An interview to honor Alan Klem's 35 years of ongoing service within Nebraska Shakespeare.
In 2019 Alan retired as Associate Professor Emeritus of Theatre at Creighton University where for 34 years he taught classes in acting and directing and directed more than fifty plays ranging from classical to contemporary musicals. He has been recognized for directing by local and regional arts organizations and is a member of Actors’ Equity Association.
Before Creighton University, Alan Co-Founded Shakespeare-in-the-Park in Fort Worth, Texas where he served as Artistic Director from 1976-1979. From 1975 to 1978 he served as an acting teacher and stage director for Casa Manana Playhouse and Performing Arts School in Fort Worth.
As a founding member of Nebraska Shakespeare in 1987, he served as Co-Artistic Director from 1987 to 1991 and Artistic Director from 2010 to 2012. His directing credits for Shakespeare on the Green include The Tempest, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Richard III, and Julius Caesar. He has also appeared as an actor for Nebraska Shakespeare and has performed among others the roles of Caesar in Julius Caesar, Gonzalo in The Tempest, Duncan in Macbeth, and Gloucester in King Lear.
In 2003, he collaborated with two other Creighton professors, Dr. Frederick Hanna and Fr. Don Doll to produce a musical celebrating the Bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804. The musical premiered at Creighton University in 2003 and was also produced at Gonzaga University in Spokane.
Alan resides in Omaha, Nebraska with his wife Kelly and daughters. Christina, Heidi, and Katie.
Favorite quote (currently): The Tempest, Prospero’s remarks to Ferdinand in Act IV, scene 1, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” As I get older, the meaning of that line becomes more and more meaningful.
Favorite play to act in (currently): The Tempest. I have always championed the idea of redemption and that is a major theme of that play. If we would all seek redemption rather than revenge wouldn’t it be a better world?
Character that you most relate to: I guess I would say at this point in my life it would be Prospero from The Tempest and although I once did play that role, I was way too young to do it justice. I would love to have another crack at it after all these years. Having three daughters I guess I should feel some compassion or at least identity to Lear, but frankly I think he was a “fool” (if you know that play you know that’s kind of a joke) for dividing his fortunes up before he died. Actually now that I think about it, I guess that’s why Shakespeare wrote in the part of the fool as Lear’s advisor. See more proof of Shakespeare’s genius.
What drew you to Shakespeare specifically?
Although I had acted in two Shakespeare plays in college, I really wasn’t thrilled with Shakespeare plays until I had the opportunity to perform the title role from Hamlet as Casa Manana Theatre. Once I was able to really dive into that character’s motives I realized what a genius Shakespeare was. Soon after that play I sort of lucked into directing another great Shakespeare play, The Tempest, and even though I took risks with a very non-traditional approach to the script, it turned out to be pretty good so I was offered the top director job for the Casa Manana Theatre School.
How is Shakespeare’s work still relevant today?
I think more than any other playwright, William Shakespeare’s plays withstand the test of time for both an understanding of human nature and also an understanding of the art of acting. One need not look further than Jacques’s “All the World’s a stage” speech from As You Like It to understand that the seven ages of man (or woman) have not really changed in the time before or after Shakespeare’s days. For the absolute best instructions on acting, take to heart Hamlet’s advice to the players and you will know everything you need to know to be a good actor.
Besides the incredible universality of Shakespeare’s plays, is the fact that there are unlimited possibilities and styles one can employ to make those universal meanings clear to a contemporary audience. No two productions of Shakespeare are ever alike nor should they be. Another great thing about his plays is that they are so wide open to interpretation. Change and diversity are good with Shakespeare as long as the language is not hindered too much and as long as the human condition is the main focus of the production.
Beyond the logistics of how Nebraska Shakespeare began, why did you personally have a heart to co-found this organization? What was your inspiration?
The Reverend Father Don Doll, S.J. who was chair of the Fine and Performing Arts Department at Creighton University in 1986 suggested that since I started a Shakespeare festival in Fort Worth, I should think about starting one here in Omaha. I had asked him what I could do as a tenure project when I was offered a tenure track position at Creighton. At first I thought he was joking but he wasn’t. So I guess you could say my inspiration was to basically keep my job. Once the right contacts were made to really make free professional Shakespeare a reality in Omaha, the reasons and motivation became more endearing to be part of a really good thing for the Omaha community.
What has been one of your favorite parts of working in Nebraska Shakespeare throughout the years?
Meeting and working with some really great artists and with some wonderful people both from Omaha and from all over the country. Through the years I’ve made some really close friends who I see and or talk to almost daily in some cases.
What is your most memorable moment On the Green?
There are so many memorable moments. I guess the opening of our second season was a memorable moment for both plays. The first play to open that season was A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Co-founder and Co-artistic director Cindy Phaneuf from UNO. The temperature at the start was I believe over 100 degrees. It was really hot but the audience didn’t mind the heat and reacted wonderfully to the production. The next weekend on the opening of Hamlet which I directed, the temperature was 55 degrees with a cold drizzle and fog. But it was a perfect night for the play with ghosts and lines like “something’s rotten in the state of Denmark.” We only had about 200 brave souls show up that night and we ran out of coffee at the snack bar before the play began. I think we ran the gamut of weather conditions for outdoor theatre in the span of one week. That’s Nebraska weather for you.
What are you up to now?
I need to work on my house and property while I still can and save having plumbers or electricians do the work. I think it’s called sweat equity.
I would like to do some traveling in the next few years. I would like to see the world but I think I’ll have to settle for the good ole’ USA. And to see my three daughters as much as possible as they don’t all live in Omaha. And then there’s fishing which is my number one hobby.
What do you hope to be your lasting legacy as co-founder of Nebraska Shakespeare?
There are four co-founders for NS and I think all of us would hope that it survives us all and remains free to the public and a model of excellence for the theatre world.
Lastly, I heard that you had a narrow escape from a bear! What’s the story behind that?
Shakespeare didn’t normally write stage directions in his plays except for a direction from The Winter’s Tale. The character of Antigonus exits in I believe Act III “Pursued by a bear”. When I was artistic director for Shakespeare in the Park in Fort Worth I took a solo canoe trip to Minnesota’s Superior National Forrest also called the Boarder Water Canoe Area. It was after our summer season in late September and one night alone on a lake found me greeted by a bear cub and her not so happy mama who chased me into the lake and took a swipe at me leaving some scars on my arm. Fortunately, unlike Antigonus, I survived the event but I spent a cold night alone on an island hoping that bear didn’t swim to the island to finish the job. I guess you could say it was a bloody cold experience. And the last time I went camping by myself in bear country.
...over the years, I have never ceased to be amazed at the fact that theatre is a very complex art form that requires artists of so many different trades to all work together to form a collaborative work of art, writers, actors, directors, scenic and costume designers, stage managers, and often times dance and fight choreographers, conductors, musicians, painters, carpenters, and the list goes on and on.