Tag Archives: Roxanne Wach

In Good Company

April 30, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In the immortal words of MC Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock, “It takes two to make a thing go right.” For Omaha’s Shelterbelt Theatre and SNAP! Productions, that wise 1980s musical maxim proves incredibly true. The two theater companies have shared a performance space (at 3225 California St.) for the past 18 years, with a sibling-like relationship that’s buoyed them both, allowing them to share expenses and audiences alike.

According to Michal Simpson, artistic director for SNAP! Productions, who’s been with the organization its entire 25 years, Shelterbelt originally occupied the space and SNAP! was nomadic, performing its shows wherever they could borrow space.

“We put our heads together and said, ‘What if SNAP! came into the space and we rotated productions?’ It was convenient timing-wise and also meant we could share some of the expenses, purchasing, and upgrades to make our facility better for both theaters,” Simpson says.

The arrangement worked beautifully for 18 years. But now with their building up for sale and out of their price range, the final California Street curtain call will occur after Ellen Struve’s The Dairy Maid-Right closes on August 5, and the Shelterbelt/SNAP! lease expires at the end of August 2018. Shelterbelt and SNAP! are seeking a new home—and both companies definitely want to keep the family together.

“We want to continue sharing a space because it’s much like a sibling relationship—very supportive and close,” says Roxanne Wach, Shelterbelt’s executive director. “We share expenses, but we also share resources and help each other out when somebody’s in a bind. I don’t know of any other arts organizations that operate in this way. It’s a really unique relationship. Plus, space is difficult in Omaha, so I think finding two spaces would be nearly impossible.”

Indeed, they’ve spent two years diligently searching for a new space to rent, seeking an affordable, optimum location for their theatrical package deal. High rental costs and the need for a space with quite specific functionality have slowed down the relocation process.

For those who wish to support these two local cultural gems and their impending move, Wach says both theaters have donation buttons on their websites. She says they’ve raised about $22,000 through a recent fundraiser drive benefiting both theaters—which she calls “a good start.”

“That money will be used directly for moving costs. After being there for 25 years, you can imagine what we have to move! So, it’s going to get us moved out and into the new space, and hopefully even cover a few items on our wish list,” Wach says.

Simpson and Wach both believe finding the right space is entirely worth the struggle, because it’s key to maintaining Shelterbelt and SNAP!’s crucial contributions to Omaha’s cultural landscape—which they call “a vital part of the theater ecology” in Omaha. Both companies offer opportunities for emerging actors, directors, writers, designers, and crew members, greatly strengthening the local theater community throughout the past 25 years by incubating talent. Additionally, each is unique in the region for its mission—with Shelterbelt’s focus on presenting original, local work and SNAP!’s focus on bolstering inclusion and understanding by featuring underrepresented identities and stories.

“[Shelterbelt does] all original theater and Omaha is really lucky to have that. Most cities our size don’t have a theater nurturing new playwrights, giving entry-level actors, directors, and designers a shot at production. Without theaters like Shelterbelt there is no new theater. To have the very talented writing pool we have in Omaha and a stage where their work can be produced is an immense benefit to Nebraska’s cultural landscape,” Wach says. “It’s a really special experience to be part of bringing a new play to the stage for the first time because, in the end, everybody has contributed to bringing this new thing to life. Even as somebody who’s been in theater basically my whole life, I still find it special every time I get to be part of that.”

Simpson says it’s been exciting to watch SNAP! evolve over the years and “adapt to the growing, changing world around us.” SNAP! was originally an acronym for “Supporting Nebraska AIDS Project,” with the intent to do theater that increased awareness about the HIV/AIDS epidemic and raised money for Nebraska AIDS Project. As HIV/AIDS awareness and funding increased, Simpson says SNAP! broadened its focus to include shows about various social issues in addition to LGBTQ and AIDS-related issues.

“We’ve diversified as the times have changed. Along the way we’ve addressed things like ageism, autism, cancer, PTSD, the transgender experience, suicide, and on and on,” Simpson says. “We’re constantly finding that more and more people are becoming braver and coming forward about their individuality and their identity. Since we started out doing plays about gay people and HIV/AIDS long before it was mainstream or acceptable for theaters to do, we wanted to carry that on. As different things have come to the forefront, we’ve tried to address them and foster understanding of these issues and of the people who face them. We’ve always tried to educate people and promote inclusion and understanding.”

While Shelterbelt and SNAP! have distinct missions, the companies complement each other well, “We have a real symbiotic relationship that’s been good for both of us in many ways,” Simpson says.

Wach completely agrees and looks forward to continuing their important work.

“Our missions are very compatible. There’s a slight overlap because we do scripts with diversity and inclusion content, and they’ll occasionally do a new play. So, we play very well together,” Wach says. “We both offer theatergoers a slightly different experience than many are used to, and I really hope we can continue to bring that to Omaha for years to come.”

Wrapping up their stretch at 3225 California St., Shelterbelt’s Three to Beam Up runs April 20-May 13, SNAP’s Lazarus Syndrome runs May 31-June 24, and Shelterbelt’s The Dairy Maid-Right runs July 13-Aug. 5. For more information or to donate in support of the upcoming relocation, visit shelterbelt.org and snapproductions.com.

This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

April 11, 2018

One of Ours

February 21, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“There aren’t a lot of people in Nebraska writing new musicals,” says Roxanne Wach, executive director of Shelterbelt Theatre.

The Omaha theater company is in the middle of its 24th season of producing original work by Midlands theater artists, and Wach reads around 200 original plays a year. But when she discovered the musical Catherland, it stood out from the pack.

A collaboration between Lincoln-based theater artist Becky Boesen and musician-composer David von Kampen, Catherland will open at the Shelterbelt April 21. It’s the latest incarnation of the project after a staged reading was produced at the Red Cloud Opera House in 2015, followed by a workshop at the Lied Center for Performing Arts in Lincoln.

“I championed the piece because I thought it had such potential. I liked the music to begin with, and that’s a huge hurdle with musicals. I liked a lot of the script and where it’s going,” Wach says. “David has really captured something in the music, and Becky is really talented with her lyrics, and it’s a pretty engaging score.”

It’s hard to imagine a story more quintessentially Nebraskan than Catherland, which is set in Red Cloud, the central Nebraska hometown of writer Willa Cather. The musical focuses on a present-day couple, Jeffrey and Susan, who move from Chicago to Red Cloud. Susan has some reservations about leaving Chicago; but early in their marriage, the couple agreed that once she finished her first novel they would slow down, move to Jeffrey’s hometown of Red Cloud, and possibly start a family.

Boesen explains that when people are experiencing culture shock they go through a honeymoon phase. Jeffrey and Susan are in that phase when “someone crashes into the barn outside and their life starts to unravel as a result, and there’s an immediate life or death problem that has to be solved,” Boesen says. “Willa Cather shows up, too. Susan, the novelist, is not a Willa Cather fan, and that’s a problem.”

That would be the ghost of Willa Cather. Boesen says that a lot of her own writing tends to include ghosts, though the ghosts are not always literal.

“I mean like a missing piece of your heart. Anything that’s missing to a protagonist,” she says. “But in this [show], there are legit ghosts, which is pretty fun.”

Von Kampen agrees, “And I don’t really like ghost stories. I don’t seek out movies or books that are like that, but from a creative standpoint, it feels really good.”

Boesen was born in southern Missouri and von Kampen is originally from Michigan, but they both moved to Nebraska as children. They’ve lived other places thanks to their careers, but are now settled in Lincoln raising their respective families. Boesen and von Kampen are full-time artists and arts educators who met briefly in 2013 while working on another project.
Boesen’s company, BLIXT, is an arts management and consulting firm that produces projects for the Lied Center, Lincoln Arts Council, and other entities. Von Kampen is a musician and composer who also teaches at Concordia University in Seward as well as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Roughly a year after their initial meeting, Boesen talked von Kampen into working as the musical director on a staged reading she was directing.

Von Kampen says, “I remember when (Becky) called, and I was thinking, ‘How can I get out of this?’”

She talked him into working with her, and it went well.

“David said, ‘Hey, don’t you write stuff? We should get together and talk about writing sometime.’ And I said, ‘cool let’s get together,’” Boesen explains.

They discovered their work “sort of sounded alike” and began to share ideas. Boesen had been thinking about her experience as a teaching artist in Red Cloud. Her play, What the Wind Taught Me, ran at the Red Cloud Opera House while on tour, and she says she fell in love with the town.

“You’re driving in Nebraska and all of a sudden you feel like you’re on Mars, because the prairie is like an ocean out there,” says Boesen, who started thinking about Cather and “what it must have been like to live in Red Cloud, Nebraska, in the late 1800s.”

The Nebraska prairie might be considered a character on its own in some of Cather’s work. That striking landscape also has inspired the creative team behind Catherland.

“It’s an exploration of sense of place, what it means to be home, what does it mean to make a commitment, and how does that change over the course of time, and the messy nature of long-term love,” Boesen says.

“I really think they’ve captured something. I’m so excited to be working on it. I just can’t wait for people to see it,” Wach says, impressed with Boesen’s willingness to revise her script. “To have somebody who’s that fearless in the process is a real asset to Shelterbelt in really giving new works their highest potential.”

Wach points out that supporting and nurturing new work by local artists is essential to the vitality of the Omaha theater scene.

“There are very few theaters our size who do new work in a city of our size.” Wach says, “We have a very vibrant theater community, and having new works helps feed it.”

Boesen says she and von Kampen feel lucky to have such a joyful creative process, “We just like making stuff, and we make stuff well together, and we have a lot of fun doing it.”

Visit shelterbelt.org for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Samuel Brett Williams’ Revelation

August 7, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Rapture. The Apocalypse. The end of the world. And the New Jerusalem is in…Arkansas?

Hopefully, someone packed their Rapture kit. Oh…throw in an atheist and things just got real.

Revelation, adapted from a book (yes, that book), is a dark comedy written by Samuel Brett Williams.

“It’s fun as hell can be on Earth,” Williams says.

Williams, like his character Brandon in Revelation, moved from Arkadelphia, Arkansas, to New York City. His scripts are typically set in his own Bible Belt backyard.

Williams says the “strange stuff” about his former state is true, while the “normal stuff” is made up. He attempts to be conscientious, though, “not to leave Arkansas and piss on it.” He will be the first to point out the flaws, but will also be the first to defend his hometown.

Growing up there, he admits feeling smothered and suffocated by the hellfire-and-brimstone culture.

“At 10 years old, burning in hell is the most terrifying thing that can happen,” Williams recalls.

Once he left his cocoon, Williams thought of religion as, well…absurd. His intent is never to make fun of it, but explore it. Kick it. Push it.

Many of Williams’ plays dare the audience to laugh at the morbid while bringing light and understanding.

“It’s like Hannibal Lecter gives them a good meal before he kills them,” Williams explains.

Williams’ idea first emerged when reflecting on a high school class he took on the Book of Revelation.

He releases a booming laugh, looking a bit like a dark-haired Seth Rogan.

“Wouldn’t it be the funniest thing in the world if we all died and went to an alien planet? Tom Cruise would jump out and yell, ‘Damn it, I told you,’” he says.

He pitched his idea at the Seven Devils Playwrights Conference (before the onslaught of all the end-of-the-world movies, he is quick to point out). The National New Play Network commissioned him to write it in 2013.

His comedies deal with darker issues, but Williams wants his audience to “laugh and gasp” at the same time. His first full-length play, Woodpecker, focused on torture in Guantanamo Bay. Another, Derby Day, was more personal and characterized his brother and uncles betting on a horse that dies.   

In his spare time, Williams has directed and been a screenwriter for television. His play Revival will soon be a movie.

“It is Little Miss Sunshine meets The Wrestler,” Williams says.

Although he enjoys script writing, he says nothing is better than just seeing a chair on stage. There is nowhere to hide, and the audience has to rely on good storytelling. Williams’ plays have been seen in New York, Los Angeles, and as far away as Scotland.

Revelation will hit the stage at Shelterbelt Theater this fall as part of their By Local/Buy Local season.

Williams loved the intimate setting of the black box space at Shelterbelt and was excited to do something in the Omaha area.

Shelterbelt Executive Director Roxanne Wach mentions she could not be more thrilled to have a local season.

Is Wach worried Revelation may be too controversial for a conservative Nebraska city?

“Bring it. It’s good to make people think,” Wach says.

Williams says the Shelterbelt family has been “fearless” and he isn’t worried about offending anyone. Well…except his mother.

Despite all his successes, Williams’ greatest achievement is teaching his screen writing program at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Oh, and having the strength to divorce his wife. His next play, Our House, is about the end of his marriage.

Williams tackles the topic with his sardonic humor and a written dedication to his ex: “For Claudia, go to hell.”

Visit shelterbelt.org for more information. Encounter