The Night I Returned

Well, I’ll be dipped, I actually have another theatre tale for you.

As you may remember, I finally got my theatre mojo back after it being in abeyance for quite a while.  Of course, in true comedic fashion, the universe decided to answer my renewed mojo by either not having plays with suitable roles for me or the double whammy of having the rear end of my car redesigned by a truck and the conflict of my annual Christmas B & B review interfering with shows that did.

Then fate finally tossed me a bone.

Last year, BlueBarn Theatre began a new series called Musing which is a storytelling series where people (not necessarily actors) tell a true story based on the theme of the night.  The series has been wildly successful with routine full houses.  Now I’ve lived a story or two, but I knew this one would be dynamite for the show once the proper theme night was available.

In August, Musing announced that two sessions would be held during the 2022-2023 season and the theme for both would be Storyteller’s Choice.

Bingo!

I contacted Seth Fox, Musing’s curator, and sent him the link to Devastation for a pitch.  In less than an hour, I had a reply from him saying that he loved the story and that he had a spot open in the October session and offered it to me.  I accepted without batting an eye.

While not a role, it was my first performance in a very long time and I was glad that I’d be sharing the tale of my audition for The Elephant Man.  For starters, we had just passed the 20th anniversary of that audition so it seemed a bit of poetic justice to commemorate it in some way.  But more importantly, it was the most honest and dramatic work I could present.

I’ve had a pretty good body of work, but, in my regular acting days, I got typed/perceived/what have you as a light-hearted actor.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love doing comedy and bits and I enjoy watching them.  But my first love in theatre has always been dramas and my dramatic moments on the stage have been few and far between.

So if Musing was going to begin a regular return to the stage, it was important to me to be able to present myself in a new light so that those who knew me would see me differently and to introduce myself to those who only know me as the writer in the boldest way possible.

So I went about cutting my story down to the 10-12 minutes I would need for Musing and began to polish it up.  I started performing it simply so I could get a feel for the words.  Then I started preparing it the way I knew best:  as an actor.  I added the emotion and interpretation and began shaping it into a performance piece.

Now the preparation for Musing was closer to reader’s theatre.  Seth and I met twice virtually to work on my story and then we had 2 full group rehearsals before the performance.

Our first group meeting was at Sozo’s Coffeehouse where Seth had rented a study room and we presented our stories publicly (more or less) for the first time.

Other storytellers were Ralph Kellogg who had a moving and brutally honest story of how he dealt with a most unwelcome houseguest; Teresa Conway had the funniest story of the group with how she took an advanced ballet class with a group of kids; local beat poet, Fernando Antonio Montejano, kept eyes pinned to him with his well spokentale about returning to his hometown for the funeral of his sister, Bianca; and Sara Strattan closed things with the sweet, but sad, tale about her relationship with her husband who had died from cancer.

All of them did a wonderful job with only minor changes needed.  I just loved their honesty and their sincerity and it just reached out and grabbed you.

Then there was me.

No, no, I’m not about to beat myself up.  But I presented the story through the lens of an actor.  And, as a performance piece, it wasn’t too shabby.  But it was the wrong take.

I remember my late friend, Kay McGuigan, once saying my acting style reminded her of Val Kilmer due to its intensity.  I never really understood that until after I did this piece, but I finally got it.  I do put serious oomph into my performances which makes for good acting.  But acting was not what was needed here.

Seth told me to take Kevin’s advice of not being so earnest and to tell the story as if I were telling it to friends over coffee.  With those words and the vision of the works of the others flashing through my mind, my path lit up clear as day.

There was no need to enhance the emotion of the story.  It was there, naturally.  I didn’t need to perform the story, I just simply needed to tell it.

I literally got into my car and did the story again, but removed the theatre from it.  And I knew I had something magical.  I chuckled at the way life seemed to be repeating itself.  Back in 2002, Kay had helped me get Merrick on the correct course.  Now with Seth’s mentoring, a story about Merrick was now set on the proper course.

Each time I practiced my piece from thenceforth, I could feel the momentum building and I was ready for the dress rehearsal on Monday.

On Monday, it was a completely different ballgame.  I felt the power of the simple delivery and when I wrapped up, I knew I had struck pay dirt with the entranced looks and thumbs up coming from my fellow readers.  Seth’s compliment of, “That was some great fine tuning” left me with a profound feeling of satisfaction.

Then came the real deal.

The one downside to the whole process was how little bonding time I had with these people.  Still we did have a sense of camaraderie as we all shared the same vision of blowing the socks off the audience with our tales.  We did enjoy a little fun time as Sara and Teresa battled Ralph and myself in the game, I Should Have Known That.  (We lost).

Then it was time to go to work.  Seth had changed the lineup.  Originally, I was to be the fourth reader, but ended up swapping places with Fernando to become the third reader and the flow made perfect sense.  Most of our stories were heart tuggers, but there was definitely a different energy and feel to each.  Ralph’s tale was a hard hitting intro that segued into Teresa’s lighthearted fare.  I became the bridge from Teresa to Fernando as my piece was certainly sad, but ends on a positive note.  From there Fernando broke the hearts of the audience while Sara certainly had the audience sobbing, but its sweetness helped to buoy them.

For my own work, I was extremely pleased.  I don’t normally take much stock in my own voice, but this time it was like a part of me disengaged and I heard myself telling the story as I was telling the story and I thought, “Dang, this is gripping.”  It was the storytelling equivalent of forgetting I was acting which is the peak that an actor can hit.  I had forgotten I was telling the story.  I was that lost in it.

All too soon, it seemed like the show had come to an end.  We took our final bows in front of a standing ovation, mingled with the audience, took a group photo, and went our separate ways. 

My only regret of the night is that we couldn’t do it a few more times, but I was glad for the brief time and truly enjoyed my return to the stage.

The good news for those you reading this who now wish they could have seen it, you will get your wish.  The show was recorded and I shall be posting the link to the Corner once the show is posted.

Until the next time.

Opening the Windows to the Soul

Painter Jamie Wyeth decides to paint a portrait of famed ballet dancer, Rudolf Nureyev.  What begins as an opportunity for both men to obtain what benefits he can from the other evolves into a lifetime friendship.  If only Wyeth can unlock the means of painting Nureyev’s Eyes by David Rush and currently playing at the Blue Barn Theatre.

Rush has written an elegant script that is beautiful in its simplicity.  This is a story of friendship.  But the simple story contains profound depth as the friendship between Wyeth and Nureyev grows.  Over the course of the play both men slowly peel off their layers, revealing more and more of themselves to the other.  Rush’s words perfectly capture the essence of the mercurial Nureyev and the more laid back Wyeth with a real and natural conversational tone.  It’s sad.  It’s charming.  It’s witty.  It’s dark.  It’s light.  In short, it has all of the elements for a strong and compelling story.

Darin Anthony unlocks the full potential of Rush’s words with a stunning piece of direction.  I often forgot I was watching a play as the conversation between his two actors was so believable.  The conversations sparked with a vitality as the two performers run the whole gamut of friendship when butting heads due to each being “artist mad”, sharing meaningful talks over brandy, and revealing parts of themselves that they would prefer to remain hidden.  The staging is absolutely magnificent especially with the constant motion of Nureyev who said he could not sit still for a portrait.  Anthony leads his actors to pristine performances chock full of nuance and skill.

Sam Woods excels as Jamie Wyeth.  What I found especially compelling about Woods’ performance is that he portrays Wyeth as an everyman.  Despite being a descendant of a successful line of artists, Wyeth is still a regular guy, comfortable in torn jeans and a blue work shirt.  That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t take immense pride in his work.  He is fully aware of his talent and refuses to let the legendary Nureyev intrude on his domain.  Woods’ Wyeth is also more than up to the challenge of keeping up with Nureyev’s intellect as he matches him riddle for riddle with a sly smile.

Woods’ calmness as Wyeth serves as a good counterbalance to the fiery Nureyev as he is able to shrug off his temper tantrums and earn his respect to even begin this project, let alone keep it alive for so many years.  Some of the show’s best scenes include their ordinary conversations which serve the dual purpose of helping Wyeth get an idea as to how to paint Nureyev as well as expanding their bonds of friendship.

How do I best describe Jed Peterson’s turn as Rudolf Nureyev?  I think the closest analogy I can find is to imagine putting a cork into Old Faithful and then watch as that mighty geyser surges against the cork, threatening to blow at any moment.  Peterson has an energy that you can almost see and feel and it seems like he is barely able to keep it contained.  Indeed, without the occasional release of a tantrum, a riddle, apple pie and ice cream, or dance, it would seem that Peterson’s Nureyev would literally blow up.

Peterson doesn’t play Nureyev.  He IS Nureyev.  Peterson perfectly captures the force of nature that was Nureyev.  He is temperamental.  He is fierce.  He is cultured.  He is smart.  He is witty.  He is driven.  But in just the right moments, he can also be soft and peaceful.  He’s also an amazing dancer.

Peterson paints a portrait of a man who is never truly happy due to his never being able to fully trust anyone and only truly feels free when he dances.  Still his Nureyev opens up to Wyeth more than he has any other person, yet still doesn’t reveal all.  Peterson’s best moments occur when his Nureyev lets down some of his guard and reveals some of his true self.  His fears.  His loves.  His humanity.

The technical elements of the show were just as strong as the storytelling.  Kathy Voecks has designed a wonderful set consisting of pillars of sketches, charcoal drawings, and paintings.  Craig Marsh’s sound design was top notch, especially his use of 70s rock numbers.  Jill Anderson’s costuming was more than up to the task especially with the 70s mod fashion worn by Nureyev.  Ernie Gubbels’ lighting was impressive.  Most notable was his use of shadows which often made the two actors look like living Wyeth paintings and his use of disco lights during the first meeting between Wyeth and Nureyev.

This show is the essence of theatre.  It’s just real.  And it tells a touching story of friendship between two men from different cultures bound by the brotherhood of mad artistry.

Nureyev’s Eyes plays at the Blue Barn through April 15.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Thurs-Sat and 2pm on Sundays.  There are no performances on March 25 or April 1.  Tickets cost $30 for adults and $25 for seniors (65+), students, and TAG members.  For reservations, call 402-345-1576 or visit www.bluebarn.org.  The Blue Barn is located at 1106 S 10 St in Omaha, NE.

‘Nureyev’s Eyes’ to Open at Blue Barn

BLUEBARN THEATRE presents

NUREYEV’S EYES

by David Rush

REGIONAL PREMIERE

During the 70s, the painter Jamie Wyeth did a series of studies and paintings of Rudolf Nureyev, the legendary ballet dancer who defected from Russia and revitalized western ballet. This play imagines what their electric, artistic encounters may have been like, what secrets were revealed about the world of painting and international dance, and how their relationship evolved…changing each of them.

Performance dates:

March 22-April 15, 2018

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances at 7:30 pm

Sundays, April 8 and 15 at 2:00 pm

Tickets are on sale now!

Call the BLUEBARN box office 9:30am-4:30 pm M-F

Or visit www.bluebarn.org

Ticket prices:

Adults                   $30

Seniors 65+        $25

Students              $25

About the BLUEBARN Theatre

The BLUEBARN Theatre has been bringing professionally-produced plays to area audiences since 1989. Since its inception, BLUEBARN has produced over 100 plays and has established itself as Omaha’s professional contemporary theatre company.  Striving to bring artistically significant scripts and professional production values to Omaha and the surrounding region, BLUEBARN is known for high-quality entertainment and the fearless pursuit of stories that challenge both theatre artists and patrons.

BALLET FOLKLORICO “QUETZALLI” BRINGS COLORFUL LEGACY TO ORPHEUM THEATER

BALLET FOLKLORICO “QUETZALLI” BRINGS COLORFUL LEGACY TO ORPHEUM THEATER

Traditional Dance, Mexican Music, Flamboyant Costumes Make This Dance Group a Cultural Treasure

Omaha, Neb. – March 10, 2016 – Ballet Folklorico “Quetzalli” de Veracruz brings the flamboyant tradition of Mexican folkloric dance to the Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St., Thursday, April 14, 2016, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $10, and are available at TicketOmaha.com, 402.345.0606 or at the Ticket Omaha Box Office inside the Holland Performing Arts Center. This performance is sponsored by the Nebraska Arts Council and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment. Hospitality sponsor is Hotel Deco.

Founded in 1985 by Maestro Hugo Betancourt, Ballet Folklorico “Quetzalli” de Veracruz makes its home in Xalapa, the capital of the Eastern Mexico gulf state of Veracruz. They have toured internationally performing traditional folkloric dances, as well as their Afro-Caribbean spectacular, “Carnaval Veracruzano”. The company has been the official representative for the Secretary of Tourism and Economic Development for the State of Veracruz since 1986, having given hundreds of performances across Mexico and the United States, South America, Asia, Europe and the Caribbean. They have also recently performed in Peru, Spain, Germany, Dubai, Taiwan and Canada. In all, the company has performed in more than 20 different countries on 4 continents. 2015 marked the group’s 30th anniversary which included a U.S. tour as well as a gala performance in the home city of Xalapa’s Teatro del Estado and appearances around Mexico.

Mexican Folkloric Dance

The history of Mexican dance starts with ancient cultures, which flourished in the country during the 3000 years preceding the arrival of the first Europeans. Highly refined representations of shamans (medicine men or those who worked with the supernatural), acrobats, musicians and dancers dating back to as early as 1500 B.C. have been found across Mexico, along with a great number of pre-Colombian musical instruments. Whistles, flutes, trumpets, ocarinas, drums (composed of metal, wood and clay), bells, rattles and scrapers all accompanied the dances and song of the religious and festive ceremonies.

The Spanish arrived in Mexico in 1519 A.D., and added new ingredients to the culture. Along with the language, the Spanish added new songs, new dances and new musical instruments, which contributed to the diversity of expression. In the music and dance of sones (the generic name given to folk melodies) such as those of Veracruz, one more element is present, the influence of African rhythms. They were contributed by slaves who worked the sugar cane in colonial times. Each region of Mexico has its own dances, corresponding to its physical climate and traditions, and the dances of individual regions can contrast significantly with each other.

Dance Theatre of Harlem to Perform at Orpheum Theatre on February 25

DANCE THEATRE OF HARLEM TO PERFORM AT ORPHEUM THEATER FEBRUARY 25

Company To Take Part in Community Engagement & Educational Activities While In Omaha, Including Master Class, Talkback, Student Matinee

Omaha, Neb. (January 14, 2016) – Hailed as bold and “unequivocally cool,” Dance Theatre of Harlem is a leading dance institution of unparalleled global acclaim with a commitment toward enriching the lives of young people and adults around the world through the arts. Omaha Performing Arts presents the renowned dance company on Thursday, February 25, 2016 at 7:30 p.m. in Slosburg Hall at Omaha’s Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St. Tickets start at $20 through Ticket Omaha* at 402.345.0606, TicketOmaha.com or the Ticket Omaha office inside the Holland Performing Arts Center at 13th and Douglas streets. Special thanks to hospitality sponsor Hotel Deco XV.

The dance company’s program at Omaha’s Orpheum will include “Return,” a contemporary piece with music by James Brown and Aretha Franklin. In addition to the public performance at the Orpheum, company members will share their message of empowerment through the arts at community engagement and education activities coordinated by Omaha Performing Arts, including a lecture/demonstration during a student matinee performance, a master class for advance dancers, and a talkback following their public performance.

Founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook, Dance Theatre of Harlem was considered “one of ballet’s most exciting undertakings” (The New York Times, 1971). Shortly after the assassination of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mitchell was inspired to start a school that would offer children – especially those in Harlem, the community in which he was born – the opportunity to learn about dance and the allied arts. At that time, African American artists were barred from U.S. ballet companies because of the color of their skin. The company became an expression of human excellence that broke down barriers and inspired millions.

More than 40 years later, Dance Theatre of Harlem has grown into a multi-cultural dance institution known for its thrilling performances that successfully challenge preconceived notions. The company consists of 14 racially-diverse dance artists who perform an eclectic repertoire. Dance Theatre of Harlem runs a leading arts education center and Dancing Through Barriers®, a national and international education and community outreach program.

Sleeping Beauty to Grace Orpheum

THE SLEEPING BEAUTY FAIRYTALE COMES TO LIFE IN PERFORMANCE BY THE MOSCOW FESTIVAL BALLET

Tchaikovsky’s Classic Ballet Is At Omaha’s Orpheum Theater On January 23

Omaha, Neb., (December 18, 2015) – A cherished ballet featuring fairytale princesses and malevolent witches in a storybook kingdom will be performed one-night-only at the Orpheum Theater. Omaha Performing Arts presents The Sleeping Beauty featuring the Moscow Festival Ballet on Saturday, January 23, 2016 at 8:00 p.m. at the Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St. The performance is sponsored by Bank of the West.

The Sleeping Beauty is part of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s glorious repertoire of storybook ballets, which includes The Nutcracker and Swan Lake. The Sleeping Beauty is a cherished ballet that transports audiences to a kingdom of fairytale princesses, malevolent witches, and a true love’s kiss.

One of the most renowned ballets in the classical repertoire, the Moscow Festival Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty is enjoyable for all ages.

Founded in 1989 by legendary principal dancer of the Bolshoi Ballet, Sergei Radchenko, the company brings together elements of the great Bolshoi and Kirov ballet companies. Russian dancers under Radchenko’s direction have staged new productions of timeless classics including Giselle, Don Quixote, Paquita and Carmen, as well as commissioned new works. Their last performance in Omaha was Swan Lake in April 2014.

Tickets start at $20, and are available through Ticket Omaha* at 402.345.0606,

TicketOmaha.com or the Ticket Omaha office inside the Holland Performing Arts Center at 13th and Douglas streets.

Auditions Announced For “The Nutcracker: A Theatrical Adventure” At Circle Theatre

The Circle Theatre will be holding auditions for its holiday production, The Nutcracker: A Theatrical Adventure by Doug Marr.  Auditions will be held July 8 and 9 from 6pm to 9pm at First United Methodist Church located at 7020 Cass Street in Omaha, NE. Please enter through door #4 on the east side of the building. You will be asked to read from the script provided.  Both those with and without dancing abilities are welcome. This is NOT a musical or ballet.  It is a play based on the story of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King that may integrate movement and music. For questions or to schedule an audition time, contact Director Fran Sillau at Fran@fransillau.com