There is much to be excited about for off the WALL’s upcoming 2016-2017 season and Pittsburgh in the Round was lucky enough to speak with Artistic Director of the company, Virginia Wall Gruenert. Part of off the WALL’s goal is to open minds, spread thought, and create awareness about gender equality. Gruenert says that they “are growing in a number of ways this upcoming season, with new staff members, new directors, designers, collaborators, and a new Board of Directors- while maintaining our commitment to support the grossly under-represented female artist.” In the choosing of shows for the 2016/2017 season, the commitment to this message is apparent. Each individual show sounds interesting and different from the last, but it also seems to me that there is a culminating message intertwined within that variety. Not to mention, they are all Pittsburgh premieres!
Mother Lode, a show in repertoire created by Pittsburgh actor Linda Haston, is a piece based around the life of her mother, Ruth. In exploring the struggles and acceptances of strong female bonds, the show will not only be a memorialization to Haston’s mother, but also an illustration of female influence. In speaking with Gruenert I learned that she has had many women to influence her life, “my first acting teacher in college, who saw something in me I didn’t realize I had; Stella Adler, who assured me that acting was my calling; my older sister, who always moves forward regardless of what life throws at her; and my sister-in-law, who has struggled with Multiple Sclerosis for over 20 years without complaint or self-pity.” Supporting the company’s commitment to female representation, Mother Lode will delve into one’s personal experience and they’re confrontation of what that means to one’s life. Gruenert also adds, “Since this ‘in repertory’ show is its second go-round, it’s amazing to see how much it has grown since the first production. Finding new things to implement is always a dream come true for actors and directors (and playwrights!).” So, even if you saw it once, check it out again June 2-5 or Aug 11-14!
An Accident by Lydia Stryk tells the story of a woman who is critically injured getting hit by a car and what happens when the driver appears at her bed-side. Gruenert seemed especially excited about this because it’s a type of scenario she has never explored on stage before- “We never see the accident— it happens before the play starts. The play fascinates me, as it deals with process of recovery. There is something in that process that is compelling on its own terms, and never-ending. It’s a fictionalized account of playwright Lydia Styrk’s own experience after a hit-and-run accident in 2003, but it’s equally the drama of something Stryk was denied— the opportunity to come to terms with the man who hit her. The evolving relationship between victim and perpetrator is something I have not seen on stage before.” Another very personally based play, I find this to be extra intriguing as it is not only a piece of art, but also one’s personal way of confronting a trauma. Playing Oct 14-29, The Accident will be a unique stage experience.
In Lungs, a play by Duncan MacMillan, a young couple confronts the decision of whether or not to have children, and beyond that… what are the real reasons behind their decision? In a world where it seems like we are supposed to get married, have children, etc. etc. this play puts on stage a real life struggle that many couples face. “This is a play about life, and it is indeed exemplary of some young couples…” says Gruenert, “Although I believe that in many instances the ‘rigid requirements and timelines of life are self-imposed,” she adds. Gruenert also says that in this production, minimalism will be key. No fancy set or costumes, because that is not needed. This is a show based around the telling of a story that is exemplary of real life. In utilizing minimalism, this will be what Gruenert calls, “an actor’s piece,” zoning in on the actors, on the characters, and their battle with decision-making. Catch Lungs Dec 2-17!
The Pink Unicorn by Elise Forier Edie was one that stood out especially to me in reading about the upcoming season. This piece tells the story of a mother’s experience when her 14-year-old daughter in a very small, very conservative, Texas town, announces she is genderqueer and starting a chapter of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network at school. The current sociopolitical turmoil over LGBTQ rights/ acceptance was the main influence in choosing the show. Gruenert says that it’s “informative, hilarious, and touching all at once.” In exploring tense subject matter, this is a very effective combination of tone and I, personally, am excited and hopeful to see if it will open the eyes of people with anti-LGBTQ attitudes. “I hope it does open some eyes. The anti-LGBTQ attitude is encountered here more often than you may think,” says Gruenert. “The internal struggle of the mother in this piece, Trish, is what appeals to me most. Can you imagine believing one thing all your life, only to have your beliefs turned upside-down by the person you love most in the world? How on earth does one reconcile that mentally, and spiritually?” The internal struggle of someone who isn’t necessarily “anti-LGBTQ,” but simply raised to truly, truly believe one thing and then confronted with it by a loved one is a perspective that isn’t too often explored, so I’m very interested to go see this! Everyone go catch The Pink Unicorn, Feb 9-12, May 18-21, and Aug 3-6, 2017!
In light of her comment about above about being “informative, hilarious, and touching..,” Gruenert says that 4.48 Psychosis is “written with clarity, logic, and a lot of humor, so I believe it can be a learning experience for everyone, whether they struggle with mental health issues or not. Also, its understandably a powerful play, but people mustn’t be scared off by the subject matter.” 4.48 Psychosis was playwright Sarah Kane’s last play before she herself committed suicide. In this play we will be given insight to her struggles with clinical depression. It is, “the story of a woman who has struggled for years with clinical depression, psychiatrists, and numerous medications, and who is now questioning the wisdom of staying alive…” Questioning what to do once nothing else works, 4.48 Psychosis will be heavy, but also a window into an experience. Looking through this window may help one with mental health disorders, one without mental health disorders, or hopefully people who do not truly understand mental health, learn more about the experience. What does one do when they feel like they are in the space between living and dying?
On top of all of these exciting performances, off the WALL will also be presenting a dance performance, titled EFF.FUL.GENTS, a modern dance piece conceived and choreographed by Elisa-Marie Alaio. This will be “a celebration of everything female, three short acts—Beauty, Sex, and Power.” What better to celebrate than the power in your feminine existence?! Bring your girl power and get ready for more empowering at this all things female modern dance showcase! I have high hopes for this. The show will feature all-original music by Reni Monteverde! Playing July 7-16, 2017.
Off the WALL is incredibly excited to present our city with these premieres, so come out and support these local artists this upcoming year! They have amazing things up their sleeve.
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