By Natalie C. McGovern
An annual event anticipated by Omaha artists for an entire year has finally arrived. Not the Grammys that aired Sunday night, but another arts and entertainment awards show—one that meshes Omaha music and performing arts scenes into a celebration of honorary achievement and prestige—the sixth Annual Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards.
The OEAAs were held at the ritzy North downtown Hilton Sunday evening, Feb. 12. A jazzed-up mariachi band in full ethnic costuming serenaded guests upon arrival. An entourage of local entertainment celebrities and indie music VIPs buzzed around the bar, keeping a low profile and enjoying refreshing cocktails before heading to the ballroom for the awards.
A few technical glitches started off the night when the nominees for New Media were announced prematurely before the show even began. Emcee Poetry Slam artists Andrew Ek and Katie F-S hosted the evening’s events, complete with pterodactyl impressions, random sunglass and scarf-hijacking antics and impromptu iPad wars. While there was no real rhyme or reason to the order in which awards were received, a slew of 47 categories in visual arts, theatre, dance and music were recognized for talent, dedication and an overall successful year in the Omaha arts and entertainment industry.
UNO’s own theatre department, along with dance troupe “The Moving Company,” received nominations in several categories. UNO theatre was nominated for a total of six categories for the 2011 productions of “Dark Play, or Stories for Boys,” “Eurydice,” and “Noises Off.” Nominees included faculty Robbie Jones for Best Scenic Design, students Steve Hartman and Brendan JD Reilly for Best Supporting Actor, “Noises Off” for Best Comedic Play, Bill Grennan for Best Actor in a Drama/Comedy, Amy Lane for Best Direction for “Dark Play or Stories for Boys,” and Sarah Liken for Best Actress in a Drama/Comedy. UNO’s theatre department garnered an award, Steven L. Williams took home the trophy for Best Lighting Design for “Dark Play or Stories for Boys.”
Steven Hartman commented on his nomination, saying he was surprised to be nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
“I never have [been nominated] before,” Hartman said. “Some UNO shows got nominations for ensembles that I’ve been a part of—”The Miracle Worker” was nominated for Best Drama back in 2010. I was in that, but I never singularly received a nomination.”
Hartman said it felt great to be nominated and was not only kudos for him but for collegiate theatre in general.
“In recent years, more and more shows at UNO have been receiving these types of nominations,” he said. “This is not because UNO has started doing good work, it’s that the community and the critics are finally noticing. We’ve always done good work and now it’s nice for everyone to finally recognize it. I anticipate there will be many more nominations in the future.”
The most prestigious award doled out that evening was the Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by OEAA board member Mark Hoegger. The award was given to Robin Welch, impresario and founder of Nebraska Theatre Ballet. She received the honorary award for her contributions to the dance community, her dedication to dance excellence and commitment of keeping professional classical ballet alive in Omaha. Welch was immensely touched by the standing ovation she received from the audience.
Special artist performances throughout the evening included Best Rock band Rock Paper Dynamite, singer-songwriter nominee Tara Vaughn and Dance nominee Somasphere featuring Best Hip-Hop/Rap and Artist of the Year recipient Galvanized Tron. The obvious crowd favorite, front-runner grunge/rock band Rock Paper Dynamite performed a song from their latest album, “A Place Called Home,” with hard-hitting, edged-out guitar riffs and brazen vocals.
Galvanized Tron, a one-man band fronted by Rob Jefferson, commented on the growing popularity of hip-hop music in Omaha.
“Much love and respect to the industry, we’ll keep it coming,” Jefferson said. “You got people doing shows every day, writing songs every day, and we are doing a lot more. Time to wake up and be more prevalent.”
Galvanized Tron’s independent record label CEO Johnny Stephens commented on how he felt about the band’s success, saying he was “very grateful to be working with Rob and to have [Galvanized Tron] on our roster.” He continued to say winning Best Artist of the Year helps to catapult an independent record label into the industry and “solidifies hard work that the staff puts into [behind the scenes] and validates our hard work.”
“An indie label can accomplish some things with a small budget and a big heart,” Stephens said.
J. Stephens Music was established in 2004 and has had other artists nominated previously, with Galvanized Tron marking the first hip-hop artist in Omaha to win the honor of Artist of the Year.
Reprisal performances by Kristen Kluver in “Adelaide’s Lament” from Omaha Community Playhouse’s “Guys and Dolls” and Eric Micks in “My Magic Foot,” from “25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee,” dramatically entertained the crowd.
While Omaha doesn’t exactly match the outrageous fashions and statements Grammy artists are notoriously known for making on the red carpet, it certainly doesn’t shy away from adding a degree of shock value to its popular Dance/Electronic scene favorites. Best DJ award was received by the Icky Blossoms, a duo of platform-clad, tartan-wearing, neon makeup-sporting DJs with a look that could only be described as a cross between southwestern garb and an androgynous punk-inspired getup that channeled Boy George.
Other categories stole the spotlight in the visual, performing arts and music divisions. Best Emerging Visual Artist: Ying Zhu, Best Visual Artist, Best Solo Show and Best 2D Artist: Vera Mercer, Best Local Dance Production Momentum, Ballet Nebraska, Best Featured Dancer, Erika Overturff, Costume Design, Georgianne Regan for “Guys and Dolls,” at the Omaha Community Playhouse, Best Dramatic Play, “Three Tall Women,” at the Blue Barn Theatre, Best Musical Direction, Mark Kurtz, “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” at the Children’s Respite Care Center, Best Musical, “The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee,” Omaha Community Playhouse, Best Actress in a Musical, Kristen Kluver, “Guys and Dolls,” Best Actor in a Musical, Steve Krambeck, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy/Drama, Scott Working, “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol,” Blue Barn Theatre, Best Actress in a Drama/Comedy, Scott Kurz, Distant Music, Brigit Saint Brigit Theatre, Bright Eyes, Best Album of the Year for “The People’s Key,” Alternative/Indie, Conduits, Best Cover Band, Yesterday and Today, Hard Rock, Broken Crown, and Singer-Songwriter All Young Girls Are Machine Guns.