Circles of vulnerability

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” 
― Brené Brown

Haley and I have been hosting story circles at various homeless shelters around Omaha for a year now. We’ve gathered around tables and in small circles at Open Door Mission, Siena/Francis House, Stephen Center, and Lydia House. Most recently, we hopped over to Council Bluffs and had circles at MICAH house. It is always an incredibly humbling and eye-opening experience. We learn so much about resilience, about the ways our society lets people down and about how people build and find community in every place they land. We would learn none of those lessons and have no real insights if it weren’t for the vulnerability people demonstrate when they come to story circles. They come to story circles and talk about abuses suffered, letdowns and triumphs. They open up about losses and ways they rebuild. The courage they show in lending their voices to this project is incredible. All we can really do is thank them and make sure our play does justice to all they’ve shared with us.

We always bring candy (who doesn’t love it), sign-in sheets and an explanation of our process.

The board

A nonprofit is a tough thing to get off the ground. There are tax codes, mission statements, websites, fund-raising and not to mention the actual work at the center of the endeavor. It’s important and joyful work, though, and made possible only by people lending their time and talents. Anastasis is lucky to have a small-but-mighty (so mighty!) board to get us started.

So, here’s to the smart, funny, kind board members who make Anastasis possible. Thanks, Stephanie Kidd, M. Michele Phillips and James C. Piper for joining Haley and me on this adventure.

An epic theater conference

Every year, a magical event happens here in little ol’ Omaha: the Great Plains Theater Conference. At the end of May, theater artists from all over the world work together to share in their love of their craft and support playwrights. There are workshops, design displays, free plays, free food and a lot of nerding out about theater.

The conference itself is only a week, but the work leading up to it is in process all year. Case in point is the focus of this post: Ellen Struve’s “Epic.” It is one of the top notch pieces of theater you can go see this week. Epic weaves together the stories of contemporary South Omaha Mayan and artist communities, and includes the ancient Mayan stories of the Popol Vuh. The script is in three languages: English, Spanish and a Mayan dialect called Q’anjob’al.

The script was written with material gathered from an interview technique called Story Circles, used by the Cornerstone Theater Company. The Cornerstone method is a community-centered one where you not only focus on the authentic voices of people from a given community, but those very people are part of every step of the production. It’s an inclusive, and honestly way more fun, approach to theater-making. Haley has been trained in the method, and we are using it as part of some of our projects at Anastasis.

You can imagine we were thrilled when the director of the production, and Cornerstone vet, Michael John Garcés, asked us to assist in directing “Epic”. With the play being in three languages, and the actors coming from varying levels of experience in traditional western theater, it was decided that a little extra rehearsal time might be helpful for all involved. So we got to cast the production in March and host rehearsals in April. There are no words for how heart-warming, fun and humbling this process has been for us.

The cast is not only talented, but hard-working and, most importantly, so kind. We all came to the table with different levels of speaking abilities in each other’s languages, yet nobody missed a beat in helping each other understand the script and one another. Everyone is working on a million different projects, taking care of families and doing incredibly important work in the community, and still we all came together to be part of a different kind of important work. The crew is making technical magic happen with puppets, light and sound as we speak.

This show is the product of so many wonderful people combining their time and talent. If you get a chance, give yourself a treat and go see this play.

Opera Omaha

Anastasis Theater Co. was incredibly fortunate to collaborate with the Holland Community Opera Omaha Fellows on their Spring Celebration on April 27th of this year. For those of you who don’t know about this Fellowship Program …allow me to geek out for a moment.

Lauren Medici and Britta Tollesfrud are a powerhouse team at Opera Omaha who recruit people who are both talented opera singers and stellar human beings to be Fellows for two years. During those two years, the fellows create collaborative programming with phenomenal organizations and institutions like Nelson Mandela elementary, Gotta Be Me, MICAH House and many others. The projects are co-designed with the community partners to meet their goals. For example, at Nelson Mandela, they staged a play (that I had the joy of writing) and helped coach the adorable kiddos who make up the Meerkat Melodies Choir. The fellows’ ways of incorporating opera and music into an organization’s programming are as varied as the organizations themselves. So cool.

Fast-forward to this April. Opera Omaha hosts a Spring Celebration to bring together their community partners and enjoy some musical performances by both partners and fellows. This year, they recruited Anastasis to write and direct a short play to string the musical performances of Gotta Be Me and Nelson Mandela together.

The event was even better than we could have hoped. Nelson Mandela’s choir (and their incredible teachers) put on a beautiful performance. Gotta Be Me was not only excellent, they had the crowd participating (who can resist the “Bom, bom, bom!” of Sweet Caroline??) Steven Williams, a gem of a human and mega-talented designer, made sure the UNO black box was a welcoming and prepared space for the big day.

To wrap up this long post, just let me say: Anastasis is excited to be part of the Omaha theater scene in many different ways, including collaborations. And who is a better collaborator than an organization that so fits our mission and does so much good? Thanks for reading and look out for more.

We’re just getting started.