Shelterbelt highlights Omaha’s colorful past

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April 26th, 2011

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Omaha, NE – The Shelterbelt Theatre is showcasing the work of two local playwrights, influenced by the musical traditions and history of Omaha.

My Occasion of Sin, written by Omaha native, Monica Bauer, is largely a fictional play. But its setting, characters and music draw from a place familiar to Bauer. Set in Omaha in 1969, the characters are in the midst of historic race riots. The convergence of black and white, young and old, and differentiating musical tastes fuel the conflict of the story.

This culture clash forces the characters, two teens and two older men living in North and South Omaha, to reflect on their own notions of race and how to keep their footing in turbulent times. Roxanne Wach, director of My Occasion of Sin, said that feeling resonates with the audience.

"My Occasion of Sin" features a dramatized version of Omaha's history. (Photo credit Shelterbelt.org)

“It works on a lot of levels,” she said. “There’s the aspect of living in changing times, where either you feel like you’re too young and don’t quite know your place in the world, or like you’re starting to be obsolete.”

It’s “not just about race and culture,” she said. “It’s about fitting in.”

“The city of Omaha,” Bauer has said, “…is almost another character in the play.” Throughout the play, original photos donated by friends of the Shelterbelt as well as the Douglas County Historical Society scroll across screens on set, bringing authenticity to the setting. Wach said that historical connection will spark the curiosity of the audience after they leave the theater.

“I think people will walk away with a sense of… wanting to learn more about Omaha history,” Wach said, particularly when it comes to race relations. “You don’t necessarily think of Omaha as a hotbed of civil rights activity,” she said. But as the birthplace of Malcolm X, Omaha also saw several years of race riots during the 1960s. “It’s good to know where you come from,” Wach said.

In only six special showings, Nobody Gets Paid, a live, jazz-filled play will follow My Occasion of Sin. Written by Ellen Struve of Omaha, Nobody Gets Paid takes on the form of a more organic, free-flowing jam session. The play features intimate stories, some humorous, some touching and some dark, from local jazz musicians as they incorporate their take on the life of a jazz musician.

“It’s a concert of stories with live music in between,” Struve said. “I wanted to do something … about what it’s like to be a jazz musician, and use a bunch of great, fantastic characters, but also to provide an opportunity for a mini local jazz festival in town with some of our great local players.”

Struve said theater and jazz are a lot alike, relying heavily on the live performance. And she said she feels the two plays complement each other.

My Occasion of Sin runs through May 8th and Nobody Gets Paid follows the Friday and Saturday night performances through May 7th.

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