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.

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 www.BricolagePGH.org.

SHOW DESCRIPTION

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.

12 Peers Presents Pittsburgh Plays in First Installment of Mythburgh

21752367_1973464016000784_6131844286900303418_nWhile I grew up in southwestern Pennsylvania, I moved away as a teenager and only moved back to Pittsburgh-proper this year after a long interregnum. My relationship with the city kind of feels like that aunt you see every other Thanksgiving – somewhat familiar and you know you’re related, but it’s a little awkward as you’re lacking on shared experiences and knowing each other’s nuances.

Given this, I was wondering just how much of an outsider I’d feel like at 12 Peers Theater’s inaugural production of their new Mythburgh series that focuses on Pittsburgh-specific stories. My concerns eased as soon as I walked into the Brillobox. This is the first play I’ve seen in a bar, and there was something immediately relaxing about the setting. People were warmly mingling, and there was the usual din of bar chatter, nothing to indicate this was about to become a theatrical space beyond the regular performance antics of people with alcohol. There was no territoriality in staking out your assigned bingo-like seat number or squeezing past knees to claim a vacant spot as the space was mostly stand-rooming only, another theatrical first for me.

It was easy to gloss over the simple, makeshift stage with two chairs and a small table nestled in front of three towering windows separated by panels of Dr. Seuss-inspired red polka dot wallpaper. In a delightful surprise turn, director Nick Mitchell chose to stage the first play, Brian Edward’s Close Encounters of the Yinzer Kind or Super Bowl Forty, not on the stage but at a ledge-like table jutting out from a side wall, an appropriate choice given the play’s focus is two Southside locals sharing a story in a bar.

In another thoughtful directorial decision, Mitchell has the play start in media res. There was no formal announcement or sign the play was commencing, so most people missed the actual opening as twin brothers Donny (Joe York) and Melvin (Hank Fodor) lumber into the bar and order beer. They shout to be heard, and the gathered crowd gradually quieted in the collective realization this must be the play starting. York and Fodor are well-cast. They believably convey the casual ease between brothers that allows you to call each other jagoffs while still finishing each other’s sentences. They dominate the space both physically, bushy beards and shirts straining over their XXL heft, and verbally, locals who flick off the play’s attendee occupying their table with a casual “Get the fuck outta here.” Edward as a Pittsburgh native clearly has an ear for regional tones that he captures in the brothers’ speech, and also liberally peppers his work with local references from Primanti Brothers and PennDOT to Giant Eagle and CoGo’s.

Edward’s narrative comfortably vacillates between the broader story of the twin brothers, their shared 26-year tenure with PennDOT on the 4 am deer removal shift, and the specific story they share, which takes place at their house during Super Bowl XL. Edward wisely realizes he doesn’t even need to mention for this audience that the Steelers creamed the Seahawks, but for Donny and Melvin, the game is memorably interrupted by the arrival of an extraterrestrial visitor.

The supernatural carries over to the second play, Molly Rice’s Swami Matt and the Ghost Kiss. In the break between Close Encounters and Swami Matt, fortuneteller’s assistant Stella (played by Moira Quigley) circulated the room, chatting up attendees as she cracked her gum. While Rice draws Stella’s character a bit one-dimensionally, director Rusty Thelin helps Quigley hits that note well. Quigley elicits easy laughter as she memorably squeezes the accordion at key moments. Her croptop with the lipstick kiss print is hard to forget, a literal visual imprint of the love she’s seeking and a foreshadowing of the play’s ending where she hits on, then leaves with, the bartender.

The play ends up being a hybrid of improvisation and the scripted, and it’s abundantly more successful in its scripted portion. In the first two sequences, fortuneteller Swami Matt (played by Matt Henderson) visibly struggles with improvisation. The woman next to me was the first called on-stage when the fortuneteller conjures a reference to the “fighting Quakers” (the woman’s school mascot) from a slip of paper Stella hands him. Swami Matt closes each session with a rushed utterance of “Okay thanks,” and there’s palpable relief in those words.

In the third and final sequence, which is clearly all scripted, Henderson is better able to find his stride once he can focus on form over content creation. It’s a Groundhog Day narrative where Swami Matt gets the same name and is forced to retell the same story each night. As the story progresses, the emotion valence deepens. Although Henderson struggles to make it fully believable, you realize it’s not a mythical tale. This is a veiled story about Matt himself.

This past May, I ran my first marathon, and I was surprised to find the Pittsburgh marathon was as much about Pittsburgh as the running. There was something unexpectedly powerful and pride-inducing in running past Pittsburgh landmarks and across the city’s bridges, a heightened awareness that you’re part of something bigger. Similarly, Mythburgh connects you to our city, engendering pride and reminding us as we look around and laugh together that we’re more similar than different, a comforting reminder in a world that can feel divisive as you scroll your newsfeed. We not only get it – pierogies, chipped ham and Steeler nation – it’s part of us.

There will be 2 more installments of 12 Peer’s Mythburgh presented at Brillobox October 22 and November 19. Tickets to Mythburgh are always Name Your Own Price but you can find out more here. 

Everything Old Is New Again: The Silver Theater Project

stpPlaywright Michael McGovern has founded the Silver Theater Project to create an opportunity for older actors and playwrights to have their voices heard. When one takes into account the age demographic of the theatre-going public at large there seems to be logic in this concept.

Silver Theater launched this past Sunday with a Salon Style (actors seated) reading of two short plays. McGovern’s vision calls for readings monthly to garner support for the project and start serious fundraising as a newly sanctioned 501c3 non-profit. On the horizon, a February fundraiser, spring cabaret and fully staged production next fall.

Retrospect by Kim El started the evening’s performance. Three African-American women. Two nieces and their matriarch aunt gather for a Mother’s Day Brunch. One niece is a stay at home mom, the other a hard-driving career woman. As the brunch progresses, with lubrication provided by a few Long Island Ice Teas, the two young women open up about their life choices and their envy of the life they did not choose.

For an actor, reading seated removes some of their tools, both powerful and subtle, forcing the audience to concentration on the playwright’s words above all else.  In this piece’s staging, the actors were on floor level with the audience, creating a “play on the radio” feeling for the audience

The second play of the evening was founder McGovern’s Coffee and Kisses, a short play in four scenes set in a coffee shop. A man meets a woman and flirts, the man asks the woman out. The woman counters with an invitation to a cocktail party. The man accepts if dinner follows, but asks if a friend can join him. The initial connection felt at the coffee shop refocuses at the party which occurs between scene three and four. The outcome is not as expected, but none the less if both funny and cute in the style of an old Carey Grant / Kathrine Hepburn screwball comedy. In this presentation, the actors were mostly seated and visible by the audience, creating a more engaging experience for all.

Retrospect is the more serious of the two, read by Jacqueline Flowers as the sassy Aunt, Katy Cotton, Dominique Briggs as the nieces and Bria Williams as the helpful waitress. Pittsburgh-born poet, playwright, actor and director Kim El has her BA from Duquesne University and has written fifteen plays.

Coffee and Kisses dialogue and situations generated generous laughter throughout as read by Cindy West, Brian Czarniecki, Jane Scuteri-Tinker, Randy Berner and Janet Pazzynski. Michael McGovern received his BFA in Theatre from Point Park College and his MFA in Playwriting from Carnegie-Mellon University. His work has been seen in New York and Pittsburgh.

The Silver Theater project is a great opportunity be both entertained and to be exposed to a different set of veteran actors and playwrights in the Pittsburgh region on a regular reoccurring basis. Bravo for an enjoyable first event! It will be fun to follow the Silver Theater Projects evolution

The next Silver Theatre Project event will be Sunday, October 22nd featuring a Salon Reading of the play Be Still My Heart. The performance is at 7:30 pm at the Glitter Box Theatre on Melwood Avenue. A donation of $10 per person is requested at the door.

For more information, connect with The Silver Theater Project on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheSilverTheaterProject

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

21558947_1589498057738984_6722449227359433515_nI think many would agree that we could use more compassion in this world. I’m guessing though that most would not look to a concert musical about female serial killers as a possible outlet. Surprise, Pittsburgh! Real/Time Interventions, a local theater company, is debuting Angelmakers: Songs for Female Serial Killers this October at Aftershock Theatre in Lawrenceville. The show is a cabaret concert featuring a slate of songs performed from the perspective of women who have killed. Lyricist and composer Molly Rice notes that the work is coming from a place of inquiry and empathy, “The play is about more than sensationalizing stories. These women were born a certain way, and a thought I had was— how can we open the definition of human race to include even those who are born with a fascination with violence? Wow, if we can do that, what kind of empathic culture can we be?”

Years before Angelmakers was conceived, Director Rusty Thelin began researching and writing a play about serial killers that never came to fruition. During that period he came across a book called Female Serial Killers: How and Why Women Become Monsters by Peter Vronsky, which inspired Angelmakers. Part of what drew Thelin back to the material was that female serial killers are in general less sociopathic and more often than not there are societal reasons behind their motivation to murder. He said, “They unmask a deeper idea about society- there is a lot of darkness underneath. It’s really disturbing and bleak.”

Rice pointed out that, “There were a lot of women who became serial killers because they had to get out of a situation. For example, there was a big rush of serial killers in the 1800’s and there were reasons for it. One was the Industrial Revolution where everybody was poor and struggling and had large families, so if you had too many family members that couldn’t work anymore they were draining resources and the other thing that happened was arsenic came onto the market as an everyday thing that you could buy at the drugstore to kill rats. It does sort of demonstrate how inequality can lead to the creation of so-called monsters in our society.”

Rice though was quick to note that not all of the women portrayed in Angelmakers are the victims of capitalism. One noted serial killer profiled is Countess Elizabeth Bathory de Ecsed, who was a woman of noble status in Transylvania. She believed that by bathing in the blood of virgin girls, she would remain young and beautiful. Also of note, at the time of my conversation with Rice and Thelin, no women of color were featured in the production due to the fact that most female serial killers are white.

Thelin and Rice created the work as a way to examine the lives of these often misunderstood and maligned women. The songs are, according to Rice, imagined moments in these women’s lives. The characters portrayed say what they would want to say if the could talk to us now. Rice said, “For example, Aileen Wurnos, she comes back and says, ‘You know if I hadn’t been born in Michigan, everything might have been different’, and that is something she actually did say in her interviews—in other words, it was so cold, and If I hadn’t been kicked out of my house and had to turn tricks to survive, things might have been different.”

Pittsburgh audiences may recall a 2015 Real/Time Intervention work that was staged in collaboration with local artists and Bricolage Production Company called the Saints Tour: Greater Braddock. I believe we can expect this work to be another challenging and gracious entry into this company’s oeuvre. Supporters and curiosity seekers can be sated before October by coming out to the company’s fundraiser this Thursday, September 28 at Cattivo, where revellers will get to perform karaoke to a special song list about murder and mayhem. Don’t miss out!

Angelmakers: Songs for Female Serial Killers opens at the Aftershock Theatre in Lawrenceville on October 25. For more information on the show and their fundraiser, check out their Facebook page. 

Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company Represents In Its New Season

15202584_10154240854639482_3157747837221990337_nIf you enjoyed the historical gravitas of The Homestead Strike of 1892, get ready for a whole group of productions spearheaded by that show’s playwright, Mark Clayton Southers. He is the artistic director and founder of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company, and is responsible for bringing more diversity, representation, and originality to the city’s theatre scene. It’s not normally a compliment to call something “more of the same”, but when it comes to PPTCo’s 2017-2018 season in comparison to the company’s acclaimed past productions, that statement is a compliment and the truth.

An exciting regional premiere will set the tone for another unforgettable year of shows. Eugene Lee’s East Texas Hot Links opens on September 29th and plays at PPTCO’s downtown penthouse theater space through November 5th.

21728303_10155106170854482_5179045031400984274_nThe play takes place in 1955 but, unfortunately, the insidious actions of the KKK that underscores the daily lives of black Texans who congregate at Charlesetta’s Top o’ the Hill Cafe in the play still underscore the lives of Americans today. The violence has even cost some young men in the town their lives. A man named Delmus blows into the cafe one night determined to celebrate good news in his life, but his friends find it harder to get in the spirit. They all strive to make a normal night like any other, but their efforts are in vain. East Texas Hot Links comes to Pittsburgh after earning raves in multiple Chicago productions in 1995 and 2016.

heat-of-the-night-IMG_7327-300x216PPTCO’s next production, In the Heat of the Night, is also a resurrection of an established property. John Ball’s novel has inspired an Academy Award-winning film starring Sidney Poitier, an Emmy-winning television series, and this stage adaptation by playwright Matt Pelfrey.

This thriller takes place in Argo, Alabama in the dead of summer 1962. When the body of a dead white man is discovered, the blame for the murder quickly lands on the mysterious Virgil Tibbs. Much to the chagrin of the people that judged him solely based on his skin color, it turns out that Tibbs is himself a homicide detective. With all the town’s judgmental and fearful eyes on him, Tibbs agrees to take on the case., but finds that he may have met his match this time. Solve the mystery alongside Tibbs as In the Heat of the Night plays from February 16th to March 25th.

joe-turner-IMG_7329-300x171Iconic Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Pittsburgh native August Wilson chronicled the life of African-Americans in each decade of the 20th century with his 10-part series called “The Pittsburgh Cycle”. Joe Turner’s Come and Gone takes place during the 1910’s and sees its characters still reeling from the aftershocks of slavery.

A Pittsburgh boarding house is the destination for many descendants of slaves migrating from the south to the north where they can fully embrace the freedom they won in the Civil War. Father and daughter Herald and Zonia Loomis are not only trying to escape their past but are also pursuing their long lost wife/mother. When the Loomises reach the boarding house, they (Herald specifically) immediately butt heads with owner Seth Holly and eventually warm up to his wife and fellow owner Bertha. The Hollys, Loomises and other transient residents of the boarding house all rely on each other to come to terms with the fact that an era of their lives and of their race has come to an end.

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone marks the return of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company to the historic home of August Wilson at 1727 Bedford Avenue after last season’s production of Seven Guitars. Joe Turner… runs from April 27th to June 3rd.

Don’t worry about Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company’s downtown space being neglected while Joe Turner’s Come and Gone takes over August Wilson’s former home. Overlapping that run from May 31st to June 10th back at Liberty Avenue is the 13th Theatre Festival in Black and White.

This signature annual event is no longer just a PPTCo tradition but also something that all avid theatre patrons in the city look forward to every year. The goal of the festival is to produce a collection of short new plays by up and coming and established writers alike. PPTCo’s twist on this familiar formula is the pairing of white directors and black playwrights and black directors with white playwrights to create theatre that combines those two unique points of view.

energy-1024-300x169This year’s theme is “Energy”. A play that I wrote was featured in the festival a few years ago, and I can’t say enough how culturally and artistically enriching the experience was for me. I can definitely in good faith promise the same for audiences who attend the upcoming festival.

Whether your theatrical preference is for time-tested classics, inventive adaptations, or intriguing new works, Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company has you covered.

For tickets and more on Pittsburgh Playwright’s upcoming season, check out their website here. And stay tuned for our reviews throughout the year!

Photos taken from PPTCo’s website.  

PNWF – New Works from Around the World: Part 3

This third post covers the Pittsburgh New Works Festival (PNWF) Programs C & D! Six new one-act plays will be produced during this portion of the festival, all performed at the Carnegie Stage in Carnegie. If you missed the first post on PNWF check it out hereand the second one here

“One of my favorite parts about the festival is that since they are all new plays, the stories are all a surprise.”

Andy Coleman, PNWF Communications Director

Detailed ticket information follows at the end of this post. For more information about the festival visit http://www.pittsburghnewworks.org/about-pnwf/

Program C is presented on September 14th, 22nd and 23rd at 8pm, the 16th at 4pm and the 17th at 2pm.

destinyDestiny is a Careless Waiter

by Julie Zaffarano

Broomall, PA

Produced by R-ACT Theatre Productions

 

Sean invites Emily to dinner to propose marriage. He brings his grandmother’s engagement ring to the restaurant and instructs the server to place the ring in Emily’s dessert. Justin invites Bria to the same restaurant at the same time, planning to break up with her. When the engagement ring intended for Emily ends up in Bria’s dessert, the chaos begins.

Julie Zaffarano is an emerging playwright in the Philadelphia area. Her play, The Play Makers, was named the Winner in the 2016 What If? Productions Annual Playwrights Festival. Julie holds two Masters Degrees: MA in Classical Studies and an MS in Organization Science from Villanova University.

Romeo and Juliet:  Epiloguer and j

by William Sikorski

Birchwood Village, MN

Produced by Actors Civic Theater

 

The subsequent criminal investigation of the multiple homicide at Juliet’s tomb. Detectives Davis and Stanley interrogate Friar Lawrence at the Verona 41st Precinct Police Station.

William H. Sikorski lives in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, where he works as a laboratory manager for 3M. In his (limited) spare time he writes (very) short plays. He has had several 10-minute, 1-minute and even a 1-second play produced.

branniganThe Wrong Brannigan

by Lezlie Revelle

Olathe, KS

Produced by McKeesport Little Theater

 

Mistaken identity and bad timing wreak havoc on a family full of secrets!

Lezlie Revelle is a playwright, author and singer-songwriter from the Midwest. Lezlie’s plays have been produced and won awards across the United States, including New York, Kansas City, and San Diego.


Program D’s performances are September 15th, 1th and 21st at 8pm, the 23rd at 4pm and the 25th at 2pm

When You Are a Little Bit Olderolder

by Matthew Weaver

Spokane, WA

Produced by Thoreau, NM – A Production Company

 

Cooper and Ava have a hot date at the movies, but Cooper’s younger brother Owen tags along. Everything’s going as well as can be expected until Owen runs out of popcorn …

Matthew Weaver is a Spokane, Wash., playwright and screenwriter. His plays have been performed in Washington State, Canada, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas and West Virginia.

bernieBernie

by Fred Perry

Roswell, GA

Produced by The South Hills Players

 

Bernie Heller has always been a bit of a schmo. And his life hit bottom today. Miserable, divorced, and a brilliant but failed artist, Bernie finally decided to end it all by getting smashed, then hanging himself – with a child’s skip rope. But when he jumped off the ladder, the thin rope snapped, the fall resulting in two broken ankles. Now three sheets to the wind and totally helpless, he calls the only person who can get him back on his feet: his renowned brother, Doctor Sid Heller.

Fred Perry is a produced playwright and screenwriter authoring six feature films for Omega Entertainment. Fred’s plays have been performed in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Georgia, where his two-act comedy, The Ascension of Twyla Potts premiered last October at the Rome Little Theatre.

Story Roadstory

by Mark Cornell

Chapel Hill, NC

Produced by Stage Right Pittsburgh

 

Directed by Joe Eberle, winner of the 2016 Donna Award for Outstanding Director

Cleveland is a struggling singer-songwriter and, after losing their house, has taken his 15-year-old daughter Ellie on the road. One night, tired of the hard life they are leading, Ellie decides to run away.

Mark Cornell has had more than 70 of his plays produced in theatres around the world, from England to Australia to Singapore and all across the U.S.. He has an MFA in playwriting from UCLA.

The Pittsburgh New Works Festival is a great opportunity for you to checkout new plays as well as the work of our region’s many talented actors, directors and companies.


For tickets:

Visit https://www.showclix.com/events/14074 or 1-888-71-TICKETS (1-888-718-4253) to reserve your seats by phone.

Main Stage Festival passes are $40. Pick your own dates with the Flex Pass or select one of the pre-built packages for a specific day and time. Either way you can experience every new play in the Festival and save a few bucks over single ticket prices.

Show times are Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm and Sunday at 2pm

Single Tickets Prices $15 Regular Admission ($17 at the Door) $12 Students and Under 25 ($14 at the Door)

Carnegie Stage is located at 25 W. Main Street, Carnegie, PA  15106.  There is plenty of free parking and a great variety of restaurants and shops within easy walking distance of the theater

A final note: The final dress rehearsals of Pittsburgh New Works mainstage shows are open to the public and feature American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation and live audio description for our guests.  Learn more and reserve your seat for an accessible final dress rehearsal at http://www.pittsburghnewworks.org/visit-2/accessibility-2/accessible-final-dress/