Tag Archives: Lord of the Rings

Dungeons, Dragons and Lawyers

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Zack Carlson, 28, is a district court attorney by day. Come the weekend, he’s a dungeon master. One of the Omaha native’s favorite pastimes—Dungeons and Dragons (D&D)—allows him to swap his suit and tie for imaginary armor.

D&D requires a group of players to simulate fictional characters of their own devise in a fantastical setting. Popular styles of play incorporate elements of board-gaming, such as moving token pieces around a game board and rolling dice. Carlson compares the game experience to being in a Game-of-Thrones-style world in which one’s friends can also participate and make decisions. “It is awesome,” he says.

D&D1The game, first published in 1974, shares themes with mainstream fantasy staples such as Lord of the Rings and World of Warcraft. For many players, including Carlson, playing D&D is about more than just an interest in the fantasy genre—it is about the community of individuals who share in that interest. Carlson explains that D&D differs from playing online games because “It is in the flesh. You have to physically be there.” In-person presence creates a social atmosphere that appeals to many players.

Carlson considers D&D a catalyst for friendships that transcend the game. “I have made many friends this way,” he says, noting that he has played with people from many different professional backgrounds. His D&D gaming friends include a doctor, financial professional, research scientist, military personnel, and a police officer. His college fraternity house even had a D&D group (his first). He says that his gaming groups have not been gender exclusive, despite the prevailing stereotypes that D&D is for guys.

According to Carlson, the many misconceptions that persist today about D&D are not as misguided as they have been historically, when some concerned observers likened the game to a cult. Popular contemporary television shows, such as The Big Bang Theory and Community, now depict D&D players as nerd chic, geeky hipsters rather than Satanists—but nerds nonetheless. Players are thought of as people who are “not charismatic,” according to Carlson. “But that couldn’t be further from the truth,” he says. “D&D is a social activity.”

D&D2D&D requires that groups of players collaborate to devise creative solutions to problems they face in the game. They might work together to defeat a monster. Characters might also clash sword-to-sword. “There is a competitive aspect to it,” says Carlson. Role-playing a character requires ad-libbing. “It can be kind of like improv comedy,” Carlson explains. “You get into ridiculous circumstances by everyone building off of one another.” Social interaction is the vehicle that drives the plot forward.

Carlson reports that D&D uses much of the same skill set that he uses when practicing law. He explains that in both law and D&D, an arbiter settles disputes on the rules and interprets those rules when necessary. He notes that lawyers and players must be able to think on their feet. In law practice there is a real element of chance/randomness to any lawsuit, because it is impossible to know exactly what an attorney will find in discovery or what will happen at trial. In D&D chance is simulated with dice, which generates suspense.

Still, Carlson says his co-workers joke with him about being a nerd. “But it is good-natured,” he says. Although he does not go around telling people he plays D&D, Carlson does not deny it either; he even recruited another attorney from his office into his current D&D group. Carlson says, “nerd culture is becoming mainstream.”

Visit dnd.wizards.com for more information. B2B

Farmer to Table

April 15, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sarah Farmer wakes each day to a stack of cookbooks teetering at her bedside. The colorful tower of culinary tomes includes works by Farmer’s favorite chefs—Susan Feniger, Sean Brock, April Bloomfield—alongside classics such as an 1895 cookbook gifted by Farmer’s grandmother.

“My collection inspires me. I like seeing how food and the industry evolve over time,” says Farmer, the sous chef at Lot 2 Restaurant and Wine Bar and a member of the team of young chefs who won the 2015 American Culinary Federation Student Team National Championship.

Like her stacked cache of gastronomic guidebooks, Farmer, 26, strives for balance in cuisine, career, and life.

Work-life balance took “a lot of acrobatics” when Farmer studied at Metropolitan Community College’s Institute for the Culinary Arts (ICA), worked three jobs, and practiced with Culinary Team Nebraska, which went on to win the Culinary Federation’s national title for college teams, an achievement Farmer calls “one of the proudest, most humbling moments of my life.”

“Sarah is tenacious, intelligent, talented, calm, engaged, kind, and open-hearted,” says Brian O’Malley, Culinary Team Nebraska Coach and executive director of Metro’s Institute for the Culinary Arts.

Farmer, a native of Rochester, N.Y., moved to Omaha in 2009. In 2012—after stints studying video communications and intercultural studies—she realized it was time to pursue her lifelong passion for food.

“It’s a great environment with a really interesting dynamic,” says Farmer, who graduated in 2015.

She credits faculty members like O’Malley for giving her the skill and confidence she needed to succeed. In 2013, she landed a job with the celebrated team at J. Coco.

“I just wanted to get my foot in the door working in a professional kitchen,” says Farmer, who pursued J. Coco because of chef/owner Jennifer Coco’s talent and reputation. “I also wanted to work for a female chef and get that perspective in my first job.”

Farmer’s current boss, Lot 2 Head Chef Joel Mahr, finds her creativity motivating.

“Her attitude on cuisine is much like how I pushed myself in the early years of cooking,” he says. “Finishing culinary school and getting a sous chef position right away says a lot about her work ethic.”

Farmer, who has also worked at Localmotive Food Truck and Le Bouillon, says she and Mahr share similar visions and a “refined yet approachable” style.

Farmer enjoys dining at favorites such as Avoli, Ika Ramen and Izakaya, Nite Owl, and Block 16. If time allows, she enjoys movies, music, biking, and dancing. She also enjoys reading beyond the pages of her stack of cookbooks.

“I love learning new things,” she says, noting particular interest in current events, biographical nonfiction, and fantasy/sci-fi. She just re-read Lord of the Rings—a favorite and “a nice escape that has nothing to do with food.”

Farmer also relishes her close group of supportive friends.

“They’ve been my biggest driving force in Omaha for pursuing big goals and dreams,” says Farmer, whose 5-year plan includes continued learning and growth.

“I’m still very new in my craft, and the success and accolades I’ve gotten are actually lots of pressure,” she says. “I feel like the rookie winning the World Series…how do I top that and continue to grow? I’d like to go somewhere else, learn more, then hopefully bring that back to Omaha.”

Chicago is one possible destination. Although Farmer says she’d miss Omaha’s “excellent culinary community,” she’s eager as ever to gain new insight.

For now, Farmer’s balancing act continues here—practicing her craft at Lot 2, celebrating life with her friends, and continuing to push forward.


The Play’s the Thing

October 2, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Laci Neal needs several commas to answer the question, “What do you do?”

“I’m a cosplay enthusiast, performer, and historical costumer,” says the artist, actor, burlesque performer, lecturer/presenter, inaugural Miss World Steampunk, and self-described “big nerd.”

Neal’s various ventures come down to one simple fact: “I just love to play dress-up,” she says.

Growing up in the under-350-person town of Kimballton, Iowa, Neal lacked outlets for her burgeoning creativity and often felt stifled.

“I didn’t have many friends,” she says. “I read a lot and stayed up late watching Turner Classic Movies.”

Yearning for more possibility, diversity, and connections with like-minded people, 18-year-old Neal moved to Omaha in 2002 to study theater at Iowa Western Community College—where she says she learned not only the art of theater, but also the art of self-confidence.

“Confidence is huge,” she says. “I think of myself in high school—bullied and never speaking up—and I would never let that fly now.”

Sitting tall, with bright eyes, a kind smile, and a pretty yellow flower tucked behind her ear, Neal explains what drew her to performing.

“Well, I like attention,” she says with a sweet, yet sly, laugh. “But it’s not just that. I had dreams when I was young of being a movie star, but when I started performing theater my perspective on the entire thing changed. I love how all these individuals come together to create one beautiful thing—spending months on a project for just a few moments of being onstage and presenting the work.”

As for burlesque, Neal says that while it takes bravery, it lets her display all aspects of her costumes.

“With a Victorian dress there are layers upon layers upon layers, and how else can I show off all those layers unless I show off all those layers,” she says.

Cosplay, a combination of the words “costume” and “play,” is a performance art typically centered around pop culture characters common in the sci-fi/comic/geek convention culture. Think Star Wars, Doctor Who, Lord of the Rings…it’s all-ages dress-up at venues like O Comic Con and others nationwide.

“I’ve always played dress-up and kind of been in my own little world, but didn’t discover there were others who did it until 2004 while researching a costume,” she says of stumbling onto the cosplay and steampunk communities.

“I’ve always loved the Victorian aesthetic—corsetry, making historical gowns and garments—so it was fun to discover that there are thousands of people who do this, it has a name, and I’m not just weird in liking to wear full Victorian garb every now and then,” she says.

As for her many loves and commas, Neal says, “They all kind of go together.”

“It’s all performance,” she says. “Ways of having some kind of role to play—whether it’s a role in a play or burlesque or a badass superhero. I can be whoever I want, any day of the week.”