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Theater Galas and Fundraisers in Pittsburgh this Spring

By: Claire Juozitis
1960s audrey hepburn my fair lady If you’re looking for a glamorous night out with dazzling entertainment, dancing, drinks and food, you’ve come to the right article. We’ve curated a little list of some of the best upcoming theater galas and fundraisers in Pittsburgh this spring that you’ll surely want to attend. Dust off your dancing shoes for a night to remember, all while supporting local organizations! Q Ball 17, “Painting with Light” - Quantum Theatre February 25 | Union Trust Building16836251_10154323174132997_2927994775148121712_o Quantum Theatre hosts an annual event called the “Q Ball.” This year’s theme, “Painting with Light” involves live paintings from 19th century artists! There will be food from Black Radish Kitchen, drinks, art, dancing, and more creative surprises. Here’s what Quantum has to say about the event: “The Q Ball provides an opportunity for Quantum’s very imaginative artist friends to let their hair down and make a beautiful, wild party atmosphere filled with live performance. Add to that our tradition of transforming non-traditional environments, and I think you get a pretty special event! This year we’re inspired by the Pre-Raphaelite painters, because a play we’re making for next season intersects with them, so we’re building these marvelous ‘tableaux’ – live versions of the paintings people can step into.” The Q Ball promises to be a wild, imaginative evening.  BUS - Bricolage Production Company March 11 | August Wilson TheaterBUS: Bricolage's Annual Fundraiser One of the most unique fundraisers in town is Bricolage’s BUS fundraiser. This is an adventurous mix of theater, VIP Gala, auctions, food, drinks, and community. The theater element truly stands out: bringing together some of Pittsburgh’s top theater artists to create original plays in just 24 hours! Yes- you can watch theater form and be performed all in one event! Thoughts from Bricolage Artistic Directors,  Jeffrey Carpenter and Tami Dixon: "beyond a chair in the dark and mere suspension of disbelief, we have always preferred theater that was somewhat dangerous to behold. So when it came time to fashion a fundraiser that would fulfill our financial goals while maintaining our adventurous identity, the traditional route of live-auction-dinner-gala just wouldn't do." Gala Cubana - Pittsburgh Festival Opera (formerly the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh) April 22 | Pittsburgh Golf Club, Schenley Park If you’re in the mood for something a bit more tropical to ease you out of winter, why not try “Gala Cubana” with the newly renamed Pittsburgh Festival Opera? This event is a “celebration of Cuban culture,” with food, drinks, dance (of course) and exclusive performances of the first Cuban opera in decades- Cubacan. Mingle with Pittsburgh Festival Opera organizers and tap your toes to Afro-Cuban melodies. This is one of the most unique themes of the season, certain to transport you to a tropical, cultural paradise. Keep an eye on their website for tickets and more information! Gods & Goddesses Gala - Pittsburgh Public Theater May 5 | Wyndham Grand PittsburghFinal_online_Post_card-1 “The Public’s annual Spring gala has become a must-attend event for arts lovers, socialites, and party animals,” Pittsburgh Public Theater leader, Ted Pappas. For a fanciful, glitzy ,and buzz-worthy event worthy of the gods, Pittsburgh Public Theater’s annual gala will sweep you off your feet. This traditional fundraiser is the highest of class. Tickets include cocktails, dinner, entertainment, and “The Public’s monumental flair” in the Wyndham Grand hotel. 40th Bash Gala and Auction - City Theatre Company May 22 | Heinz Field East Club Lounge To top off your classy theater party season, join in the “dancing and diversions’ at City Theatre! This fabulous event includes everything from cocktails to wine pairings and bidding on “extraordinary outings and adventures.” This isn’t any ordinary evening. The event offers several tiers of sponsorship packages, from bronze to platinum. The packages include things like recognition in programs, reserved seating, acknowledgment at the events, and ticket vouchers for the upcoming season. Don’t miss this celebration of 40 years of galas! Don’t get caught wishing you could have danced all night, when you certainly can with this glamorous line-up of galas and auctions this spring. Be sure to get out and support the Pittsburgh theatre community so they can continue to entertain you throughout the year.    

Rust

By: Ringa Sunn
Rust promoEven steel rusts, and that is the underlying theme, and title, of the new play currently in production by Duquesne University's Red Masquers. The play, written by Duquesne alum F.J. Hartland, neatly ties the name of the show into the general premise as well as the emotional undertones of the characters. Even steel rusts, but metal isn't the only thing that can wear over time. Set in 1983 Pittsburgh, this play tells a familiar story to many who grew up in the area. The mills are closing and unemployment is high. Families are struggling to make ends meet. The world is changing. Desperation sometimes leads to greeting those changes with violence, and frustration often leads to ending the day with a trip to the bar. Pittsburgh's always been a drinking town, after all. Scene changes are covered by radio announcements keeping the audience up to date with current affairs as the play goes on. It certainly helped me put myself in the mindset of these characters, being let down by the daily flood of tedious news. For the Strnad family, dealing with the unemployment of Marek (Neil Donaldson), the husband and father of house, is the main stressor, but certainly not the only one. Luckily his wife Verka, played well as a tired yet persistent strong woman by Raquel Isabel Millacci, is employed. This makes it slightly easier on the household of the couple and their three children. The oldest child, Pavol (Evan W. Saunders), is in college but with substantial struggles of his own that find their way back into his parents' home. And we can't forget Marek's elderly Slovak mother, Zuzana. The banter brought to the show by Alex McLeod's Zuzana, or "Babka" as the family calls her, was delightful and familiar. While she was there mostly for her dry humor, McLeod's Babka supplied the play with several little nuggets of wisdom. She's a constant reminder that this is a story of the development of immigrants, despite tribulations. It's a timely message.16804196_1368597823192874_1286359514723108611_o Another firm reminder of the family's roots is the mysterious imaginary friend that the Strnad Family's youngest son, Matus, always has by his side. Matus is played by fourth grader Mark Henne, and he is a pleasure to watch on stage. The curiosity of his foreign mill-working friend (Byron Stroud) that only he can see is explained as the show plays out, and it puts a little twist on the imaginary friend trope. The humor found with this duo is a nice subtle compliment to the over-the-top hilarious Lauren Bostedo, who plays the middle Strnad child, Lenka. She's struggling to find herself, and the attention of her family, and perfectly embodies that 80s high school girl cliché that we all know so well. Director Lora Oxenreiter has a long history in theater, and her craft is evident in this new work. The characters move about the set fluidly and naturally. It was easy to feel like I was a guest at the Strnad house, observing dinner from afar. For the most part, the players were a great fit in their roles. Even the secondary characters stood out and had their moments. It was evident that Oxenreiter cast the show fittingly, playing to the actors' humor and strengths. There was only one problem I had with the cast. As the story played out, I wanted to sympathize with Marek. I've been through the unemployment runaround. It's frustrating and can certainly make you want to throw things. Marek's constant need to count to ten to settle himself spoke volumes to me. However, I was constantly distracted by the age of the actor playing Marek. Not to say that a younger man can't play older, but with the rest of the cast so spot-on, this main character stood out. A beard would have gone a long way in transforming this college student into a father of a college student. Even some slowing of the speech, something to age his movements... It was hard to commiserate when I was thoroughly unconvinced.16797426_1370119506374039_180358350129153447_o That being said, the show as a whole was highly enjoyable. The story is solid, and there is plenty of humor laid throughout to break up the gravity of the situation. The set and technical elements of the show were modest, bringing you into the scenes without stealing from the characters. And given that I saw the opening night of a brand new show, the cast and crew did a fantastic job bringing this show to life. The play is intriguing, especially because of the local interest piqued by Hartland. Rust reminds us to think about the hardships that paved the way for where we are now. That as things corrode, it takes work and time to make them sturdy again. Something we could all benefit from remembering now and then. Rust runs at Duquesne University's Genesius Theater through February 26th. For tickets and more information, click here.  Special thanks to the Duquesne Red Masquers for complimentary press tickets. Photos courtesy of their Facebook page.

As One

By: George B. Parous
As One HeaderThere was an elbow-to-elbow crowd on hand in the George R. White Opera Studio at Pittsburgh Opera Headquarters last night for the Pennsylvania premiere of As One, including the composer, Laura Kaminsky, and co-librettists, Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed. They must have been pleased with the reception their work received, for it was a favorable one, and hopefully the performers realized that a large share of the enthusiasm was for them, as well, because the two singers delivered trying music quite excellently, as did the string quartet conducted by James Lesniak (a name we’re used to seeing on the programs as “coach or pianist,” but last night in his first conducting assignment). The audience was as diversified as could be imagined, which somehow, considering the topic of the chamber opera before them, offered encouragement and hope for a sense of peace and unity in these days of bombastic division. In less skilled hands, the subject matter of the emotional struggles and inner turmoil of a transgender person trying to find peace and a sense of being in a vast, confusing and sometimes hostile universe offers every opportunity to go awry. But the librettists manage to remain focused on providing just enough every day, “real” experiences in the life of Hannah, from her youth, to college years, to “finding herself” in young adulthood, to make her seem like a real, plausible character, and, along with Kaminsky’s effective and appropriately shaded score, charged with drama, empathy, and, when needed, a touch of humor, makes no attempt to demand sympathy and acceptance from the audience. It simply and quite effectively tells the story of a portion of one person’s life – a person who happens to be transgender. [caption id="attachment_4253" align="aligncenter" width="488"]Hannah before (Brian Vu) feels compelled to be the “perfect boy” and hide Hannah after (Taylor Raven) Hannah before (Brian Vu) feels compelled to be the “perfect boy” and hide Hannah after (Taylor Raven)[/caption] While the characters are nominally identified as “Hannah Before” and “Hannah After,” for the most part they are on stage together. Through a series of sung pieces, they either individually narrate the story or interact with each other as separate parts of a yet inseparable “whole,” and the concept works. As might be expected, there are parts that are emotionally harrowing, such as when Hannah writes a letter full of excuses for why she won’t be coming home from college for Christmas this year, and the episode in which she relates her narrow escape from an attacker who demands “What the fuck are you!?” The piece leaves the impression that the action takes place in the not so distant past, as there are references to yellowing library card catalogs, pen-to-paper letter writing, and looking things up “online.” Historically, operas that rely principally on “psychological” drama tend to have a tough go of things. But since As One was premiered in 2014, it has been performed in the better part of a dozen venues, with at least one more to come next month. Whether it will endure due to its musical and artistic merits, rather than as a timely curiosity, only the future will tell. A string quartet serves as a perfect accompaniment to the story – much more would be excessive for the complex yet sometimes simple psychological drama taking place on the stage. James Lesniak did an excellent job of maintaining a proper sense of balance, proportion, and volume, and the players, Charles Stegeman (Concertmaster and Violin I), Rachel Stegeman (Assistant Concertmaster and Violin II), Jennifer Gerhard (Principal Viola) and Kathleen Melucci (Principal ‘Cello) never wavered in their playing of the score, sometimes intricate and prominent, sometimes an appropriate whisper. [caption id="attachment_4254" align="aligncenter" width="594"]Hannah starts to feel more comfortable with herself Hannah starts to feel more comfortable with herself[/caption]   As far as a vehicle for the display of the vocal talents of two members of the Pittsburgh Opera’s Resident Artist Program is concerned, a better choice than As One can hardly be imagined. It seems as if had the standard pairing of a tenor and soprano been chosen by the composer, the work would have lost some of its effectiveness. The unusual opportunity of hearing such sustained singing by a baritone and mezzo-soprano was not only a rare treat, but the voice types more effectively add to and color the drama of the story. Brian Vu, as “Hannah Before,” was given the opportunity to display his vocal abilities here as never before. That he had a baritone voice of quality in its lower register was already well known from his appearances in various smaller roles this season and last, but the strength and brilliance of his upper register came as a revelation. He sang the difficult music of the part with a ringing resonance that thrilled throughout, and he acted the role with an engaging sprightliness and a fine sense of pathos by turns. [caption id="attachment_4256" align="aligncenter" width="658"]Brian Vu as Hannah Before Brian Vu as Hannah Before[/caption] He was partnered perfectly by Taylor Raven as “Hannah After.” Her mezzo-soprano voice is of a lovely timbre and wide range, and she, too, acted the part appropriately and with a varied assortment of moods and emotions. The role is not new to her, as she has sung it with Seattle Opera, but it was clear that she and Mr. Vu had spent many hours working together to achieve optimal results with “Hannah,” and their work paid off well. “I have come to really connect with the character of Hannah,” Ms. Raven shared with me a few days ago. “I'm inspired by her honesty and bravery and I feel very honored to tell her story.” Vocally and dramatically, she tells it very well, indeed. The opera will be repeated on February 21, 24 and 26. For tickets, performance times, a complete synopsis, and much more, visit Pittsburgh Opera. It’s highly recommended that those wishing to hear the work not waste time in securing tickets, as seating is limited and they are moving at a brisk pace. Special thanks to Pittsburgh Opera for the two complimentary press admissions. The “Artistic Team” for As One – Conductor, James Lesniak; Stage Director, Frances Rabalais; Set Designer, Chen-Wei Liao; Lighting Designer, Todd Nonn; Head of Music, Glenn Lewis; Director of Musical Studies, Mark Trawka; Stage Manager, Attitra Lelahuta. Photography: David Bachman    

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