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Omaha Community Playhouse hires new artistic director

The Omaha Community Playhouse has hired New York-based freelance director and choreographer Kimberly Faith Hickman as its new artistic director.

Hickman replaces Hilary Adams, who was dismissed by Playhouse officials in December. When Adams was hired in 2013, Hickman was the second-place candidate, said Playhouse President Tim Schmad. She subsequently returned as a guest director for two shows — “Enron” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” — in the 2014-15 season. She also was the director for last fall’s Nebraska Theatre Caravan tour of “A Christmas Carol.”

“Once she wasn’t offered the job, she still had the enthusiasm and the love for the Playhouse to come back,” Schmad said. “A lot of people would just say ‘OK, that’s it.’ She came back and did a good job. The staff was impressed. She is a very confident, skilled and artistic leader.”

Schmad said Hickman was the only candidate Playhouse officials brought to Omaha for an interview this time. The job didn’t draw as many applicants as it did when Adams was hired, he said. That time, about 80 people expressed interest.

In an interview Friday from her New York home, Hickman said she was excited to join the Playhouse as a full-time staffer. She will begin her new job on June 1, taking over for the interim artistic director, Susan Baer Collins, who will assist with the transition.

“I’m honored to be part of an organization with such a rich past. It’s 90 years old, and that’s something tremendous and rare,” Hickman said.

Born and raised in Phenix City, Alabama, Hickman has a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Columbus (Georgia) State University. She was assistant director on the Tony Award-winning play “Clybourne Park,” under director Pam MacKinnon, and “The Assembled Parties,” under director Lynne Meadow.

She also worked on the 2010 Broadway show “The Scottsboro Boys,” a musical about nine African-American men who were accused of assaulting two girls in 1930s Alabama. That one was close to her heart, she said, because she knew the story well, as an Alabama native.

Hickman has worked with a number of off-Broadway theaters and regional theaters across the country, including the Springer Opera House in Columbus, Georgia, also the former employer of the late Charles Jones, the Playhouse director who created the super-successful version of “A Christmas Carol.”

She’s eager to begin her full-time work in Omaha and already has plans for several initiatives. In addition to continuing the diverse programming on the two Playhouse stages, she said she wants to engage more with local writers and playwrights — “That’s really important” — and further develop the Playhouse’s theater academy and education department, not only to teach acting but to “teach what theater can do for you as a human being.”

Hickman said she firmly believes that the job of a director is to support what the playwright or composer intended.

“I’ve worked with a lot of new playwrights and composers, and I have a lot of respect for what they do,” she said. “I want to support and interpret their vision and give the audience a story they will fall in love with — give them something to walk away humming or something to think about as they go home to continue discussing what they just saw.”

Despite her numerous credits across the country, she said directing “Enron” at the Playhouse was one of her favorite jobs so far. The play was about the company’s accounting fraud scandal in 2001, when it was based in Houston.

Enron’s predecessor was Northern Natural Gas, founded in Omaha in 1932, and the scandal was a financial disaster for many local investors.

Several people shared their stories with Hickman as she studied to direct “Enron,” and she was surprised and gratified that they were willing to talk with her to make the production better.

“I wanted to tell that story in a way that did those people justice,” she said.

Omaha actress Connie Lee was in the “Enron” cast and was thrilled to learn that Hickman would be joining the Playhouse full time. She said the director has endless energy and good will, and was respectful of everyone involved.

“She was marvelous to work with,” Lee said. “We had an absolute blast with that show. I’m not the only one who went into it thinking ‘How do you do this? It’s weird’ and ended up loving the final product and all she did with it. She had a real artistic eye to bring it all together.”

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