Winter Preview 2017

5A letter from the Editor:

Our dearest readers,

Winter is only 24 days away and we’re already dashing through Christmas decorations and Cyber Monday sales as 2108 creeps up on us. 2017 has gone fast and we at Pittsburgh in the Round are picking up speed too! So far this year alone we’ve reviewed 151 plays and written 84 feature articles, blowing last year’s statistics out of the water! Even though some of our long-time writers have moved on to greener pastures, our team has ballooned up to 17 regular contributors bringing you the most consistent coverage that we can. We even have our first high school intern!

Beyond this preview, we’ll be bringing you some insights on Ted Pappas’s final shows at the Pittsburgh Public, the Pittsburgh Opera’s World Premiere Ashes and Snow, and a few tips on theatre etiquette from some of the pros. We will also continue to introduce you to the people that make up Pittsburgh’s vibrant theater community through our Artist Spotlight series.

2017 has been a very big year for us and 2018 will be even bigger as Pittsburgh’s theatre community continues to grow with us. We want to thank those of you that have and continue to support us through your engagement with us and simply being readers. Most importantly, we want to thank you for supporting local theaters and companies and helping the arts grow and thrive in Pittsburgh. Remember, if you would like to sponsor us or purchase advertisements on the site, contact info@pghintheround.com.

We would love to hear from our readers and follow along with your theater adventures so keep in touch with us on our FacebookTwitter, or Instagram using the hashtag #WinterwithPITR. To stay up to date on everything we’re getting into, click here to join our email list! Weekly updates straight to your inbox every Thursday.

Happy holidays from all of us here at Pittsburgh in the Round, now get out there and enjoy some theater!

Mara E. Nadolski


Let’s start off with the Top 5 shows we’re looking forward to this winter:

KINETIC-LOVE-LARGE-SQUARE-1#5 – Love, Love, Love by Kinetic Theatre:  Produced in association with Cockroach Theatre in Las Vegas, we follow a London couple from the summer of love in 1967 through the peaks and inevitable downfall of their relationship through present day. Playwright, and Olivier Award winner Mike Bartlett forces us to think about the baby boomer generation and its effect on our current state of life. Love, Love, Love starts previews November 30 and runs through December 17. For tickets and more information, click here

CT1712_AbsoluteBrightness_573x437 (1)#4 – The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey by City Theatre: Known for their commitment to producing new plays, City Theatre stays true to their mission with The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey. In this one-man show by Academy Award winner James Lecesne, a teenaged Leonard Pelkey goes missing and it’s up to one detective and a team of the town’s citizens to find out what happened to him. Inspired by Leonard’s absence, the locals start to question everything about their lives and realize that it’s okay to be different. Catch this heartwarming comedy at City Theatre starting January 20 through February 18. For tickets and more information, click here.

heat-of-the-night-IMG_7327-300x216 (1)#3 – In the Heat of the Night by Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company: From a book to a movie to a TV series in the 60’s, In the Heat of the Night finally makes its way to the stage at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre. First produced in 2010, the story follows that of the original novel and subsequent adaptations. Virgil Tibbs, a detective from California, is arrested and wrongly accused of a murder of a white man in 1962 Alabama but slowly becomes the town’s only hope of solving such a brutal homicide. In the Heat of the Night runs at Pittsburgh Playwrights’ downtown space from February 2 through March 11. For tickets and more information, click here.

Screenshot (22)#2 – Inside Passage by Quantum Theatre: Gab Cody has been a staple in the Pittsburgh playwrighting community for years. After producing her play Fat Beckett with Quantum during their 2011-2012 season she’s back with a more personal story. Cody was born in Juneau, Alaska. When she was five her parents divorced causing her to move back to the east coast with her mother, leaving behind three siblings and two Tlinget Indian foster siblings. In this mash up of documentary film, music, and performance, Cody goes on an adventure to reconnect with her long-lost foster siblings. Inside Passage opens at a yet to be determined location March 2. For tickets and more information, click here

2017Mast-EvilDead#1 – Evil Dead the Musical by Pittsburgh Musical Theater: First in their new “After Hours” series, Pittsburgh Musical Theater heads to the West End for their Pro Series in the Gargaro Theater. Based on the 1980’s movie franchise of the same name, five college students, led by our hero Ash Williams, head to a cabin in the woods for Spring Break. After some light basement exploration, they find the Book of the Dead and accidentally unleash a spirit that slowly turns them all into demons! Running in repertory with PMT’s We Will Rock You, Evil Dead runs weekends starting February 2. The show starts at 10:30pm so make sure you find a babysitter because this production is definitely not recommended for children. For tickets and more information click here.

For more on the musicals coming up this season, check out George’s list of the 5 Musicals You Don’t Want to Miss This Winter!

Christmas is coming soon and you know what that means? Christmas shows! Read up on this season’s offerings in Brian’s article here. 

Pittsburgh’s theatre community is constantly growing and morphing. A few new theaters have popped up recently and we got some insider info for you! Check out Eva’s talks with the Glitterbox in North Oakland and Meredith’s interview with Aftershock Theatre in Lawrenceville.

We broke some pretty big records this Fall! In case you missed out on any of our adventures, here are some highlights from the last three months:

Six a Breast: The Absurd Life of Women by Corningworks

Henry V by Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks

Boeing, Boeing at the Apple Hill Playhouse

Some Assembly Required by Attack Theatre

Angelmakers: Songs for Female Serial Killers by Real/Time Interventions

Belfast Girls by the Ghostlight Theatre Troupe

Romeo and Juliet by PICT Classic Theatre

Unhinged  by Cup-A-Jo Productions

HMS Pinafore by the Pittsburgh Savoyards

Equus at the Pittsburgh Public Theater

I Won’t Be in on Monday by off the WALL Productions

The Impresaria and Djamileh by Undercroft Opera

Arsenic and Old Lace at the McKeesport Little Theater

The Busy Body  by the Duquesne Red Masquers

All Quiet on the Western Front by Prime Stage

The Marriage of Figaro at the Pittsburgh Opera

Weirdo Extraordinaires Find Homes at the Glitterbox

15585269_1742874449365829_7244178980150380019_oFortitude of spirit; endurance in spite of all financial limitations and burdens put on resources; a nearly virtuous steadfastness to the art you are committed to producing and the community you seek to uphold; a truly strong gaggle of “weirdo extraordinaires”—these are perhaps the defining, or at least standout, features of a fast growing, scintillating theatre company carving out its niche in a town very saturated with very compelling companies. Glitterbox Theatre, a creative/collaborative theatre space run and located in Bloomfield, somewhat ironically situated behind the myriad of opulent car dealerships that serve as odd bookends to the neighborhood before it transitions into Polish Hill, emphasizes a robustly and undauntingly DIY and self-authenticating approach. For the sake of clarification, “weirdo extraordinares” is a term coined by the one of the four creative leaders and founders of Glitterbox, but, certainly, the designation is high praise and highly applicable for the fascinating crew and fascinating array of shows attached to the venue.

Having reviewed Yinz Like Plays?at the Glitterbox space for Pittsburgh’s Original Short Play Series, I was enamored with the intimacy and air of rustication and grit the space possessed. Sharing a space with other creative/workshop/DIY-centric groups (like Prototype), the venue is entrancing and almost amniotic, giving a sense of immersion and closeness that is a fulcrum for an engaged viewership, regardless of the style or type of show or performance being presented. Much of the commitment and crucialness of space comes from the nomadic—but no less intertwined—quality of the four founders and financial directors of the theatrical space, who had worked and produced together and independently for quite some time. The crew—including Teresa, a writer of musicals and puppet shows (something the space has become known for being a home for); Nick, an actor and composer; and Chris and Matt, talented actors—had the collective impulse to find a space that would “help to nurture and develop a community of people that makes things [they] love to see.” Indeed, the group’s proclivity for “folk” theatre—puppet shows, immersive/interpretative/interactive storytelling, nonconventional musicals, etc.—has been evidenced in the diverse and eclectic stagings and performances put forth thus far. Glitterbox Theatre has hosted monthly Story Times, with different themes or motifs each occasion to shape the parameters of the pieces, and has been the stage for unusually provocative performances, such as Migraciones, a powerful, puppetry-based dramaturge.

What complements the proliferation of “folk” theatre that the individuals responsible for Glitterbox are so wed to, is their unwavering commitment to making Glitterbox the most affordable theatre space in Pittsburgh. While the partners in charge admit that it “remains to be seen how truly sustainable the model is,” the Glitterbox crew managed to secure not only a relatively cheap spot, but thus far maintain a low enough overhead so as not to demand exorbitant fees from performers seeking to use the space (and even providing the space for free for good causes when they are able). The founders of Glitterbox, in the face of personal financial detriment, have and continue to sacrifice in order to make the space maintainable, hospitable, and accessible to a wide theatrical community to continue to espouse their ideology of collaborative, inventive theatre.

Glitterbox Theatre, and the folks responsible for it, strive to uplift marginalized individuals and groups. This is perhaps the most appealing and fascinating component of folk-centric dramaturgy and performance art. When individuals are provided the creative and literal space to produce content without the vexations of high costs or elaborate production, narratives of individuals and groups otherwise unspoken for or under-represented can ecstatically push to the forefront. Glitterbox’s productions—both their own and those by individuals and troupes who have used the space—have frequently been minimalistic in nature, keeping with the space’s immersive, amniotic character. Often, the props and set will be “crudely” designed out of whatever found materials are easily attained—carboard, shoestring, and other crafty accoutrements. Glitterbox is dependent only on a thoroughly maker-mentality, acting as a harbinger for a wave of theatrical productions in the community that harken back to the time many actors, playwrights, producers, set designers and so on recall fondly of creating their art from the ground up. Not only does the DIY aspect proffer more visceral and authentic art from the performers and creators, this brand of ingenious, on-the-fly production creates a more invigorating and participatory experience for the audience.

Looking to their exciting future, the folks at Glitterbox dream of a space that perhaps will have the proper trappings of a prototypical theatre—a green room, a full-fledged box office, mayhaps being their own landlords. Even if those dreams don’t come to fruition, they have within reach goals in site—continuing their tradition of hyper-inclusivity and creating an ever safer, more accessible space for certain groups/individuals who might create in or visit their space (i.e. building ramps for the physically disabled community to use). Future goals and current status considered, Glitterbox theatre is profoundly and intriguingly becoming one of the most unique and welcoming theatrical spaces in Pittsburgh—one in which narratives and performances from queer individuals, feminist individuals, persons of color, disabled individuals, individuals creating narratives on trauma, and so on can find a palisade. To be horrifically trite, perhaps Glitterbox is the exception to the rule—that all that glitters is, in fact, gold, in truly surprising ways.

For more on the Glitterbox and what they’re up to, click here.

5 Christmas Shows To Put On Your Nice List This Holiday Season

Snowflake 6When the weather outside is frightful, there is no place more delightful than the theater. Companies all around the city of Pittsburgh are offering up holiday-themed shows of all genres to give anyone craving it an extra dose of yuletide cheer. Most of these titles will ring a jingle bell for Christmas-obsessives who grew up watching them on TV with family. All of these wonderful upcoming productions will surely be an early Christmas present for everyone able to see any one of them.

“Unsung” is definitely not the word to describe American composer Irving Berlin’s contributions to the Christmas season. But it strikes me as odd that the person who penned the music and lyrics for the world’s most recorded Christmas song isn’t up there with Santa, his elves, and Ebenezer Scrooge as a face of the holidays. I’m of course talking about “White Christmas” which was first sung by Bing Crosby in the 1942 film Holiday Inn, but eventually grew to even more prominence in its 1952 namesake film also starring Crosby.

white-christmas-marcus-center-show-detailThe stage adaptation of the movie White Christmas, with a book by David Ives and Paul Blake, premiered in 2000 at The Muny and will soon be dancing its way into the Palisade Playhouse. The story, set to a fantastic assortment of Berlin standards including “Happy Holidays”, “Blue Skies”, “Sisters”, and “I Love a Piano”, introduces audiences to two World War II soldiers turned song-and-dance men, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, as they reenter civilian life to become the toast of Broadway. Two beautiful, talented sisters, Betty and Judy Haynes, catch Bob’s and Phil’s eye. Romantic hijinks land the foursome at a lodge in Vermont with no other way to process their feelings for one another but on stage and in song. When the curtain and the snow finally fall, the poetic refrain of the title song echoes through everyone’s hearts.

White Christmas plays at the Palisade Playhouse from November 30 through December 9. For more information, click here.

MDRchristmasStoryFINAL3-890x420If you’re such a huge fan of the classic Christmas comedy A Christmas Story that waiting until Christmas Eve for its 24-hour marathon on TBS is unbearable for you, then you’re in luck this year. In addition to Fox’s presentation of A Christmas Story Live!, The Theatre Factory and Bricolage Production Company are serving up their own unique versions of Ralphie Parker’s hilarious coming of age tale.

Rather than taking a cue from the broader elements of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s A Christmas Story, the Musical, both The Theatre Factory and Bricolage are using Philip Grecian’s straight play adaptation of the 1983 movie (itself an adaptation of Jean Sheperd’s semi-autobiographical short stories) as their source text. All versions of A Christmas Story center around nine year old Ralphie Parker’s relentless quest for what he sees as the ultimate Christmas present, a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. He faces nightmarish pink bunny pajamas, disapproving parents, and disappointing mall Santas along the way, but no obstacle is more persistent than the warning that upon receiving his coveted BB gun he will “shoot his eye out”.

cache_899459874Catherine Kolos is directing The Theatre Factory’s staging of A Christmas Story while Bricolage will be presenting their production as an installment of their live radio play series, “Midnight Radio”. Both companies promise to give fans of the property all the moments from the movies they love from the reveal of the leg lamp to the sticky situation with a child’s tongue and freezing cold metal pole.

The Theatre Factory’s A Christmas Story runs from December 7-17. For more information, click here

Bricolage’s Midnight Radio: A Christmas Story runs from December 7-23. For more information, click here.

If you’re looking for a palate cleanser for all the movie-turned-play/musical productions happening in the area, Little Lake Theatre has you covered with their A Tuna Christmas.

TunaChristmasJaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard’s play might not be as well-known as other shows on this list, but A Tuna Christmas does have a rich history in its own right and with Little Lake Theatre specifically. The show is the second in a trilogy of plays about the fictional town of Tuna, Texas.  For the citizens of Tuna, the holiday season marks the return of their annual Christmas Yard Display Contest. A mysterious vandal known as the “Christmas Phantom” aims to thwart Vera Carp’s 14-year winning streak and ruin the contest for everyone involved. The real twist of A Tuna Christmas is that those characters and a host of others, including everything from a DJ to an aspiring taxidermist to a UFOlogist, are played by only two people.

This raucous comedy is making its return to Little Lake Theatre after several successful engagements in the past. It’s living proof that Christmas classics don’t just live on our television and movie screens.

A Tuna Christmas plays at Little Lake Theatre from November 30 through December 2 and December 7-9 and 14-16. For more information, click here.

002026edbc72d33b4ffddc3b85e9c322_750x600Our fifth theatre recommendation for the Christmas season is, you guessed it, an adaptation of a movie. It’s probably the most famous Christmas story not written by Charles Dickens. It’s being put on at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center. It’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

Philip Van Doren Stern’s short story “The Greatest Gift” inspired Frank Capra’s 1946 movie version of It’s a Wonderful Life, which in turn used George Bailey’s existential crisis to inspire people around the world to be thankful for all that we’re given and all that we give.

When George contemplates suicide on Christmas Eve after a day of mounting frustration with his business and family, a guardian angel by the name of Clarence Odbody intervenes. After seeing proof that George is a good person who has been helping people his entire life, Clarence, at George’s request, shows George what the world would be like if he never existed. That alternate reality is anything but wonderful, but the poignant lesson that George learns and the reward Clarence receives for helping to teach him that lesson are truly timeless and universal symbols of the season.

It’s a Wonderful Life runs at the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center from December 1-3, 7-10, and 14-17. For more information, click here.

Don’t be a Grinch, please check back with Pittsburgh in the Round throughout the month of December for our coverage of each of these shows! Until then, Happy Holidays!

5 Musicals You Don’t Want to Miss This Winter 2017

Welcome to our annual pick of five of must-see musicals this winter. We have a diverse mix that includes two community theatre productions; Annie at Comtra and The Last Five Years by Split Stages at the Theatre Factory. From the University of Pittsburgh, there is the off-Broadway classic Little Shop of Horrors and CMU presents the Drowsy Chaperone Wrapping up our list for this post is the world premiere of Up and Away at the CLO Cabaret.

Yvonne has a separate story coming later this winter on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Ted Papas’ final musical as Producing Artistic Director at the Public Theatre.  If you yearn for a touring Broadway show, the Cultural Trust / PNC Broadway Across America has How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Wicked, Love Never Dies and, The Bodyguard this winter. Lastly, what would the holidays be without the CLO’s annual A Christmas Carol at the Byham.

But now to our winter musical picks:

annieAnnie, Miss Hannigan, Daddy Warbucks and Sandy have been making the rounds of the areas community theatres this past year and Cranberry’s Comtra Theatre has snagged them right before Christmas. Despite having been around for nearly one-hundred years since Harold Gray launched his popular comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” in 1920 they haven’t aged a bit!

In case you just arrived on earth and haven’t heard of Annie, here is the story. She is an orphan who lives in the evil Miss Hannigan’s orphanage. Luckily, she gets sprung for the holidays because she has been chosen to stay over the Christmas holidays at billionaire Oliver Warbuck’s mansion. She is ever so cute and loveable and Annie wins the hearts of Warbucks and his staff.  They Honor her wish to find her parents.  Ms. Hannigan, true to form, schemes to make a buck off the deal with her brother and his “lady friend” to help.

Brent Rodgers returns to Comtra Theatre to direct Annie after last spring’s musical hit Sister Act. Brent is also the musical director at Riverside High School.   He says “You won’t want to miss the beautiful score and heartwarming story of this All-American musical.  We are bound to put everyone in the Christmas spirit!”

Recently produced by Stage 62 and the Palisade Playhouse, the Comtra Theatre features an intimate performance space with affordable tickets. It’s the perfect place to introduce young children to the live theatre experience. As an added bonus, Comtra has a nice troupe of young actors with a focus on family-friendly shows.

Annie, at the Comtra Theatre in Cranberry Township, has performances December 1st to 16th. For dates, shows times and tickets click here

upupThe CLO Cabaret Theatre is a great venue to relax have a drink, some food and enjoy a light-hearted comedy. Up and Away is the CLO’s latest offering in their mission to develop and nurture smaller-scale musicals.  Fifty different characters are played by five actors in this high-flying world-premiere comedy guaranteed to keep the suspense high and the laughs rolling!

The story features brothers Joe and Jerry Jessup who live in the not much happening, very rural hamlet of Farmtown, USA.  When Joe discovers he has superpowers, he naturally high-tails it out of town to seek fame and fortune in “Big City.” He finds trouble instead and forces his jittery brother Jerry to follow which turns their boring life upside down. Toss in an eccentric billionaire, a plucky reporter, and dastardly villains, and you’ve got the rip-roaring adventure tale of the world’s FIRST superhero.

Up and Away at the CLO Cabaret in Theatre Square has performances beginning January 25th through April 15, 2018. For tickets and times click here

l5ySplit Stage Productions wraps their season with The Last Five Years, an emotional and intimate musical with an interesting storytelling approach. Jamie Wellerstein and Cathy Hiatt are two New Yorkers in their twenties who fall in and out of love over the course of five years. The show uses reverse storytelling; Cathy is a struggling actress, who tells her story in reverse while Jamie, a rising novelist, reveals his story chronologically from when they first met.  What is theatrically interesting here is the two characters play opposite of each other and are only together on stage once, at their wedding, in the middle of the timeline.

The Last Five Years plays January 26th to February 3rd at The Theatre Factory in Trafford. For tickets and more information click here.

lsohAs winter drags on and you long for the Spring Flower Show at the Phipps, The University of Pittsburgh’s Drama Department has just the right solution, Little Shop of Horrors, a musical about a plant! Well, it is not just any plant, but a foul-mouthed, alien R&B-singing carnivore plant. A milquetoast floral assistant, Seymour Krelborn stumbles across a new breed of a plant which, he names “Audrey II” – after his coworker crush. Audrey II promises unending fame and fortune to the down and out Krelborn as long as he keeps feeding it. It loves BLOOD. Over time, Seymour discovers Audrey II’s out of this world origins and intent towards global domination!

Reginald Douglas, the Artistic Producer at the City Theatre, directs this Off-Broadway classic by playwright Alan Menkin and Howard Ashman’s the creative geniuses behind Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Beauty and The Beast, and Aladdin.

Little Shop of Horrors in performance at Charity Randall Theatre on Pitt’s campus from February 8th to February 18th.  For tickets call 412.624.PLAY (7529)

tdcThis university theatre season is a feast for musical theatre fans and that unique musical form, the musical within a musical. Point Park this fall produced Kiss Me Kate (to be seen on Broadway in 2019 with Kellie O’Hara) and it has the classic 42nd Street scheduled this spring. Carnegie Mellon grabs the winter slot with The Drowsy Chaperone, a loving send-up of the Jazz Age musical, it is Directed and Choreographed by Tony Award-nominated (Ragtime) Marcia Milgrom Dodge with Musical Direction by Pittsburgh’s Thomas Douglas.

When a diehard theatre fan plays his favorite cast album the recording comes to life and The Drowsy Chaperone begins as the man in the chair looks on. Mix in two lovers on the eve of their wedding, a bumbling best man, a desperate theatre producer, a not-so-bright hostess, two gangsters posing as pastry chefs, a misguided Don Juan and an intoxicated chaperone, and you have the ingredients for an evening of madcap delight that involves gangsters, show people, millionaires, servants and of course tap dancing!

The Drowsy Chaperone “does what a musical is supposed to do! It takes you to another world and it gives you a little tune to carry in your head for when you’re feeling blue…”

Carnegie Mellon’s production of Drowsy Chaperone runs February 22nd to March 3rd. For tickets click here. 

Once again, the Pittsburgh area theatre companies provide a winter filled with almost enough (Is there ever?) singing and dancing to satisfy any musical theatre nerds’ passion. For those of you still on the fence about musicals, check out this clip from Something Rotten at the 2015 Tony Awards https://vimeo.com/139792908

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 http://www.aftershocktheatre.com/.

Photos taken from Aftershock’s Facebook Page.

Danielle Pastin – Homegrown “Countess” to Grace Pittsburgh Opera’s “The Marriage of Figaro”

Marriage-of-Figaro-2For the second production of its current season, Pittsburgh Opera is offering an excellent cast in Mozart’s perennial favorite, The Marriage of Figaro. That this 18th century comic story of romance and mistaken identity continues to delight audiences over 200 years after its first performance might surprise Mozart himself, but his fascinating music will probably keep it on the stage for many years to come. As mentioned in a previous Figaro review, even Albert Einstein was awed by Mozart’s compositions. “Beethoven created his music,” he once wrote, “but the music of Mozart is of such purity and beauty that one feels he merely found it – that it has always existed as part of the inner beauty of the universe waiting to be revealed.”

Judging from photographs, The Marriage of Figaro will be as impressively mounted as the opening production of Tosca. Directed by David Paul and conducted by Antony Walker, the performances will take on added interest in the fact that four of the leading roles will be taken by singers entirely new to Pittsburgh Opera. From the Metropolitan Opera comes the American bass-baritone Tyler Simpson in the role of Figaro. His impressive resume includes international opera and concert appearances. Baritone Christian Bowers, another American with successes at home and abroad, will appear as the Count Almaviva. Soprano Joélle Harvey, who has made a specialty of Mozart and Händel roles, will introduce to Pittsburgh audiences her interpretation of Susanna, one of her “signature” parts. She, too, is an American, as is Brian Kontes, who will appear as Dr. Bartolo. He possesses a “dark bass and strong dramatic energy,” according to Opera News, and while he will be making his Pittsburgh Opera debut, his professional debut took place here in 1998, when he appeared as Elder McLean in Carlyle Floydʼs Susannah at the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh.

Resident Artists, past and present, are included in the cast as well. Corrie Stallings, the recent prize-winner in the prestigious “Mildred Miller International Voice Competition,” will appear in the charming “pants role” of Cherubino – a part sung by Mildred Miller herself at the Metropolitan Opera well over fifty times. Leah de Gruyl will be heard as Marcellina; Eric Ferring will do double duty as Don Basilio and Curzio; Andy Berry will sing Antonio, and Ashley Fabian, Barbarina.

Count (Christian Bowers) and Countess Almaviva (Danielle Pastin)
Count (Christian Bowers) and Countess Almaviva (Danielle Pastin)

Last but by no means least, as the saying goes, Pittsburgh’s own Danielle Pastin will appear as the Countess Almaviva. This exceptionally gifted soprano is no stranger to local opera audiences, and those familiar with her work won’t be surprised to read that Opera News considers hers to be “one of the most sheerly beautiful voices on the scene today,” possessing a “lovely demeanor and irresistibly creamy timbre.” I admit to being a great admirer of the singer, and was thrilled when she agreed to take the time to answer a few questions about the upcoming production of The Marriage of Figaro.

“The cast is superb,” she said, “so it will truly be a wonderfully sung and acted production. We’re having a really great time putting this opera together, and I think that will only continue, once we hit the stage and start getting feedback from the audience.” Her role is one that truly hits the ground running, since the second act curtain rises on her first appearance and she is required to launch into one of the opera’s best known arias. Not being a singer, I have always wanted to ask someone who is how one prepares for what seems to this layman an extremely daunting task.

Figaro (Tyler Simpson), Susanna (Joélle Harvey), Count (Christian Bowers) and Countess Almaviva (Danielle Pastin)
Figaro (Tyler Simpson), Susanna (Joélle Harvey), Count (Christian Bowers) and Countess Almaviva (Danielle Pastin)

“It all comes down to the warm up time,” was Ms. Pastin’s response. “It takes me twice as long to warm up for a role like this, because, as you say, the first appearance I make is singing my first aria. It has to be a well thought out warm up, too, because I have to make sure I don’t over warm, which would make it harder to access the lower middle part of my range, which is where the Countess’s music mostly lies. Typically I do my usual warm up and then sing through the aria at least once in my dressing room before heading to the stage.”

Ms. Pastin’s career has taken her to cities and venues stretching across this country and the Atlantic. Yet she is a Pittsburgh resident. The inevitable question – “Why?” – received a response that, quite frankly, came as no surprise.

“Pittsburgh always feels like home,” she began, then enthusiastically continued: “I graduated from the Pittsburgh Opera Young Artist Program in 2010 and decided to stay in Pittsburgh for a couple of reasons. I have a lot of family in the area, including my parents.

“And it’s such a great city to live in! I love the vibe that the city projects and the restaurants that are popping up keep getting better and better. I love that Pittsburgh supports so many arts organizations and that they continue to thrive, while at the same time it supports our sports teams. I also love that no matter where I travel in the world, I can always find a STEELERS bar! That says something about how great Pittsburgh is.”

The words of a true Pittsburgh “Countess” and Steelers fan.

For tickets, performance dates and much more, please visit Pittsburgh Opera. I have a hunch that “The Marriage of Figaro” will be one of the highlights of the company’s present season.

David Bachman Photography

Corset Up and Remember to Breathe

downloadCorsets on stage: Sometimes we see them, sometimes we don’t. Corsets have certainly made a comeback since designer Coco Chanel knocked them out of daily wear for early 20th century women. However, actors and singers often find themselves wearing corsets as part of period costumes for roles set in anywhere from the 1500s to early 1900s.

This week, there’s a noticeable intersection of laced up undergarments with singers in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh singer Kara Cornell sings the role of sculptress Camille Claudel, an artist in her own right who was assistant to Auguste Rodin, in Into the Fire for Resonance Works | Pittsburgh on Friday and Saturday. The New York Times described the piece as one that “compresses a tragic life of operatic dimensions into a song cycle of great beauty and emotional resonance.”

Kara Cornell
Kara Cornell

On Sunday, final contestants in Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s Mildred Miller International Voice Competition sing at The Frick as “Undressed  – The History of Fashion in Underwear” has its weekend. The show features historical undergarments at the Point Breeze museum. Up to 10 singers selected during sessions (free to the public on Saturday at Carnegie Mellon College of Fine Arts) will compete for cash prizes and summer season roles. Those attending can take the exhibit before the contest and during intermission while the judges deliberate.

Kara shared her perspective as a singer most frequently corseted for one of her recurring roles, Carmen in Bizet’s opera. She’s twice sung the role for Pittsburgh Festival Opera as well as many other companies. The mezzo soprano is also often cast in “trouser roles”, but Kara brings a career singer’s perspective to the corset as a costume piece.

PITR: How often have you worn a corset for a role?

Cornell as Carmen
Cornell as Carmen

Kara: I really only wear a corset when I sing in Carmeneither the title role or the secondary character of Mercedes. So I don’t wear a corset for all of my performings, but I do Carmen enough that I decided to buy my own corset.

I’ve been able to dodge the corset in a lot of Handel and Mozart operas because I usually play the boy/men in those operas! Lucky me! As a singer who does not enjoy being bound up, I am lucky to have only worn tight corsets on the outside of my costume.

PITR:  Some say breathing against the corset might be at first different but a sometimes helpful experience. How does a singer learn to adapt to underpinnings that might appear to hinder breathing?

Kara:  Some of my colleagues really enjoy singing with a corset, and wear their personal corset under their audition outfit! The reason for this is because some singers like to feel a resistance when they breathe – expansion of the ribs is important for a lot of singers, so pushing the ribs against a corset or a tight dress helps them feel engaged around their entire ribcage.

Before I purchased my own corset, I would expand my ribs before I was tied into the corset. Sometimes they would be so tight that I couldn’t breathe! The corset I purchased ends above my belly button, so it makes me feel like I can let my stomach expand and I’m not as smushed.

PITR:  The sculptress Camille Claudel would have worn an Edwardian Corset, which creates a different silhouette than prior eras. It was known not only to constrict the waist and changed the emphasis on the stomach, but it caused the hips to jut out. Some women developed back injuries.

Kara:  I could also imagine Camille Claudel going sans corset, as she needed to have mobility in her body, in order to sculpt.

PITR:  Costumers also have multiple challenges…

Kara:  Buying my own assures that I have a well fitting corset that makes me look great AND makes me feel like I can still breathe. Another big issue with outer corsets is removing them quickly–if there is a quick change into another costume, untying a corset can be a real pain to do in 15 seconds.

Also, many quick changes happen in minimal lighting, because there isn’t always time to run back to the dressing room. The lack of light behind the stage curtain also makes it hard to see where the ties are on the corset, so a lot of time can be wasted. Some costume designers therefore cut a corset vertically and add velcro. This seems like a nice idea, but doesn’t always work because now the singer’s breathing can literally pop open the velcro!

22366282_10155832145656974_1927005191475115616_nOf course, singers in concert while singing from a role would not bring their own corset along for events such as Resonance Works program or a recital setting like the Miller Competition. No such trappings “out of costume” for these singers. But when you’re attending a full-out Elizabeth, Victorian, and Edwardian period production you may assume the actresses are in corsets. Most often, cast members work “laced up” for the whole show.

Aspects of period movement that include sitting, standing, and breathing in a corset are part of training. Nothing may accentuate one’s waist like a corset, but, then again, nothing may bring on the “vapors” as quickly on a hot day.

Women in the 20th century may have merrily torn off their corsets or burnt their bras, but laced undergarments give us an idea of the women who went before–how they had to get dressed (often only with assistance) and how their movement was limited while corseted.

On stage, knowing yourself and your corset are requirements for a good experience on stage. Just remember to breathe!

About the Events

Into the Fire/A Poet’s Love is presented by Resonance Works | Pittsburgh on Friday at 8 pm, PYCO School of Music Recital Hall, Wexford, and Saturday at 8 pm, Levy Hall, Rodef Shalom Congregation, Oakland.

The Mildred Miller International Voice Competition of Pittsburgh Festival Opera finals take place on Sunday from 2 to 5 pm in the intimate auditorium of the Frick Art & Historical Center, Point Breeze. A special online promo code for PITR readers (MILLER2017) now provides tickets for $10. All students are admitted free.

On Saturday, admission is free for all to hear the 20 semifinalists sing from 11 am to 1 pm and 3 to 6 pm, Kresge Theatre, Carnegie Mellon College of Fine Arts.

Undressed: A History of Fashion in Underwear opens on Saturday, October 12 at the Frick. Those attending the Miller finals on Sunday may also visit the Frick galleries.

PICT Teaches Romeo and Juliet Lessons in the Neighborhood

rj-431x500When a door opens to create new productions in a historic spaces, creative opportunities are revealed. Now, PICT Classic Theatere brings classic stories to two of Pittsburgh’s most storied settings–the Fred Rogers Studio of WQED-TV in Oakland and The Frick Art & Historical Center in Point Breeze.

This season, Artistic Director Alan Stanford leads as key storyteller to stage classics that fill an important niche in our regional arts menu. He will direct both Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Oct. 20-Nov. 4, and his own adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, April 5-28, in the studio where Mister Rogers was produced. Between adventures in production at WQED, the company takes up residence at the Frick Art & Historical Center for a week of Oscar Wilde programming, Dec. 6-10, in the museum’s lovely and intimate theater.

While many Pittsburghers already relate to the Rogers’ Studio as home of  “The Land of Make Believe,” PICT will bring it’s own versions of imagined stories to life.

Stanford considers the space one of the best block theaters in the city. Equipped for versatile television production, the studio will accommodate a 160-seat audience configuration.

PICT’s 100th production, this R&J takes a modern approach in playing out the timely themes Shakespeare explored via two teens whose affections cross the lines of feuding families. As this play is set in Italy, Stanford moves the action stateside to an Italian-American community suggesting New York’s Little Italy in the 1930s.

“You could set this play anywhere in the world at any time,” says Stanford. “The important point about the play that is true and has been true for over 400 years is that it’s a play about the damage that families and their feuds can do to their children.”

Stanford usually produces one Shakespeare play each season and he realizes the popularity of Romeo and Juliet might cloud the audience’s’ view of its importance for revisiting the play and often.  “This is one everyone should watch now and again–especially if you have children,” he says.

He points to the prologue’s clear foreshadowing: “Two households both alike in dignity. Shakespeare tells you that the two protagonists die and that they are not superior to one another.”  

Stanford is excited about the young pair he is directing in the title roles. Adrianne Knapp is Juliet and Dylan Meyers is her Romeo.

The meddling Nurse and Friar Laurence are played by PICT regulars Karen Baum and James FitzGerald. Art Peden is Prince of the turbulent neighborhood.

Cast in the Capulet house are: Martin Giles, Lord Capulet; Shammen McCune, Lady Capulet; Daniel Pivovar, Tybalt; Jonathan Visser, Paris; and Christopher Collier, Gregory. Portraying some of Romeo’s friends on the Montague side are: Alec Silberblatt, Mercutio; and Lamar K. Cheston, Benvolio. Rounding out the cast of 15 are: Matt Henderson, Sampson/Peter; Eric Freitas, Friar John/Abram; and Sarah Carleton, Girl 1.

PICT’s seasons continues on the East End moving from Shakespeare to writers Oscar Wilde and Charlotte Bronte as the company moves to Point Breeze and back to Oakland.

At the Frick for “Wilde at the Frick”, PICT presents a week-long exploration of Oscar Wilde and varied aspects of his life and works. Stanford loves the Center’s ambiance and its popular cafe, saying, “Afternoon tea is one of the secrets of Pittsburgh!”

On the work to be done, “I’ve been an Oscar Wilde fan all of my life. Oscar was majestic with language.” Stanford points out that while audiences enjoy many of Wilde’s works as English comedies, that “he really wrote a lot of Irish satires about the English.”

Stanford’s describes the dramatist as “a philosopher” who, like Dickens, wrote “brilliant articles” on the unjust imprisonment of children and social issues.

The play In the Company of Oscar Wilde has its US premiere with just five performances beginning on  Dec. 6. Crafted from Wilde’s words and writing, the dramatic piece draws a portrait of the brilliant writer who created some of the most enduring plays of the Edwardian era and a man who was imprisoned for homosexuality around his affair with a younger man, Bosie Douglas.

On Dec. 10 only, the company presents a rare dramatic evening about Wilde’s third trial based on the scarce documentation of the events as reconstructed by the writer’s grandson Merlin Holland. PICT describes the program as: “A recreation of the final cross-examination of Wilde by Sir William Carson at the famous trial of the Marquis of Queensbury, a dramatic exchange that cost Oscar his freedom and reputation.” A post-show discussion follows.

Coincidently, the Frick’s current exhibit is “Undressed”, on the history of undergarments, and open at times coinciding with some PICT events. Consult The Frick website for details.

For families and all ages, the company also performs two of Wilde’s beloved fairy tales, The Happy Prince and The Selfish Giant, written for his two sons. The one-hour program takes place only on Sat., Dec. 9 at 2 pm, with tickets at just $10.

PICT returns to the Rogers Studio for Jane Eyre, April 5-28, with the adaptation Stanford originally wrote on commission for the Gate Theatre in Dublin. An audience favorite at companies including the Guthrie Theater, the story of a governess and the secrets that haunt her beloved and his family.  

Stanford expects to share more news from PICT as the season continues. Watch for updates and visit the website to guarantee tickets as seating capacities for these intimate and compelling events: http://www.picttheatre.org.

off the WALL Opens 2017-2018 Season with I Won’t Be in on Monday

22221868_1114709611993019_4043785944263293857_nProvocation. Undaunting steadfastness. Ruthless, feckless talent. Unwaveringly, emboldened authenticity.

These are descriptors which cling to one’s thoughts when one considers the works and mission of innovative theatre Pittsburgh theatre company, Off the WALL productions. Fiercely committed to not only supporting but rapaciously pursuing the cleverest, most scintillating, and quintessentially groundbreaking feminist pieces of dramaturge, Off the Wall is a theatre company which prides itself on an unwavering commitment to portraying the equality and complexity of human experiences. To date, the company’s productions have explored the viscera of fractious, cobwebbed relationships (Lungs); the rueful and joyful experience of a woman learning excavating her deepest self in a one-woman-show (Mother Lode); the agonizing and labyrinth-esque unending process of accepting and bestowing love amidst the myriad vexations of existing as a woman (Tunnel Vision); and a one-woman physical memoir of life as a stripper Sex Werque. While every unique and vivaciously performed piece is characterized by either a distinctly feminine voice/perspective, or an indomitable female character (particularly notable in the company’s fascinating season-project of staging a collection of one-woman shows), the shows are not necessarily feminist manifestos or creeds translated into theatrical productions. Rather, off the WALL is responsible for theatre that highlights and emphasizes the everyday woman and the extraordinariness of the banal or everyday in a way that challenges the viewer to reconceive of entire worlds through a feminist-minded lens.

When corresponding with Virginia Wall Gruenert, Executive Artistic Director for off the WALL and frequent onstage presence for the shows, the aim of the company’s upcoming season and the fascinating new show I Won’t Be in on Monday is to carry on this exhilarating tradition of presenting pieces with multidimensional and robust women. As Gruenert explains, I Won’t be in… “tells the story of a troubled yet optimistic woman with dreams (delusions?) of a better life. She is strong and vulnerable at the same time. She is hopeful. She is real.” To rely on the perhaps trite adage, the female lead of I Won’t Be in… encompasses multitudes, but maybe not in the way that demands people directly interact with a feminist narrative. Rather, her complexities and the vicissitudes of her selfhood in the face of a curious circumstance are astoundingly feminist in their own right. This is to say, the play’s plot—a high-powered financial worker (Nikki) is interrogated by a detective after the disappearance of very expensive rings—and the clever snark that courses through it, embody a feminism that should be apparent in the everyday. I Won’t Be in… capitalizes upon and carries on off the WALL’s strident commitment to narratives in which seemingly irrelevant or aberrant occurrences nestled within the mundane act as a catalyst for larger thought or dialogues, specifically thoughts and dialogues pertaining to women and female voices. Directed by Austin Pendleton, who has worked extensively as an Off-Broadway director as well as in film and television, I Won’t Be in… is written by Anne Stockton, whose creative candor and relationship with off the WALL ensures a production which will immerse viewers in a theatrical reconceptualization of feminine voice and experientiality.

In Gruenert’s own words, I Won’t Be In… and plays of that ilk epitomize and carry on the company’s mission of heading “forward, forward, forward, with no looking back…to many, it’s controversial to us, it’s the right thing to do.” Indeed, many of off the WALL’s productions have raised obdurate eyebrows, particularly Ella Mason’s aforementioned one-woman show Sex Werque chronicling the performer’s stint as a stripper. The show, which Gruenert eloquently describes, captures the “emotional and economic forces; the movement vocabulary; the masks; and the moments of authentic connection” that are involved in the very complicated and emotional line of work. The show perhaps best typifies the company’s mission—a piece that does not put experience or gender on a hierarchy, but portrays a human experience in its most raw and intimate fashion (and elevates the female voice throughout). However, the show was not without pushback (and some sensational rebuttal from the show’s stupendous defenders). But perhaps, in a time as dishearteningly draconian as our current socio-political climate, provocation and pushback in theatre are absolutely necessary for fundamental progress and change. As Gruenert notes, the disparity in female and male-authored dramaturgical pieces are staggering. The Theatre Communications Group indicated that of the 1,946 productions from the 411 theatre members in the group, the male-to-female author ratio was 63-26. Thus, off the WALL’s dedication to “recognizing, respecting, and honoring the female voice in American theater” is of the utmost importance. Given their recent ICWP 50/50 Applause Award, off the WALL is continuing their monumental efforts in both the theatrical realm and the realm of social attentiveness.

I Won’t Be in on Monday opens at Carnegie Stage on October 12. For tickets and more information, click here. 

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.