Stupid F@#%ing Bird - Director's Thoughts on Chekhov

By Director Suzanne Withem

I read The Seagull and The Cherry Orchard in undergrad and I'd skimmed Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, but I'd never really connected with the stiff language or strange characters in such foreign situations dealing so poorly with what appeared to be relatively mundane problems. People told me Chekhov was funny, but just reading the text, I didn't get it. I felt dumb and irritated, so I just gave up on it and joined the "I Hate Chekhov" camp.

Then, in 2006, I auditioned for the Brigit St. Brigit Theatre production of The Seagull and was cast in the role of Nina. My vanity and being cast in a lead role allowed me to put aside my dislike of the playwright and I dug in trying to understand. It helped that the Artistic Director, Cathy Kurz, chose Tom Stoppard's translation of the play. It was much more accessible than others I'd read, and after having compared different translations of Molière's Tartuffe, I realized how important a good translation can be. A translator attempting to do a literal translation ends up with a product that sounds awkward and stiff - as if Google Translate did half the work. A literary translation, on the other hand, sticks to the spirit and intention of the original while allowing freedom of interpretation and providing space for the actors to play. That's what I found in Tom Stoppard's translation. 

That was one of my first big roles out of college, and I took it very seriously. I applied all my training and watched and listened to the more experienced actors in the group. Doug Blackburn, Charlene Willoughby and Jeremy Earl, just to name a few, were in that production. Each had training and experience far beyond mine, and I did all I could to keep up with them. Nina's zest for life in the first two acts and her passion in pursuing her dreams in the third really resonated with me, and I found it easy to get caught up in the character, riding the wave past intermission. However, she returns in the fourth act, having had her soul, career, reputation and heart crushed. I struggled every night to relate to that state. Portraying someone so world-weary at such a young age, having lived a relatively sheltered life, was a real challenge for me. But it was a beautiful experience and production all the same. 

When I first read Aaron Posners "sort of adaptation" of The Seagull, I immediately fell in love. His love/hate relationship with Chekhov and his plays was immediately apparent and right in line with where I was, more than a decade after my first encounter with The Seagull. Posner doesn't just riff on the story; he plays with the original text. He quotes Chekhov, mocks him, undermines him and points at him with a flashing neon sign and composes love songs to him. Only someone with a deep love for the story and the history of American attempts to produce the play could get inside the work in this way. 

Not only does he modernize the texts and situations, he modernizes the perspectives. Chekhov, through his character of Konstantin demands "new forms" of theatre from 1898, when declamation and oratory were considered high art. Chekhov and Stanislavsky, at the Moscow Art Theatre were attempting to break with tradition by doing innovative things like having the actors speak directly and naturally to one another or doing mundane things like eating, sitting, and blowing their noses on stage. This was revolutionary at the time. In 2017, Aaron Posner screams through his character of Conrad that we again need "new forms" of theatre, then has us break the fourth wall in new and surprising ways, invites us to try out new ways of expressing emotion through music, movement, poetry and improvisation. 

Yet, while both Chekhov and Posner challenge their audiences to consider new types of art that encourage new ways of looking at the world, they still provide for fun, humor and the opportunity to experience empathy. These ridiculous characters who move and talk in ways that surprise the audience are still surprisingly relatable and lovable, despite their flaws.  

Volunteer Spotlight: Sarah Ebke

What OCP Means to Me

"As an actor, I enjoy being on stage for all sorts of reasons: telling stories, wearing the beautiful costumes, singing the powerful music, becoming a family with the people I share the stage with, and just getting to become another person for a few hours. All meaningful reasons, but ones that culminate to the most significant of all - affecting the audience in some way. Making them laugh, making them cry, making them think...just making them feel...something. My experience with Mamma Mia! and the audience reactions after the show have been quite a unique one. As much as I want to touch their hearts and give them a positive experience, they have been giving me just as much love back. And it has been positively overwhelming.

Our cast has been getting all sorts of incredible feedback in the receiving line after the show, and I wanted to share some of my favorite moments with you. Some people want to shake my hand, look me in the eye, and tell me just how much they enjoyed the show. Some people come up as excited groupies/fans and want their picture taken with the Dynamos (with disco points included, of course). They have huge smiles on their faces and sometimes even jump up and down and scream! Some people come up to me with tears in their eyes and share how much a particular song or scene moved them. And then they want a hug - it always brings me to tears as well. Every. Time.

There was one woman in her 50's (I'm guessing) that said this was the first musical she had ever seen and that she was so glad it was this production. There have been many younger children coming through the line saying it was their first show as about feeling honored being part of their first experiences that may inspire them to see (or even be in) more!

Mamma Mia! certainly brings the die-hard fans, whether of the stage show, the movie, or ABBA in general, and I have been trying to remember some of the specific kind words we have heard through their hugs, giddy screams, and even tears. Here are just a few that I can remember:

"I have seen this show on three continents, and this is just as good as any I have seen."

"I have seen this show ten times, and this one is my favorite!"

"I never need to see another version again. Nothing could be better than this."

"You broke my heart."

"I didn't expect to feel so many emotions..."

"The storytelling in this production was just so much more than past ones I have seen."

"I'm going to go home and dig out my ABBA soundtrack. It has been too long!"

"This was a better production than the Broadway one."

"I'm hoping all three of you are best friends in real life, because you look like it on stage!"

Talk about bursting with pride to be part of a live experience that can create this many heartfelt, pure, and sincere reactions. I personally have never had this kind of feedback from an interaction with an audience. They have touched my heart, made me smile, just filled my soul, and yes, even made me cry, too. That's what is so special about live theater - the giving and receiving between the performers and the audience. It can be touching, it can be loving, and even electric and wild. I will remember so much about my first experience on the mainstage here at the Omaha Community Playhouse, but what will remain in my heart forever is the impact our cast made on all the human souls that came expecting to have a good time with a jukebox ABBA musical, and left with so much more. As the show says:

"Thank you for the music, the songs I'm singing. Thanks for all the joy they're bringing. Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty. What would life be? Without a song or dance what are we?

So I say thank you for the music, for giving it to me." 

Thank you, Sarah.  Thank you.


Would you like to continue to support the productions and programs of the Omaha Community Playhouse? Donate Now! Make your donation go further with your employer’s matching program!

What’s YOUR story? Do you have a story to share about how OCP has impacted you? If so, we’d love to hear it! E-mail Emily Andres, Development Director

Cast of A Christmas Carol 2017

Fred - Jacob Roman
Jake - Don Harris
Nell - Amanda Charles
Ebenezer Scrooge - Jerry Longe
Bob Cratchit - Chris Berger
1st Charity Man - Bob Gilmore
2nd Charity Man - Marcus Benzel
Peter Cratchit - Jake Parker
Francis Cratchit - Brodhi McClymont
Belinda Cratchit - Maddie Smith
Tim Cratchit - Annabelle DeWater
Jacob Marley - Don Keelan-White
Ghost of Christmas Past - Lori Lynn Ahrends
School boy - Tyson Bentley
School boy - Judson Cloudt
School boy - Daniel Davis
School boy - Cal Hernandez
School boy - Lincoln Hoffart
School boy - Neal Jochim
Ebby - Andrew Hedin
Fan - Stella Clark-Kaczmarek
Dick Wilkins - Brendan Brown
Mr. Fezziwig - Marcus Benzel
Mrs. Fezziwig - Catherine Vazquez
Ball Musician - Don Harris
Ball Musician - Don Keelan-White
Young Scrooge - Boston Reid
Belle Fezziwig - Emma Chvala
Ghost of Christmas Present - Bob Gilmore
Mrs. Cratchit - Jen Dillon
Martha Cratchit - Hannah-Kate Kinney
Millie - Elise O’Neil
Lucy - Jenna Hager
Topper - Brandon Fisher
Myrtle Crow - Amanda Charles
Mrs. Dilber - Julia Ervin
Man at Cart - Cody Girouex
Man at Cart - Don Harris
Man at Cart - Don Keelan-White
Child with Sled - Ava Palmer
Adult Ensemble - Annie Hekl
Adult Ensemble - Isabelle Rangel
Adult Ensemble - Alex Nilius
Youth Ensemble - Cora Johnson
Youth Ensemble - Lilian Johnson
Youth Ensemble - Olivia Walling
Youth Ensemble - Burke Wissman

Specialty Players
Little Bo Peep - Sophia Markle
Little Boy Blue - Caeli Karasek
Beggar - Cody Girouex
Chestnut Vendor - Julia Ervin
Greenery Vendor - Josie Ausman
Baker’s Wife - Catherine Vazquez
Baker - Bob Gilmore
Toyshop Keeper - Kristopher Fleeman

Marley Minions
Jennifer Bonge
Katie Hoskins
Evelyn Kinney
Reese Uptmor

Fezziwig Ball Dancers
Marcus Benzel
Chris Berger
Brendan Brown
Amanda Charles
Emma Chvala
Jen Dillon
Julia Ervin
Brandon Fisher
Kristopher Fleeman

Cody Girouex
Jenna Hager
Annie Hekl
Alex Nilius
Elise O’Neil
Isabelle Rangel
Boston Reid
Jacob Roman

Catherine Vazquez

Manger Scene
Mary - Sophia Markle
Joseph - Tyson Bentley
Wisemen - Andrew Hedin, Cal Hernandez, Neal Jochim
Innkeeper - Daniel Davis
Shepherds - Judson Cloudt, Annabelle DeWater, Lincoln Hoffart, Brodi McClymont, Burke Wissman
Angels - Josie Ausman, Jennifer Bonge, Stella Clark-Kaczmarek, Katie Hoskins, Cora Johnson, Lilian Johnson, Caeli Karasek, Evelyn Kinney, Ava Palmer, Maddie Smith, Reese Uptmor, Olivia Walling

Volunteer Spotlight: Roger Downer

What OCP Means to Me:

Volunteer Spotlight: Roger Downer

Each season, hundreds of people flood the backstage areas of the Omaha Community Playhouse. Instead of learning lines and memorizing dance moves, they take hold of ropes, memorize cues, operate spotlights, execute costume quick-changes, and tape out props. They dedicate hours and hours and HOURS of time and energy into making sure the magic onstage can go off without a hitch.  

Unlike actors, they rarely get to take a bow. It takes a special kind of person to do all of that. Roger Downer is one of those people. 

In 2014, Roger was looking for a fun volunteer opportunity, and decided to check out the Omaha Community Playhouse. Having no theatre experience, and not knowing anything about cues or cue books, let alone the ins and outs of the grueling work known as “tech week*,” Roger was a little nervous. The OCP staff was more than happy to have an extra helping hand. 

“The veteran crew and staff members provided all the training I needed to be one of the four spotlight operators for The Drowsy Chaperone. This was a great first musical for me that was fast-paced, funny, and had a wonderful cast and crew.”

But how does someone with no theatre experience even become interested in volunteering for an organization like the Playhouse? For Roger, the answer was dinosaurs.

“I first went to see a show, to see if it felt like a right fit for me. I saw Enron (2014) in the Drew Theatre, and was really impressed with the level of talent and quality of the production. And, a show with dinosaurs in suits was just the type of fun I was looking for.”

OCP Cast of Enron - 2014

In addition to all the volunteering Roger does, he still finds other ways to give back. “My employer, Travelers, supports my love of the theatre by encouraging employee involvement in the arts, education, and community development. They have generously matched my volunteer hours with grant contributions to the Omaha Community Playhouse. In return, I share my crew show tickets with my co-workers. It’s been a win, win, win opportunity.” 

What’s next for Roger? Another show, of course! 

“I’m thankful for the Omaha Community Playhouse and am excited to start my fourth season as a crew member for Mamma Mia! – returning to my home away from home. I’m looking forward to seeing my theatre family again.” 

Are you interested in volunteering as a crew member for the Omaha Community Playhouse? Click here for more details, or contact the Production Coordinator at (402) 553-4890 x 114. 

Would you like to continue to support the productions and programs of the Omaha Community Playhouse? Donate Now! Make your donation go further with your employer’s matching program!

What’s YOUR story? Do you have a story to share about how OCP has impacted you? If so, we’d love to hear it! E-mail Emily Andres, Development Director

*“Tech week” is the final week of production rehearsals, when all technical elements of a show, including costuming, lighting, sound, and set pieces, are hashed into the production along with actors and orchestra.  

Small Actors Make Big Debuts

"Young Sophies" with "Adult Sophie" Victoria Luther

Among the other actors making their OCP debuts in Mamma Mia! are six young ladies sharing the role of “Young Sophie.” For those familiar with the Broadway or touring productions of Mamma Mia!, you might notice that this isn’t a role you’ve heard of. The concept for this production’s entr’acte came from director Jeff Horger.

The lyric-less prologue is a visualization of the backstory leading up to present day in Mamma Mia! We watch as Young Donna (Sophie’s mother) meets her three beaus, discovers she’s pregnant and interacts with her little girl. It helps establish the loving relationship between mother and daughter for the audience.

Because 24 performances is an awfully big commitment for children so young, it was decided that multiple actresses could share the role and make four appearances each. Young Sophie appears in the first five minutes of the production and then becomes Adult Sophie, played by Victoria Luther. The young performers are allowed to leave immediately after their stage time and get home for bedtime. It’s a wonderful opportunity for children who’ve started out in classes at the Henry Fonda Theatre Academy to get a taste of being on stage before committing to a heftier role.

Meet Our Young Sophies

Anina Frey
Age: 5 ½
Grade: Kindergarten
Favorite movie: Frozen
Favorite color: Yellow
Dream job: Princess

Anna Krambeck
Age: 5
Grade: Kindergarten
Favorite movie: Frozen
Favorite colors: Pink & gold
Dream job: Sparkly glittery mermaid

Avery Peklo
Age: 8
Grade: 2nd

Favorite movie: The Emoji Movie
Favorite color: Rainbow
Dream job: Doctor

Giselle Schneider
Age: 7
Grade: 2nd
Favorite movie: Frozen
Favorite color: Red
Dream job: Dancer

Lillian Weisser
Age: 5
Grade: Kindergarten
Favorite movie: Moana

Favorite color: Pink
Dream job: Mommy

Madison White
Age: 7
Grade: 2nd
Favorite movie: Frozen
Favorite color: Pink
Dream job: Famous actress

Eminent Domain–From Page to Stage

Eminent Domain is a world premiere production about Nebraskans written by a Nebraskan. Follow the process from concept to fully realized production. Videos by Quiet Chap.

Interview with the Playwright


The Staged Reading


Interview with the Director


Connecting with Characters


Cast of Stupid F@#%ing Bird


Beau Fisher - Conrad
Raydell Cordell III - Dev
Aanya Sagheer - Mash
Alissa Hanish - Nina
Sonia Keffer - Emma Arkadina
Kevin Anderson - Doyle Trigorin
Michael Markey - Dr. Eugene Sorn


Suzanne Withem - Director
Gina Leonardo - Stage Manager
Jim Othuse - Scenic Designer
Darrin Golden - Lighting Designer
John Gibilisco - Sound Designer
Lindsay Pape - Costume Designer
Darin Kuehler - Properties
Greg Scheer - Production Coordinator