PITR’s Top 5 Picks for Summer 2017

Let’s dive right into our Top 5 shows we’re looking forward to this summer!

Marcus Stevens (2)#5 – An Act of God – Pittsburgh Public Theater: A relatively new play, premiering on Broadway in 2015, An Act of God is a one-act comedy that originally started out as a series of tweets that evolved into the book of which the play was adapted from. Point Park University graduate Marcus Stevens plays God, joined by his sidekicks: angels Gabriel and Michael (John Shepard and Tim McGeever), in this comedy opening at the Pittsburgh Public June 9. For tickets and more information click here. 

#4 – Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play – 12 Peers Theater: Once you catch 12 Peer’s current production of Thom Pain: Based on Mr. Burns ImageNothing starring Pittsburgh’s own Matt Henderson, we’re sure you’ll be itching to see what else they have to offer. Opening August 3, Mr. Burns shoots us some years into the future after the apocalypse where we meet a handful of survivors trying to recreate a particular episode of “The Simpsons”. Fast forwarding into the future for Act 2, and even further for Act 3,  these reenactments become main forms of entertainment and eventually myths decades later. For tickets and more information, click here. 

#3 – Hot Metal Musicals – Musical Theatre Artists of Pittsburgh (MTAP):Since Email-Blast-Image-c.PG-Web1-copyits creation, MTAP has set out to help create and promote new musicals and the artists creating them in Pittsburgh. The incubator was established in 2011 by Erik Schark and is now currently led by executive director Stephanie Riso, managing director Jeanne Drennan, and advisor Steve Cuden. The first Hot Metal Musicals showcase in 2015 was one of our first major events of that year, and after seeing the talents Pittsburgh had to offer then, we’re sure this year’s showcase on July 17 will knock our socks off. For tickets and more information click here. 

#2 – Momentum Festival – City Theatre Company: City Theatre, known as yt17-momentum-featurePittsburgh’s home for new plays, delivers on their promise to keep things fresh and new again this year by finishing out their season with their annual page-to-stage festival: Momentum. Featuring 5 different staged readings, this year’s lineup will include not one, but two shows in progress that will be fully produced in their 2017-2018 season. Hop in for a meet and greet and a staged reading this weekend starting June 1! For more information, click here!

18556456_10155486793559873_589745343035013449_o#1 – WordPlay – Bricolage Production Company: Sure, for the second year in a row, we’ve named Bricolage’s storytelling show WordPlay the #1 show we’re looking forward to this summer. But this time, WordPlay is no ordinary WordPlay. This time, Bricolage as team up with PERSAD CENTER, the nation’s second oldest licensed mental health counseling center specifically created to serve the LGBTQ community. Featuring tunes by Tracksploitation and stories by Nyri Bakkalian, Brian Broome, Cindy Howes, kelly e. parker and Ciora Thomas. And, as usual, hosted by Creator and Co-Producer Alan Olifson. Don’t miss out on this special edition WordPlay this weekend, starting June 2. Tickets and more information can be found here.

Pittsburgh’s Must-See Halloween Shows

Pumpkin 1Fall has descended upon Pittsburgh with a comical quickness, and so the time has come embrace mystery, horror and the supernatural realms. This Halloween season, Pittsburgh’s theaters are bringing to the stage both new experiences, classic favorites, and the merging of the two.  Pittsburgh in the Round has put together a list of the must-see Halloween shows, whether you are seeking a thrill or a good belly laugh.

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Midnight Radio’s Night of the Living Dead N’at

Bricolage Production Company’s Midnight Radio returns and following it is a hoard of hungry undead. A cast of voice actors will perform a reimagination of George Ramero’s 1968 cult classic Night of the Living Dead as a live radio show and will undoubtedly include a generous amount of Pittsburgh humor. Have you ever dreamed of playing a part in a Bricolage production, or just being a zombie for a night? Great news, each show has six “Zombie Porch” seats available for purchase where you become part of the show…as a zombie.

Catch Night of the Living Dead N’at from October 27th – November 12th! Find more information on the show and tickets here.main-image2

Enter the Imaginarium

Bricolage Production Company has teamed up with ScareHouse to build an extraordinary immersive experience where participants must work as a team to discover the mysteries of the Imaginarium. This collaboration brings together the teamwork and gameplay that is the basis of the escape room phenomenon and the story telling and scenery of an immersive show. There are two different story lines to choose from, Chamber of Illusions and The Inventor’s Paradox.

Though Enter the Imaginarium will be running indefinitely, right now tickets are available through November here.2016Mast-JandH

 Jekyll and Hyde

Based on the beloved horror-drama novella, Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical is a special spooky production not to be missed. The classic tale of Dr. Jekyll battling his inner demons in the form of a medical-experiment-gone-evil as Mr. Hyde is given a modern spin with a spine-chilling score from Grammy and Oscar-winning pop rock songwriters. This musical thriller is presented by students of the Richard E. Rauh Conservatory, accompanied by the CAPA Orchestra.

This show runs from October 20- 23 at the Byham Theatre. Order tickets online here.8143734

Carrie

High school prom can be scary in many ways– especially if a strange lonely girl with telekinetic powers goes rogue, causing chaos and exacting revenge on her tormentors. Brought to you by Split Stage Productions, Carrie: The Musical is Stephen King’s cult classic on Broadway. Despite the musical’s notorious “flop” status– it’s sure to excite and horrify all audiences and get you in the Halloween mood.

Carrie: The Musical runs from October 20-29 at Apple Hill Playhouse. Learn more here.14707874_10154577010151460_4154434185964917862_o

Giselle

Do you believe in ghosts? Giselle, an eerie, romantic ballet, will make you think twice about what you believe. Presented by the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, this is the tale of a village girl who dies of a broken heart, only to be supernaturally summoned back from the dead by a group of vengeful, phantom dancers. The ghostly women attempt to dance Giselle’s previous lover to death– for his betrothal to another is what send Giselle to the grave.

Giselle runs from October 28-30 at the Benedum Center. Buy tickets and read all about it here. Photo by Ken Stiles.

 For more Fall theatre fun, check out our Fall Preview here.

Ubu the King Hits Pittsburgh, One Night Only!

Chicago’s Rough House Theater is taking their production of Ubu the King on tour and will be in Pittsburgh for one night only as part of their 8 city tour! This Sunday, July 31st, Mike Oleon’s adaptation of Alfred Jarry’s 1896 Ubu Roi will be performed by a cast of puppeteers at Spirit Lounge in Lawrenceville. “We are really excited to be taking Ubu out on the road, and pumped to be coming back to Pittsburgh and Spirit in particular.” said Claire Saxe, Rough House Managing Director; Ubu performer & dramaturge. “Pittsburgh has such a great arts scene, it’s such a friendly, involved community of people. It is really a treat for us to get to step into that for a night, once a year.”

Photo Credit: Joe Mazza
Photo Credit: Joe Mazza

 In this retelling of Jarry’s surreal, absurd story Pa Ubu “murders, lies, and farts his way up to the Polish throne”. The show features the original music and over 60 handcrafted puppets meticulously designed by Grace Needleman. “I think puppetry is an ideal medium for Ubu. It’s a play about cruel, disgusting, horrible people and the things they do to achieve power,” said Director Mike Oleon. “The play is largely inhabited with their very endearing and soft-bodied victims. Puppetry allows you to get away with a lot more carnage and torture on stage than audiences would ever be able to tolerate from human actors.”

The show starts a 9:00 p.m. and there is a suggested donation of $10.

Photo Credit: Joe Mazza
Photo Credit: Joe Mazza

Rough House Theater is a non-profit theater company based in Chicago that is “committed to connecting individuals and communities through art that celebrates the weird things that make us unique, and the weirder things that bring us together”.

Artist Spotlight: Connor McCanlus

Connor McCanlus has performing and Pittsburgh ingrained in his DNA. Since his family returned to the area when he was three years old, McCanlus has lived in every corner of the city and could probably host the funniest tour of the city given the opportunity. McCanlus was destined to become a performer; His mother was a dancer and one of the founding members of Dance Alloy and his father is a veteran musician. Some of McCanlus’ earliest memories are of being backstage or sitting in bars around town watching his parents perform. “I honestly have no other skills; I was a bad student in high school because I didn’t care about anything but [art],” said McCanlus. “I gave 110% to the shows that I did at school, the shows that I did in more extracurricular programs…I would also create shows with my friends on our own, so I had no time for math homework because I was busy doing art.”Connor

Photo Credit: Louis Stein Photography

Idleness is not something McCanlus can tolerate. He compares himself to a shark that is required to keep moving in order to keep living. “I create opportunities for myself,” McCanlus said. “If I don’t have a project, I make a project.” It was this drive, the need to be on stage learning and working on his craft, that led him to join Steel City Improv after he attended Clarion University. He took classes and worked his way onto a house team and all of a sudden he was performing a weekly improv show. This exposure led to him landing his first major role with Unseam’d Shakespeare, thus launching his career on stage. McCanlus has worked as an intern and assistant stage manager with several theaters where he received his introduction to professional theater. He actually worked as David Whalen’s dresser during PICT’s production of Doubt and now finds himself a costar to a performer he once learned from as a young actor watching from backstage.

Improv theater is something that McCanlus is truly passionate about. He has taught classes, been a part of house teams and is currently a member of two independent teams; Well Known Strangers which has been performing at the Cabaret since 2014 and hosts the Pittsburgh Improv Jam, and a comedy duo called Baby Grand with Missy Moreno. McCanlus is also directing an upcoming improv project called #TheMusical, a musical theater show in which performers take to Twitter for inspiration and content. #TheMusical will have a beta test or “soft-open” on July 28th during the Pittsburgh Improv Jam.

McCanlus is aware of the negative stigma that many people attach to improv theater and is working to change the minds of theater goers in the Pittsburgh area and would also like to bridge the gap between actors and improvisers. “I am actively trying to do my part to get improv a better reputation in this town,” said McCanlus. “A lot of the people that have that opinion went to see one show and didn’t laugh so they think that it’s not for them which is insane because if you went to the movies and you saw a bad movie you wouldn’t go ‘I’m never going to see another movie again’.”

McCanlus has held a love for comedy from a very young age, beginning with SNL skits and parody music. He enjoyed parody music so much that his first concert was Weird Al Yankovic and he would anger his friends by singing along to the Rent soundtrack with the lyrics from the Forbidden Broadway version; they were the only lyrics he knew.

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Photo Credit: Louis Stein Photography

Comedy, for many, is also a defense mechanism and this is definitely true in McCanlus’ case. Connor came out as queer at a very young age, sometime around 8th grade. It was not an easy experience for him; as one of very few out students in the entire school district he was both verbally and physically bullied and even had to change schools at one point. “A lot of comedians were kids that were awkward in middle school. Not the most attractive kid, not the most popular kid, so you use comedy to compensate. When I realized I was funny, I used that to carve my own way,” McCanlus explained. “I wasn’t going to be the hottest guy, but I could be the funniest. Comedy is a defense mechanism. I think a lot of what I do now came from me forcing myself to love myself. There was a long time when I didn’t because I was this young queer kid…”

These struggles really came to the surface during his role as Carrie White in Bricolage Productions Company’s production of SCarrie in 2014.  “Just playing the victim that she is and her journey is just so heart wrenching,” said McCanlus. “It was hard to go through every night especially because I was a kid that was bullied…everyone else was in a comedy, I wasn’t”. McCanlus says he misses that character every day, but was glad when the show ended and he could let go.

Even now, confidence and self-love is a continuous process for McCanlus. In his current role as Sir Henry Baskerville in Kinetic Theatre Company’s production of The Hounds of the Baskervilles that opens this weekend, he is required to be on stage in nothing but a towel, something that may have been a deal breaker for him two years ago. “It took me a long time to like myself and it’s still a process I’m going through,” said McCanlus. “It’s this weird thing where we tell people to love [themselves], it’s actually not love yourself, it’s allow people to love you, allow other people to see you.”

Even with the success that McCanlus has experienced here in Pittsburgh, leaving the region for the sake of work has never been an option that he has taken seriously. He is a person who grew up in regional arts and assigns great value to the growth and development of art in the area. “Cities like New York and Chicago and LA have great theater but they can’t be the only place theater exists and they can’t be the place where everyone with talent goes,” said McCanlus “Pittsburgh allows me to continuously be working because it’s got a big enough art scene that there are theaters for me to work in and it’s got a small enough art scene that I can make myself opportunities.” If McCanlus remains on the path that he has continued to forge for himself, we can, and most definitely will look forward to a future full of laughs from one of Pittsburgh’s favorite funny people.

For more information about McCanlus’ upcoming performance in The Hound of Baskervilles click here.

Would you like to see more reviews and articles like this from Pittsburgh in the Round? Then help us out and donate to our indiegogo!

Photo credits: Louis Stein photography

Autism and the Arts: Bricolage Creates Sensory-Sensitive Immersive Experience

Welcome to Here Promo2An enchanted forest has sprung to life in the heart of Pittsburgh as Bricolage Production Company presents Welcome to Here, a sensory-sensitive immersive experience designed specifically for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) commissioned by EQT Children’s Theater Festival. The show takes participants on an adventure through the Forest of Everywhere where a cast of furry and feathery puppets interact and play games with children in an environment designed for their comfort. “I love seeing all this stuff in Pittsburgh. It’s a big deal that we can be included in cultural things because there’s a lot of stuff we don’t fit into,” said Mindy Nagy, mother of a 13 year old girl with ASD. “She deserves to have some culture.”

Rehearsal.Parag S. Gohel

The transformation of Bricolage’s space is outstanding. The twilight lit room is full of intricately carved cardboard trees from which birds can be heard chirping, a circle of stumps and stones rest in the middle for participants to gather around and sing with Ranger Roger and there is even a slide in Don Key’s house. Hops the bunny shares his collection of trinkets as an exploration in textures while kids can play an invisible harp in Esther the Ostrich’s house. Adventurers enjoy a number of other activities such as digging for bugs (Simon the alpaca’s favorite snack), play in piles of leaves or leave their mark on the walls of the chalk cave. There is even a “cloud room”, a safe space for adventurers to relax in if they become overwhelmed.

For Nagy, this show provides an opportunity to enjoy the arts with her daughter in an environment that caters to her very specific needs. Preparation for the show starts the night before, as Nagy and her daughter read the social story provided by Bricolage to prepare children for the adventure ahead. Nagy explained that a social story is a very important aspect and limits any uncomfortable surprises so that her daughter can be fully prepared and enjoy the experience. “What I was really surprised with is she followed along with the other kids and she’s not very social. To see her playing in the leaves with the Ranger and a couple of other kids, that’s a big deal because normally she is off in a corner by herself,” said Nagy. “She was sitting down singing with everybody and that means a lot.”

Siovhan ChristensenThe show was conceived when Bricolage was asked if they could modify their Midnight Radio Jr. show for a sensory-sensitive audience. They said no. Instead of trying to alter a show designed for a neuro-typical audience, they would instead build a show from the ground up with the ASD community in mind. For Bricolage, it all started with research. They partnered with Arts for Autism and Firefly Arts and spent a week in workshops educating themselves on ASD and how to build a show to cater to the needs of their audience. But to really get a grip on what it means to live with ASD, to understand the sensitivities and triggers, nothing comes close to the first hand experience of someone that is a part of the community. “I would never ever do a show for a specific community without having that community member as part of the team that builds it,” said Artistic Director Tami Dixon. Vanya Rumsey, a 17 year old autistic self-advocate, was brought on board and cast as the queen of the forest while also influencing the development of the show based on her own experience with ASD. “She’s really our eyes and our ears and she’s the person that we look to.” Dixon said “She was incredibly helpful for that part of the process. If she wasn’t there I don’t think we would have this show at all, she was instrumental.” For Rumsey, the show is another opportunity for her to advocate for her community and share her story. “Working on this production has been an incredible opportunity for me to share my knowledge and advocate for my community,” said Rumsey. “There isn’t often a chance to articulate my everyday experiences as Autistic and use that knowledge to help create something specifically designed to accommodate for the needs of my community.”

You can catch Welcome to Here May 12th through the 15th and tickets can be found here. A special thank you to Bricolage Production Company for allowing us to experience the beta test of this show.

Fairytales, Fights, and Failure: Fringe Day 3

jack day 3On Sunday, I walked into St. Mary’s Lyceum and past the small bar to the banquet space in the back that would be the venue for all three of my shows that evening. As I entered, I recognized the familiar sound of old Loony Toons scores playing over the speakers. This began to set the mood for 5 Hams Fairy Tales by Thoreau, NM. The sketch comedy production included retellings of classic stories such as Hansel and Gretel and Snow White and a segment of “groaner” jokes that those well versed in the internet may call “dad jokes”.  Woven into the classic stories was topical humor such as Hansel and Gretel not quite being the small children we are familiar with, but MBA graduates still living with their parents. The rendition of Snow White was derailed by a cast member who goes on a tangent about the stereotyping of blended families and stepmothers, only to retell the story in which Snow White was actually a vampire with a pack of small zombie groupies. The troupe even ventured out to engage the audience; I alone having my shoe untied, bag stolen and my heart cut out (I was the wild boar) during the performance.

The second show of the evening, A Dream of Midsummer, brought a cast of familiar faces as members of Brawling Bard Theater took the stage. Last year, I was able to catch both their street performance of 5 Conversations and a Bear as well as The Murder of Gonzago and knew that we were in for romp. The show opened with the members storming onto the stage, apologizing for being late and explaining they had prepared to put on the wrong play. The show had already begun and was a farcical adventure of a production company trying to improvise their way through a show with the cast and props they had to work with. The show was fast paced and highly amusing as the cast juggled characters and did their best to remember and perform the classic Shakespeare play. Brawling Bard Theater always brings a very chaotic and physical style of performance to the stage in which hilarity always ensues. The use of props and puns in this show was especially amusing; a box of shredded wheat as potion and a sword fight involving a lawn spike and what appeared to be a bike horn will always be funny. My favorite moment was when in need of a dagger (to be used for suicide over love, naturally) the cast member was handed a rubber chicken that shrieked every time he drove it into his chest. The chemistry between the members of this company and the amount of fun they have performing is what made Brawling Bard Theater an easy choice for Best Ensemble.

After two topsy-turvy shows back-to-back, The Last Lifeboat, by Waynesburg University Players, was just what I needed to calm me down before heading to the awards ceremony. This show, based on the play by Luke Yankee, details the life of Thomas Ismay, the man who built the Titanic. From Ismay’s childhood and distant father, to the repercussions of the sinking of the Titanic, the story gives us short glimpses into the somber life of a man and the audience is left wondering whether he was a hero or a villain. At times the scenes came off a bit too abbreviated and left me hungry for more information about what I was witnessing but the cast did a wonderful job in their roles and limited props and scenery. I would love to see WU Players expand on this production in the future.

I left St. Mary’s invigorated, charged by the performances I had experienced that day and the energy radiated by the performers. I entered James Street Gastropub, where Dan Stiker was sporting his signature western shirt with all the fringe (or frills as I affectionately refer to them – it’s a cart/buggy sort of thing) and enjoyed a delicious IPA as the actors and volunteers mingled and waited for the awards to be presented. These are people that really enjoy making art and have fun while doing it and this is the very reason I get excited for the Fringe Festival. It is almost as if there less pressure for the companies and actors, freeing them up to express themselves more and enjoy the festival as much as the audience does. It was another fun, weird year at the Pittsburgh Fringe Festival and I am already looking forward to the next.

 

Friday Fringe Binge: Day 1 of the Festival

jack day 1It was 90 degrees, I had a backpack full of snacks and water bottles and I was hiking from one end of the North Side to the other to catch an outdoor performance; Pittsburgh Fringe was in full swing. That was last year; this year I found myself praying that the snow would melt before the pavement pounding began. Luckily, Spring broke just in time for the third annual Pittsburgh Fringe Festival, where at least the offering of new and edgy works stays consistent.

My Fringe experience began in the basement of Young Men’s Republican Club, a fraternal organization that was probably a hopping place in the 70’s and 80’s. It’s Who You Know is a one man storytelling show created and performed by Chambers Stevens. I admit that I was rather skeptical when finding out the show was essentially a man telling stories of people he has met in Los Angeles and I figured it would simply be a show of name dropping. Luckily, my cynical assumptions were doused as Stevens opened his show by explaining his lineage of Tennessee storytellers and then began to draw cards with names of famous people in which he had stories to tell. Inspired by the late Spalding Gray’s autobiographical performances, Stevens shuffles his deck of name cards, selects a number of cards from the deck and tosses the rest on the floor, making each of his shows a bit different. During the performance I attended, we heard stories of sitting first class with Chaka Khan, accidentally stalking Julia Roberts, and Quincy Jones’ awful recipe for ribs among others. Stevens’ storytelling abilities are strong and he connects with the audience in a way that is very personal, so much that audience members felt comfortable enough to comment on his stories and ask questions directly to Stevens from their seats. At the beginning of the show, Stevens explained his father’s and grandfather’s style of storytelling and how they would either tell a story full of BS with but a grain of truth in them or simply sprinkle seeds of falsehood throughout their stories. Now, Stevens claims his stories are 100% true but even if there are a few planted seeds, he filled enough seats to tie for the Audience Choice Award and entertained his way to winning Best Actor.

I made my way out of the grungy basement of the YMRC and back into sunlight and swung back by Arnold’s Tea for a ham and cheese croissant and an Arnold Palmer that had me daydreaming of Carolina. As soon as I finished indulging, my tour group started to form for If I Die I’m A Legend… by Boom Concepts. This immersive performance takes audiences on a satirical real estate open house in a gentrified neighborhood. The group walks from Arnold’s Tea down East Ohio St. while the agents point out the sights and amenities of the neighborhood before we arrive the listed apartment. Once inside, everyone understood this would not be your average showing. Imagine a not-so-fun house meets A Christmas Carol, but instead of ghosts of Christmas past, we are visited by the Street Deities representing Black disparagement, struggle and Black Power movements. These deities were those on the front lines of the crack epidemic, victims of eugenic sterilization and members of those campaigning for the first Black president and the Black Lives Matter movement. The artists tell their stories through monologues, poems as well as song and dance, making it an almost complete sensory experience. The foundation of this performance is what set it apart and set it up to win the Selke Award (Best in Show). With some refinement, this show has a lot of potential to be one of many voices in a movement and, in my opinion, could be expanded as an immersive production and even be adapted into a full stage production one day.

I barely had enough time to digest what I had seen and make an offer on the property before having to hike back to the YMRC for the final two shows of the night. Up next was Best Intentions by Shark Eat Muffin Theatre Company, which was unfortunately cancelled after their first performance. The audience finds themselves witness to the interaction between two women of Shakespeare’s plays, Emilia of Othello (Amy Fritsche) and Angelica, Juliet’s nurse (Jess Tanner) that are trapped in what they have deemed purgatory with nothing but a kitten puzzle and a voice recorder. The pair get to know one another while they grapple with their past sins in an attempt to leave escape their confinement. While the story and violent dance at the end were a bit confusing, the way Fritsche and Tanner commit to their characters really carried this show. When Best Intentions came to an end, there was a brief moment for me to draw in some fresh air before Always B Sharp took over the basement to create another one of their improvised musicals. This year, the comedy troupe included only three members, about half compared to last year when they performed in the upstairs of an insanely warm church. ABS opened with a brief introduction of what they do, including impressions of the worst people in their profession (I suggested senators) before diving into a rather confusing musical tale of trying to make it in Hollywood.

Overall, the night was quite entertaining, even a bit educational and gave me something to talk to my Lyft driver as I headed home looking forward to Sunday.

B.U.S. 11 Provides Laughs, Thoughtfulness and an Anthology!

12771952_10154130200114873_9042410384297519650_oLast Saturday, Bricolage Production Company held its 11th annual Bricolage Urban Scrawl (B.U.S.) event held as an annual fundraiser. Each year, a band of writers take to the bus lines for inspiration as they ride around the city, inspiration they must harness to go home and write a play by 9 a.m. the next morning. At that point, scripts are given to actors and directors to start turning the script into a performance in time for an 8 p.m. curtain. This relay race produced six original 10 minute plays in just 24 hours time.

With time being as limited as it is to create these productions, the process is distilled into its truest form, leaving no time for second guessing from anyone involved. “The first year I did the show I loved it, it was exhilarating…If I could do this once a month I would do it,” said Jason McCune, a long time veteran of B.U.S. “It forces you as an actor to follow your gut, follow your instincts, not second guess yourself and when you are doing comedy, which most of them are, you want to make big bold choices.” Bold choices were definitely made in Gab Cody’s Wrong Place, Wrong Time in which McCune plays a Danish server that ends up mooning the audience during the play (not the first time Gab Cody has cast him as a pantsless foreigner).

This year’s event provided audiences with plenty of laughs, as many of the short plays are fast-paced comedies, but also on the bill were several thought provoking plays for patrons to digest long after closing curtain. Subjects such as PTSD, gentrification and race were touched on. Dog Shit, written by Mark Clayton Southers and directed by Bria Walker, revolved around the recent killing of Bruce Kelley Jr. and tackled a lot of tough questions about racism and the value of life.

“B.U.S. just pushes you as an artist, it helps you realize things you didn’t know you could do,” said Bria Walker, a three time B.U.S. participant who took on the role as director this year. “It gets you on your toes artistically, it pushes you to places you’ve never been before and it’s not for the faint of heart. Generally, artists who like a challenge, who are basically thrill seekers, who like really dynamic work are drawn to this.”

There have been so many plays that have been born through a decade of B.U.S. events and up until this point these plays lived only with the artists and patrons who performed and witnessed the birth of these plays. These plays now live on in an anthology titled B.U.S. (Bricolage Urban Scrawl): 10Years of 10-Minute Plays  and includes 54 plays spanning between the years 2005 and 2015.

According to Bricolage, this was a record setting year for attendance and all of their goals were met. Overall, the Bricolage Urban Scrawl is an intriguing production and a whirlwind of entertainment and attendees can tell that those involved truly give it their all while also having a lot of fun.

Special thanks to Bricolage for complimentary press tickets to B.U.S. 11. For more information about Bricolage and their upcoming season, check out their website here

The Bluest Eye

BLUESTEYE.facebookLast weekend, Point Park’s Conservatory Theatre Company opened its production of The Bluest Eye, adapted from Toni Morrison’s book by Lydia R. Diamond and directed by Monica Payne. This story is a powerful portrayal of post-Depression life as part of the black community and the ugly truths of racism. The focal point of this story is the Breedlove family, specifically Pecola Breedlove (Torée Alexandre) a young girl growing up in an abusive home, dealing with rape, racism and self-hatred.

Alexandre does a dishearteningly wonderful job portraying Pecola and her state of confusion and sadness. It is a heartbreaking performance as the audience watches and listens to the troubled girl describe the pains of racism and her wish for beautiful blue eyes while she clings onto her childhood innocence.

The audience is guided through the story by two of Pecola’s peers, Claudia and Frieda MacTeer (Kendall Arin Claxton/Saige Smith), sisters that grew up with Pecola. The energy of Smith and Claxton really keep audiences engaged and on track through the emotional ups and downs of this story. Their sisterly banter provides much needed comic relief at times while Claxton delivers a powerful depiction of Claudia’s hatred toward her white babydoll.

The story also dives into the lives of Pecola’s parents Cholly (Perris Drew) and Pauline Breedlove (Amber Jones). Cholly and Pauline narrate their own histories, shedding light on how their lives became what they are. The deeper this story goes into each character, new layers of hardship and humiliation are revealed. Their ugliness and dirty laundry are gossiped about by the neighbors in an attempt to make themselves feel better about their own unfortunate situations.

The play is narrated like the book, but at times the narration may seem a bit redundant as the audience does not need to be told a character drops to their knees because we are watching them do so. The set is rather minimal, consisting of only a bedframe and a few small tables. The different scenes are differentiated by the placement of the door frames, door frames that are embedded in the single piece of wood that makes up the floor. The scene changes were slow and choreographed, which at first seems unnecessary until those moments become welcome when trying to digest the subject matter. During these slow, elegant scene shifts, dramatic music plays over the speakers or the ensemble sings haunting songs that really hone in on the mood set by the previous scene.

The Bluest Eye is truly an emotional, thought-provoking story and sheds a unique light on racism and the hardships of the black community. While this story is mainly about Pecola, seeing it unfold through the perspective of other members of the community as well adds a complexity that grips the viewer well beyond closing curtain. Payne does a wonderful job directing an extremely talented cast and ensemble giving the story and characters authenticity through a moving performance.

Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Playhouse for complimentary press tickets.

The Bluest Eye continues next weekend starting again on March 10. For tickets and more information check out the Pittsburgh Playhouse’s website here.

 

Sister’s Easter Catechism

YT16-Easter-FeatureLast Saturday, February 20th, Kimberly Richards was back in Pittsburgh teaching her class titled Sister’s Easter Catechism: Will My Bunny Go To Heaven? and schooling the audience on where the traditions of this holiday season derive from.

Sister opens the show at City Theatre’s Lester Hamburg Studio in a manner reminiscent of an opening monologue of a late night show as she delivers a series of jokes and stories. She talks about the current Pope (whom she may have a crush on?) and begins to engage the audience with questions about Catholic beliefs such as, just as the title of the show suggests, will your bunny go to Heaven? She does all of this standing in a very convincing recreation of a classroom including desks and pictures of famous Catholics such as John F. Kennedy. The desks are not simply for show, any latecomers to the show were promptly scolded for their tardiness and sat in the front of the class. Tardiness is not the only rule enforced by Sister; low cut tops are unacceptable and covered by tissues or bibs while holding hands and other forms of PDA are swiftly broken up.

Once Sister has introduced herself and loosened up the audience, she dives into her lesson of the Easter season. Sister covers the Catholic calendar and Easter traditions in a manner that will give anyone feelings of nostalgia of time in a classroom. After a few question-answer sessions (raising your hand is definitely required) the audience then has time to review their notes before the “test”. The evaluation portion of the show is more of a game show than it is a nerve racking test.

Many of the audience was obviously raised Catholic and may not have been in attendance for an actual lesson as they were to participate and be entertained. For someone who was not raised Catholic, the lessons proved to be both educational and a source of laughter. Richards shows great ability in being able to deliver her material while continuously engaging with the audience members and making sure the intimate classroom atmosphere is upheld.

With over ten years of catechisms under her belt, Richards is a charming performer and commands the audience’s attention as both an educator and entertainer. Although the subject matter revolves around knowledge and traditions of the Catholic faith, it is wildly entertaining for everyone including the “pagans” and “publics” as Sister refers to them. Richards has presented hundreds of these lessons over the years and has been raising money to support aging nuns in the convents. As of this year, she has raised over $300,000 for the cause. As one part Bob Hope, one part The Price Is Right, and a sprinkle of educational material, Sister’s catechism is a wonderful experience that is perfect for the Easter season.

More shows have been added through March 20th! Get your tickets here.

A special thank you to City Theatre for the complimentary tickets.