Tag Archives: performers

Omaha Under the Radar

May 6, 2014 by

Sometimes “the good life” can get a little bit blurry. When it comes to Omaha’s music scene, soprano Amanda DeBoer Bartlett is happy to see that happen and wants to help perpetuate it. “Around the country, there is less and less differentiation between genres; people are forming small ensembles that blur genre lines.” This amalgamation of styles, which can be found in big cities and small towns all over the nation, is not limited to only the world of music. Nearly every type of art form is seeing various innovative mixtures of influences and mediums emerging.

Noticing this trend in the theater field, another Nebraska native, Thom Sibbitt, began to consider starting a festival which would highlight area performers and their works. After Sibbitt and DeBoer Bartlett—who has run a contemporary classical music festival in Madison, Wis., for the past three years—had the opportunity to work together and learn about their shared interests, a natural partnership was born. The result: Omaha Under The Radar, a three-day interdisciplinary festival taking place July 11-13, which will feature the latest in contemporary music, dance, theater, and performance art.

This region is by no means lacking artists who are steering works in creative new directions. “There are a lot of amazing and interesting things happening in Omaha,” says Kayleigh Butcher, a member of the OUR Festival support team. “Installation art; new jazz music; avant garde “new” music…these all totally exist and are thriving. We are really excited to see what Omaha artists bring to the table.” However, what the area might be lacking is a soapbox from which these performers can shout locally and nationally about what they’re creating. Butcher adds that, “there hasn’t been a platform where artists can come together to showcase what they’re doing. Under The Radar is a perfect opportunity to do that—to show to Omaha and beyond what is happening artistically but might not be being highlighted the way they should be (and are in places like
New York, L.A. and Seattle).”

Festival activities will be split between a number of venues in town, including House of Loom, KANEKO, the Bancroft Street Market, The Slowdown, and the University of Nebraska-Omaha. The Joslyn Art Museum will host an opening event—free and open to the public—on Thursday, July 10. The three days that follow will feature performances, workshops, and discussions spread out among the participating venues.

Local and nonlocal artists and works will be presented, and some shows may be accompanied by a Q&A with the guest performer, composer, or choreographer. As DeBoer Bartlett points out, such discussions give one the opportunity to be “working with living composers, which a lot of classical musicians don’t do.” She continues, stressing that there are “more composers living now than ever before,” and that these dialogues can stimulate valuable conversations and collaborations. This interaction is quite possibly one of the greatest reasons for a contemporary musician to come be a part of the festival.

A complete schedule of events will be announced on May 15.

An OUR day pass is $15, while a $30 weekend pass allows you to “choose your own festival adventure.”

Find more information and updates at UnderTheRadarOmaha.com.

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Artists for Inclusion

February 24, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Iggy Sumnik is a noted artist. Bryan Allison is a young man with intellectual disabilities. Their worlds may seem galaxies apart, but the two have more in common than one might suspect. Both share a love of art, and both would appear to live by the same simple philosophy.

“I like to approach each new day as if I were going for a walk,” says Sumnik, a ceramic artist who worked for three years as a studio assistant under the internationally acclaimed Jun Kaneko. “I sense that Bryan and I might be a little alike in that regard. We keep our eyes and ears open during our walk through the day, and maybe we stumble onto something that is a little bit different. Maybe we even learn something new. I expect to learn something from Bryan today. I hope he feels the same way.”

Sumnik was introduced to Allison through a collaboration between local nonprofit organizations WhyArts and VODEC. WhyArts works to ensure that visual and performing arts experiences are open to people of all ages and abilities throughout the metro area. VODEC (see the related story on page 117) provides vocational, residential, and day services for persons with intellectual disabilities in Nebraska and Iowa.

Sumnik unpacks the tools of his profession—a massive block of malleable “potential” and a jumble of clay-working implements—as he explains to Allison and nine of his VODEC friends what would unfold over the next hour or so.

20131213_bs_8014“I didn’t come in with any particular project in mind for you,” he explains. “I’m just here to be an extra set of hands, so I want to see your creativity today—your ideas, not mine.”“Our ideas,” the perpetually smiling Allison replies. “I’m going to make an island. Hawaii. I’m going to be an artist!”

From senior centers and middle schools to the Completely KIDS campus and vocational facilities like VODEC, WhyArts offers a broad slate of programs backed by a small army of talented artists from the arenas of the visual arts, theater, dance, music, poetry, storytelling, and beyond.

The roster of WhyArts artists reads something like a Who’s Who of the creative community. Jill Anderson is the popular chanteuse, recording artist, and Actors’ Equity performer. Roxanne Nielsen makes magic as a frequent choreographer of Omaha Community Playhouse productions. Ballet legend Robin Welch was featured in the last issue of Omaha Magazine. Add spoken word impresario Felicia Webster and Circle Theater co-founder Doug Marr, to name but a few, and it’s a line-up that represents the very best—and most caring—of a city’s imagination pool. “These are more than just talented professionals with long resumes who happen to do workshops,” says WhyArts director Carolyn Anderson. “They are advocates of the arts, but they are also passionate advocates for inclusion.”

Originally known as Very Special Arts Nebraska when the group formed in 1990, the WhyArts model is one that recognizes the simplest of ideas—that creative expression is a foundational attribute of the human condition.

“The underserved populations we reach generally do not have access to the arts,” Anderson continues, “but creativity is innate in us all, regardless of age or ability. What we do is to help people discover that creativity. We don’t try to ‘teach’ art. We experience it right along with them—and on their terms, just like you see Iggy doing here today. Everything we do is carefully tailored to the needs and abilities of the people we serve, but we do it in a way that respects the individual and encourages the artistic expression that is waiting to be released in each and every one of us.”

It’s a formula that also works well for organizations like VODEC.

“The WhyArts mission of inclusion mirrors our own in a perfect way,” says Daryn Richardson, VODEC’s services development   director. “Both of our organizations build bridges to the community with as many organizations and with as many people as we can. That’s the goal of every program we develop.”

Making art in a group, Sumnik adds, is a two-way street. “I try to be nothing more than an enabler for their imaginations,” he says, “but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found inspiration for my own work through people like Bryan.”

Sumnik’s artists have now completed a menagerie of clay creations that will be fired by WhyArts before being returned to their makers. Allison’s fanciful island paradise features a larger-than-life giraffe towering over a lava-spewing volcano.

“We’re getting ready to photograph my art for a magazine!” says Allison, now the center of attention throughout VODEC’s humming-with-activity work floor. “I’m going to be an artist!”

“Going to be?” Sumnik replies. “You’re already there, my man. You’re already there.”

 

Let’s Get Icky

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Derek Pressnall’s enthusiasm is warm and contagious. Get him talking about creating music or playing live, and he’ll get a light in his eyes and say, “I love it.” He’s the veteran, been in a few bands before, and brings a certain sense of knowing how things go. On tour, bandmates would call him Daddy Derek because he’d lay down the law about making too many stops: “Nope. We’re either getting Burger King, or we’re not eating.”

Nik Fackler wears a ridiculously huge pair of gloves, monstrous and furry. He’s fun and young, but he’s directed a feature-length film, Lovely, Still, which stars Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn—and Elizabeth Banks and Adam Scott. Film will always be part of his life, he says (he’s been directing the band’s music videos), but it’s good to do music now, while he’s young.

And then there’s Sarah. Sarah Bohling has babydoll eyes; her lids might close if she tilted her head back. And she has big pouty lips. When you hear her sing in her smooth, sultry voice, it suddenly makes sense: She was born to be a rock star.

Icky Blossoms is big on being greater than the sum of its parts (The line is used on their website, ickyblossoms.com). The three individuals started exploring musically together last winter. Something clicked, and soon their collaboration became Icky Blossoms—an indie-rock band with a sexy beat, heavy on the synthesizers.20130116_bs_1328-Edit copy

Saddle Creek Records picked them up, and their self-titled debut album came out in July. Then they went on tour, playing 36 shows before the year’s end. They played in Dallas, San Francisco, Philly, Chicago, even Canada.

Shoe and accessory design company Cole Haan invited them to play at a New York Fashion Week after-party. Each band member received a sweet pair of boots—and each raised a foot in salute as they talked about it. “It was really exciting to get out there and play our music for people who have never heard of us,” says Pressnall.

Even more exciting was returning to a city, like Denver, a few months later and discovering they had a community developing, a pocket of fans who knew the words to their songs.

“People even came in their Perfect Vision masks,” Bohling said, referring to their song’s music video. In it, a guy and a girl destroy a house, finally setting fire to it, and put on their dust masks emblazoned with Icky Blossoms’ logo before fleeing the smoke.

They did grow weary of the loop of tour, and the food: teebs, tubs, or subs. “Teebs. Taco Bell. Tubs, like tubbies. Like Cheez-Its. Gross gas station food. Subs. Subway,” explains Bohling. Being on tour, slammed together like a family on a road trip, they learned to communicate in new ways, learned to fight like siblings and get over it quickly.

And, of course, they grew as musicians and as performers. They got ideas for how to improve their current show and ideas for creating new stuff, the emphasis always on their live performance.

They’re playing in Austin, Texas, at the annual music and film festival South by Southwest this month. Find out when to catch them here in Omaha on their website, Facebook, or Twitter.