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How To Build An Ark

By Ellen Struve
Inspired By The Life And Work Of Joel Sartore

National Geographic photographer and Nebraska resident Joel Sartore is on a mission. For years, he has created stunning photographs of animals. His unique artistic eye and sense of humor have been focused on endangered species as well as some more common creatures. The centerpiece of Joel’s work is his “Photo Ark” project, which is a groundbreaking effort to document species before they disappear.

In this all-original wild onstage adventure, a young girl named Vita sets off on a magical journey to find Joel Sartore through his photographs. She wants to ask him which species is the most interesting on earth. What she finds along the way through friendly encounters with bears, frogs and even sea turtles, is a much bigger truth about humanity’s role in solving seemingly intractable problems. Funny, heartwarming and visually rich, this play by Omaha playwright Ellen Struve is sure to inspire your entire family!

  • Run Dates Jan 22 - Feb 21, 2021
  • Appropriate Ages All Audiences
  • Duration 60 minutes

Show Program


  • Vita – Nivi Varanasi
  • Mom/ Omniscient Narrator – Sarah Lynn Brown
  • Camera – DJ Tyree
  • Frog/ Naked Mole Rat – Maddie Grissom
  • Bear/ Sea Turtle – Jackie Kappes
  • Naked Mole Rat/ Monarch Butterfly – Tamia Renée
  • Joel Satore – Gaven Rames
  • Vita Understudy – Maddie Smith
  • Understudy (adult roles) – Katie Otten

Artistic/Production Credits

  • Director – Matt Gutschick
  • Playwright – Ellen Struve
  • Resident Stage Manager – Lisa Krabbenhoft
  • Scenic Designer – Bill Van Deest
  • Projection Designer – Brittany Merenda
  • Lighting Designer – Matt Benes
  • Sound Designer/Engineer – Christy Hernandez
  • Costume Designer – Sherri Geerdes
  • Hair & Makeup Designer – Zach Kloppenborg
  • Director of Production – Erin M. Solemsaas
  • Technical Director – Hunter Andrews
  • Props Mistress – Devon Denn-Young
  • Scenic Charge Artist – Savannah Savick
  • Master Carpenter – Jackson Curtright
  • Stitchers – Sherri Geerdes, Zach Kloppenborg, Audio Helkuik
Nivi Varanasi

Nivi Varanasi

Vita -

Nivi is a freshman at Gretna High School. She has performed as Anna in Frozen. Jr, Mrs. Lanford from Show N' Spell, and the Mayor from Homeschooled, along with some other roles in small skits. Nivi is an Indian classical dancer and likes to sing and act. She enjoys being on stage, and hopes you all enjoy this heartwarming show!  

Sarah Lynn Brown

Sarah Lynn Brown

Mom/ Omniscient Narrator -

Sarah (she/hers) has worked in Omaha as a Shakespeare-focused director, actor, and educator for the past 20 years. In 2016, she founded an all-female production program, Juno’s Swans, which produced adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew, Richard 3, Julius Caesar, and All's Well That Ends Well. Through her work with Juno’s Swans, Sarah explores gender performance using creative character/movement development techniques, unlocking a personal understanding of gender performance and how our current culture has shaped and defined gender roles in society.  

As an actor, director and educator, Sarah has worked for Nebraska Shakespeare, Utah Shakespeare, NTC productions, Folger Library Theatre, The Blue Barn, Omaha Performing Arts, Omaha Symphony, Opera Omaha, University of Nebraska at Omaha, Creighton University, and The Rose Theater. Sarah has also taught and directed in numerous Omaha Metro High Schools and Middle Schools. She has a Masters of Arts in Theatre Education from the University of Northern Colorado and a BA from University of Nebraska at Omaha in Theatre Performance. Most recently, Sarah adapted/directed It's A Wonderful Life for The Rose Theater. 

DJ Tyree

DJ Tyree

Camera -

Dj Tyree is an Omaha native. He graduated from Omaha South High. He attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in NYC from their integrated program. Dj Tyree is no stranger to The Rose Theater. As a teen, he was part of the Young, Gifted and Black troupe.  He has also done productions in Omaha over the years and is very happy to be part of this awesome show. He’d like to thank his Mom Shirley Tyree and Aunt Kathy Tyree for always encouraging and pushing him to go for his dreams.  

Maddie Grissom

Maddie Grissom

Frog/ Naked Mole Rat -

Maddie Grissom is a second year Teaching Artist at The Rose Theater. She is a 2019 graduate of The University of Northern Iowa, majoring in Theater for Youth. She is so excited to finally make her mainstage debut in How to Build an Ark. Her previous acting experiences include A Bucket of Blessings, You and Me and the Land of Peas, and The Tail of Two Wolves at The Rose Theater, The Crystal at The Apollon Arts Space, and To Touch the Moon at The University of Northern Iowa. Along with Acting and Teaching, Maddie has a love of Stage Management, Animal Crossing, and Reading Books. 

Jackie Kappes

Jackie Kappes

Bear/ Sea Turtle -

Jackie began at The Rose as a summer education intern and is delighted to return as the Director of Education. She has had the privilege of working as a theater artist and teacher in communities across the country and world, including with Disney Musicals in Schools, Seattle Children’s Theatre, Lexington Children’s Theatre, Bay Area Children’s Theater, Shanghai Children’s Art Theater, 7 Stages International Theatre, San Francisco Playback Theatre, Chattanooga Theatre Centre and StageWrite. Her work at The Rose Theater ignited her passion for theater for social change and she went on to receive her Masters in Counseling Psychology and Drama Therapy at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Since she has utilized theatre to facilitate dialogue for communities and organizations around topics such as harassment, immigration, veterans’ issues, LGBTQ+ pride and much more with San Francisco Playback Theater. Jackie has also brought drama therapy practices into schools in order to support students and families in building feelings of confidence, working through trauma and grief, fostering more positive relationships and preparing for big life transitions. Jackie is thrilled to have the opportunity to serve the vibrant artistic community that so graciously and fruitfully supported her in her first steps out into the professional world of theater education so many years ago.   

Tamia Renée

Tamia Renée

Naked Mole Rat/ Monarch Butterfly -

Tamia Renée is a full-time undergraduate student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She is currently obtaining her degree in Studio Arts and will graduate in May 2021. In her spare time, she enjoys creating digital art, playing video games, and taking acting courses. Over the last 4 years, she has become involved with acting, taking classes at UNO, the Omaha Community Playhouse, and most recently the Identity School of Acting. This will be her acting debut and she is excited to help bring this play to life! 

Gaven Rames

Gaven Rames

Joel Satore -

Gaven Rames is in 6th grade at Loveland Elementary where he performed as King Louie in Jungle Book Kids and a narrator in Aladdin Kids. He has attended multiple camps at The Rose and is excited to perform here. In Gaven’s free time, he enjoys playing hockey, watching anime, writing, singing, hanging out with friends, and working on/annoying his family with dialects and accents. His family usually puts up with him, and is always supportive of him. He has also received incredible support from Raydell Cordell III, who directed plays at Loveland. 

Maddie Smith

Maddie Smith

Vita Understudy -

Maddie is excited to return to The Rose Theater.  She recently played Actor 9/Janie in the 2020 holiday production of It’s a Wonderful Life.   A freshman at Marian High School, Maddie is a member of the Mock Trial and the Speech Teams.  Maddie made her Rose Theater debut in The Doll Maker’s Gift in 2019 as Nora and played her dream role of Matilda in the June 2019 production of Matilda the Musical.  Her previous theater credits include Shawanda in Elf the Musical at The Rose, as well as productions at the Omaha Community Playhouse: Little Fiona in Shrek The Musical (2018) , James Trotter in James and the Giant Peach (2018) , Chip in Beauty and the Beast (2017) and A Christmas Carol (2015 – 2018) playing the roles of Girl with Sled, Belinda Cratchit and Fan.  In her spare time, Maddie loves to read, play her guitar and ukulele, listen to her favorite music on Spotify and spend time with her beloved dog, Mori.  

Katie Otten

Katie Otten

Understudy (adult roles) -

Katie Otten received her MA in Theatre Performance at the University of Nebraska - Omaha, and her BA in Theatre Education at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. At The Rose Theater, she has acted in: A Child's Garden of Verses, The Cat in the Hat, The Grocer's Goblin & The Little Mermaid, among others.  Some of her other favorite roles include: The Glass Menagerie (Brigit Saint Brigit), and She Kills Monsters (Creighton University).  She's also worked on several short and feature-length films and commercials.  As a voice actor, she has narrated audiobooks, voiced characters in video games, and educational videos.   

Show Photos

Know Before You Go


Everyone deserves a chance to experience the magic of theater. Performances are open to children and family members of all abilities. Click here to learn more about accessibility at The Rose.

Social Stories

A social story is a tool that helps individuals better understand the world around them so they can plan for a positive experience, even if they are going into an place that is unknown to them. Social stories help individuals know what to expect and what to do in unfamiliar situations by walking them through the experience. They are often used by individuals on the autism spectrum, children with sensory needs or those with other special needs. They can be very helpful for very young children anticipating their first theatrical experience. The Rose’s social stories feature photos of all areas of the theater to help children of all abilities with a step-by-step explanation of what it is like to visit The Rose, as well as answering questions they may have. Click here to access The Rose’s show-specific social stories.

Theater Location

The Rose is located in downtown Omaha at 2001 Farnam Street on the southwest corner of 20th & Farnam Streets.


From west Omaha, take I-80 East to 1-480 North and exit onto 20th Street. The Rose is located on Farnam Street, approximately three blocks south of the 20th Street exit.

Convenient Parking

The closest and most convenient parking is available for $2 in the garage at 19th & Harney, courtesy of the Omaha Douglas Public Building Commission (1910 Harney St., Omaha, NE 68102).

Parking meters surrounding the theater are active from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday, with free parking available on Sundays and holidays. A variety of parking lots are available around the theater, as well, ranging in cost from $2-$5.

Safety at The Rose

For generations, The Rose has been a trusted friend for children and families. We may be doing things a little differently this season, but our commitment to you is still the same.

Throughout this pandemic and in the days that follow, we promise that we will continue to be the place where families can be inspired by the magic of theater.

As our community begins to re-open, we re-commit to being a place where your family can enjoy the performing arts safely and securely.

From onstage performances to classroom experiences, we are dedicated to the health and well-being of every individual — young people, parents, grandparents, educators, artists and staff. This may mean that you encounter some changes during your Rose experience, and we ask for your cooperation and partnership with us to ensure the safety of everyone involved.

Here are just a few examples of our commitment to your safety:

Enhanced cleaning procedures

The auditorium and lobby will be thoroughly cleaned before and after each performance for your family’s safety.

Fewer audience members

Our auditorium seating will be limited in capacity. Families will be seated together with empty seats between family groups.

Directed Seating

In order to maintain social distance between groups, audiences will enter through the center aisle and be directed to specific seats on a first come, first served basis. Seating groups will be spaced at least six feet apart. Audience members will exit using the side aisles only.

Social Distancing

Families are asked to stay six feet from other family groupings. It may be necessary to form a line outside of the building to maintain this distance in line.

Masks Required

A mask should be worn by adults and children ages 5+ when in line or in the lobby area, or at any time when social distancing cannot be maintained. Masks may be removed when seated in the auditorium.

Touchless Ticketing

Tickets must be purchased in advance, either online or by phone. When you arrive at the theater, we will check your name off a list; no need to present a ticket.

Digital programs & online activities

Show programs will be available on The Rose website. There will be no lobby activities, but activities will be available online.

Concessions and Sales Items

For your family’s safety, concessions and sales items will not be sold during the 2020-21 season. No outside snack items allowed.

One-way entry and exit

Families are asked to enter The Rose using the doors on 20th Street and exit onto Farnam Street.

No Booster Loans

Booster seats will not be available for loan from The Rose. You are welcome to bring your own seat for your child to use.

Limited Access to Restrooms

Access to restrooms will be limited due to social distancing requirements.

Drinking Fountains

Drinking fountains will not be available.

Additional Time for Seating

We realize these precautions may mean that it will take additional time to be seated. We will be opening the auditorium doors 40 minutes before showtime.

Digital streaming of shows

During the 2020-21 season, if circumstances require The Rose to cancel a performance, we have made arrangements with a professional videographer to record a high-quality video of most member shows. This video, featuring engaging, high-definition images, dynamic film-quality editing of close-ups and wide angles, will be made available to members in the event that we cannot physically welcome you into our building.

In addition, we are also offering a digital-only ticket package, giving your family a front-row seat to The Rose — right from the comfort and safety of your living room! This option is perfect for families who want to maintain social distancing, who live outside the Omaha metro area or others who cannot physically attend shows at the theater.

While the world around us changes, you can be assured that The Rose remains committed to you and your family, and that we continue to be a place where you and your children can experience the joy and spectacle of the performing arts together.