Artist Profile: Nils Haaland

Picture of Nils Haaland

Nils Haaland

Nils Haaland got his equity card at age 10 after being cast in the lead role of “Dandelion Wine,” a Berkshire Playhouse production of Ray Bradbury’s coming-of-age tale. “My mother and father were teachers, and the director spotted me at a faculty party,” Haaland said. “Getting my card and getting paid at scale made it seem very possible to become an actor.”

He continues to mine those possibilities today, and the Omaha metro is the beneficiary of his explorations.

A graduate of the Professional Theatre Training Conservatory at the State University of New York at Purchase, Haaland arrived in Omaha three decades ago to help establish the Bluebarn Theatre in conjunction with the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts. The actor, who grew up in rural New York, found the city to be an exceedingly generous community and relished the “extraordinary freedom to choose the shows you wanted to perform and pursue the craft as you learned it in school.”

After deciding to make Omaha his home, Haaland earned his master of fine arts in technical direction from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His resume is as diverse as the roles he’s performed – he’s done voice over work at the national level, directed animated television programs, worked as a staff educator and actor at the Rose Theatre, acted and taught workshops for the Omaha Community Playhouse and with Shakespeare Unbound – the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s touring company, and is the recipient of numerous acting awards, including the Theatre Arts Guild Award for Best Actor in a Drama for his role as Ludwig Von Beethoven in the Bluebarn Theatre production of “33 Variations” by Moises Kaufman.

Haaland met WhyArts? Executive Director Carolyn Anderson almost a decade ago and has been a member of the organization’s professional faculty ever since. His first assignment was a collaboration with Carolyn Waterman at QLI (Quality Living Inc.), a nonprofit corporation that provides services to individuals with brain and spinal cord injuries or other severe physical disability. “We used theatre and storytelling to help QLI clients perform a piece based on Asian folk tales,” he said.

This semester, he and WhyArts? colleague Moira Mangiamelli are involved in an innovative service learning project at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) with Melanie Bloom, an associate professor and chair of the UNO Department of Foreign Languages and Literature.

Dr. Bloom wanted to develop a performance-focused advanced Spanish course with a service-learning component, something – she said – that was outside her comfort zone and area of expertise. She turned to WhyArts? to fill in the missing pieces and was able to meet her academic objective.

In December, Dr. Bloom’s students will perform a play in Spanish for fourth-grade students at Spring Lake Elementary School in South Omaha. “The WhyArts? lessons with our class have been extremely helpful in calming my students’ anxieties about performing and allowing them to look at simple everyday things in new ways,” she said. “Never have I been part of a project that is so filled with laughter and fun that you forget it’s also work. It’s been one of the most fulfilling projects of my teaching career thus far.”

It’s this diversity of professional work opportunities that accounts for Haaland’s longtime association with WhyArts?. “It’s remarkable the value Carolyn places on her artists,” he said. “WhyArts? also gives you the privilege of working with artists in other capacities. It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to work together and develop original arts programming that meets the needs of such a diverse group of clients.”

His biggest piece of advice? “Trust yourself and let yourself take risks,” Haaland said. “It takes bravery to give yourself permission to engage in your imagination.”

Up next for Haaland is working with Kevin Lawler on developing an opera for Opera Omaha based on the poetry of William Blake. For more information about the actor, visit