The Anastasis Family: Leo Marks

“When I was a little kid, I really wanted to be a magician, because you could transform something…amaze the crowd. I just thought that was the best thing.”

There’s nothing I don’t want to do.

Leo Marks is a performer and writer here in Omaha who assisted with our play about homelessness, Stories: On the Brink, early in the process and has continued working closely with us on the development of the piece. If you saw our staged reading of the first draft of the play at the Omaha Community Playhouse’s “From the Ground Up” series, then you were lucky to get a small taste of this man’s range as an actor. He took up the same role again in January when we toured a more recent draft of Stories: on the Brink around to several of the shelters in town. He was set to perform in the full production as part of the Great Plains Theatre Conference in May of this year, before the conference was cancelled, but he continues to work with us during these difficult days, lending his insight and humor to our projects.

Leo started acting in high school, performing in such classics as Diary of Anne Frank and Arsenic and Old Lace. These days, he keeps busy as Artist-In-Residence for Visual Marketing Strategies, working on a book, auditioning for movies and theater projects around town, helping his granddaughter with her school writing assignments, staying in touch with friends, working on poetry and audio dramas.  When I asked him anything else he’d like to tell the world, he said, “Don’t ever, ever give up.  The life I am living today was literally unthinkable a year ago.  Being taken seriously as an artist by successful artists gave me the confidence to go after everything.  When I get told “no”, I hear “Try Harder.  Do Better.  Don’t Quit.”‘   

Don’t ever, ever give up.  The life I am living today was literally unthinkable a year ago.  Being taken seriously as an artist by successful artists gave me the confidence to go after everything.  When I get told “no”, I hear “Try Harder.  Do Better.  Don’t Quit.”    

His talents and ambitions seem to know no bounds. Anastasis is lucky to have such a rising star as part of our ranks.

Updates for 2020 Season

First, a huge thanks to those of you who follow and support us as a new theatre company. We really cannot do this work without all the people who are part of this Anastasis family, which includes community members, professional theater-makers, financial supporters, collaborators and all the individuals that contribute in any way.

Our way of making theater is a wonderful, life-affirming process, but it also requires people to be in shared spaces, and as we know, that is not safe or best practice right now. We, along with Great Plains Theater Conference, have had to cancel all rehearsals and productions for the rest of 2020, but we will be present on social media in the mean time, so please follow us for updates and more. Stay safe, take care of yourselves, and we look forward to all the amazing collaboration we will be able to do on the other side of all this. Thank you again.

The Anastasis Family: Brandi Smith

We as a theatre company couldn’t do what we do if it weren’t for the wider community that supports us. In particular, we have an incredibly talented pool of actors and actresses here in Omaha. We wanted to take a few posts to highlight and thank some of these wonderful people who we like to call family.

In January, we took the most recent draft of our play about homelessness in Omaha, Stories: on the Brink, around to MICAH House, Stephen Center, Siena Francis House and Open Door Mission in order to get feedback from the community. When deciding on casting, we knew we needed performers who could not only give great readings of the characters, but who have a certain level of sensitivity and understanding about the kind of work we’re doing. We lucked out that Brandi was available, because she is as professional and kind as she is talented.

My experience with Anastasis Theatre has been great. I think that a nice little family unit is being created. Everyone’s really open and friendly and cool. There’s a spirit of collaboration, so that’s always fun to work with.

Brandi on her experience working with us on “Stories: on the Brink.”

Brandi has been acting in Omaha for 13 years, and most recently she was seen onstage in Red Summer at the Bluebarn Theatre, The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin and More Than Neighbors at The Union for Contemporary Art. She was going to be in The Color Purple at The Omaha Community Playhouse, before the run was cancelled. In addition to acting, Brandi can be seen singing backup for Dominique Morgan and The Experience on various Omaha stages.

Meet the Board: Olivia Johnson

Olivia is not only a board member, but she also lends her acting talents to our theatre company. She was part of Justice of Eating , our collaboration with the Stephen Center and the Benson Theatre B Side to bring attention to hunger in Omaha. She will also be in Stories: on the Brink this Spring as part of Great Plains Theatre Conference (now moved to Spring 2021).

Olivia Johnson is a 4-time OEAA Performance Poet nominee whose work work closely reflects the changing views of black women in Omaha. Her work is not limited to poetry; a filmmaker, novelist and playwright, Olivia experiments with the societal boundaries placed on black women, and brings a healing aspect to the inflictions caused by that type of limitation.
Olivia enjoys working with her community and is currently the lead Administrative Assistant in the Housing and Support Services program with Heartland Family Service. 
This past winter she was nominated to the Anastasis Theatre Company, and looks forward to working with fellow artists to bring stories of humanity to life and light. 

Meet the Board: Andrea Padilla-Rosas

We’ve been lucky here at Anastasis to add some new and amazing individuals to our board. Without them, we couldn’t do what we do.

Meet Andrea Padilla-Rosas!

Andrea Padilla-Rosas was born and raised in Central California. Her immediate family still lives in California – her parents, older sister, twin sister, and younger brother. She moved to Omaha, Nebraska in 2007 to join her now-husband, Guillermo. They have two small dogs, Dakota and Kahlua. She and her husband live in the Benson-Dundee area. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership from the College of Saint Mary. In January 2019, Andrea joined Metropolitan Community College as an Associate Director of Financial Aid. Prior to that Andrea served as the director of a college preparatory program for low-income and/or first-generation college-bound students, AIM TRiO Upward Bound, at Omaha Bryan High School. 

Andrea volunteers her time as a mentor for Girls Inc. of Omaha, sits on the board of Anastasis Theatre Co., is a 2020 Women’s Fund of Omaha Circles member, and is an active member of the Junior League of Omaha, where she sits on the Management team, Strategic Planning Committee, and as the Chair of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee.

In her down time, Andrea enjoys McDonald’s french fries, collecting craft supplies, sewing, listening to audiobooks, reading, traveling and napping.

2020 in high gear

2020 has barely started and we’ve been kicking it into high gear in Anastasis-world. We’ve completed a draft of our play, Stories: on the Brink, our piece based on the stories of people in Omaha who have experienced homelessness, and have begun taking it around to shelters in town for feedback. On January 11th, we had an amazing turnout of over 60 people at Open Door Mission. The guys who came and watched our reading of the play were attentive, interested and gave incredibly helpful feedback, both in the talkback after the reading and on the feedback forms. It is difficult to fully express our gratitude to the people who have shared their stories with us and now share their insights on the play. If we do any good with this work, it’s because it’s a team effort, and that team includes the incredible communities with which we create art.

We have readings coming up at Stephen Center, MICAH House and Siena/Francis House, and then it’s on to revisions, auditions and rehearsals. Updates to come!

“Theatre is a form of knowledge; it should and can also be a means of transforming society. Theatre can help us build our future, rather than just waiting for it.”

― Augusto Boal

In other equally exciting news, we got to go back to Nebraska State Penitentiary and work with the guys again after a hiatus. We got some of their pieces into play format and then they acted the scenes out, which was thrilling. They are such a smart, talented, kind bunch, and it’s always a joy to create theatre with them. We’re also grateful to the staff who work with us to bring in scripts and give us the time to work.

As you can see, 2020 is going to be even more exciting than 2019, so stay tuned.

Here is a throwback to one of our story circles at ODM.

Giving

It has been a whirlwind of eye-opening, fun and engaging work in 2019. We’ve teamed with the fantastic fellows of Opera Omaha, co-directed with Great Plains Theatre Conference on EPIC, held story circles at shelters all over the city, been blown away by the writings and performances of the guys at Nebraska State Penitentiary, presented some of our work from the shelters at a public reading and, most recently, teamed with the Stephen Center, Saving Grace and the B Side in Benson to bring attention to the issue of hunger in Omaha. To say we are grateful to all the people who have shared their stories, time, and talent with us would be the world’s biggest understatement.

In order to continue these projects, please donate to Anastasis Theatre Co. for Giving Tuesday. Your donation will support our current work with community members impacted by homelessness, and with incarcerated individuals. Your contribution helps pay for the story circles, playwriting, and performances that authentically represent the lived experiences of people who too often go unheard in our community. If it’s $5, $50, or $500, it all helps. Thank you to the generous people who make this work possible.

This was truly as epic cast. Their dedication to telling this story was inspiring.
Open Door Mission and their guests are gems. Gems, I tell you.
How could a reading not go great with talented actors and support of this kind?
Excited to work with the guys at NSP!

“Justice of Eating” presentation: Come join us!

On Friday, November 15th, at 7:30 pm at the B Side in Benson, Anastasis will be putting on a presentation/performance about hunger in Omaha. This is a collaboration with a great shelter in town, the Stephen Center, and Saving Grace, another excellent nonprofit working to end food waste and combat hunger in town. The show is composed of monologues based off of real stories from people in Omaha, laced with some facts and interactive moments. We know many people are impacted by, and care about, this issue. So, please join us to meet other like-minded, caring members of the community and learn ways you can get involved.

All together in one room

We haven’t posted in a while, but for wonderful reasons…we’ve been busy! We’re continuing to work with the guys at Nebraska State Penitentiary (whose writings never stop blowing us away) and we recently had a public reading of our play about homelessness in Omaha, Stories on the Brink. Great Plains Theatre Conference , without whom this project couldn’t have jumped forward like it has, arranged the evening as part of Omaha Community Playhouse‘s “Alternative Programming.” It was a great space and the wonderful audience gave really useful feedback.

I’m always stunned by the power of live theatre, the way it allows for these beautiful, palpable connections between actors and audience. I love a good movie and can binge-watch TV with the best of them, but nothing beats the truly human force of being in one room together, being present. I was reminded of this fact when I saw our incredible actors onstage at our reading. They read a couple short scenes from the play, which follows one woman’s story as she enters the shelter system. They also performed some monologues, which tell stories of other people experiencing homelessness whom the protagonist meets along the way. We used stories from the story circles and interviews we conducted to create composite characters for the play. No one real-life person’s story is told; it’s a synthesized version of what we’ve heard, a looping together of the common threads in people’s stories.

I’ve written already about how humbling and incredible it is that people who’ve experienced homelessness have opened their hearts and lives to us during this process. I’ll say again that although I’m writing words to form a play around what they’ve shared with us, it will never do full justice to the real courage and humanity these people have shown in sharing themselves this way. Their stories are so important and it is beyond an honor to get them out to the broader public.

It was just as heart-filling, and humbling (like every part of this process), to see the life these actors brought to the piece. Olivia, Leo, Beau, Jen, Franco and Xena are not only talented actors, but their kindness and warmth as people just seeped into their characters. These are actors that not only care about their craft, but care about the people they’re depicting. Our luck in getting people who are equal parts kind and talented is pretty amazing.

We’re looking forward to developing and finishing the play, and to doing our absolute best to do right by all the people who have been part of this journey. If you’re in the Omaha area when the play goes up (more on that in the future), hopefully you’ll join us.

Souls in prison

“While there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

― Eugene V. Debs

“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison.”

HEBREWS 13:1-3

“All people make mistakes. All of us are sinners. All of us are criminals.”

Michelle Alexander

In the Spring of 2018, I was in the process of gathering interviews from people affected by homelessness. Meanwhile, Haley was visiting Nebraska State Penitentiary with the great organization Compassion in Action in order to lead acting exercises. Haley found out about my endeavors via facebook. One day in May 2018, while we both attended the Great Plains Theatre Conference, Haley marched up to me and said, “I think we’re doing similar work.”

I don’t think either of us realized how similar our projects were to each other’s at first, at least not fully. Then I started guiding the guys at NSP through writing exercises and Haley started leading story circles at shelters. As people from both populations shared their stories with us, it quickly became clear how much the two groups held in common. You could easily make a venn diagram and observe plenty of overlap: regrets about past decisions, poverty, violence, hope for a better future, shame, feeling judged, and the list could continue.

Much like the one-dimensional and incomplete stories about the homeless that permeate our culture, are the equally dehumanizing ones about those in prison. We hear about riots and overcrowding in the news, but don’t get many stories about the human beings involved in these events. There are TV shows and movies with sympathetic renderings of the imprisoned, but they are often sensationalized and don’t always address the larger societal pieces that land people behind bars.

The guys we work with at NSP are nothing like any depiction of the incarcerated that makes it into most (not all) television shows or movies. They come from an array of backgrounds, but they all bring their whole hearts and souls to the work we do with them. These men share stories from their pasts that are often painful, but rarely show self-pity. They express hope for their futures and concern for one another. They nerd out about favorite bible passages or how well they did at a volleyball game. Basically, they’re just like everybody else. It’s so important for us all to remember that fact, especially if you happen to be lucky enough to have avoided prison yourself or haven’t had a loved one in that situation.

As always, we are constantly humbled by, and grateful to, the guests at the shelters, the guys at NSP and all those supporting this theatre’s mission.

Thank-you for reading.