vision isn’t just from a single person, but a collaborative effort,” Day says. Even now, he makes sure this joint effort is a positive experience. Hence, the cluttered office spaces so clients are in the trenches as the designers create.

Day also takes this theory into his classrooms as a professor at UNL. When a young student “gets it and understands what it means to be a designer” is Day’s best part of the day. He realizes it is frustrating and there is not always one right answer for anything.

Day runs FACT—which stands for fabrication and construction team—where students problem-solve real world issues, not just work on hypothetical projects. This even meant visiting a medium-security prison to develop code for a computer-controlled milling machine.

“It is a mixture of humor and fear,” Day says of this actual hands-on approach. He budgets actual projects with student mistakes in mind, but believes it is necessary for students to “figure out how to get this built.”

Day knows the risks of construction, something that makes him nervous because things do not always go exactly as planned.

When a client walks into his studio, Day will draw out real personal discussions with his client. He prefers to make buildings out of experiences rather than style. If he is renovating a barn, Day will see it through the farmer’s eyes and view it as a piece of machinery.

If it is built out of something honest, someone will want it. Just like the studio scattered with work Day has built over the years.

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Anne Thorne Weaver

February 18, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

National Society of Colonial Dames diva Anne Thorne Weaver is at an age when she says and does what she wants. Fortunately for Omaha, this patron puts her money where her mouth is in supporting the arts.

When the new Blue Barn Theater opens this spring, the box office will be named in her honor for a major gift she made to the company. She admires the Blue Barn’s edgy work.

“I’m just very impressed with what they do,” says weaver. “There’s something about the intimacy of the smaller theater. I think they’ve done some wonderful productions. I think their new facility will be wonderful, and there won’t be any bats,” she adds in referring to a past production when an winged intruder darted overhead.

“I thought, that’s an interesting prop,” she quips, “and then realized it was a bat. Suddenly there was this thundering of shoes coming down in a mass exodus.”

Weaver likes that the theater’s new site on South 10th Street will be more visible than its Old Market digs. “I think it’s an exciting move and one of the things that’s really going to add to the Omaha scene.”

Her gift to Omaha Performing Arts made possible the Orpheum Theater’s Anne Thorne Weaver Lounge. The dedicated private space is a chic oasis for post-show receptions.

“I think it really puts a little wow into Omaha,” says its namesake, “and really adds a lot to any attraction you’re doing in the Orpheum.”

Outside the metro, her generosity’s recognized in the gift shop named after her at the Museum of Nebraska Art (MONA) in Kearney and the lobby gallery named for her at the Lake Art Center in Okoboji, Iowa. She also donated the center’s stained glass ceiling created by Bogenrief Studios.

She not only gives money but time to venues she believes in, serving on boards for Opera Omaha, the Omaha Symphony, the Omaha Community Playhouse, and MONA. She served on the Western Heritage Museum (now Durham Museum) board and was active in the Joslyn Women’s Association.

Weaver, whose civic volunteering includes the Nebraska Humane Society and the Junior League of Omaha, only gives to things she enjoys. “Life is too short, so why fuss around with something I don’t enjoy or work with people I don’t like. When you give, everything is given back.”

She traces her aesthetic appreciation to her late artist grandmother, Narcissa Niblack Thorne, renowned for her miniature rooms, dioramas, and shadow boxes. Some of her grandmother’s handiwork is displayed in framed cases hanging on the walls of Weaver’s exquisitely designed home, whose expansive sun room features two Bogenrief windows.

Surrounding herself with beauty comes naturally to Weaver, who grew up in the historic Terrace Hill home in Des Moines. The restored structure is now the Iowa governor’s mansion.

The well-traveled Weaver considers the vibrant arts scene here a cultural and economic asset that makes the city a more attractive place to live and visit. She takes pleasure helping the arts thrive and sampling all the region’s offerings.

“We all need music and art in our lives,” Weaver says.

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