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February 2010: Bravo! The Rose celebrates 60 years

View the Print Media Version online now to enjoy the complete "Magazine Experience."


This year The Rose celebrates 60 years of performing children's theater in Omaha.



The Rose has an intriguing history. It began after World War II; Junior Leagues across the country were starting children's theater groups. Omahas Junior League went to a conference in New York. What is known today as The Rose operated as the Omaha Junior League Theatre until the 1970s when it was renamed the Emmy Gifford. The Emmy Gifford didn't have a true home until 1976 when they moved to an old movie theater building on 35th and Center.

James Larson joined the group in 1985 as the Artistic Director, and that was a key turning point for them. In 1985, the annual budget was $300,000, today it is $3 million. The group was still without a permanent home until 1996 when they moved into what was previously the Astro Movie Theatre. The Astro was due for demolition when Rose Blumkin, the founder of Nebraska Furniture Mart, stepped up and purchased the property. Blumkin and her family deeded the building to the Emmy Gifford Children's Theater. The group also received $1 million toward the renovations and told them that the remaining funds should be put towards future maintenance and repairs. Because of Blumkin's financial help, the theater became The Rose Blumkin's Performing Arts Center in her honor. Eventually the name was shortened to The Rose.

Even though the bones of the building had remained beautiful, there was a lot of restoration needed. The building had been vacant for twenty years before Larson and his staff moved in. "There were many issues with the building, people looked at us like we were crazy to even think that we could get it in running condition," adds Larson. Originally the building had been The Riviera Theater which opened in 1927. The building was created with a combination of Baroque, Moorish, and Classical Architecture. The floor is covered in mosaic tile. There are Mediterranean-Style balconies and murals. In the ceiling of the main stage, there are electric stars that light up as the lights fade to black. Back to the sides of the stage there are bubbling fountains and statues that had luckily remained preserved because they were covered up long ago.  Even the grand curtain is original to the building. If you haven't stepped inside The Rose in a while, you really need to. Few people know what an incredible gem we have in Omaha on the corner of 20th and Farnam. Ranked third amongst children's theaters in the country, The Rose is the largest employer of professional actors in Nebraska. In other cities, The Rose is still known as the Omaha Theater Company. Every year the Rose takes a show on tour across the country. For the 2009/2010 season, The Little Engine That Could is their touring show. The show will travel to thirty-two cities and perform seventy-four shows.

"You know they call them plays; and play is the opposite of work."

- James Larson

The Rose is always getting bigger. Over the years the education program has grown to eight full-time teachers. "People think we just put on plays, but we have so much more," says Larson. There is the "Every Single Child Program," which is underwritten by corporate and private foundation sponsorships. This allows The Rose to introduce theater to many children that might not otherwise get that opportunity. The kids see a show on the main stage, attend a workshop on acting, watch a show on bullying, and other activities.

But despite the growth of The Rose and added programs, recently they hit a big speed bump. Last year, The Rose lost a large $450,000 of their annual income from their investors due to the economy. The fallout was that they had to lose the ballet. Larson says the reduction of the investment was devastating, "It costs us $5000 a day to stay open, so it's a real challenge." The Rose performed The Nutcracker ballet in December, and the final ballet will be The Rainforest this February. "We were all sad to see the ballet go. It had been part of the mission for the past ten years. The economy just didn't leave us a choice," says Julie Walker. Larson says that he hopes that the ballet will continue in Omaha. Many of the past participants have joined Ballet Nebraska.

Even with the challenges, The Rose has kept steadfast. The employees at The Rose love what they do and their passion shows in their work. Julie Walker, the Managing Director, says the Rose is such a community organization. "Not many people know how many educational programs we do. It's great to see the kids faces light up when they see the shows. It's great to know that we are giving them opportunities they wouldn't have otherwise," Walker continues.

A few years ago, The Rose started their Seasonal Membership program. This is a great deal for theater lovers. With the membership they receive four tickets to seven shows for $75. For the 2009/2010 season members received Four FREE tickets to The Velveteen Rabbit, The House on Mango Street, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Rainforest, There's An Alligator Under My Bed, The Bridge to Terabithia, and If You Give a Cat a Cupcake. The members also get discounts on classes and discounts on premium shows. This program has really helped the Rose, and it's a phenomenal deal for the member.

Larson says that taking your children to The Rose is a great way to have a shared experience. They do many plays that were books, so if you enjoyed reading the Velveteen Rabbit, seeing the play will take that to another level. The Rose promotes reading by performing the classic childhood books. While the core audience of the Rose is 4-8 years old, there are also shows that are geared more for preteens like last seasons The House on Mango Street by Sandy Cisneros. All and all, The Rose always has a great mix of shows.

The best part of working at The Rose for Larson is working with professional actors. Rehearsals are always fun with their group. Larson verifies, "You know they call them plays; and play is the opposite of work."

-end- metroMAGAZINE

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