“We had 10 high-caliber production companies participate, all with solid artists.”
In the Dog Days of Summer 2019, from July 24th through 27th, the Del and Lou Ann Weber Fine Arts Building hosted the debut Omaha Fringe Festival. This first-of-its-kind event for our city was the brain child of Tamar Neumann. She brought her vision to reality with the support of Amanda DeBoer Bartlett, Director of “Omaha Under the Radar,” another experimental local festival with roots in experimental music, and the technical expertise of local theatre professional Aaron David Wrigley.
Neumann moved to Omaha in 2016 and two years later began pursuing the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Master of Arts in Theatre. She met Wrigley during her first year, shortly after he completed all requirements for the same degree program. Having lived in Minneapolis prior to relocating, she had participated in the Minnesota Fringe Festival for several years. She had come to love its wild, free-wheeling, “anything goes” spirit and the way it gives diverse artists from across the urban landscape a sense of community. She had hoped to find something similar here in “The Big O,” but upon discovering nothing of the kind, she decided to create the festival as part of a project-based thesis for her MA in Theatre.
With enthusiastic support from Graduate Program Chair and Professor of Theatre Cindy Melby Phaneuf, Neumann researched other festivals and engaged in strategic outreach to measure community interest and support. When she learned that local artists were hungry for just such an opportunity, she put out a call for applications and soon received 25, out of which she selected 10 by lottery.
It took Aaron Wrigley’s professional experience in stage and project management to organize each company’s 2-3 performances taking place from morning till night over the course of 4 days in 2 different Weber performance venues that have varying levels of technical infrastructure. The entire event was staffed by a combination of community volunteers filling front of house position and UNO Theatre undergraduates serving as paid technicians. Clearly, the Omaha Fringe filled a need both for local artists and UNO’s students.
Audience response to each event was enthusiastic. Neumann observed that “patrons were really invested in many of the shows which were offered. We received lots of compliments from colleagues and peers in our theatrical community and are still getting positive feedback from people who weren’t even in attendance.”
Because the quality of the artistic work was high across the board and the response has been so overwhelmingly positive, Neumann hopes to make the Fringe an annual event and continue her policy of paying all artists and technicians. Within five years she’d like to see it expand to include up to 30 shows that are performed in multiple venues across the city in a one to two-week period.
The School of the Arts has already declared its intention to provide more systematic organizational support, act as an official sponsor-partner, and make the kind of financial contributions that will ensure the festival’s sustainability.
The 2019 Omaha Fringe Lineup:
- “MOABIRTHC” by Colleen O’Doherty, a part of her production company Anastasis.
- “TBA: Tired Barren and Alone,” a one-man show by Jean-Paul Zuhur.
- “Secondhand Love,” stand up comedy by Andrew Morton.
- “Carnival” by Tim Barr as a part of his Jungle Productions 2 company.
- “20 Questions.,” a one-man show by Doug Hayko.
- “Little Wars,” a devised theatre project by UNO Theatre undergraduates under the direction of graduate student Jeremy Stoll.
- “Hummingbird” by Jason Levering.
- “Darkness Like a Dream” by Anna Jordan and her new production company, Found Ensemble.
- “Improv Art – Big Canvas” by the local improvisation company of the same name.
- “Celebration: A Belly Dance Show” by Della Bynum with Chrysalis Studios.