A Night To Remember

Recapping the fifth annual OEAAs in music, performing and visual arts

MUSIC Crystal Visions Musicians snag up OEA Awards after setting the night to music by Chris Aponick As the Grammy Awards dispensed their hardware with plenty of over-the-top theatricality on television screens across the country Sunday night, Omaha's crop of musicians celebrated their own successes with a humbler bit of pomp and circumstance. The Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards program brought together local musicians with their artistic compatriots in theater and visual arts for the fifth annual awards show inside the Grand Ballroom at Harrah's Casino in Council Bluffs. The evening’s biggest music winner at the OEA Awards was Adam Hawkins. Hawkins and his band It's True garnered the evening's main honors, artist of the year and album of the year. Hawkins, however, was out of sight, forgoing the event after relocating to Iowa just after the release of his award-winning record. The awards program opened with dance and drums from the African Culture Connection, followed by a handful of theater and visual arts awards. Those awards dominated the proceedings of the first half of the show, with musical performances being placed at intervals to preview some of the music award categories later in the event. All Young Girls Are Machine Guns, the project of ukelele player and vocalist Rebecca Lowry, set the unassuming tone of the musical side of the OEAAs with a stripped down song detailing the changing nature of quietude in a relationship. Joined onstage by a violinist, it's easy to see why Lowry has a growing following in Omaha's singer-songwriter community. She's able to pair her adult pop sensibilities with her uniquely stripped down approach to instrumentation. All Young Girls Are Machine Guns ended the night by taking home the Best New Artist and Best Jazz/Easy Listening awards. Steve Raybine and his band brought up the energy with upbeat, groovy pop-jazz, highlighted by well-articulated and clean blues guitar riffs, saxophone and Raybine's rhythmic vibraphone playing. Later on, a group of slam poets took the stage with a lyrical performance that was music in its own right. The Filter Kings closed out the musical performances with a confident swagger, playing the ballroom like a barroom. They quickly kicked their set into gear, with their bassist garnering plenty of looks for his upright bass tricks. No-shows for the first few awards threatened to be a distraction, but Best Adult Alternative Singer Songwriter winner Brad Hoshaw did end up thanking fans for the OEA award on his Facebook page later in the night, after having missed the ceremony. Best Rock winner Cursive also did not attend the event. Event emcee Tom Becka loosened up as the musical portion continued, with off-the-cuff remarks and callbacks to the accountants who tabulated the OEA ballots. The best of which came after Paria accepted the award for best hard rock act. “Back in my day though, hard rock musicians didn't look like accountants,” Becka hollered after the well-dressed metal band picked up their crystal obelisk. Other winners were more emphatic in expressing their joy at winning an OEA. DJ Kobrakyle, Kyle Richardson, marched triumphantly with his award. The Kris Lager Band and Matt Cox each took the podium to say thanks for their awards. Meanwhile, Little Brazil's Oliver Morgan made sure to cart along his bottled beverage up front when Little Brazil took home the best alternative/indie trophy. Secret Weapon had fun with their speech after winning for best cover band. One of the members remarked the welcomed peculiarity of their band winning an award for playing songs by other bands. Becka also brought a note of seriousness, as he led the crowd in a round of applause for Luigi Waites. Waities, who died in April 2010, served as a tireless advocate of local music and one of the principle figures of Omaha's jazz scene. The moment brought most of the attending musicians in the crowd to pay their respect. Waites' band Luigi Inc. still holds a Sunday night residency at Mister Toad in the Old Market. THEATER Playing it Cool Performing Arts winners stage antics belie roles that got them there by Warren Francke Sprinkle theater folks generously in a common crowd and they might seem exciting. But surround them with rockers or other artists and let the yawning begin. How lively were the theater winners at the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards? By far the liveliest was 90-ish Elaine Jabenis, the grande dame of the metro stage, who fired back with class at emcee Tom Becka who mispronounced her long-familiar name. Next liveliest was Kevin Lawler, who hugged Jabenis upon receiving the Best Director of a play award for The Death of a Salesman, one of many top honors taken by the Omaha Community Playhouse. Lawler looked shaggy and rumpled enough to have crawled out of a “La Boheme” attic. The rest of the award recipients who weren’t off rehearsing or performing somewhere belied the dazzling talent that earned their honors. Exclude the beaming Amy Lane, bare-shouldered in bright red, as the only one who picked up prizes for two theaters: Best Actress in a play for her lead role in the Blue Barn’s Rabbit Hole and Best Comedy for Almost, Maine, which she directed for the Playhouse. She could have completed a hat trick if a third theater where she works, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, hadn’t been shut out despite a number of nominees, especially the Miracle Worker. Anyway, while emcee Becka complained about musicians who looked like accountants, the theater winners specialized in looking good and saying little. Most weren’t invited to the podium for acceptance speeches. Especially striking was a young nominee, Ashton Taylor, who didn’t win in her category but performed her big number from Annie, and shined vocally and personally while promising that “The sun will come out tomorrow.” It was also notable as the only theatrical performance amidst musicians and slam poet Felicia Webster. If we can claim her for theater after her performance in For Colored Girls at the John Beasley Theater, then her rap about reciprocity and “let go,” backed by D. Kevin Williams among others, negates most of the above by bringing a lot of life to the stage. And then there’s Katie F-S, named the Best Local Slam Poet. She posed, hanging a studded tongue, as she accepted her award. Maybe actors should adopt catchy names such as All Young Girls Are Machine Guns, which won two music awards. Closest to the 10 honors awarded the Playhouse (most were accepted by Susie Baer Collins who won as director of Fiddler on the Roof which also won best musical) were five for the Barn, including three for Rabbit Hole, adding Jordan Rundingen’s Young Actor award and Mary Beth Adams for Supporting Actress to Lane’s acting award. The Blue Barn’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde won in sound design for Martin Magnuson and lighting for Carol Wisner, often-honored for her craft. When she accepted she added thanks for her husband, Bill Van Deest, who won the scenic design trophy for his work on Creighton University’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses. That was another challenge for the emcee who pronounced Les as if it was short for Lester. You know, like that famous Frenchman, Lester Miserables. When Mark Thornburg was honored for playing Tevye in Fiddler, he completed a sweep of such awards, having been recognized by the Playhouse with a Fonda-McGuire award and by the Theatre Arts Guild. Best actor went to the great John Beasley for his theater’s Jitney. That appeared in the Monday morning World-Herald as “Jitney John,” a play we suspect is known for its freaky-fast delivery. That’s the reason, by the way, that Becka claimed he was chosen to emcee: his freaky-fast delivery. (It wouldn’t do to tease the daily without noting that this weekly ran the previous year’s nominations in an “official program” published last week. Still, the Reader got the right list ready in time to appear at place settings the night of the show.) Everything didn’t fall to the Playhouse, Blue Barn or Creighton. This writer’s favorite musical of the awards season, Rent by SNAP! Productions, brought a Best Actress Musical award for Audrey Fisher and a supporting honor for Angie Heim. Its director, Todd Brooks, picked up Audrey’s hardware, noting that she was off dancing somewhere. Angie’s honored performance was one of many nominated from Rent, which had Wayne Moore and Sean Buster nominated in a supporting category won by Tim Abou-Nasr, who was busy rehearsing at the Playhouse. Andrew McGreevy got a shot at the spotlight when he won for Best Premiere of New, Original or Local Script. He explained that his writing of Brick: An a Capella Musical, contrary to the common claim that the script is the thing, wasn’t more important than the entire team that put that show together for SkullDuggery Theatre. The fullest podium comments came from Robin Welch on receiving Best Local Dance Production for Rainforest by the Omaha Theater Ballet. She was proud that her company’s final production was recognized as one of its best. ART Ladies Night Led by Leslie Iwai, female artists dominate Visual Arts categories by Sarah Baker Hansen Women artists dominated the Visual Arts categories in Sunday night’s show. In fact, they won every category but two. Omaha artist Leslie Iwai took home the biggest award of the night — Best Visual Artist — and got a second nod in the Best New Media Artist category. Iwai bested formidable male artists like Tim Guthrie, Jamie Burmeister, Larry Ferguson, Bart Vargas and Josh Powell, among others. Iwai said after the show the two awards were a fine way to leave Omaha behind — she’s moving to Madison, Wisc., to be with her fiancée. Omaha will surely miss Iwai, who dabbles in performance art, sculpture, fashion design and installation simultaneously and with incredible grace. Over the years, she’s created such memorable shows as 2005’s Chambers: Gleaning in Cracks of Light at the Bemis Center, which included a light installation, confessions written on rose petals, seven hundred dove sculptures and a performance piece on the Bemis roof. Her public sculpture Sounding Stones, now installed near UNO, is a serene, conceptual sculptural piece that, after some controversy, seemed as though it had never been anywhere but Elmwood Park. Her most recent installation “Holding my Horses” at the Florence Mill garnered rave reviews. The awards she took home Sunday are well deserved. She promises to keep us posted as to what she does next. Rebecca Herskovitz took home the award for Best Emerging Artist. Herskovitz’s The Things I Cannot Say in the Bemis Underground was provocative and engaging at once. She showed slightly retro silhouettes of nude women set against grain of wood and divided in some cases by thick color bars of paint. The re-contextualized erotic images played with ideas of loneliness and isolation; there are things we all want to say but can’t and Herskovitz touched a chord with the show. Her career is one to watch. Another of the city’s most engaging — and steadiest rising — women artists took home the Best 2-D artist. Claudia Alvarez won for her show at the RNG Gallery, Corn Eaters. Her paintings — engaging, challenging and beautiful are words that come to mind — were as much a focus at the RNG show as her sculpture installation. The images of children eating corn was about more than food — they dove into culture, notions of childhood, indulgence and other emotions. Mary Day took the prize for best 3-D artist. She was recognized for her show Scaffolding at the Fred Simon Gallery, though her citywide contributions include a large-scale banner for the Emerging Terrain Project. Therman Statom took home the award for his show featuring New Work at the RNG Gallery. His memorable, colorful glasswork is a favorite of many and deserving of an OEAA nod. The award for Best Group Show went to Out of the Woods at the Hot Shops Nicholas Street Gallery. Focusing on artists who work with wood — an oft under-recognized medium — the artists in this group proved to the city that sculptures made from this seemingly ho-hum media can be anything but. Omaha art collector and philanthropist Phil Schrager, who died after a battle with cancer last June, was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award in the Visual Arts. The Hot Shops’ Leslie Bruning and Bemis Board member Todd Simon presented the award, and a video tribute marked the occasion. Schrager’s mark on the Omaha art scene won’t. As he said in the tribute video, art in Omaha didn’t exist the way it does now when he arrived in the 1970s. “Omaha’s art scene was once barren,” he said. Phil Schrager’s brother, Harley Schrager, said in the tribute that his brother only had a few passions: his family, his business, art and philanthropy. “He liked art that moved his senses,” Harley Schrager said. Phil Schrager’s family accepted the award on his behalf.

posted at 06:37 pm
on Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

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