Art isn't dead in small-town Nebraska. In fact, it's been thriving in my own life since 1992.
That's the year my hometown of Wakefield, Nebraska, dusted off an old building downtown and started calling it the Little Red Hen Theatre. Our first production was J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit."
My best friend and I were cast as dwarfs Kili and Fili. The lead was an older boy named Adam Goos, who played Bilbo Baggins.
On the night of our first big performance, I could hardly stay backstage. I so badly wanted to see the show. I can still remember peeking out from behind the curtain, watching Adam walk around the stage in those hairy hobbit feet, wowing the audience in our small town of just 1,400.
The story came alive and the world of smoke and mirrors hooked me. It was then that my love for watching theater began. Over the years, many of my friends and family performed in plays at the Little Red Hen Theatre. The shows were reasonably priced, and I was able to go to many of them. I have also had the chance to take our boys back to my hometown for their own introduction to the world of theater. It has been fun to watch their eyes light up as their attention is glued to the scenes before them.
The woman who directed the theater when I was a child, a beloved family friend and neighbor, has retired now. Her replacement is that boy who played Bilbo Baggins in the very first production of "The Hobbit."
Adam graduated from Wakefield High School and earned a Bachelor’s degree from Wayne State College and his Master's degree in Fine Arts in Theater Performance from Roosevelt University in Chicago. He became a successful actor in Chicago and then began a career in non-profit arts administration. Adam worked at the Goodman Theater, the Omaha Symphony and the Omaha Conservatory of Music before returning to Wakefield as the director at the Little Red Hen Theatre.
How poetic that this man, whose love of theater began in our small town, has returned to pass down the love of theater to future generations of kids.
“I cannot even begin to express how grateful I am to be back in Wakefield and working at the Little Red Hen," Adam said. "My experiences here as a young man led me to pursue a career in the performing arts and, as cliche as it sounds, those experience were truly life changing. To have the opportunity to give back in such a direct and unique way is rare, and I hope to continue the theatre's legacy of creating meaningful and impactful arts experiences for everyone in this community."
This summer, he's putting on a two-week Drama Camp for local students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The camp will focus on basic drama skills and will be centered around the theatre's production of "Tarzan," which will open later this summer.
Art might be frivolous to some, but to a child with a wild imagination and a love of theater, it is everything. I'm so glad art's still alive in my small hometown.
No matter where you live, whether it's small-town or big-city Nebraska, check out your local theater or art scene. Encourage your children to get involved. They'll thank you later.