Pittsburgh’s No Name Players’ theater company staged their 8th annual SWAN Day last Saturday, March 5th, in Oakland’s Twentieth Century Club. The SWAN in SWAN Day is an acronym for support women artists now. Martha Richards, an American theater artist and one of the founders of SWAN Day noted that this day of recognition was created because “Women artists are creating change in their communities and around the world”. Pittsburgh is an official SWAN Day partner along with cities in Kenya, Bulgaria, New York, Florida, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Early into the SWAN Day show it occurred to me that the producers of this show take the “support” part of the title sincerely. The hosts for the evening, No Name Players’ Tressa Glover and Don DiGiulio, imbued the show with warmth and enthusiasm introducing the acts as if they were introducing treasured friends. It is rare for Pittsburgh theater artists at dramatically different levels of professionalism to share the spotlight, and that element was one of the pleasures of this year’s production. SWAN Day is a forum for young artists to hone their craft and for veterans to demonstrate the possibilities of performance.
SWAN Day international partners hold autonomy over the content of their productions. The organizers of Pittsburgh’s SWAN Day choose a quotation each year as a thematic starting point. This year’s quotation was “And suddenly you know…It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.” The night was divided into three segments with a ten-minute play responding to the night’s theme. The other evenings performance artists, musicians and dancers responded not to directly to the quotation but to the scripts of the plays. Imagine SWAN Day as a human heart and the plays are the heart’s chambers and the performances are the heart’s arteries. The blood circulating through the heart is the night’s theme of the “magic of beginnings.” Also of note, in addition to the variety of staged art, Swan Day also featured sculpture, photography and painting from local female talent.
Of the night’s features there were a few especially notable contributions. Julia Geisler, who normally works as a singer and actress, debuted a ten-minute play called What If He’s An Axe Murder?. In this play we are introduced to a man and woman on a first date who met via a dating website. What this play did especially well was establish tension from the first beat. Geisler did this by having the audience witness the female protagonist’s internal thoughts in contrast with her external behavior. The play begins with the female protagonist texting with a best friend about the man she is meeting. The audience sees the texts projected on a screen in real time. As the play goes on, the woman continues to text with her friend even as she chats with her date. Over the course of the short play, the woman’s perceptions and doubts about the man she meets are both realized and then challenged.
Bridgette Purde, a mainstay of Pittsburgh’s R&B music scene, did not disappoint. She introduced her set as a one with a complete story arc “from catipillar to butterfly to flying solo”. She performed three original songs while playing keyboard. Her lyrics about finding love and finding self if performed with less confidence could be perceived as schlocky, but Purdue inhabits the words she sings with authority.
One of the most original acts of the night was the seasoned musical improv act of Missy Moreno and Nick Stamatakis. Missy Moreno, adopting the persona of Lisa Mizzelli (no relation to Liza Minnelli) led the audience on a journey of what she perceived to SWAN Day to be about namely she did a short ditty that asked the question who let the swans out? For those of you unfamiliar with obnoxious pop songs of the early aughts, this was in reference to the Baha Men’s Who Let the Dogs Out?
Lastly, Reed Dance II’s performance entitled Moments in Love was on point (to borrow a dance term). This short duet to the Jill Scott song You Don’t Know featured two dancers early in their careers, Asset Fuller and Kira. What struck me about this piece was the element of vulnerability that these dancers inhibited enabling an intimacy between dancers and the audience.
The closing number of SWAN Day was a kind of hearty sing along the way you might have on the last day of summer camp. The band Camelia Road, some of its members whom have played music at every Pittsburgh SWAN Day, led the audience and the night’s cast in singing a song the band wrote specifically for SWAN Day. It was a warm send off to an inspiring night.
Special thanks to No Name Players for complimentary press tickets. For more information about SWAN Day and No Name Players, check out their website here.