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Omaha Magazine

Smiles Behind the Masks: How Doug Rothgeb and Big Canvas Comedy are Keeping Omaha Laughing

Sep 25, 2020 04:03PM ● By Chris Hatch
Doug Rothgeb

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

 Hey, Omaha. 

Feel like laughing yet?

It may seem counterintuitive, but that smile many people feel creeping underneath those masks they have looped behind both ears with elastic bands—the ones they bought from friends of friends who have been cranking them out at warp-COVID-19-speed and sharing them on social media—perhaps that smile is because they’ve seen a sketch by Big Canvas Comedy or remembered one of the many times they saw Big Canvas’ team ignite the stage at their newly minted theater.

These days, a lot of people are starting over. 

Literally. Figuratively. In all types of ways, many people are facing down a new reality and in desperate need of fun.

Omaha native Doug Rothgeb is starting over, too. 

“I used to work for…Lozier 45-50 hours a week plus being the artistic director with Big Canvas and being on the board with the Lofte Community Theater and [spending time with] my family,” Rothgeb said. Now my life has taken a huge turn, I still am the A.D. with Big Canvas, but am no longer with Lozier. It has allowed me to start my own consulting firm, helping businesses identify strengths and weaknesses, along with building the focus of Big Canvas with teambuilding and corporate workshops.”

He uses this humor to bring slapstick to the boardroom via connections with local leadership training programs.

“Doug took the time to learn about the leadership program and the client. He weaves leadership lessons into each improv activity. Doug is a pro at leadership and improv, which makes a powerful combination,” said Nicole Bianchi, partner at Bravium HD. 

He founded Big Canvas in 2014. Rothgeb and the troupe lived a nomadic existence, traveling and performing anywhere they could pack the house, bring the laughs, and whip up the comedic gold that can only come from a hivemind clicking on all synapses.

“Not all improv is funny, and if you can take an audience on a ride of laughter and tears, it means so much more because it means they were on the journey with you,” Rothgeb said. “Plus you are doing it with four or five other minds and when they all come together and gel as one, it is incredible to feel and witness.”

Rothgeb and company take this team feel, this comedic three-person-weave, and have made it who they are. Big Canvas believes it’s not about who they are. It’s about who we can be. That’s why they use their platform and their specific set of skills to pull people together off the stage and on, teaching classes, doing charity work, and giving lessons and [participating in] corporate retreats to people of all ages in all manner of settings.

“Improv can help leaders rethink how they manage and communicate in every interaction. When you take a risk like bringing improv into a new leadership program you are designing for a client, you want to find the best,” Bianchi said.

“We want people from all over Nebraska and Iowa to try improv and join us onstage,” Rothgeb said. “We are all humans in the end. We all feel the same, we all hurt the same, we all laugh the same, but not all of us have been through the same things in life, and the more varieties of humans we can get on an improv stage to be vulnerable and open, the better this world will be.”

They’re still creating, still working together to crinkle eyes and make stomachs ache with the sublime feeling of hilarity unfolding, having taken some of their work online to their Facebook page with videos uploaded and ideas shared.

Rothgeb and Big Canvas want comedy to be for all, by all, and they want it to pull people together, even if they have to stay six feet apart.

Visit for more information.

This article was printed in the October/'November 2020 issue of B2B Magazine. 

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