DODO

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

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

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

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

Emilie Sullivan (Docent)
Emilie Sullivan (Docent)

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

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

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

Michael McBurney (Explorer)
Michael McBurney (Explorer)

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

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

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

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

Photos by Handerson Gomes.

Bricolage Presents Its Latest Immersive Experience: DODO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fall Preview 2017

Fall Logo

A Letter from the Editor,

Our dear readers, we’ve made it through another summer season! After 40 reviews and 14 features this summer, we’re ready to dig out our sweaters, put on the kettle and continue to keep you up to date with everything local theater. We’ve got some pretty big things coming up for us in the next three months and we can’t wait to share it with you! In addition to everything in this Preview, we’ll also be giving you the scoop on Bricolage Production Company’s latest Immersive Encounter Dodo , The Pittsburgh Playwrights upcoming season, checking in with off the WALL, and  giving you Part 3 of our coverage of the Pittsburgh New Works Festival.

There is plenty to keep us busy this fall and we don’t want you to miss a thing! We would love to hear from our readers and follow along with your autumn theater adventures so keep in touch with us on our FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Email List and by using the hashtag #FallwithPITR.

If your theater or business would like to feature any advertising on the website for any of the upcoming content this busy season, don’t forget to reserve your spot well in advance! Please don’t hesitate to contact us at about rates and packages at info@pghintheround.com.

Here’s to looking forward to another busy Fall season,

Mara E. Nadolski
Editor in Chief, Pittsburgh in the Round


 

Let’s start off with our Top 5 productions we’re looking forward to this Fall!

quiet#5: All Quiet on the Western Front – Prime Stage: Prime Stage Theatre is known for their productions of shows adapted from literature and this season opener holds true to their nature. Prime Stage honors veterans and those serving our country by partnering with Soldiers and Sailors Hall for this US premiere of the classic World War I novel by Erich Maria Remarque. All Quiet on the Western Front opens at the New Hazlett Theatre November 4.

Tickets and more information can be found here. 

rj-431x500#4: Romeo and Juliet – PICT Classic Theatre: After bringing us productions of Macbeth and The Merchant of Venice in previous seasons, PICT is taking on one of Shakespeare’s best-known tragedies this season with their 100th show! The classic tale of two star-crossed lovers and their clashing families comes to life in a new location at the famous Fred Rogers Studio at WQED in Oakland. PICT has chosen the 1930’s in New York’s Little Italy as the setting for this rendition of Romeo and Juliet which officially opens Saturday, October 21st. For tickets and more information click here. 

Attack Theatre's presentation of "Assemble This" at the August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh. © Martha Rial 2/17/2010

#3: Some Assembly Required – Attack Theatre: In their 23rd season opener, Attack Theatre will be performing another round of original performances in their second production of Some Assembly Required. In this unique series, dancers tow the line between dancing, visual art, music, and even a bit of improv. This show requires input from the audience as to where the performance will go next, thus creating unique  performances with each show. Some Assembly Required opens at Contemporary Craft in the Strip District September 21. Tickets and more information can be found here.

DODO-1-880x420#2: Dodo – Bricolage Production Company: Bricolage’s latest immersive theatre adventure partners with the Carnegie Nexus initiative to bring us a sensory-based experience that brings together art and science while exploring public spaces. Held in the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History in Oakland, adventurers will embark on an experience that navigates through behind-the-scenes areas normally off limits to traditional museum visitors! Adventures being October 13 – find more information here. 

21055136_10155550641940797_7827704986490740316_o#1: Unhinged – Cup-a-Jo Productions: On the heels of their production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf inside an actual home, Fringe Festival veterans Cup-a-Jo brings us a new undertaking with Unhinged. Part haunted house, part immersive experience, the highly experimental project promises to have something for everyone. Unhinged starts performances October 13 in an empty bowling alley in Etna. Cup-a-Jo advises we keep a close eye on their Facebook page for ticket links and performance updates.

Next stop on your Fall Preview tour is 5 Musicals You Don’t Want to Miss This Fall, click here to learn more!

Mark Clayton Southers brings a little history into the mix with his one-act play The Homestead Strike of 1892 in commemoration of the 125th anniversary of the clash between steelworkers and mill owners, opening September 15. Find out more in Yvonne’s article here. 

The New Hazlett Theatre will be starting up their 4th Community Supported Art Performance Series on October 26! See what they’re up to this season here. 

The Pittsburgh Public Theater’s Artistic Director Ted Pappas will be starting his final season there this year. Yvonne sat down with him to get the scoop on what he’s envisioning this season! Click here to read more!

Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks is at it again this year with Henry V, find out more about their 13th season here. 

Quantum Theatre may be in the middle of their run of Red Hills but how much do you know about Rachel Stevens, the director of their next production The Hard Problem? Check out our latest installment of our Artist Spotlight series here. 

See what else the Steel City has to offer this year with a few season previews of City Theatre from Brian, the Pittsburgh Opera from George, and the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center from our High School Correspondent Emily!

The Pittsburgh New Works Festival is already in full swing, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this year’s preview with Part 3 coming soon!

In case you missed it, check out our 2017 Collegiate Preview too!

We were pretty busy this summer, you might have missed a show or two. Don’t worry, here are some highlights from Summer 2017:

Annie at the Paliside Playhouse

Big Fish by Front Porch Theatricals

Cloud 9  by Throughline Theatre Company

Little Shop of Horrors at Comtra Theatre

Mr. Burns by 12 Peers Theater

Spamalot at Stage  62

Avenue Q by the Alumni Theatre Company

The Liar  by Kinetic Theatre

Seussical the Musical at the Apple Hill Playhouse

Pippin at The Theatre Factory

One Man, Two Guvnors at Little Lake Theatre

Sweeney Todd by the Pittsburgh Festival Opera

Bricolage Production Company’s 12th Annual BUS!

general5-474x224Bricolage’s BUS is an amazing compilation of talent.  They do a great job of mixing together spontaneity and creative ability.  It’s a challenge.  Playwrights are asked to put themselves on a 90-minute bus ride and to submit to the experience in such a way that they are inspired to write a play.  That’s it.  Just a little fun, a bit of the unexpected and weird, and a surge of forced inspiration.

It’s impressive how this experiment works.  And it does.  It works very, very well.  You have 36 performers (24 actors, 6 playwrights, 6 directors) and they all bring something diverse, impressive and original.  They make tangible, real, accessible theatre in the span of 24 hours.  I was FLOORED by how great the actors were in these shows.  They not only memorized their entire part within the span of a workday, but they delivered on so many emotional and driven levels.

What the process of BUS relies upon is that things will happen when provocation occurs.  Creative Talent + Inspiration = Creation.  The actors’ parts are created for them, for something exhibited from their personality.  And thus plays are created truly spontaneously, with a driving force of talent and a whirl of inevitable luck.

Bricolage, I believe, is attempting to create a flare within theatre that is alchemical.  It’s like theatre, but it’s an admixture of something more unexpected: spontaneous participation.  It seems like the kind of thing that improv works off of, but I believe it’s a little more experimental.  For one thing, it invokes the audience.  You have only to look at how the handling of BUS 12 began.  A technical difficulty involving the keyboard’s connection to the house speakers inhibited the host’s opening performance.  So, Programming and Artistic Directors Jeffrey Carpenter and Tami Dixon (respectively) were secluded to their spots offstage.  An awkward moment started with an awkward silence.  But their mics still worked.  They asked for patience.  Then Tami’s voice saying, “You’d think after 12 years…”

The audience laughed.  Then a random heckler chimes in: “Get a Casio!”

Another voice over the mic, “Oh great.  Just what we need: hecklers.”

A guy in the balcony yells, “Well, at least it’s better than Senator Toomey’s Town Hall!”

Another laugh.

Jeffery Carpenter asks back, “Does anybody know how to juggle?”  And Dixon seconds, “Does anybody know how to hum?”

The whole audience begins humming.

The audience is roaring from a malfunction that should have been devastating.  But the feeling of the evening, this rich celebration of Pittsburgh’s talents is exactly what BUS, and therefore Bricolage, is all about.  The creation of the spectacle at hand is key in fomenting a new vision of what could be the theatrical moment.  The mistake is probably the most authentic form of seeing something real happen on stage.  It’s up to the maturity and skill of the actors to handle the mistake responsibly.  The entire spirit of Bricolage’s “making artful use of what is at hand” happens in these moments.  It’s like Arthur Miller once said, “The theater is so endlessly fascinating because it’s so accidental. It’s so much like life.”

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BUS shows a cavalcade of different kinds of emotions.  The heartfelt broaching of loneliness and memory in Gayle Pazerski’s “This Call May Be Recorded.”  Or the almost philosophical nostalgia of four people talking to themselves of how they remember buses being friendly before smartphones in Mark Clayton Southers’ “People Don’t Talk on the Bus”  Or perhaps the madness of four cartoonish version of DSM-IV style mental disorders banding together to save themselves from a bus that crashed because of a suicidal bus driver in Sloan MacRae’s “Normal”.

The gamut of talent is shown by experimenting with how people think on a bus.  Pazerski’s content contains nothing about buses, but it allows for an emotional depth which surely comes out of the script and perhaps a lonely bus drive just outside of town.  In her play, we see a very visceral relationship being unveiled by the act of Brett Goodnack’s Tom calling Quinn Patrick Shannon’s Mark at his job at a stressful call center.  Shannon’s ability to show the facial breaking of a frustrated man on the brink of both redemption and insanity was palpable.  I was also a fan of Elena Alexandratos and Julianne Avolio’s comic chops on the side.

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Pair that with Kim El’s “Get Off (The Bus)” a Twilight Zone-like tale about a professional white woman who boards a bus and is suddenly confronted with mystical black deities who force her to confront her privilege by subjecting her to live a day as an African-American woman.  Shakara Wright’s Faith and TaeAjah Cannon’s Joy were appropriately creepy and stunning in their roles, veritable goddesses, and demons in the same body.  Director Teisha Duncan did a great job at taking us onto the bus and taking us out of this ethereal plane with minimal special effects.

It’s a variety of performance, very festive, unpredictable and a great sampling of what kind of active subject matter is happening amongst playwrights in this town.  What makes Bricolage such a fountain of strange possibility is that they covet the experiment.  They try things, and they create an environment where trying things is protocol.  It’s minimal, but it’s audacious.

You wind up with stand-out performances like Wali Jamal’s Clown in Dave Harris’ “Mythical Creatures”.  Always a pleasure to watch his bottled volatility shake itself up, pure baking soda and vinegar; this man spews rawness up in a rage.  Or Gab Cody’s “Misoneism”, a tricky play about AI that’s really all a prop for stand-out performances.  Missy Moreno’s Betty pops onto the stage with firecracker power and delivers a potpourri of Robin Williams and Animal from the Muppets.

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Bricolage does something.  They don’t do the rote, mechanical straightforward delivery.  They make you work, they make their players work and it’s an appreciated work.  There’s power in trying.  I think that’s the aspect of theatre that’s washed with such an abundance of entertainment in the digital age.  To make artful use of what is at hand, you must be willing to go out into the world and grab whatever’s near.  Pittsburgh is a slew of odysseys, and thank god a company is ravenous for what it has to offer.  This was a hell of a cabaret.

For more about Bricolage Production Company and what they have for us coming up, click here. 

Photos courtesy of Louis Stein.

5 Holiday Shows You Don’t Want to Miss

December has crept up on us faster than the Grinch stole every last present in Whoville. Luckily for us, the holiday season in Pittsburgh means some of the best, festive shows around. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorite upcoming productions that are sure to fill you with holiday cheer, whether you’re Buddy the Elf or Mr. Scrooge.

Midnight Radio’s Holiday Spectacular!, Bricolage Production Company

Midnight Radio’s Holiday Spectacular!Holiday radio programs have been a nostalgic staple in this country ever since kids were decoding crummy commercials for Ovaltine in the 40’s. Bricolage Production Company  continues their popular series, Midnight Radio, to bring this beloved Christmas entertainment to life! Midnight Radio’s Holiday Spectacular! is in the form of a 1940’s radio broadcast where you are the live studio audience. Raucous humor, classic stories, and Pittsburgh-themed spoofs can be expected every night, but be sure to check the schedule for special events like an Ugly Sweater Contest, photos with Mr. & Mrs. Claus, local musical guests, and a hands-on sound effects workshop! The show runs downtown from December 1- 17.

The Nutcracker, Pittsburgh Ballet Theater

Pittsburgh Ballet Theater’s brings the Tchaikovsky’s classic, The Nutcracker, closer to home. Rather than the 19th century Germany setting, this version begins in a beautiful old home in Shadyside during the Gilded Age. A number of characters and props are homages to famous Pittsburghers like Heinz, Carnegie, and especially the Kaufmanns, and the set will give you a glimpse of the Mt. Washington view from a hundred years ago. Stunning costumes, choreography, moving sets and magic tricks never fail to delight audiences of all ages. Don’t miss this dazzling, dancing tradition at the Benedum, December 2- 27.

A Christmas Carol, Little Lake Theatre

Don’t be fooled– this isn’t the same story you’ve heard before! In this funny little twist from Little Lake Theatre, a comedic adaptation of this Dickens’ favorite is done a la Groundhog Day, as Scrooge is forced to relive his ghostly Christmas Eve journey year after year. A Christmas Carol is the perfect family festivity from a faithful cast that considers performing at Little Lake to be part of their own holiday traditions. This show will be shaking things up like the bells on Santa’s sleigh, so go see it from December 1- 18.

 

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Pittsburgh Playhouse

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: The MusicalPoint Park University’s Conservatory Theatre Company brings you this unconventional Christmas comedy. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever  follows the six Herdman children, AKA the “worst children in the world,” who have been known to shoplift and smoke cigars. Upon hearing that snacks are served at church, the children weasel their way into playing in their Sunday School’s annual Christmas pageant, and chaos and holiday hilarity ensue. This show runs December 9- 18 at the Pittsburgh Playhouse.

 

Naughty or Nice 2: A Holiday Concert, PARK Productions

Sugar, spice, and everything (naughty or) nice. PARK Productions is continuing their successful holiday extravaganza, featuring all kinds of holiday tunes performed by a pianist, and you! Yes, you! “Naughty or Nice 2” is an open-mic show encouraging audience sign-ups from groups and individuals to perform any Christmas carol of their choosing– but the “raunchier the better.” This show is one of a kind and ONE NIGHT ONLY on December 10th at The Cabaret. Get tickets and sign-up to perform here, because we all know that the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.

 

Tickets for all of these shows are on sale now! Get yours and get in the Christmas spirit. Plus, stay tuned for our reviews of these shows and so much more this season!

Oh, and remember…

 

Midnight Radio’s Night of the Living Dead N’at

livingdead-site-banner-890x420In a Halloween season where America’s most popular zombie show, The Walking Dead, just had one of their most devastating, gory episodes of all time, it’s refreshing to find an opportunity to laugh at zombies again.

This season, Bricolage Production Company, has brought the classic horror film, Night of the Living Dead, back to life with a Pittsburgh radio twist. Their immersive approach starts when you walk into the venue– for the Halloween-themed show, the lobby is decked out in spiderwebs and miscellaneous zombie parts. There are a number of silly, spooky games to play while you have a drink and wait for the house to open,  including a spot to give your input on who you would eat first if the zombie apocalypse came to Pittsburgh…

This was my first time visiting the Screenshot (14)Bricolage theater space. It’s intimate, but very casual–  the friendly staff makes you feel right at home . The Midnight Radio series is an ongoing favorite that is primarily audio-driven, not requiring a full set and costumes; however, the stage was still decorated in the Halloween spirit. The musicians’ area was decorated like a graveyard, and the actors’ podiums were boarded-up, like something you’d do to doors and windows in the midst of a zombie mob. I’m told this is more visual effort than they normally do–  it was a nice mood-setting touch.

The show kicks off with the “n’at” part of things. The actors open with a radio show intro, all using deep Pittsburgh accents that are both extremely accurate and amusing. Then in the fashion of old school radio programs, they proceed to tell the story of Night of the Living Dead as if you were listening at home. For the duration, clips and stills from the movie itself were projected on the back wall while the actors provided voices and sound effects. To me, this was reminiscent of Bad Lip Reading videos, and it was just as funny.

While the voice actors’ talents carried the show, the musical guests, Cello Fury, brought depth and dimension. The bellowing cellos accompanied the voice actors as a musical score for the radio program., adding to the suspense and intensity (and hilarity) of the scenes. Cello Fury also performed a few solo pieces during the production. The only criticism here is that the serious, melancholy songs felt a bit out of place with the rest of the show’s nonsensical comedy. Regardless, it’s very hard to mind the mismatch when you hear Cello Fury play. Their autumnal, eerie sound chills you to the bone, and is absolutely beautiful.14606263_10154817529849873_1890467029275397064_n

Additional funny bits: audience members can get a slightly cheaper ticket (at $15) and sit on the interactive  “zombie porch.”  You’ll be equipped with all kinds of props to go bump in the night and make zombie noises to your heart’s content (but on cue, of course). Another highlight was the undead spoof commercials breaking up the radio show: a favorite of mine was for Al Pacino’s latest eau de parfum, “Scent of a Dead Woman.” There was even a themed version of “Family Feud,” inviting audience members onstage for the chance to win prizes. Pittsburghese is injected here and there to keep up the “n’at” vibes. These added bits made everything feel almost more like a variety show– but the laughs were consistent all throughout.

If you’re slightly deterred by the idea of a “mostly-audio” show, don’t be. There’s still so much to watch, from the projected clips to the actors’ incredibly funny expressions, to the slew of props used to make the sound effects (everything from empty tissue boxes to an actual car door). You don’t miss a full set or costumes, and you come to appreciate the true skill in voice acting. This show had us in stitches, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few folks decided to rise from the dead just to see it.

Night of the Living Dead N’at is playing at Bricolage Production Company’s space dahntahn until November 12th. Special thanks to Bricolage for complimentary press tickets.

Photos courtesy of Bricolage Production Company and Claire Juozitis.

Autism and the Arts: Bricolage Creates Sensory-Sensitive Immersive Experience

Welcome to Here Promo2An enchanted forest has sprung to life in the heart of Pittsburgh as Bricolage Production Company presents Welcome to Here, a sensory-sensitive immersive experience designed specifically for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) commissioned by EQT Children’s Theater Festival. The show takes participants on an adventure through the Forest of Everywhere where a cast of furry and feathery puppets interact and play games with children in an environment designed for their comfort. “I love seeing all this stuff in Pittsburgh. It’s a big deal that we can be included in cultural things because there’s a lot of stuff we don’t fit into,” said Mindy Nagy, mother of a 13 year old girl with ASD. “She deserves to have some culture.”

Rehearsal.Parag S. Gohel

The transformation of Bricolage’s space is outstanding. The twilight lit room is full of intricately carved cardboard trees from which birds can be heard chirping, a circle of stumps and stones rest in the middle for participants to gather around and sing with Ranger Roger and there is even a slide in Don Key’s house. Hops the bunny shares his collection of trinkets as an exploration in textures while kids can play an invisible harp in Esther the Ostrich’s house. Adventurers enjoy a number of other activities such as digging for bugs (Simon the alpaca’s favorite snack), play in piles of leaves or leave their mark on the walls of the chalk cave. There is even a “cloud room”, a safe space for adventurers to relax in if they become overwhelmed.

For Nagy, this show provides an opportunity to enjoy the arts with her daughter in an environment that caters to her very specific needs. Preparation for the show starts the night before, as Nagy and her daughter read the social story provided by Bricolage to prepare children for the adventure ahead. Nagy explained that a social story is a very important aspect and limits any uncomfortable surprises so that her daughter can be fully prepared and enjoy the experience. “What I was really surprised with is she followed along with the other kids and she’s not very social. To see her playing in the leaves with the Ranger and a couple of other kids, that’s a big deal because normally she is off in a corner by herself,” said Nagy. “She was sitting down singing with everybody and that means a lot.”

Siovhan ChristensenThe show was conceived when Bricolage was asked if they could modify their Midnight Radio Jr. show for a sensory-sensitive audience. They said no. Instead of trying to alter a show designed for a neuro-typical audience, they would instead build a show from the ground up with the ASD community in mind. For Bricolage, it all started with research. They partnered with Arts for Autism and Firefly Arts and spent a week in workshops educating themselves on ASD and how to build a show to cater to the needs of their audience. But to really get a grip on what it means to live with ASD, to understand the sensitivities and triggers, nothing comes close to the first hand experience of someone that is a part of the community. “I would never ever do a show for a specific community without having that community member as part of the team that builds it,” said Artistic Director Tami Dixon. Vanya Rumsey, a 17 year old autistic self-advocate, was brought on board and cast as the queen of the forest while also influencing the development of the show based on her own experience with ASD. “She’s really our eyes and our ears and she’s the person that we look to.” Dixon said “She was incredibly helpful for that part of the process. If she wasn’t there I don’t think we would have this show at all, she was instrumental.” For Rumsey, the show is another opportunity for her to advocate for her community and share her story. “Working on this production has been an incredible opportunity for me to share my knowledge and advocate for my community,” said Rumsey. “There isn’t often a chance to articulate my everyday experiences as Autistic and use that knowledge to help create something specifically designed to accommodate for the needs of my community.”

You can catch Welcome to Here May 12th through the 15th and tickets can be found here. A special thank you to Bricolage Production Company for allowing us to experience the beta test of this show.

B.U.S. 11 Provides Laughs, Thoughtfulness and an Anthology!

12771952_10154130200114873_9042410384297519650_oLast Saturday, Bricolage Production Company held its 11th annual Bricolage Urban Scrawl (B.U.S.) event held as an annual fundraiser. Each year, a band of writers take to the bus lines for inspiration as they ride around the city, inspiration they must harness to go home and write a play by 9 a.m. the next morning. At that point, scripts are given to actors and directors to start turning the script into a performance in time for an 8 p.m. curtain. This relay race produced six original 10 minute plays in just 24 hours time.

With time being as limited as it is to create these productions, the process is distilled into its truest form, leaving no time for second guessing from anyone involved. “The first year I did the show I loved it, it was exhilarating…If I could do this once a month I would do it,” said Jason McCune, a long time veteran of B.U.S. “It forces you as an actor to follow your gut, follow your instincts, not second guess yourself and when you are doing comedy, which most of them are, you want to make big bold choices.” Bold choices were definitely made in Gab Cody’s Wrong Place, Wrong Time in which McCune plays a Danish server that ends up mooning the audience during the play (not the first time Gab Cody has cast him as a pantsless foreigner).

This year’s event provided audiences with plenty of laughs, as many of the short plays are fast-paced comedies, but also on the bill were several thought provoking plays for patrons to digest long after closing curtain. Subjects such as PTSD, gentrification and race were touched on. Dog Shit, written by Mark Clayton Southers and directed by Bria Walker, revolved around the recent killing of Bruce Kelley Jr. and tackled a lot of tough questions about racism and the value of life.

“B.U.S. just pushes you as an artist, it helps you realize things you didn’t know you could do,” said Bria Walker, a three time B.U.S. participant who took on the role as director this year. “It gets you on your toes artistically, it pushes you to places you’ve never been before and it’s not for the faint of heart. Generally, artists who like a challenge, who are basically thrill seekers, who like really dynamic work are drawn to this.”

There have been so many plays that have been born through a decade of B.U.S. events and up until this point these plays lived only with the artists and patrons who performed and witnessed the birth of these plays. These plays now live on in an anthology titled B.U.S. (Bricolage Urban Scrawl): 10Years of 10-Minute Plays  and includes 54 plays spanning between the years 2005 and 2015.

According to Bricolage, this was a record setting year for attendance and all of their goals were met. Overall, the Bricolage Urban Scrawl is an intriguing production and a whirlwind of entertainment and attendees can tell that those involved truly give it their all while also having a lot of fun.

Special thanks to Bricolage for complimentary press tickets to B.U.S. 11. For more information about Bricolage and their upcoming season, check out their website here

Yinz’r Scrooged

CTy5A2VWUAAUycS (2)For my second big show in Pittsburgh I had the great fortune to see Bricolage Production Company’s Yinz’r Scrooged Friday night, which is part of their Midnight Radio series. I don’t think this could have been a better way for me to begin my first holiday season in Pittsburgh. I have a special place in my heart for both A Christmas Carol, and radio shows.

I remember as a little boy a local radio station would play reruns (I’m not old enough to remember the originals) of classic radio plays at 10 pm. I was (and still am) awed at how clearly a story could be created from just sound. With no visual pictures, I was able to create the world around me be simply closing my eyes and listening. Such great memories create high expectations for current radio productions.

Tami Dixon has adapted the Charles Dickens classic so that it holds all of the personality of Pittsburgh. From speech patterns and slang, to everyday behavioral Pittsburghian stereotypes. Even being new to the ‘burgh, the comically driven stereotypes resonated with me. I may not have understood all of jokes, but those that I have experienced had me rolling with laughter. Most importantly, Ms. Dixon not only managed to parody Pittsburgh well, but her adaptation holds the weight of the original.

Of course the wonderful work Ms. Dixon provided wouldn’t be as potent without a voice. Lissa Brennan, Howard Elson, Michael McBurney, Connor McCanlus, and Sheila McKenna make up the cast. Each member not only brought to life multiple characters, many of whom are ironically Pittsburghian, but provided a majority of the Foley work as well. The sound that wasn’t created by the cast, was created by the musicians. Musical director James Rushin, clarinetist Kira Bokalders, and guitarist George Elliot not only created a chilling assortment of instrumental sound effects, they created a subtle, yet powerful ambiance for the world. I would also like to tip my hat to Stage Manager Brandon Martin, for keeping track of hundreds of moving pieces (quite literally) that go into a radio play.

The space itself was comfortable and cozy. Since nothing was hidden from the audience, my excitement came from being able to see and hear how everything was going to be used to create sound. As when I was a child, I often found myself closing my eyes to listen to the show. Voices and actors that I was watching onstage disappeared into the uniqueness of each character’s sound. Nostalgia hit me from several sides. Part of me was 10 years old again lying in the dark listening to the crackle of an AM station, and just like then, vivid scenes of what I was hearing played on the back of my eyelids.

With the warm, cheerful, and inviting staff, and activities in the lobby, the heartfelt, and powerfully funny adaptation, and wonderful nostalgia Yinz’r Scrooged was definitely a great way to kick off the holiday season.

Special thanks to Bricolage for complimentary press tickets. Yinz’r Scrooged runs through December 19th. Tickets and more information can be found here.

 

1984 (Midnight Radio)

1984

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Thanks to my public school system I was never made to read 1984, the classic dystopian novel by George Orwell. I was instead subjected to The Scarlet Letter and The Great Gatsby, neither of which I enjoyed at the time. I’ve heard of 1984 before but I never really knew anything beyond the basic concepts: society is crumbling, the government lies to us, and everyone is being watched. Perhaps had I read it in high school I’d be more of a skeptic today, or at least I’d have more interesting conspiracy theories. A better alternative than going back to high school to read it presented itself: 1984 is the first Bricolage Midnight Radio production for their season and it opened last weekend.

Like 1984, I’m aware of Bricolage’s Midnight Radio series but I hadn’t actually been to one before the other night. If you’re unfamiliar, the people at Bricolage take a story you know (Carrie, It’s a Wonderful Life) and perform it in the style of a radio production. The actors read from scripts and stand behind tables full of objects to provide sound effects like the Foley artists of old used to do. Bricolage commits to their show’s motif by decking out the front lobby with fun little stations. You could anonymously pin your biggest fear to the wall of fears or maybe listen to the “wire-tapped” phones and eavesdrop on some private conversations. There is also a “Hate Booth”, where audience members can record a minute-long rant about something they hate (yours truly may have done 50 seconds on vaping). The surveillance begins as soon as you enter the theater…or did it never stop?

Your program is presented in the style of a newspaper set in this fictional 1984. There are fun ads (“War: We’re always in one”), stories, and a large obituary section detailing the untimely demises of the cast and crew. It’s another wonderful little touch that is greatly appreciated. But while these things are whimsical and funny, don’t get the wrong idea: 1984 is in no way a comedy. There are a few light moments in it at the beginning but as protagonist Winston Smith continues his investigation against Big Brother and the “powers that be” things start to get really heavy. Whereas past Midnight Radio productions have been described to me as “hilarious”, 1984 strokes a different emotion: fear.

The cast is composed of five incredible performers, each of whom slide effortlessly into different characters and scenarios. Even though they are holding scripts the performers still give their all and create full characters, even out of the smallest of roles. A character can appear mysterious or intriguing simply by hearing one line, making you want to know this person before they “exit” (a.k.a. someone slams the little prop door). The show moves along at a swift pace, aided by three talented musicians (Jason Coll, Kira Bokalders, Will Teegarden) who provide an appropriately eerie soundtrack. Monitors act as Big Brother’s Telescreens on the set and provide images that tie into the physical location or emotional intensity of a scene. Even without sets or costumes the people at Bricolage construct clear scenes.

The climax leaves little doubt as to why this show was chosen around the Halloween season. (SPOILERS AHEAD) Winston finds himself imprisoned, and that’s uncomfortable. Winston is interrogated by someone he trusted, and that’s unnerving. Then Winston is tortured, and that’s absolutely terrifying. The music, the bold lighting, the images on the Telescreens, the pained shrieks coming from Winston, the calm voice of his torturer…it was uncomfortable to watch, in that very good way. I enjoyed my first Midnight Radio show, and would definitely recommend checking out 1984. I may read the novel now. Maybe next time Bricolage will do The Lord of the Flies and I’ll be more prepared.

 

Midnight Radio: 1984

Presented by Bricolage Production Company

Directed by Jeffrey Carpenter

Based on George Orwell’s 1984

Starring Brett Goodnack, Paul Guggenheimer, John Michnya, Sean “Shaggy” Sears, Sara Williams

The show runs Thursdays through Saturdays until Nov 14th. Tickets can be purchased here.

Performance Date: Thursday, October 29, 2015