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New York State of Mind

The Blue Barn theatre thrives in its 22nd season

Touch it. Experience it. Own it.

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New York City is still dotted with the occasional brick street tucked away throughout Manhattan and its boroughs. Here in Omaha, the Old Market’s 11th Street also happens to be of the cobblestone variety.

But that’s not where the otherwise scant similarities end between the two disparate towns, one a metropolis and the other a budding
micro-opolis. All one need do to prove the point is look to the cities’ floodlit stages.

Stroll along those 11th Street pavers and scale five cement steps– eight if you are approaching from the downhill side– and you’ll find yourself at the Blue Barn Theatre, a striking example of prairie theater delivered with a Gotham state of mind.

“We’re a New York-born, Omaharaised theater that uses a bare roots approach to what we do,” said Susan Clement-Toberer, producing artistic director of the company that is now in its 22nd season.

The Blue Barn was launched by a cadre of graduates from the State University of New York at Purchase Theatre Conservatory. The school is widely regarded as one of the nation’s top ten theatre incubators of creative talents.

Clement-Toberer, a Seattle native and also a product of SUNYPurchase, headed west to join the organization a year after it was founded in 1989.

When friends come to visit from back east, they tell me
that they are just blown away by omaha’s arts community.

-Susan Clement-Toberer


“In New York,” she said, “there is a structure, a hierarchy of arbiters who can artificially limit and define how things work. There are no such barriers here in Omaha. No one has the power to define us here. We can define ourselves. There are no limits.”

The Blue Barn operates on the smallest of budgets. Clement-Toberer is the only fulltime staff member and yet they somehow manage to conjure up the highest of production values every time the lights go down on work that is on par with that to be found five steps down and 1,140 miles to the east.

“The Blue Barn has a long history of presenting the very finest in highquality work that attracts the area’s best artists,” said the Omaha Community Playhouse’s Carl Beck, artistic director of America’s largest community theater.

“The intimacy of their Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol was amazing,” he said in citing how what may appear to be contrasts can also result in the most delicious of convergences. “Just look at it” he said of the 2010 treat, “a four-man show done on the barest of stages became as equally a compelling production of A Christmas Carol as any of us had seen or done.”

That’s high praise from a company that knows more than a little about how to spin magic with the popular, pack-‘emin holiday classic.

Critics, the box office and awards organizations seem to agree with Beck. The Blue Barn staging of Edward Albee’s stunning The Goat or Who is Sylvia earned 2010 best drama nods from both the Theatre Arts Guild and the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards. The previous year, Margaret Edson’s transcendent Wit was named best drama by voters of the Theatre Arts Guild.

And last month’s Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards delivered a trio of acting nods for David Lindsay-Abaire’s riveting Rabbit Hole on top of sound and lighting design awards for Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. This means that the Blue Barn must now find five new spaces on an already crowded, elbow-to-elbow trophy shelf.


“Our comedies are just as important to us as our dramas,” Clement- Toberer said with a wink. Think here of David Sedaris’ hilarious SantaLand Diaries or the uber-campy Reefer Madness – The Musical. Back by popular demand, the musical that won five Theatre Arts Guild awards will return this June.

Although the Blue Barn may point to New York for foundational influences, Clement-Toberer did a 180 on the map when asked to describe a mirror image of Omaha’s current cultural landscape.

“The arts scene today reminds me a lot of Seattle when I lived there in the ‘80s. That was before things got so big there and it had that same raw, bare roots feel where young, fledgling artists found creative ways to do almost anything.”

In small-ish town Omaha, she said, great wonders are often only footsteps away.

“When friends come to visit from back east, they tell me that they are just blown away by Omaha’s arts community, by what they can find at the Blue Barn and at places like the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts and The Kaneko,” she said of neighboring cobblestone-girded institutions. “When Edie Falco helped us with a fundraiser a couple years ago, she was in awe of not just what we have built here with the Blue Barn, but of the entire Omaha scene.”

Up next for those who will jostle to sit in one of the theater’s 87 cinnamon-hued, velveteen seats is Three Tall Women, Edward Albee’s wickedly funny, Pulitzer Prize-winning serio-comedy, a look at the arc of one human life from the perspectives of three different generations.


-end- metroMAGAZINE




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