Conversation begins for Great Plains Theater Conference

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April 2nd, 2012

Omaha, NE – One of the largest regional theater conferences will take place in some interesting places in Omaha. That gets underway later this spring, but the theatrical conversation has already begun.

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One of the five plays performed during the "play fest" portion of the Great Plains Theater Conference will be held in Omaha's historic Burlington Train Station. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia, 2007)

The Great Plains Theater Conference is heading into its seventh year this spring. Playwrights around the country, and around the world, submit their work for the annual event. Katie Cameron is the Event Services Project Assistant for Metropolitan Community College, which hosts the conference. She said out of over 600 entries this year, 35 were selected.

“So it’s a valuable experience for these playwrights,” Cameron said. “They spend a week together and they really get to know each other.”

The selected plays are read by local actors in daily workshops, while theater professionals listen in and give their feedback. In the evening, five plays by established playwrights from around the country will be performed – at some intriguing places, including outdoors at the Union for Contemporary Art on Burdette and 24th St. in North Omaha.

An actor reads through a play selected for 2011's Great Plains Theater Conference. (Photo courtesy GPTC)

“We’re going to invite the neighborhood and if we run out of seats, they can bring their blankets,” Cameron said. “Kind of like the (Nebraska) Shakespeare festival, right?”

The plays will also be hosted inside the Burlington Train Station downtown. “And how many people have lived in Nebraska all their lives and have never seen the inside of the Burlington but have wanted to?” Cameron said with a laugh.

The new locations were the idea of Kevin Lawlor, the Producing Artistic Director for the Conference. He said he wanted to move the productions out of the traditional theater – and into the community.

“It’s been building up for a long time for me,” Lawlor said. “A lot of it is in response to the way that American theater seems to have been moving, which has sort of started to develop this disconnect from community which it serves. Ticket prices are getting higher and higher, and fewer and fewer people are going to see shows.”

Constance Congdon's "Tale of the Lost Formicans" will be the subject of Monday, April 2nd's "Dialogues" at Metropolitan Community College. (Photo courtesy GPTC)

Performances will also take place on a hill in Elkhorn overlooking the suburbs, the KANEKO in Omaha’s Old Market, and even on top of a building downtown, overlooking the city.

“I was looking for locations that were socially, culturally and geographically diverse,” Lawlor said, “that also might have a bit of connection to the play that’s being done, and maybe in the ideal world, the play and location has a connection to the part of the community it’s in.”

The Great Plains Theater Conference begins in May. And in the meantime, as preparations continue, Omaha can begin the conversation. Weekly “Dialogues” are taking place each Monday night in the historic President’s House on MCC’s Fort Omaha campus. Similar to a book club, participants can loan a copy of the plays from MCC and discuss them. Tonight’s conversation features playwright Constance Congdon’s selected work: Tales of the Lost Formicans. For a full schedule, click here.

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