Pittsburgh Savoyards Celebrate 80th Season!

Pinafore-Website-Banner-Draft-1Audiences can enjoy performances of HMS Pinafore, October 13-15 & 19-22 2017, and the Grand Duke, Spring 2018 this season with the Pittsburgh Savoyards! A testament to the city’s thriving arts scene, the Pittsburgh Savoyards have been a semi-professional, community-based, non-profit theater company funded primarily by local contributions and ticket sales for eighty seasons.

The Savoyards primarily focus on the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. Gilbert and Sullivan are the undisputed masters of comic operetta and the proud parents of the modern musical. That their works are more in demand today than when they were created over a century ago is ample proof of their lasting brilliance.

This season will begin with one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most beloved shows, HMS Pinafore. Stage directed Shane Valenzi (Gilbert and Sullivan expert), Pinafore will run for two weekends, Oct. 13-15 and 19-22 at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall, 300 Beechwood Ave, Carnegie, Pa 15106. Resident Music Director and Conductor Guy Russo will lead ensemble and orchestra. Mr. Russo spoke excitedly about the show. “I am very excited about this upcoming production of HMS Pinafore for a few reasons.  First, it’s always been on my very short list of G&S works.  Next, we have managed to assemble a tremendous cast for this production, with a very enthusiastic, strong ensemble. We have once again been fortunate enough to have an orchestra full of very fine players who have shown tremendous dedication to the Savoyards.  Finally, our Stage Director for this show, Shane Valenzi, is quite creative and talented, and his vision for this production is exciting, and I feel certain that our audiences are going to be GREATLY entertained!”. All shows begin at 8pm except on Sundays, which begin at 2:30pm.

For the first time, in addition to the regular rates for tickets, the company now offers premium seating at the venue in Rows D, E, and F for an additional $5.00 on the ticket. Those who order tickets by Oct. 9 can take advantage of the special early bird discount.

Pinafore is an age-old story of love! The story takes place aboard the ship HMS Pinafore. The captain’s daughter, Josephine, is in love with a lower-class sailor, Ralph Rackstraw, although her father intends her to marry Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty.

Pinafore will be followed in the Spring by the Grand Duke, Directed by Robert Hockenberry.  In the Grand Duke, the curtain rises on the market square of Speisesaal where Ernest Dummkopf’s acting troupe is rehearsing for a production of the Greek tragedy Troilus and Cressida. Beneath the theatrical veneer, a conspiracy is afoot among the thespians to overthrow Rudolph, the Grand Duke.

There are a variety of event offerings this season, including opening night festivities and a catered British Tea. Interested patrons should visit the website to learn about upcoming events and make arrangements to attend at http://www.pittsburghsavoyards.org/wordpress/.

The Pittsburgh Savoyards is a 501(c)(3) non-profit theatre group founded in 1938 whose mission is to honor and perpetuate the works of 19th Century English composing duo Sir William S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan. Using funds raised from ticket sales, fundraising events, and donations from generous patrons, the Savoyards perform two Gilbert and Sullivan productions per year, one in fall and one in spring. The shows feature a talented mix of both amateur and professional performers from the Greater Pittsburgh Area. In addition to its stage productions, the group organizes numerous community outreach projects to bring the rich heritage of Gilbert and Sullivan to people of all ages, emphasizing the timelessness of the duo’s whimsical tales and charmingly lighthearted music. A partner of Britsburgh since 2017, The Pittsburgh Savoyards is an ARAD asset and is also supported by the Pittsburgh Foundation.

PSIP Continues Its Mission to Offer Fun, Accessible Theatre with Henry V

henry-v-adNo one can say Artistic Director Jennifer Tober and the Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks hasn’t been busy over the past twelve seasons. The company has been producing free public performances of Shakespeare’s works in the Pittsburgh city parks since 2005. In September 2016, they celebrated 12 seasons of shows with 8 public performances of The Comedy of Errors, playing to over 1800 patrons.

Now in its 13th season, Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks will offer the stirring, magnificent history play Henry V, directed by local favorite, professional storyteller and longtime PSIP member Alan Irvine each weekend in September 2017.

One of Shakespeare’s great history plays, Henry V is the final part of a tetralogy, preceded by Richard IIHenry IV, Part 1, and Henry IV, Part 2. It is arguably one of the more difficult Shakespeare plays to tackle and perhaps not as well-known as some of the comedies or tragedies that have been standard fare for the able company since its inception.

When asked why Henry V, Jennifer Tober offered some compelling insight. “We’ve managed to shirk the History plays for 13 years, and we’re due for one!…Alan (Irvine) has been clamoring to direct HENRY V for a while, and we decided that this year in particular, politically speaking, would be an apropos time to offer a Shakespeare piece that deals with political intrigue and the making of a great ruler, and nations vying to dominate one another, all the while showing a glimpse into the deeply personal motivations and aspirations of rulers and the pressures they face.”

DSC_7804When asked what patrons might expect of the story, Tober said that while the play is indeed a history, it is quite funny at times as well as full of drama and adventure. For those concerned that the play might be too dense for their taste, Tober assured, “Our performances are extremely accessible to all folks from all walks of life. We make choices vocally, physically and through characterization that allow our audiences to identify in a way that they may not be able to in a more rigid venue. Henry V is appropriate for all ages and has something for everyone from young kids to adults. I just love outdoor Shakespeare and our audiences agree.”

Following on the heels of the hugely successful Comedy of Errors last year, Henry will expose PSIP audiences to the story of the growth of “Prince HAL”, his struggle to leave behind his boyhood impetuousness and rise to the occasion of leading England in victory over France in the famed Battle of Agincourt. “It is interesting to look at this ruler who starts as this bratty kid and then, throughout the cycle of the plays ends up having what it takes to be a man in battle and approach difficult choices head on,” said Tober, “It is so exciting to see him come into his own and make good choices after so many not so good ones.”

Alan Irvine directed The Tempest for PSIP in 2008, and is the host for PSIP’s Bring Your Own Bard monthly reading series. Irvine’s production will use 8 actors (with an additional young company of soldiers also numbering seven), with all except the title role doubling, tripling, and in some cases, quadrupling.

Amy Dick as Princess Catherine of France and Nick Benninger as her maid Alice.
Amy Dick as Princess Catherine of France and Nick Benninger as her maid Alice.

As is common in PSIP shows, Irvine plans to blur the line between action and audience and allow the audience to become a character itself. “We plan to use the audience as members of the cast,” Irvine said, “If you attend the show, Henry may just wander into your group and include you in the action of the play. We have audience members who return year after year with their blankets, picnic baskets and beverage of choice to enjoy a day in the park and a free performance. They love being part of the show and there are many opportunities within Henry V to include them!” Audience members might find themselves playing the roles of the court – the nobles, ladies, servants; becoming the English and French armies; helping fire up Henry and his soldiers on in the famed St. Crispin’s speech. Many regular PSIP love this participatory side of the experience and it keeps them coming back. “The interactive nature of our performances is something that our audiences really enjoy,” Tober added, “We use everything that is available to us to tell the story. The environment is a big part of this and the audience does not just watch in a removed way, but participate and become part of the show, just like the trees and the grounds and the sky and everything around us.” For those newbies planning to attend, be ready to play a role!

The exciting cast includes Lamar Cheston, a New York City native who has appeared Off-Broadway in Angels Over Tuskegee, with Pittsburgh Playwrights (Hercules Didn’t Wade in the Water) and Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre (Oedipus Rex) as HENRY; Stoney Richards (Pistol and Exeter), known for being a radio personality at  CBS (WDSY-FM and KDKA) and appearing in many films and tv shows as well as Off-Broadway and locally in Pittsburgh. Both Cheston and Richards are members of Actors Equity. Local favorites Tonya R. Lynn as the bawdy and big-hearted Mistress Quickly and Nick Benninger as Gower and French Maid Alice will provide many laughs for those looking for a picnic and a smile. Rounding out the cast are Amy Dick, Ryan Bergman, Bob Colbert, Sarah Carleton; as well as a company of young local actors playing the “Soldiers Company.” Both Tober and Irvine are thrilled with the level of talent available in the Pittsburgh market and are looking forward to presenting this incredible cast of union and non-union actors to the community with some brand-new faces as well as some regulars at PSIP. Longtime PSIP collaborator Lisa Leibering will serve as Production and Costume designer (Comedy of Errors, Supernatural Shakespeare, King Lear, As You Like It, Romeo & Juliet). Tober said that the costumes are usually a somewhat utilitarian base with a lot of fantastic pieces that come as go as the play progresses which serves the actors and the play well in the outdoor arena.

As always, audience is encouraged to bring folding chairs or blankets and a picnic.  All ages.  All shows are FREE with donations encouraged. “And the show will go on rain or shine unless there is thunder or lightening,” Tober added, “We rarely cancel a performance. Sometimes we may get a little rain but this can be fun for everyone!”

The schedule is as follows:

Saturdays and Sundays through September – all shows at 2 PM

Sept. 2 and 3 – Frick Park, Blue Slide playground, Beechwood Blvd. and Nicholson St, Squirrel Hill

Sept. 9 and 10 – Highland Park, across from the Super Playground, Reservoir Drive

Sept. 16 and 17 – Arsenal Park, 40th Street between Penn and Butler Streets

Sept. 23 and 24 – Frick Park, Blue Slide playground, Beechwood Blvd. and Nicholson St, Squirrel Hill

PSIP will celebrate the run of HENRY V with its first fundraising dinner party at MAD MEX Shadyside (220 S. Highland Ave) on Tuesday, September 26th with all proceeds going to support PSIP’s mission of free Shakespeare for all Pittsburghers. This is an awesome opportunity to meet the play makers and support local theatre while having a fantastic evening. MAD MEX will be donating the evening for this worthy cause and tickets can and should be purchased in advance. Check out their website here for more information.

Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks was founded in 2005 by Artistic Director Jennifer Tober and has offered FREE Shakespeare productions to thousands of Pittsburghers since its inception.

For those who have never experienced PSIP, expect some serious fun!

Photos by Catherine Aceto

CMU Drama Pulls Out All the Stops this 2017-2018 Season

With the announcement of the 2017-2018 season, the CMU drama department is brimming with excitement about special guest artists in the line-up. The season will boast a Tony-Nominated Guest Director, as well as a Guest Director from the highly acclaimed Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Professor Peter Cooke AM Ph.D., head of the School of Drama at CMU said of the impending season, “I think what we’ve come to again is a season that is very exciting and very socially aware. It’s got strong political underpinnings, joy, drama and great music.” When asked what she looks most forward to on a personal level, Erin Scott, Communications Coordinator said, “For me, every new season is exciting because I love to see how inventive and brave our students are in their work. The fearlessness with which they approach their visions is inspiring to me.”

Ranked as one of the world’s top theatrical training Conservatory’s, Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama is expected to produce the finest theatrical and learning experiences for both students and patrons alike. By exposing students to professional artists who currently work in the field, CMU continues to provide immersive experiences that not only build skill set but create connections and inspire future endeavors. “The school’s conservatory program within the university is one that prepares students intellectually, artistically and practically to be leaders in their chosen professions, whether on stage, in film, television, or within the expanding realm of new media.” – CMU School of Drama. Faculty member Jed Allen Harris said of the season, “It’s a wonderfully diverse season that should both entertain and challenge the school and its audience. This season, as always is designed to provide a valuable and enriching experience for our students. I feel that the student directed productions for the upcoming season will especially provide a wide variety of performative challenges for the actors and designers.”

The School of Drama presents three different series in the season: the Subscription series, the Director series, and the New Work series. The productions in the Subscription Series are all directed, choreographed, and musically directed by professionals. The sets, lights, and costumes are all designed and created by the School of Drama.

Season-Background-images-4The Subscriber Series will open Oct. 5-14 with Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker, directed by faculty member Anthony McKay. The play’s most famous adaptation is the renowned musical Hello Dolly.  Turn back the clock to 1880s Manhattan. In a bustling world of cobblestone streets and horse-drawn buggies, Yonkers natives mingle with stylish New Yorkers in search of love and adventure, each one getting more than they bargained for. The Matchmaker is a charming, poignant farce about risk and reward —and, of course, a meddling matchmaker. Director Anthony McKay described the piece thematically in this way: “…the play is a warm humorous exploration of money. What’s it’s real value and what place should it have in our lives? Given our current president, his preoccupation with money and his measuring everything by it, the play seems exceptionally timely.” He added, “…it’s also a rollicking farce of mistaken identities, disguises and narrow escapes accompanied by the clip clop of horses pulling handsome cabs through 1880’s Manhattan. It’s a romantic piece that takes place on that special day, that hopefully happens to us all, when we go a little bit mad, fall in love and, like it or not, have the adventure of our lives.”  When asked why he chose the play to direct, “Peter Cooke,, wanted to do a farce. First, to expose the students to as many comedic styles as possible, but also because he’s always looking for balance in the season and the next show Love Labor’s Won while light hearted has some dramatic threads to it. I had a couple of farces to choose from but when The Matchmaker was offered, I seized on it. I love Wilder’s tolerant view of humanity as well as his humor. Vandergelder’s mirroring Trump’s values gave the play extra relevance. The action takes place in the1880’s but it is a universal story: it happened then, it’s happening now, it will happen in the future. I love the play’s innocence, its love of humanity and, in among all its frolics, its poignancy–watching fools, from two centuries ago who turn out to be very much like us, trying to figure the whole thing out.”

Love’s Labor’s Won, a sequel to Shakespeare’s Loves’ Labors Lost will follow Season-Background-images-3Nov. 16-Dec. 2. The piece has been written and will be directed by Scott Kaiser, the director of company development at the prestigious Oregon Shakespeare Festival. “I imagined the outbreak of a European war that separates the lovers, not for just a year, but for four years of hardship,” Kaiser said about his piece. “I imagined that each of these lovers suffers a terrible loss, that the crucible of war changes them all, irrevocably. Then, as the fighting subsides, I imagined the couples coming together again, in Paris, for a much-delayed reunion. Will their relationships survive?” The play ends abruptly with the death of the King of France, crushing the romantic endeavors of four young couples. Will their love survive? And, if so, how? Love’s Labor’s Won answers these unresolved questions. After four turbulent years, the lovers meet again in Paris at the signing of an armistice that will end the bloody European War that separated them. The couples soon discover that war has drastically changed their love. But can their love alter the course of the war?

Season-Background-images-5The Drowsy Chaperone, Feb. 22-March 3, will be choreographed and directed by Tony Award-nominated guest director Marcia Milgrom Dodge, with music direction by Thomas Douglas. “When Peter Cooke invited me to CMU to direct and choreograph the show, I jete-ed at the opportunity,” said Milgrom Dodge. “What fun to find the next generation of talent who can keep this genre alive. I look forward to working with the talented students to create our unique production.” Imagine being in the audience awaiting a new Cole Porter show, or one by the Gershwins… Entertainments that transport the hum-drum details of daily life to plotted tales of love in crisis—tales involving gangsters, show people, millionaires, servants and tap dancing. Well, that’s exactly what happens in The Drowsy Chaperone.

The 2017-2018 season will close with Tony Kushner’s timely play, A BrightSeason-Background-images-2 Room Called Day, April 12-28, directed by faculty member Jed Allen Harris who said, “I love plays that concern themselves with questions of politics and art in a theatrical manner.” In this play, you will find yourself in Berlin, 1932 during the twilight months of the Weimar Republic. While fascist forces move to seize control of the government, a group of communists, artists and intellectuals gather to trade stories and drown their fears. Tony Kushner’s poetic and incendiary play follows these women and men as they strive to preserve a world that is tearing apart. In A Bright Room Called Day, the demons of the past are the prophets of the future.

The Director Series, named for Hollywood producer John Wells, a 1979 graduate of CMU’s Drama School, provides students within The John Wells Directing Program with the opportunity to direct and mount plays. This year they will direct the following productions:

  • How to Put on a Sock, adapted from Franz Wedekind’s Spring Awakening, adapted and directed by Fellow Rachel Karp. November 1-3.
  • Medea/Shulie, written and directed by Fellow Sara Lyons. November 29-December 2.
  • Alkestis by Euripides, translated by Anne Carson, directed by Fellow Philip Gates. February 21-23.
  • The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui by Bertolt Brecht, translated by Jennifer Wise, directed by Fellow Stephen Eckert. April 25-28.
  • Smitten devised and directed by Jack Dentinger. February 21-23.
  • I’m Sure I’ll Figure It Out written and directed by Burke Louis. March 21-23.
  • Stumpy Legs Too Short by Katja Brunner, directed by Bronwyn Donohue. April 25-27.
  • Teaching Yourself How to Die Fast, an original film written and directed by Grace McCarthy. Screening Date TBA.

The CMU Drama Department describes the New Works Series as “…the cauldron in which new ideas, concepts and performance practices are presented to our audiences by the next generation of dramatic writers.” The series will take place Nov. 15-18, April 25-29 and is, as yet, TBD. Writers to be showcased are: Gillian Beth Durkee, Ryan Hudak, Lauren Wimmer, Jordan Barsky, HyoJeong Choi and Anderson Cook.

Perhaps a lesser known or unsung highlight of the Drama Department, well worth noting, is the Dramaturgy Program, which will host talkbacks with the audience, casts and crews throughout the season on Tuesday evenings, directly following performances. These informative discussions will cover play background, research and story line development. The dramaturgs also are available to discuss the plays with classes, student groups and public organizations. Interested parties can contact Wendy Arons, dramaturgy option coordinator, at warons@andrew.cmu.edu to schedule a session with a dramaturg.

The CMU season is bursting with delicious possibility.  One wonders just how the school will pull off such a monumental procession of intense and inspiring work. It is this dedication to artistic excellence that keeps CMU at the top of the game.

For package options or to place a subscription order, call the box office at 412-268-2407 between noon and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Special discounts are available to all Carnegie Mellon alumni. All Subscriber Series performances are at 8 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, and 2 and 8 p.m. on Saturdays   in CMU’s Purnell Center for the Arts. For more information about the School of Drama, visit www.drama.cmu.edu.

**Play descriptions were taken mainly from the CMU school of Drama website.