Petra Wahlqvist and Becky Boesen thought about sending out a Christmas card this year, but then they thought again.
They made a mini-musical instead.
They called it “Winter Without Mama,” about a girl missing her mother who goes off to work at the hospital and comes home wearing a mask.
Wahlqvist and Boesen are the co-founders of Blixt Locally Grown, the organization behind that four-minute pandemic production.
The two women are two peas in an arts and community-inspired nonprofit pod.
They met at the Lied Center for Performing Arts in 2009. Wahlqvist was the art center’s director of engagement and education, and Boesen was a producer and writer.
Wahlqvist was hyper-organized.
Boesen was wildly creative.
They both had plenty of theater cachet. Boesen at the Angels Company and Flatwater; Wahlqvist in London as a performing arts specialist and mentor and, before that, as a theater maker on international tours.
They did not care for one another.
“We had this sort of strong reaction to each other,” Wahlqvist says. “Then we had an opportunity to work together.”
They began to appreciate each others’ strengths; they realized they shared the same vision. That they were big idea women. Always the outsiders in the room.
As they traveled the state sharing productions and engaging communities in their roles at the Lied, they forged a professional bond and an equally strong friendship.
They were in Scottsbluff in 2015 when Blixt was conceived.
“We wanted to do our own thing,” Boesen said. “And we decided we could.”
They had no money. Boesen was divorced; Wahlqvist was getting divorced. They both had two sons and a lot to juggle.
But they believed in their idea. They both gave a year’s notice at work. (“We are both dutiful,” Boesen says.)
And they both agree, Blixt is the worst name ever.
In case you were wondering — and who isn’t? — blixt is the Swedish word for lightning.
Wahlqvist is from Sweden. Boesen is a Nebraskan.
“We regret it every day of our lives,” Boesen says. (She blames the wine.)
So they aren’t perfect.
“What we get right is we try really hard to lead with the Hippocratic Oath,” Boesen says.
They have a formula for the work they do. They create — or co-create or commission — an original work. A play. A musical. An album of songs, centered on the same theme.
“Then we take it to nontraditional places and try to connect people on a very personal level,” Boesen says.
They call it “growing goodness with the arts.”
Since the pandemic began, they’ve grown goodness virtually.
“We’ve been super busy,” Wahlqvist said. “Probably the busiest we’ve ever been.”
They had a small pity party at Boesen’s dining room table in March, after they realized 2020 would not be the year of traveling to small Nebraska communities staging plays and hosting conversations with a crowd.
And then they decided to double down.
They had a little money. They knew artists needed work.
Boesen asked her playwriting students at Nebraska Wesleyan to create 10-minute pieces dealing with the isolation of the pandemic.
One of the scripts, “Captain Soapman,” by student Mary Sinclair, came to life. They hired a filmmaker friend and an out-of-work designer and asked 30 community leaders — the mayor, the Lincoln Public Schools superintendent, the UNL chancellor — to play supporting roles. (“We asked them, ‘Do you have four minutes to help children during COVID?’” Wahlqvist said. “They didn’t actually know we were going to ask them to sing.”)
The play — with its handwashing theme — is now part of the National Institutes of Health’s National Medical Museum archive. (As is “Winter Without Mama,” their fourth pandemic production, released Dec. 15.)
They hosted a livestream performance of "St. Nicholas" by Conor McPherson and collaborated with the Nebraska Community Foundation to produce a 35-minute video called “The Dream Switch,” written by Boesen and David von Kampen.
They work closely with the Nebraska Community Foundation. They’ve partnered with Mourning Hope for two productions. (Executive Director Carly Woythaler-Runestad calls the Blixt pair beautiful souls whose care for their subject matter and community shine through their work. “I admire them beyond measure.”)
The Lincoln Food Bank’s Michaella Kumke agrees. She connected with the pair over “Puddin’ in the Grumble” — a play about childhood hunger that had its origins in Blixt’s Lied Center days.
“They take these really hard, difficult-to-discuss issues and help us wrap our arms around them through art,” she said.
The play — a black comedy about hunger centered on a grandmother, mother and granddaughter — wasn’t conceived from the outside looking in.
The creators got to know fifth graders at Clinton Elementary School, the kids who helped administer — and used — the Food Bank’s backpack program.
Kids who knew about not having enough food in the house became part of the Clinton Creative Club and helped create the bones of the characters in the play.
Listening is one of their super powers.
“The worst kind of artwork is the preachy, didactic kind that turns people off,” Boesen said. “If you want to solve poverty, ask some fifth graders at Clinton.”
Boesen and Wahlqvist remain engaged with those Clinton youth. They joke that they will be the crazy lady at their weddings one day.
“We don’t do one-and-dones,” Boesen says. “We keep people.”
And it seems that people keep them.
“I know the arts in Lincoln are really big to a lot of people and I’m not one of those people,” Kumke said. “But I love the heart of their work. That’s what gets my attention.”
FIVE CINDY LANGE-KUBICK COLUMNS FROM AN UPSIDE-DOWN YEAR
Columns from an upside-down year: Soups and scones
This story is about nostalgia -- so many of us, packed so close together in the pursuit of good soup and scones. It gives me hope that those days will return.
Columns from an upside-down year: Remembering Chuck E. Cheese
Sometimes it's the little things that put a lump in your throat, like not knowing that the last time you took your sweet grandson to the germ-infested arcade parlor he loved would be the last time.
Columns from an upside-down year: Dying alone
So much pain during the pandemic, but none worse than the grief of families and health care workers as so many die alone in the hospital.
Columns from an upside-down year: An ugly baby?
Who doesn't love an ugly baby story?
Columns from an upside-down year: The Angel in Room 255
A story about hope and goodness and friendship at a time when people needed to hear about the angels of this world.
Reach the writer at 402-473-7218 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @TheRealCLK