Golden Age of Theater? Lets Argue About It

Before Surveying Season, Consider Past

Wait a week or two and we’ll lay out the entire 2012-13 theater season, one already memorable for the smash opening of August: Osage County at the Omaha Community Playhouse. But it isn’t too early to argue about just how golden these days might be.

In the last decade, I’ve looked closely at live theater here over the past 100 years, starting with the heyday of professional road companies bringing the likes of Ethel Barrymore to an array of downtown stages in the early 1900s. If that was a golden age, it soon died when the cinema took over all those theaters within a few blocks of 16th Street.

The fall of traveling companies brought the rise of “little theater,” as community groups were first labeled. The Playhouse came to Omaha in 1925 (not 1924 when meetings were held but no plays produced).  While you no longer must go downtown for theater, it’s still almost entirely east of 72th Street while Omaha has grown far west.

Back when dinner theaters flourished here, two reached to 84th Street and the Westroads, but they’re long gone. And the Grande Olde Players, may they rest in peace, survived for a time near 90th and Blondo, and further west the Jewish Community Center has long been the site of drama, but only on occasion.

Since Brigit St. Brigit moved back downtown (It started 20 years ago at the Joslyn Museum), the western outpost of regularly scheduled theater has been the Playhouse, which emphasized its 69th Street location a few years ago as “Magic at Midtown.”

Now the Blue Barn promises a new home of its own at 10th and Pacific by 2014, and those once forgotten road companies are thriving at the Orpheum in the Omaha Performing Arts Broadway series.

But that’s not all that makes these days seem a bit shiny. Yes, we have the long-lived community theaters in Council Bluffs and Bellevue, the summer musicals in Ralston and Papillion-LaVista, our special mission companies  such as SNAP! and Shelterbelt, plus the universities and high schools. (Yes, Creighton, the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the Nebraska Shakespeare Festival are also east of 72nd Street.)

So bear with me one more week now that I have the scenery in place and I promise to make the case that we are, indeed, enjoying a new golden age of theater in Omaha. And directors, mostly women, are the 24-carat keys.

Cold Cream looks at theater in the metro area. Email information to coldcream@thereader.com.

posted at 03:31 pm
on Sunday, August 26th, 2012

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