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Ryan Hartigan

Danielle Meadows

The University of Nebraska at Omaha Theatre will present “Tales of the Lost Formicans” by Constance Congdon–a play with a unique combination of joy, sorrow, humanity and aliens.

Directed by Professor Ryan Hartigan, theatre students bring “Tales of the Lost Formicans” to the UNO mainstage this month. The cast includes Bethany Bresnahan, Randy Breedlove, Ankita Ashrit, Noah Diaz, Enrique Madera, Kameron Shelley, Shae’Kell Butler and Angie Reynolds.

“Tales of the Lost Formicans” is centered around Cathy, whose husband left her for a much younger woman. Leaving life in New York, she returns to Colorado to live with her parents. A perpetually angry teenage son, a father with worsening Alzheimer’s and a local conspiracy nut might sound like a lot to handle–but then come the aliens.

During this production, the UNO Theatre Department worked with the Department of Gerontology to learn more about Alzheimer’s and how it impacts victims and their families. A common yet heart-breaking neurodegenerative disease, Alzheimer’s (sometimes referred to as senile dementia) often comes on slow and worsens over time. Treatment may help ease symptoms but there is no cure.

“Alzheimers is sad because literally no one survives it,” said Jessie Curry, the production’s assistant stage manager.

Jim, the character who suffers from Alzheimer’s, often experiences episodes of forgetfulness. Actor Enrique Madera believes “Tales of the Lost Formicans” shines a light on what people endure as they care for someone who is slowly deteriorating.

“It opens your eyes to what people go through as they take care of someone with Alzheimer’s and making sure they’re safe, loved, appreciated and not taken for granted,” Madera said.

Madera plays Cathy’s son, Eric, who is very brash and frustrated throughout the play due to his parents’ divorce. In the meantime, aliens invade and analyze this family. After the mysterious creatures are introduced, the play centers around how the family deals with its dying patriarch while aliens look to this family in search of the humanity in humans.

“This show is kind of a comedy but kind of not,” assistant director Geran Ramet said. “It’s an interesting hybrid which should attract people because it’s not what they’re used to seeing.”

After auditioning at the beginning of the semester, rehearsals started about a month ago, according to Ramet. Through three hours of rehearsal per day, six days a week, cast and crew have worked together to embody the joy, sadness and humor of “Tales of the Lost Formican’s”.

Previews nights for the play will be April 12-13, with performances April 14-15 and 19-22 in the Weber Fine Arts building theatre. All performances start at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are free for all UNO students.

“The play shows that through adversity and struggle, we find who we are,” Ramet said, “There’s always hope in difficult situations and sometimes when we’re at our worst is when we find ourselves.”

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Photo Courtesy of mikewinfield.com
Photo Courtesy of mikewinfield.com

Will Patterson

Ryan Hartigan is the professor hailing from Aotearoa, New Zealand at the University of Nebraska at Omaha that is shaking up the theatre and performing arts department.

As an artist and performer that has taught at four other universities prior to his current position at UNO, Hartigan has a background unlike most of his colleagues. Current endeavors of his include teaching classes, research projects and directing performances slated for early next year.

“I’m an improviser, I have been for 25 years,” said Hartigan, who has performed with variety of groups in places such as Rhode Island and Texas.

This experience in the area of improvised acting is the foundation from which he draws his style of teaching.

One of the most unique of the New Zealand native’s courses is his improvised acting course. The class, the only one of its kind at UNO, has been met with overwhelming positive reception. All available seats were taken within days of the first time being available, only to be quickly claimed once again upon increasing the capacity.

A fact enforced by the variety of different students enrolled in theatre courses is that these acting courses are not solely for individuals seeking majors in the performing arts.

“You don’t have to be a theatre major,” Hartigan explained. “The number of business majors who actually end up double majoring in theatre after taking a class would surprise you.”

The popularity and success of the improvised acting class has earned itself a permanent place on UNO’s class roster. Unlike many other improvised acting opportunities, UNO’s course gives students the chance to learn from an individual with far greater experience in the field than the typical instructor.

Also playing off Hartigan’s acting experience is his role as the director in the occasional show at UNO’s performing art center.

Those in attendance of the “Cloud 9” show last year may have already gotten a glimpse of the professor’s directing in action.

In the upcoming year, Hartigan plans to direct once again, this time in a more unusual performance. “Tales of the Last Formicans” by Constance Congdon brings together an assortment of genres and story elements.

“It’s about love, death, sadness, family, America, the Cold War, aliens, abduction and conspiracy theories,” Hartigan said. “It’s hilarious and moving.”

One note made by the professor was that any students are able and encouraged to attend auditions for roles in productions available at UNO. The shows draw their talent from all reaches of the student body, not just those focusing their careers around performance.

“Art should not be something you have to pay for,” Hartigan said on the topic of bringing in a larger audience to the performances taking place at UNO.

Students interested in seeing performing arts shows on campus can receive tickets for free upon presenting their student ID unless otherwise stated.