Aftershock Theatre: Bringing Relevant Works to Lawrenceville

12486052_1234690196547212_8936299985216587915_oWhen Andrew Minton and Larissa Jantonio came up with the idea for Aftershock Theatre, they knew they wanted to create a company that would foster change and provide a theatre outlet for younger, more diverse audiences. The fledgling company aims to provide a community space that offers access to affordable theater that is culturally relevant and encourages discussion.

Through their research at Carnegie Mellon University, the co-founders discovered performing arts largely targets older demographics. Aftershock Theatre is working to skew those metrics and challenge what is traditionally thought of as the ideal audience member.

When Minton purchased the performance space in June 2016, the building was in dire need of a facelift — but the old Slovenian Auditorium in Lawrenceville was exactly what he and Jantonio were looking for. The three story building has a history in the performing arts — it was a community theater space in the 20th Century. Minton, Jantonio and Andrea Romero, Aftershock’s strategic consultant, set out to breathe new life into the vacant auditorium.

“It just has all of the things that make you excited about theatre,” Minton said. “It’s got evidence of live space, it’s got evidence of footlights — the traps, the backstage is really wonderful. … The ability to use all three floors [for performances] … it really is our sandbox.”

18921019_1743111749038385_3234372865924374411_oAlthough there are still many renovations to be had, Aftershock Theatre has already come a long way since summer 2016.

Its Open House was held in November 2016 and offered audiences their choice of three short plays — “For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls” by Christopher Durang, “15 Minute Hamlet” by Tom Stoppard and “This Property is Condemned” by Tennessee Williams — performed on the first floor, second floor and basement, respectively.

More recently, Aftershock Theatre hosted Real/Time Intervention’s first solo production, “Angelmakers: Songs for Female Serial Killers”. Tickets for the show included a free drink from Aftershock’s bar — yes, they have an in-house bar — that drew a connection with the show by incorporating mini syringes and celery sticks shaved down to look like shivs.

To keep up momentum, Minton is working to adapt a few scripts he hopes to have in production by January or February. Aftershock’s shows will feature stripped down sets to allow for more artist-focused performances and experimentation with elements like assumed gender roles.

“We are trying to pick shows that are impactful to that audience [younger and diverse]. We try to pick shows that feel relevant to Pittsburgh,” Minton said. “We try to think how can we relate it to here? How do we engage people? How does it relate to people’s lives — because that’s what it should do.”

In order to create a stronger connection to the art and encourage dialogue, Aftershock Theatre plans to offer audiences the opportunity to participate in social activities like game nights, talk-backs and discussions.

“One of our big goals with this space is to have a place where you might want to spend time before or after a show,” Minton said. “You have an audience, hopefully from diverse backgrounds, who you bring together and they share this experience. And then to be able to discuss this experience or engage with that experience, they have that shared moment and that’s one of the things that is powerful about theater.”

As Minton, Jantonio and Romero move closer to completing the renovation of Aftershock Theatre, they want to continue to both host and produce shows that offer younger audiences access to the performing arts.

“Part of my theory of art is that good, powerful, useful, art should resonate throughout communities. It should send aftershocks out throughout the community,” Minton said.

For more information about Aftershock Theatre, visit

Photos taken from Aftershock’s Facebook Page.


DODOfbeventA mysterious adventure, Bricolage Production Company’s latest immersive experience, DODO, challenges the idea of traditional theater by taking the audience member by on an individualized, sensory-based journey that places them at the center of the experience. From the time the show was announced, details about the experience were kept largely under wraps. Created in collaboration with the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, the production’s vague show description made mention of extinction, un-natural selection, and a secret society, but little else, creating a sense of mystery and allure around the immersive.

The journey begins upon purchasing a ticket to the show. Shortly after reserving my ticket, I received an email confirming my application to a secret society, known as The National Self Preservation Society, had been received and was under review.

Once I arrived at the Carnegie Museums, a large illuminated sign that read Portal Entry was clearly visible from the parking lot. Bricolage used simple, nondescript signage throughout the production, which allowed the museum to truly act as the host body. The art and artifacts inside the museum were used to create context during the adventure, rather than elaborate set design. Once I checked in, along with the five other participants in my time slot, our journey continued.

We entered the Carnegie Museums on the side of the building, through what appeared to be an employee-only entry point and were met by a character wearing a hazmat-esque suit and a gas mask. After determining we were all fit to enter the next room, he stripped his protective clothing revealing a suit with a large patch on his blazer indicating he was a member of The National Self Preservation Society. Serious and intentional, the society member informed us that our application to The National Self Preservation Society was the context for which our group was being accepted into the experience; the donor application process was about to begin. Before continuing on, each of us were called up to his desk, asked us a series of questions and given an item.

Emilie Sullivan (Docent)
Emilie Sullivan (Docent)

It was apparent that our answers to the questions were meant to inform which item we received, however, that didn’t seem to be the case. The lack of discernible connection between the answers we provided and the item we received made the interaction appear engineered rather guided by our individual responses.

After receiving our respective items, we made our way into one of the museum’s main exhibits halls, illuminated only by small floor lamps. We were met by a mysterious dream host dressed in all-white, loose fitting garments who spoke soft and slow. This character’s spiritual demeanor and dialogue made it apparent we had ventured into a different dimension that was operating outside the boundaries of time and reality.

My experience took me through multiple other darkened museum exhibits, via staircases and dimly-lit hallways reserved for employees and into a collection archive. Providing access to the areas of the museum normally off limits, coupled with the rooms with little prominent light helped reinforce the idea secrecy and the allure of an underground organization. The dark areas also emphasized the theme of extinction; once things are gone, they are lost forever.

Michael McBurney (Explorer)
Michael McBurney (Explorer)

As I traveled through the museum, I encountered an explorer and various other characters who made use of collections and exhibits to help tell their stories and draw connections between humanity and its impact on the natural world. While these characters were able to incorporate the museum’s art and artifacts into their dialogue in a way that made sense and was meaningful, it wasn’t always clearly explained who they were and why they were there. It was during these interactions in particular that it seemed less like I was a character in the immersive and more like someone just along for the ride.

The adventure culminates in a multi-sensory experience that intersects audio, light and touch to manipulate the senses. While the references and dialogue often had a dream-like quality, I didn’t feel fully immersed in a dream-state until this moment. The sensorial techniques used during this portion of the journey successfully made me feel as though I had truly been transported to another state in time. I think some of these techniques could have been utilized earlier in the experience to help drive home idea that the adventure was taking place in another realm.

Like with all of Bricolage Theater Company’s immersives, no two experiences are alike. There were multiple characters involved in the production that I did not encounter and just as many destinations I did not travel to. There’s still time to take a journey all your own with DODO.

DODO runs through November 19 in the evenings Wednesday through Sunday, with some exceptions. The experience only allows for six patrons per time slot. Tickets are $60 and can be purchased at

Photos by Handerson Gomes.

Bricolage Presents Its Latest Immersive Experience: DODO

DODOfbeventA story of un-natural selection. A story of extinction. A production shrouded in mystery.

Little has been revealed about Bricolage Production Company’s latest immersive, sensory-based theater experience, DODO. Created in collaboration with the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh as part of its Carnegie Nexus initiative, no two experiences are alike.

DODO will take audience members on a personal journey throughout areas of the museum not typically open to the general public, allowing interactions with their surroundings to guide their experience.

“It’s not putting the participant on the spot,” said Jeffrey Carpenter, creative director and co-creator of DODO. “It’s offering a place for their response, and that response can affect their journey.”

The immersive production will examine humanity’s impact on the world and will draw connections between art, science, and society. The adventure will also explore the relationship between humans and the museum, to the physical building and its history and to the artifacts and artworks inside it.

All information and stories related to any of the museums’ collections incorporated in the adventure are authentic.

The line between reality and fiction will be blurred and audience members may be unsure whether they are interacting with each other or actors and actresses.

DODO will play to the senses, using ambisonic audio technology, a technology being developed for virtual reality, and light effects. Sensorial lighting techniques will be used in such a predominant way, light will almost act as a character.

Carpenter and the rest of the creative team behind DODO — Gab Cody, Tami Dixon and Sam Turich — spent two years on what they refer to as a listening tour at the Carnegie Museums. During that time, the team explored the physical nature of the museums and interviewed countless individuals connected to the museum experience, from security guards and cafeteria workers to curators, conservators, and directors.

“I think what we discovered right away, is that there’s a natural tension between the role that the museum plays as keeper and collector and protector of these very important specimens and artifacts and giving access to the general public,” Carpenter said.

The collaborative process allowed them to gather insight into the magic behind the museum and develop a production that aims to prompt conversations about man’s impact on the Earth.

“It sort of feels like you can’t talk about anything else,” Dixon said. “With this project, and choosing the work with the museums, we don’t think there was anything else we could be talking about, relevantly or responsibly, if we didn’t talk about this age that we’re in right now.”

It has led them to their most ambitious immersive experience to date — DODO.

“I think it’s [DODO] been crafted in a very masterly way so that a whole group of experiences that people have as they travel through our two museums will build to a very moving climax,” Maureen Rolla, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh said. “I think people are going to have fun. I think they’re going to be really surprised. They’re going to see a lot of beautiful things in really crazy spaces.”

DODO takes place at the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History in Oakland and runs October 13 through November 19, Wednesday through Sunday evenings with a few exceptions. In order to create a more personalized experience, each performance time slot accommodates only 6 patrons at a time. Tickets are $60 and can be purchased at


Since 1760, they’ve operated in secret, preparing the way. Once considered legend, they’ve been steadily growing in number and influence. Their existence, in direct response to a pressing need expressed by the natural world, is one of the most significant and far-reaching stories in America: a story of un-natural selection. A story of extinction. The actions of humanity have set into motion events that will outlive our species. It must now be determined what will endure. Do you know how you got here? Do you know where you’re going? Our past is a memory, our future is certain. DODO: the time has come.

Stage 62 Goes to Camelot, Neverland, and More!

stage62_logoCommunity. This is the word that best characterizes a local nonprofit theater company that traces its inception back to 1962, when it began as an adult education theater project that morphed into much more. Taking residence at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, Stage 62 is an all volunteer-run company that strives to provide the community with quality theater for all ages that is affordable.    This year’s season will feature the plays, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” “Monty Python’s SPAMALOT” and “Anne.” The children’s musical, “Pinkalicious” was also part of the company’s season but closed in mid-February.

This year’s season will feature the plays, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” “Monty Python’s SPAMALOT” and “Anne.” The children’s musical, “Pinkalicious” was also part of the company’s season but closed in mid-February.

A typical season for Stage 62 usually includes a musical in November; a show for children’s audiences in February; a drama/comedy in May and a musical peterstarcatcher300x300in July, according to the company’s website. However, Stage 62’s members play a huge role in the selection of production titles.

“We are completely member-driven, so our membership actually gets to vote on the productions that we do,” Christopher Martin, president of Stage 62 said. “We look for submissions from our group and outside our group. …We take those specific shows to our playwriting committee, and they decide what they think will be best for the organization. [They choose] two shows per slot and vote from there.”

Because volunteers are the backbone of Stage 62, cost and the interest it will attract from the community also heavily influences the selection of production titles.spamalot300x300

“We have to balance what we think will make money and what will be exciting and engaging for our audiences and volunteers,” Martin said.
The members of Stage 62 also try to choose show titles that the company’s volunteers and directors have an interest in producing.

“We sometimes would have something picked but not have someone who had a passion to do the show,” Martin said. “We always try to have a core staff or director in mind for the show.”

Once a season has been narrowed down and show titles have been selected, the artistic direction and vision for the production and how it will be interpreted, is left up to the director.

annie300x300Stage 62’s upcoming production, “Peter and the Starcatcher” is based on a novel by Dave Berry and Ridley Pearson and provides the back story of the well-known children’s movie character, Peter Pan.

“One of the reasons we like the show is it is simple,” Martin said. “A lot of it is done with simple props and imagination.”

For its summer show, Stage 62 likes to put on a “fun-rousing” musical, and that’s where “Monty Python’s SPAMALOT” comes in, a musical comedy  adapted from the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Goofy comedies tend to equal success for Stage 62, according to Martin, and the Monty Python title the company selected for this season fits the bill.

For the fall, Stage 62 typically selects a classic film, and “Annie” is about as classic as it gets. With the permission of The Tribune Media Services, Inc., the musical “Annie” is based on the comic strip Little Orphan Annie and will be presented through a special arrangement with Music Theatre International.
Stage 62 has a reputation of providing audiences with stage productions that are well-executed, interesting and fun and accessible to the broader public, and that’s exactly what you will get with the company’s 2017 season lineup.
“Peter and the Starcatcher” opens May 11 and runs through the 21st, followed by “Monty Python’s SPAMALOT,” which premieres July 20, and “Annie,” set for November 9.

For tickets and more information about Stage 62, visit their website,

Jumping Jack Theater Provides Interactive Opportunity for Special Needs Audiences

14670697_1756952637855218_8497753626687409878_nLess than a year ago, the powers of social media reunited local Pittsburghers Rebecca Covert and Stephen Santa, allowing them to combine two of their greatest passions, theater arts and children with special needs, to provide Pittsburgh audiences a unique and inclusive theatrical opportunity specifically focused on sensory and autism-friendly strategies.
The catalyst for Jumping Jack Theater Company occurred when Covert published a post on Facebook about a New York-based theater company that focuses on providing similar theater arts opportunities for audiences with special needs. Santa, a former colleague who worked with Covert in 2012, commented on her post and the pair’s creative minds got to work.
“I just felt like, kind of like a light bulb thing when I saw her post. That this [theater company focusing on providing works for audiences that would benefit from sensory and autism-friendly strategies] is something that we don’t have in Pittsburgh,” Santa said. “It’s something that our powers together can create and create successfully.”

Both Covert and Santa have backgrounds in theater arts as well as experience working with kids with special needs. Covert’s son, Jack, the inspiration for the company’s name, has autism. In addition, she is an autism and arts consultant and professional development facilitator at Arts for Autism Foundation of Pittsburgh and a teaching artist for both Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Education. Santa works at Pittsburgh CLO, a Broadway-quality musical production company and has been a music director at Camp Aim, a camp designed for kids with special needs, for 15 years.

Jack, Covert’s son and inspiration for Jumping Jack Theater

Initially, Covert and Santa didn’t plan on fully embarking on the idea for the theater company until 2017, however, after Covert discovered there was a potential opportunity to receive $8,000 in extra funding available through the Pennsylvania Council in the Arts that had to be used by August 2016, plans changed.

Covert and Santa submitted an application for the funds and were awarded the grant, which was used to fund two, five-day pilot residencies, one at Borland-Manor Elementary School in Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania and one at Camp AIM. The aim of the pilot residences was to use ideas that Covert, Santa and their creative team had come up with for inclusion in future theater performances and try them out in special needs classrooms.

For example, during one of the pilot residencies, Covert and Santa focused on the rainforest. They used large umbrellas to represent different levels of the rainforest by placing vines and different stuffed animals and other creatures in the umbrella, providing the kids the opportunity to learn about the concepts of the rainforest in an immersive way. This also allowed Covert and Santa the opportunity to watch the kids interact and see which fabrics and other items elicited reactions.

“Going in the classroom, it was the first time everything felt right. … The kids are communicating at completely different levels, nonverbally or just showing items, and we’re just watching how they interact with their item,” Covert said. “So we’re getting a lot of different information that, you know, I think it’s not only allowing them to share about themselves but we’re kind of taking that and learning about them and seeing what we can feed into the shows that way.”

As a result of the pilot residencies, Covert and Santa are currently working on a 20-day residency, also at Borland-Manor Elementary, and have additionally been asked to come back during the 2017-2018 school year for a 60-day residency.

The residencies have also given Covert, Santa and their creative team the ability to begin creating their first “box show” using the feedback received from the very kids that will make up their audiences.

Show development brainstorm session with creative team (L to R: Stephen Santa, Sara Barbisch, Julianne Avolio, and Joann Kielar)
Show development brainstorm session with creative team (L to R: Stephen Santa, Sara Barbisch, Julianne Avolio, and Joann Kielar)

Jumping Jack Theater Company’s box show is a small, two-actor performance, slated to premiere in February, that will be shown at various schools in the area, in autism support learning classrooms and potentially some local gallery crawls.

The idea behind the show is that it is supposed to be shown in tight class spaces where the audience members can experience quality theater without having to leave their normal routine or feel like they are not in a familiar or comfortable space, according to Covert.

“A kid on the spectrum, when they’re enjoying something, it looks very different than the typical theater etiquette audience. There’s a lot of movement and vocalizing,” Covert said.

“This isn’t like an assembly show where the whole school comes,” Santa added. “This is where 20 kids come and they sit close, and they are part of it, and they experience; they feel, they touch, they listen.”

In the next year, Jumping Jack Theater Company also plans to premier a larger, four-actor show that will work more like a traditional, ticketed theater performance. Although this performance will be a full-scale production, it will still incorporate sensory and autism-friendly strategies, but will be open to the broader public.

“I think it’s important for everyone to see our show, not just the kids who it’s designed for,” Santa said. “I think everyone can learn something from it. I’m about empathy and all those kinds of things, patience and understanding, and accepting someone that’s different from you.”

Jumping Jack creative team playing and storytelling at their first rehearsal (from L to R: Sara Barbisch, Joann Kielar, Julianne Avolio, Stephen Santa, and Kyle Fischer)
Jumping Jack creative team playing and storytelling at their first rehearsal (from L to R: Sara Barbisch, Joann Kielar, Julianne Avolio, Stephen Santa, and Kyle Fischer)

Going forward, Jumping Jack Theater Company wants to expand its reach to community events as well as to other areas across the country.
We want to “do a show where families can come that it’s a safe place for everyone, and parents don’t feel like they’re being judged, or their kids are being judged; it’s a welcoming environment for everyone,” Santa said. “If this child over here is enjoying it [the performance] by flapping and standing and, you know, talking all the time, and pointing that out, that’s great.”

Jumping Jack Theater Company’s creative team is made up of Julianne Avolio, an actress and teaching artist; Sara Barbisch, an actress and teaching artist; Joann Kielar, a storyteller and teaching artist; and Kyle Fischer, a visual artist and film industry prop artist.

The theater company is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization and is fiscally sponsored by Fractured Atlas, a New-York based organization that supports arts and cultural groups.

In order to raise money to support current and future theater productions and projects, including theater-engagement workshops for families in Pittsburgh, Jumping Jack Theater Company has launched an Indiegogo fundraising effort. To donate, click here and for more information about the company, visit their website or their Facebook page.

Photos courtesy of Jumping Jack Theater.

How I Learned to Drive

Drive Small Posters (5)[2]Sexual abuse and the way women are often negatively sexualized once they experience the onset of puberty is a subject that has been at the forefront in recent news headlines; making the overarching metaphor in How I Learned to Drive, a play written by Paula Vogel and directed by Justin Sines, perfectly timed to bring about awareness and discussion about the issue.

On a simple set featuring large archway made out of wire fencing with various street signs  attached to the top and sides, the audience is introduced to one of the main characters, Li’l Bit, played by Fiona Montgomery, who is growing up in the mid-60s and early 70s. Also present in the performance space is an unmoving, upholstered seat with a back that serves as the seat of a car for the majority of the play, and two identical, backless seats located in close proximity on either side.

Learning how to drive portrayed as a metaphor for learning about sexual boundaries and sexual abuse is clear early on in the performance, making the length of the 90 minute piece perhaps a bit unnecessary.DSC_0296

The inappropriate sexual nature of the relationship among family members that has been passed down through generations is made apparent immediately, as Li’l Bit explains that everyone in her family has a nickname that relates to a part of a person’s genitalia. Her grandfather’s nickname is, “Big Pappa,” while her uncle’s name is, “Uncle Peck;” both obvious metaphors.

The audience watches as the play’s timeline jumps back and forth, guided by driving instructor, voiced by Colleen Garrison, who utilizes driving instructions for a manual car to indicate a shift forward or backward in time. The nonlinear timeline provides a glimpse into the inappropriate nature of Li’l Bit’s relationship with uncle Peck and the sexual abuse he inflicts on her from an early age, how it affects her throughout her teenage years and the lasting affect it has on her as a young adult.DSC_0402

While driving directions allow the audience to perceive the timeline has changed and provides further depth to the main metaphor, if the secondary characters had not often announced that there was a change in the year, I would not have necessarily picked up on the fact that Li’l Bit’s age shifts during the performance. Li’l Bit is often distressed, as she should be considering the circumstances, and Montgomery does a good job of making this apparent to the audience through her expressions. However,  Montgomery unfortunately makes almost no alterations in Li’l Bit’s mannerisms or tone of speech to indicate that the character’s age has changed, rendering the performance flat.

Uncle Peck, played by Michael Makar, is definitely the antagonist in the play, and the fact that his character does not come across as obviously creepy or perverse provides further comment on the relationship between victims of sexual abuse and those abusing them. Often times, the people that prey on others fly under the radar and come across as unassuming and harmless. Uncle Peck grooms Li’l Bit her entire life, skews sexual boundaries, makes her believe that what he is doing is not wrong and is able to accomplish this under the guise of a caring and loving family member.DSC_0484

While this point is well taken by the way that the character is portrayed in the performance, at the close of the play I found myself wishing that Makar had made me more uneasy and uncomfortable as the plot progressed. The way that Makar depicts the character of uncle Peck made him seem one dimensional and stiff. Uncle Peck is supposed to be leading two different lives, one in which he is a loving and devoted husband, and one in which he is a sexual predator. Had Makar made uncle Peck come across as a more sly and sneaky, I think the character would seemed more dynamic and realistic.

The play ends with Li’l Bit preparing to go for a drive by herself, however, although she does this on her own, she follows the driving instructions taught by her uncle Peck. As she adjusts the rearview mirror, Makar sits in the back seat indicating to the audience the lifelong affect sexual abuse has, and will have, on Li’l Bit’s life, and the cyclical nature of this behavior.

Special thanks to Duquesne Red Masquers for complimentary press tickets. How I Learned to Drive runs through November 13 at Duquesne Genesius Theater. For tickets and more information, visit

Photos courtesy of Dale Hess.