“It is a festival for music, dance and theatre focusing on contemporary living creators, so living composers, living playwrights and living choreographers,” explained one of the Festival Organizers, Amanda DeBoer Bartlett of Omaha Under the Radar.
Bartlett said she and her colleagues started Omaha Under the Radar with the intention of focusing on the people in the region who are creating work that is under programmed by the larger arts organizations. She said by starting this festival, they hope to give a platform to those who might not normally be heard or seen.
And there’s another benefit to offering work from living playwrights, choreographers and composers, and that’s a little something called “relatability.”
Bartlett, who is a local musician, said after talking with several arts groups in town, including Opera Omaha, the Omaha Chamber Music Society and the Nebraska Arts Council, one common theme kept creeping into the conversation.
“A lot of arts organizations are seeing a diminishing audience between the ages of 18-35 and part of it has to do with relatability,” she said.
For Bartlett, the great thing about Omaha Under the Radar is that the composers who are coming to see their work performed or the playwrights who are creating this work are younger performers and creators. Bartlett said a lot of the people whose work is being featured are between the ages of 20 and 30 years old.
“These are the next generation of performers and creators and I think in order for Omaha to be part of the national conversation, there has to be an emphasis not only on focusing on the classics and masterworks but also in developing the next generation of arts creators,” Bartlett said.
Omaha Under the Radar strives to stimulate innovation of arts and performance practices within the Midwest for the next generation of performers, presenters, educators, and audiences by encouraging conversation, collaboration, and exploration.
The festival organizers put out a national call for applications. Bartlett said they received more than 60 applications from performers in the region. They accepted less than a third of those applications and the result is a festival that features about half local and half non-local performers.
Bartlett said the festival is marketing itself regionally in Sioux City, Des Moines and Kansas City. She said she has friends in those locations that are helping her get the word out.
“There will be a lot of people coming to Omaha for the first time for this festival. I wanted this to be something that draws people to Omaha but also celebrates the local community we already have,” explained Bartlett.
She said when they were organizing Omaha Under the Radar, it didn’t occur to Bartlett that theirs was such a different approach.
“We are using a lot of different venues. They are all on board and excited to work with each other. This festival will reach a pretty wide geographic region in Omaha,” Bartlett explained.
The events will happen everywhere from 108th at the Omaha Conservatory to as far north as Lake Street at the Union for Contemporary Art.
Bartlett is proud the festival will reach a diverse geographic region since so many festivals are only focused on one venue. She also said she doesn’t know of any other festivals that include dance, theatre and music.
“I am trying to fill in the gaps that the large organizations, who are busy enough trying to represent the tradition of the arts, don’t necessarily have the time or programming budget to produce,” she said.
There will be more music than dance and theatre at Omaha Under the Radar. But one of the bigger performances will be by Red Theatre Omaha. They will take audience suggestions and create 30 different plays in 60 minutes. Bartlett said that will be a really interesting performer/audience collaboration.
She said there are also several chamber groups coming. These two to three instrument groups work with living composers to create experimental classical music. There will also be a solo tuba player performing, a singer who does voice electronics and two contemporary dance groups, one from Lincoln and one from Omaha.
Headlining the festival are Ken Vandermark and Tim Daisy, who are both jazz musicians from Chicago. The duo draws on a variety of influences including free improvisation, 20th century contemporary music and visual art.
Bartlett said, “They also work to integrate their creative energies to further explore and assemble sound in a spontaneous context.”
She said one of the biggest events involves 20 musicians and features percussion, winds, voices, strings and everything else, all together at the Kaneko for an hour-long performance.
“The concert will be filled with transformative, meditative music influenced by a lot of different things like African drumming traditions,” said Bartlett.
She fully expects different people will be drawn to different events. One of the goals of the festival was to make it as diverse as possible in terms of representing different people of different backgrounds as well as different performance styles.
There will be those who will be drawn to some of the underground events at the House of Loom and the Slowdown. Even though those who are under 21 cannot go to those events, there are things like the event at Kaneko that will be really interactive and immersive and open to all ages.
And then there are those who may only be interested in the workshops. Bartlett said there are lots of free events to keep them accessible to the public.
Students who are in the Omaha Area Youth Orchestra as well as the Omaha Conservatory of Music can get into some of the events for free.
“I am trying to make the information as available as possible because I really want to reach those emerging artists as much as possible,” Bartlett said.
According to Bartlett, there has been a lot curiosity about this festival. She said people who are involved in the arts as well as those who enjoy experiencing the arts are excited. She said she thinks having an assortment of venues helps because people tend to get excited when events are happening in their own neighborhood.
“People love Little Italy where the Bancroft Street Market is located. All of the arts organizations are completely supportive, totally on board and totally excited. I just think it’s going to draw a lot of people from many communities,” Bartlett said.
Six venues have committed to the festival and include The Bancroft Street Market, Joslyn Art Museum, The Slowdown, Kaneko, Omaha Conservatory of Music, Accelerando Coffee House, and House of Loom.
Bartlett said day and weekend passes will be available, thus allowing audiences to navigate between venues and “choose their own festival adventure.”
She said she hopes to make Omaha Under the Radar an annual event and explained she has already started planning for next year. Right now she said there isn’t an organization in town that has agreed to consistently sponsor the event. Currently, it is artist-driven. Having an organization that can consistently promote and present these performances will help efforts a little more.
“I am trying to make this as approachable as possible so that the art is accessible in terms of dialogue, Q&A sessions, and the artists being personally available to meet and interact. I think there will be a nice immersive feeling that goes along with the festival,” said Bartlett.
Omaha Under the Radar, July 10-13, 2014, various venues, www.undertheradaromaha.com.