Katherine (Kat) Pursell
Length of time you have worked with Opera Omaha: 1 year
Six-word summary of your job/duties/what you do: Manage all technical aspects of shows
Describe the best or most rewarding part of your job: Seeing the final product being a success with an audience on opening night.
What is something you do in your position that people might not expect: Drive the 26’ box truck like a champ! I’m also a carpenter and theatre electrician so I pitch in from time to time.
Your all-time favorite opera or theatrical production: I could not pick a favorite! I love the arts in all its’ forms.
Your unofficial position in the company: Your secret talent: I sing and play guitar.
Outside of the office you can be found doing….: Relaxing! Going to movies, watching TV, riding my bike through the park, hanging out with friends, etc.
Engagement Programs Manager—Community Programs
Length of time you have worked with Opera Omaha: 11 months
Six-word summary of your job/duties/what you do: Build and produce community based programming
Describe the best or most rewarding part of your job: Seeing the faces of members of our community that are affected by our programming, and using my position to be an advocate for equity, diversity and inclusion in our community. Two groups that are so often not included in today’s society are the elderly and the disabled.
At The Rose Blumkin Jewish Home we created a special 45-minute recital program by one of the artists from our mainstage production of Handel’s Semele. Our artist, Nikola Printz, accompanied by Opera Omaha’s Resident Music Director J. Gawf, presented a program to 86 seniors—most of whom were wheelchair bound—that included music from opera, musical theater and jazz. It was amazing to see the transformation of this elderly group of adults as the power of music caused all of them to straighten up their posture and beam with joy. We had several seniors come up to us at the end of the program and thank us for bringing music to them.
Opera should be used as a form of expression to help heal and empower our community. Our new collaboration with disabled adults at Ollie Webb Center, Inc. provided another opportunity to do just that. These adults were hungry for an opportunity to feel included in the performing arts world. From meetings with their Artistic Director, Jim Hoggatt, I created two special programs. The first being an open staging rehearsal for La fanciulla del West with our principal artists followed by a talk back with the director Lillian Groag. Ms. Groag talked with the adults before the rehearsal about what they were about to witness and then guided them through the rehearsal process as it was taking place. The adults left excited and thrilled to be there. One of the attendees said she was now inspired to write a story about cowboys in outer space. The success of this initial program caused us to create another program for Handel’s Semele. This time we had the director James Darrah talk with the adults about the choreography in the production. Then they met three dancers from the opera, who demonstrated how they warm-up and then performed several minutes of choreography. It was heartwarming to see these members of our community that so often feel left out, seem validated and a part of the arts world.
What is something you do in your position that people might not expect: I have a lot of coffee dates. Most of the programming developed is done through an organic collaboration with several different organizations. I try not to simply create programs beforehand and then go to organization to tell them what I want to specifically do with them. Of course, I have a rough plan, but I am more interested to see what excites a community partner about a collaboration with Opera Omaha. From there, I find that partnerships and then the programs developed from those meetings are more meaningful and impactful not only to the parties involved, but to the people that they are serving. Being a bit of a control freak, this process can be a bit nerve-racking as you need to put a lot of trust into other organizations. In the end though, the success of the programs makes it all worth the while.
Your all-time favorite opera or theatrical production: Well it all depends on when you catch me. As of today—at this moment—I would have to say my favorite opera is Otello followed by La traviata, Norma, Il trovatore, Lohengrin amongst others.
Your unofficial position in the company: Opera Guru / Opera Editor
Your secret talent: I could say a practical one, but I think I should add some color to this description. Yes, it is true I can do the Elvis lip.
Create a super-hero persona based on your position in the company: Normal thirty-year old guy by night, but by day possessing lighting speed, unyielding stamina and a strong moral compass that allows me to bring together people of varying backgrounds, religions and ideologies through the healing power of opera.
Pick two more staff members to be your sidekick and arch-nemesis: Ha… I know better than to pick sides in a small office. I consider the whole staff to be my partners in crime.
Outside of the office you can be found doing….: Exercising, listening to opera, practicing piano and voice, cooking up a new vegetarian dish, face timing with friends and family back in NYC or hanging out with my best friend at La Buvette or Plank.
Length of time you have worked with Opera Omaha: Little over a year
Six-word summary of your job/duties/what you do: Encourage company growth through generous giving.
Describe the best or most rewarding part of your job: Seeing the productions come to life on the main stage of the Orpheum Theater. Sitting through a Final Dress Rehearsal for the first time will truly take your breath away – such talent!
What is something you do in your position that people might not expect: I’ve been known to make a mean crostini or two – right in the office kitchen! (Check our Twitter page from last fall and you will find some of our creations.)
Your all-time favorite opera or theatrical production: Oh, I can’t just pick one! I’m fortunate enough to say that every show holds a special place in my heart.
Your unofficial position in the company: Resident DJ, karaoke singer, and I will occasionally attempt my skills as a breakout dancer.
Your secret talent: I can consume a lot of snacks in any given day.
Outside of the office you can be found doing… Spending time with loved ones and my furry “children”, traveling (I was able to visit Iceland and Montreal just this spring!), dining out, and enjoying Omaha and all of the fun activities this wonderful city provides for us.
Six-word summary of your job/duties/what you do: financials, employee benefits, cash management, negotiator
Describe the best or most rewarding part of your job: I love that every day is different.
What is something you do in your position that people might not expect: I also assume the responsibility of any office construction, addition or reconfiguration.
Your all-time favorite opera or theatrical production: Pirates of Penzance
Your secret talent: I love to dance. I grew up dancing, continued in college and look forward to attending dance workout classes each week.
Create a super-hero persona based on your position in the company: The Enforcer – making sure the staff meets deadlines, I oversee and manage budgets, oversee staff and their benefits, time off, etc.
Pick two more staff members to be your sidekick and arch-nemesis: Tom Chandler and Jane Hill, we have worked together for so many years I feel that I have learned and grown into a better colleague and professional because of them.
Outside of the office you can be found doing….: this time of year I am either at a softball field watching my oldest daughter, Payton, play softball all over the Midwest or at Premier watching my middle daughter, Paige, do gymnastics or at the dance studio watching her practice to prepare for her next dance competition or at a baseball field watching my son, Hayden, play for the Blair Cubs. Every once in a while my husband, Wade, and I will find time to go out with friends.
As purveyors of what is popularly considered to be an aging art form for the elite, we constantly struggle with the question of how to make our company and its purpose relevant for a modern audience. This, however, is entirely the wrong question to be asking ourselves. Opera is relevant. It is human. It has survived the passage of time and the onset of modernization specifically because its themes speak to us and to the struggles that we face as a society. The question is not how to make opera relevant. It is how to make opera accessible for newly emerging audiences.
In my position as the 2015-16 Weitz Family Fellow at Opera Omaha, I recently had the good fortune of traveling to Washington D.C., a city which I had never before visited, to take in the sights of numerous museums, memorials, and, of course, a few operas. Although I by no means experienced all of what D.C. has to offer, nor was this my goal upon setting out, I did see enough to gain an understanding of the qualities inherent in successful arts and cultural organizations.
National Museum of the American Indian
Self-described as “an institution of living cultures dedicated to the life, languages, literature, history, and arts of the Native peoples of the Western Hemisphere,” this Smithsonian museum was by far my favorite of the National Mall attractions. The Museum of the American Indian is housed in a stunning limestone building evocative of towering cliffs and desert landscapes. All of its structure and design elements, from the east-facing entrance to the lofty dome above the atrium, are the result of direct consultation with Native communities and clearly reflect Native perspectives. These perspectives are explained to visitors through carefully curated exhibits; which do not attempt to cover the entire history of Native American populations, but expertly expand on carefully selected political, cultural, historical, and artistic topics intended to develop an informed and appreciative audience.
The museum serves as an effective educational resource due to its intuitive design. Every gallery is easily navigable, and each exhibit is encountered in a manner that feels completely natural. Visitors of every sort are able to gain new knowledge from engaging and varied displays.
The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
While not the most prominent of national monuments—that title reserved for the iconic Washington and Lincoln Memorials—the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial is by far the most effective, the most moving, and most educational of those that I visited. The F.D.R Memorial is understated, subtle, and guides the viewer through the site in a natural and organic manner. Carefully chosen quotes throughout the memorial successfully convey the challenges, both domestic and international, of the president’s lengthy period of office (1933-1945). Interspersed are numerous waterfall elements, a nice nod to the National Park Service which the president worked tirelessly to expand. The obligatory statute is not a figure meant to inspire awe, but one intended to evoke familiarity. It portrays a humble man, seated, cloaked in a blanket.
Its intimacy makes this memorial so striking. Each turn in the path, each new quote imbues the viewer with an increased sense of who Franklin D. Roosevelt was, as well as the times and the people who surrounded him; and it is a statue of his influential wife, Eleanor, who bids visitors farewell.
Richard Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung
The Ring of the Nibelung is a four-part operatic cycle (often referred to simply as “The Ring Cycle”) based heavily on German and Norse mythology. A great investment of time and resources are necessary for any company staging this operatic monolith, and the returns can be substantial, as many opera aficionados will travel internationally to see this “bucket list” production. It helps that the themes of the Ring Cycle are incredibly relevant. The destruction of nature, a quest for power, far-reaching corruption, and class struggle are all encapsulated in Wagner’s magnum-opus. Due to its length, however, it is vitally important for any company choosing to produce these four operas to seriously consider how best to engage its audience. Washington Opera did a spectacular job.
This production stood apart due to the strong resonance which its themes found with the audience. Everything about this production succeeded in striking a chord with the American viewer. The design team drew on national landscapes and familiar images for source material, and what better way to represent the fallen heroes collected by the Valkyries, than with portraits of American soldiers?
Three Points for an Arts Non-Profit
During my time in Washington D.C. I picked up on three traits that guarantee a successful encounter, characteristics that Opera Omaha also strives to embrace.
These are not naturally quantitative traits, so it can be difficult to measure successful growth. Even so, it is possible to gain a sense of improvement (or stagnation), through communication with our audience and the Omaha community. So I ask you, as a company member to a passionate supporter, share your excitement. Get involved. Let us know what’s moved you, let us know what’s sparked your interest. Reach out to us. We want to learn. We want to grow. And above all, we want to be sure that our beloved art form is accessible to you.
Stella J. Fritzell
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