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Jerry Ditter
Jerry Ditter and other UNO grads are shaping theatre in the metro area. Theatres supported by UNO include the Blue Barn Theater, Brigit Saint Brigit Theater Co., Circle Theater, Living Picture Project, Nebraska Shakespeare Festival, Nebraska Theatre Caravan, Omaha Theater Company for Young People, and Stages of Omaha. photo by Tim Fitzgerald

UNO Theatre Graduates Start Companies in Their Community

fall 2004

Omaha boasts a large number of community theatres that are as diverse as they are plentiful. Audiences can choose from nearly any genre—from drama, comedy and musicals to original plays and improvisation. Graduates of the UNO Department of Theatre in the College of Fine Arts have played a big role in shaping local theatre. Many alumni have founded their own organizations; others serve as leaders and managers. Together, they entertain and educate through acting, directing, set and costume design, and production management.

The program's liberal arts emphasis gives students a broad theatre education, but also allows them to focus on specific niches within the discipline. Coursework is balanced between theatre and general education classes. In addition, students have opportunities to build on their classroom knowledge by taking part in UNO-produced plays and regional theatre competitions, and working with the Nebraska Shakespeare Festival during the summer.

Jerry Ditter, a 1998 master of arts recipient, expanded his skill in directing through the UNO program. For his thesis project, he directed "Once on This Island," a musical featuring a multicultural cast comprised of UNO students and performers from the local community. The experience, he says, reinforced his desire to start a theatre after graduation. "The contacts I made at UNO and the publicity we got for the show really launched me into the community, and gave me the visibility as a viable director. If I wouldn't have had that experience, I don't think things would have taken off as easily as they did." Ditter and a partner started Stages of Omaha in the spring of 1998, with Ditter serving as artistic director. Working on their first production, he soon found that his UNO and community connections would be valuable in building the theatre's resources. "At the first audition for our first production, I had one person show up, and we needed seven people plus a tech crew," he remembers. "So I called old friends—people who were at UNO at the time and people who had graduated. We put together a company over the phone, and it just blossomed from there."

Five years later, Ditter says, the theatre is "still heavily grounded" in UNO-based theatre department students and alumni. Stages of Omaha aims to bring innovative new productions to the local stage, often premiering works that have recently closed off-Broadway in Chicago or Los Angeles. The theatre produces eight shows a season.

Ditter, who is also an actor and choreographer, will bring his UNO experience full circle this summer, when Stages of Omaha presents his production of "Once on This Island." The musical will be presented July 15 to August 15 at the theatre's home, the Millennium Theatre in downtown Omaha.


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