Artist Spotlight: Quinn Patrick Shannon

db01f92e-d563-432e-a457-b2aa8dc3efc4Is it weird to think that an actor has done it all at only age 31?

Maybe. Still, that’s the impression I got after talking with Quinn Patrick Shannon.

Over the last decade, you’ve likely seen Shannon star in regional shows of all genres in venues of all sizes. It’s also true that his incredible talent is directly proportional to his generosity and work ethic.

Those values were fostered in him at a very young age. Although he grew up in the Pennsylvania suburbs of Washington and Bethel Park, he identifies as a Pittsburgher. Between his father’s work and his mother’s acting career, Quinn’s family spent a lot of time in the city. She co-starred in a musical comedy that literally defined the phrase “back by popular demand”, Nunsense.

His connection to the city actually goes back further than I ever imagined. The Shannon name has a lot of weight when dropped around baby boomers. Quinn’s grandfather was local media legend Paul Shannon. He emceed KDKA’s Dream Weaver and WTAE’s Adventure Time throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s.

Paul Shannon passed away when Quinn was young, but his legacy has followed Quinn ever since. One of Quinn’s Grease cast mates showed him a 50-year old ticket stub from one of his grandfather’s shows. It was only a non-native Pittsburgher like me that confused that classic Adventure Time with the modern Cartoon Network show of the same name.

15068960_10154110007671696_496352613198024282_oI made him chuckle when I suggested that he was part of a performing dynasty, but I think the proof is in the pudding.

Even though it was a “million years ago” his brother was in a production of Peter Pan, Quinn still cites him as his “first and best acting teacher”. When his mother asked him if he wanted to be in shows, he replied with a resounding yes. His career as a child actor kicked off in similar fashion to many kids looking to find work on the Pittsburgh stage.

Three words: A Christmas Carol. At age six, he debuted with Pittsburgh Musical Theater as their first Tiny Tim.

He followed in both his siblings’ footsteps by graduating from Point Park University with a theatre degree. Recently, he revisited his first conservatory credit, Hair, not as an actor among his peers but as a director of teenage members of PMT’s own conservatory. He relished the chance, saying “there’s nothing like kids doing that show”. Rather than burdening his Hair with a Trump-hating agenda, he mounted the show as a thwarted “celebration of youth” and gave into its trippy moments. For Quinn, the job of directing children is twofold: ensuring that the kids learn and keeping their parents happy.

Frequent collaborator Guy Stroman and Pittsburgh Public Theater Artistic Director Ted Pappas have been two influential directors in Quinn’s career.

Stroman’s vast body of work includes originating the role of Frankie in the 1950’s jukebox musical revue Forever Plaid. In 2013, Quinn played Frankie in a pseudo-sequel to that show called Plaid Tidings. That experience was where everything truly “clicked” for him. Realizing that acting was his true calling on this project was a feeling he compares to falling in love. He credits Stroman with teaching him the value of “having a vision” and being meticulous as a director.

Pappas is responsible for casting Quinn in one of his dream roles, Nicely Nicely Johnson in last year’s production of Guys and Dolls.

“That offer was THE offer.”

Joel Hurt Jones (Nathan Detroit), Quinn Patrick Shannon (Nicely Nicely Johnson), Gavan Pamer (Benny Southstreet)
Joel Hurt Jones (Nathan Detroit), Quinn Patrick Shannon (Nicely Nicely Johnson), Gavan Pamer (Benny Southstreet)

He admits that there’s always pressure performing such iconic material but, as an actor, he thrives on it. Performers crave larger stages (Broadway, TV, film) because greater exposure often leads to bigger breaks.

CLO’s Cabaret at Theater Square is certainly not the biggest stage that Pittsburgh offer, but Quinn maintains that it’s the best job in the city. He’s performed there a few times including in the hardest show he’s ever done, The 39 Steps (also directed by Stroman). It’s a slapstick riff on the classic Hitchcock film of the same name in which Quinn portrayed several characters. The secret to succeeding at the Cabaret is building the stamina to perform the frequently extended runs. That involves forging good relationships with the cast and crew, taking care of your body and voice, and not letting the show “get away from you”. More than anything, shows in that setting require focus.

Offstage, Quinn enjoys playing the drums, a 16-year old pastime of his. When he lived in New York City, he was a member of about six different bands. He also wrote and recorded some solo music. It’s been a while since he flexed those muscles, but he’s eager to get back in that arena sometime soon.

This year, he also plans to arrange further readings of an original script he’s been working on with his best friend and roommate. He declined to reveal more about the project, insisting it be (literally) a surprise.

IMG_6894The last time Quinn led a PMT production was in the role of Quasimodo (pictured above) in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This rare chance to carry a show was a “surprisingly special” opportunity for him. Alan Menken’s score definitely took a toll on voice by the end of each show, but it was well worth it.

“When I came out for that last bow, it really meant a lot to me because I’m not going to get a lot of those being a character actor.”

The life of a character actor can be a difficult one spent in the shadows of people who fit the elusive leading man/woman type. If a person sticks it out though, there’s the chance for someone in a supporting or unconventional leading role to eclipse his co-stars and dazzle audiences.

Quinn Patrick Shannon is a proud, self-professed character actor. But, in my eyes, the sum of his charmingly self-effacing nature and positive attitude equal more than that. What his resume and bio won’t tell you is that he is also an actor with character.

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Slide1I shouldn’t be partisan.  Anybody can read this and as a journalistic document or review, this should appeal to all people.  Though there is something undeniably liberal about the classic 1968 musical Hair, which the University of Pittsburgh is currently staging through November 20th.  You can see it when you walk in the door, a big “Love trumps Hate” sign.  You can see it in the diversity of the cast, the hippie mentality.  You can see it in the director’s statement in the program:

Our production aims to embrace the original purpose of Hair: to protest, praise and call to action.  We wanted to put the concerns of today’s youth on stage—to show how these songs live in our world now.  While our cast members may not have experienced the pain of a nation torn apart by war, we can all recognize an electorate toxically divided, and political rhetoric coarsened and vulgarized.  We hear people argue in favor of religious intolerance, LGBTQ+ marginalization, and xenophobia.  We see a culture of sexual violence dismissed with the wave of a hand.  We march in the streets to protest the murder of yet another unarmed person of color. 

And to go beyond the partisan opinion to talk about this production as an entity that is representative of two times and places: I have to definitively say this is very good.  It is great.  Badass and wonderful!  It has made me proud to be alma mater at Pitt.  I didn’t know they had it in them.  I am impressed and I urge everyone who can to see this musical.

First of all, the students are so into it.  This is an essence given from the before the play.  The actors freely walk around the stage, on the balconies, through the crowd.  This seems gimmicky, but it does a fantastic job of setting up a vibe.  There is a lot of commitment in this play, which is a point I’ll come back to.  I really loved the candidness with which these actors could improvise.

The kids on the balcony yell down to the audience, encouraging play: “Hey, I like your shoes!”

A co-actress puts her barefoot up on the balcony rail, the same actor exclaims, “I like your shoes too!”

A girl with long hippie hair yells to an actor resting in anticipation on a bus-like set piece, “Eugene!  How’s the bus?”

“Groovy!” he replies, with two thumbs up.

This is corny.  I mean, Hair is a broadway musical.  It’s corny in it’s incarnation.  But this really gives the atmosphere that this was probably a really fun show to do.  This is massively important.

“Get off the rail!” A boy with a ‘Free Hugs’ signs yells at his co-star.

A fringe-vested hippie retorts, “I don’t follow rules!”

And the long-hair ‘free hugs’ kid replies, “You have to follow some rules, like gravity.  I don’t want you falling on these good people before the show begins!”

There is an air in the Charity Randall Theatre.  For a gigantic limestone castle throne room, they do their best at making it seem like it’s invaded by the sensation of kids on grass keeping on the “Don’t Step on the Grass” grass.  Signs hang which say, “At what age did you lose your compassion?” and “Hate is easy, Love takes Courage.”

At this point, I’m a third done with my review and I haven’t talked about the actual show at all yet.  There’s a reason for that.  This play is so much about atmosphere.  It’s about a time which felt imperative: 1967.

The uncertainty of the bomb has haunted the world for more than 20 years, and the apocalyptic vision of Vietnam and its draft are absolutely devastating for those just coming into their existential consciousness.  JFK’s death in ’63 and Malcolm X’s death in ’65 were signs of progressive control being lost; this dystopian reality protracted onto the visionary aesthetic qualities of drugs and music in order to create an apex of finale.  This was a time when the end felt near.  And the realizations this musical yearns towards is to make clear that life is beautiful and should be cherished with every ounce of being.

Please note: Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4th, 1968.  Hair premiered on April 29th, the same month.

This musical is about time.  The dawning of “The Age of Aquarius” is a premonition of some transition, something key that happens amidst the cyclone of fear, hate and disaster.  This musical is medicine.  It comes at a pinpoint, right now.  Xenophobia and bigotry has saddled this country in an incredulous lurch and this play synthesizes two points of time when the future is unknown, scary and the present is startling and beautiful, i.e. 1967 and right now.

The production is stupendous.  Give credence to choreographer Amanda Olmstead, a veritable shepherd in her own right.  At any given time there are between 1-31 odd young adults bounding electrically on stage, synchronized with impeccable grace.

I’d like to also give a huge thank you to director Cindy Croot for making this production so palpable.  This was a well-felt illustration of a historically viable and so alive today, thematically.  There is so much audience interaction.  So much in this play is in your face and very active.  There are real tears on stage.  Each actor gives a genuine performance.  As I’ve said before, these kids are into it.  This is a diverse cast, racially and sexually.  I understand that’s the original casting as well, but the diversity of the cast is so representative of how I see millennials.  This is a play that celebrates blackness, queerness, free-thought and apostasy.  It tries to really go places on the astral plane, a discovery of inner-self and outer universe.  It subscribes so heavily to the meanings of Man in the big question of “Why?”  and this production seems to really live in that zone.  We are there.

There were a couple hang-ups.  The sound had some issues, but I imagine juggling thirty mics is an absurd task for a tech-person.  I felt like some of the songs could have been louder.  Perhaps that’s the acoustics of the room.  And that’s not to say that some of the singers really did go beyond their inhibiting means and project an exorcising weight towards the audience.  Particularly the songs, “Walking in Space,” “Easy to be Hard,” and “Let the Sunshine In” absolutely kill it.

I would love to point out more highlights, but there’s too many.  There are 31 actors and the musical really allows for distinct stars for nearly all of its 27 songs.

One thing I will comment on is the nakedness of the actors on the stage during intermission,  playing something outside of the musical: The Zombies’ “Time of the Season”.   The audience chatters to themselves.  Some of the other actors saunter about, but they are engaged with what’s on stage:  listening to the guitarist, the actor bongoing on the speaker and the impressive male soprano.  They are hearing this drum circle atmosphere over the disaffected small talk that creates the sound of a typical intermission.  It’s such a commitment to the feeling.  You can just tell these kids are into this show.  This epitomizes an agency for them, and thank god.  It is meaningful and spiritual in its body, which is these 31 actors who move electrically synchronized on stage.  They are comfortable and it shows in their risks and their timing.

This whole play has timing.

It is diverse and shows such an immense diversity of singers throughout, outlining a truly collective piece.

This show is medicine.  It is relevant.  It is spiritually uplifting and most importantly it is truly, truly beautiful.

Special thanks to the University of Pittsburgh for complimentary press tickets. Hair runs at the Charity Randall Theater in Oakland through November 20th. Tickets and more information can be found here.

Pitt Stages Creates New and Familiar Realities in Resilient Spaces

11828704_1192185537474087_3254483807827457516_nInspired by success and tradition, Pitt Stages launches a season that reflects the aspirations of the University of Pittsburgh’s diverse student body beginning on October 6. The production menu for 2016-17 showcases the performance and technical talents of both students enrolled in the Department of Theatre Arts and others who are exploring theater as part of their broader liberal arts experience. Students from more than 22 majors throughout the university take part in Pitt Stages productions.

“More students are choosing Pitt as a destination for theatre,” says Annemarie Duggan, now in her 10th year on the faculty and beginning her fourth year as chair. “We had a petition from 250 students to stage more musicals,” explaining why more musicals are showing up in the Pitt Stages performance season, complete with orchestral accompaniment through frequent collaborations with the Department of Music.

“We give the students with diverse backgrounds a foundation in theater,” says Duggan, herself a seasoned lighting designer. “Pitt students are prepared to do theater and for the world as well.” She is excited to see the practical aspects of theater showcased in students’ academic work, such as student projects for Pitt’s Honors College.

Both academic and production endeavors are literally at the heart of Pitt’s Oakland campus with classrooms, labs, shops, and Studio Theatre in the Cathedral of Learning and performances spaces in the venerable Stephen Foster Memorial. Pitt’s connected facilities boast architecture and a very presence unlike other higher education buildings in this region.

Promotional photo from last season's production of Nine
Promotional photo from last season’s production of Nine

The Department of Theatre Arts is steward of two theaters in the Foster Memorial, built in 1937. The Charity Randall Theatre was renamed and restored during Pitt’s early 21st century capital campaign after being home for Theatre Arts since the 1960s. Named for retired faculty scenic designer and costumer Henry Heymann, the lower level thrust theater provides an intimate setting for selected season events. Upgrades and maintenance is ongoing as productions require more state-of-the-art technical features (such as a new projector system, says Duggan) while the auditorium itself was built as a musical concert hall honoring Stephen Collins Foster, one of Pittsburgh’s most popular composers. Now the Randall is home for the larger Pitt Stages musical theater productions.

Appropriately, “we distinguish ourselves in a different way than a conservatory,” says Duggan of the liberal arts tradition that enables any student to audition and get involved on stage or behind the scenes at Pitt. “Student can explore their talent here. And they can see the work of their counterparts at the nearby conservatories. We show them that their talent is equal and they may use and go in different direction.”

It’s not surprising given Pitt’s history of theatrical performances actually stretch back two centuries to around 1810. Theatre Arts has carried the torch of the Commonwealth’s only Ph.D. program in theater and birthed many innovations in Pittsburgh performing arts, including the 16-year run of the Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival and countless student-led endeavors. Where else could inspired students stage King Lear in the loading dock of a 42-story Gothic skyscraper or alumni take theater education into career work as ranging from television to the  FBI?

It’s about striking a balance says Duggan, “between budget and pedagogically what we are teaching in a given year, with what we are  teaching in the classrooms…Our production values to move the students forward through what we can do really well…while it might be stretch what these these young performers can do well.”

Now, Pitt Stages has another season of productions in store–open again to both campus and public theater-goers. “Our audiences are also investing in the artists of the future,” Duggan adds.

The slate, says Duggan are “diverse stories told in universal ways,” drawing on the characteristics that make Pitt’s student body so vibrant and varied. Each director brings unique specialities and experience to their work, further enriching the potential for both the student production company and audiences. She describes the program as “a really enriching experience for everyone” as the Theatre Arts strives to be an open and inclusive department within the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.Slide1(1)

Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage opens the season, October 6-16, the first of three season offerings staged in the comfortably cozy Henry Heymann Theatre. Costume professor KJ Gilmer makes “a sort of directing debut for us,” says Duggan, an appropriate assignment for a play about a seamstress performed in a space named for one of Pitt Theatre’s legendary designers. All things are not equal, however, as the central character Esther, a black seamstress makes intimate apparel for both wealthy white women and poor prostitutes. This intimate story of a woman trying to survive in 1905 in New York City echoes the timeless realities woven into society’s fabric. Pitt Stages asks: “Can Esther refashion her dreams and make them anew from the whole cloth of her life’s experiences?” Expect a lot of, well, intimate apparel, further costume-building experience for student designers.Slide1

Hair, the iconic 1960’s show subtitled “The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical”, takes the Charity Randall Theatre stage, November 10-20, under the direction of Cynthia Croot with musical direction by Robert Frankenberry. The counterculture and the establishment collide in this ever’ timely and hit-filled musical, premiered the peak of the Vietnam War in 1967 and revived to acclaim on Broadway in 2008. Hold on to your love beads and get ready to “Be In” as “The Age of Aquarius” is back.Spellingbee3-FIN

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee fills the Heymann Theatre, February 9-19, with the inevitable hilarity of some of the most unusual words you don’t know how to spell and unforgettably zany competitive spellers–including some very special guests with a director to be announced. Robert Frankenberry directs Rachel Sheinkin’s musical comedy, a rollicking content conceived by Rebecca Feldman. William Flinn’s music and lyrics sent the show and its spellers to a successful a three-year Broadway run. So, can you use “syzygy” in a sentence? Pitt Stages wants to know!Baltimore 8.5x5.5 2nd[2]

Baltimore brings the realities of racism on a campus home to the Heymann March 29-April 29, in this compelling drama directed by Ricardo Vila-Roger Roger. The voices of eight college students speak for many in Kirsten Greenidge’s acclaimed script as her central character, a well-intentioned resident advisor, grapples with her own perceptions about our diversity and differences. Holding a mirror to our times, Baltimore promises a conversation-provoking journey.Starcatcher_FIN

Peter and the Starcatcher directs audiences past the second star to the right and straight on to morning for a prequel to J.M. Barrie’s beloved Peter Pan and his adventures in Neverland. Expect all things British and imaginative from Rick Elice’s popular adaptation of the 2006 Dave Berry-Ridley Pearson novel, told with Wayne Barker’s acclaimed music score. Meet Molly (the spunky original girl from London), see pirate Smee disguised a mermaid, and just…never never grow up. Catch Pitt Stage’s closing show (director tba) in the Charity Randall Theatre, March 30-April 9.

At Pitt, there’s always more to explore with six innovative student lab productions in the recently restored Studio Theatre, at the heart of students’  production experience. Here students try out their directing and design talents and often step on stage for the first time. Chances are, you’ve seen Pittsburgh directors, designers, and actors who stars have risen from this intimate space in the basement of the Cathedral of Learning. From October 2016 through March 2017, look for these chances to experience intriguing plays in the city’s most venerable flexible black box space:

Aglaonike’s Tiger by Claudia Brewster, directed by Shelby Brewster

Water Eyes by Leenie Baker, directed by Louis Markowitz

The Most Massive Woman Wins by Madeleine George, directed by Hayley Ulmer

Haiku by Kate Snodgrass, directed by Shiri Goldis

I Can’t Go On/I’ll Go On by Samuel Beckett, directed by Nic Barilar

Charm by Kathleen Cahill, directed by Andrea Gunoe

Pitt Stages continues to foreshadow more good things from Theatre Arts when continued faculty development and student innovation is supported by ongoing facility and production enhancement. “It’s a win for everyone,” says Duggan, who looks forward to even more surprises from students who consider theater part of their total education. Like them, she anticipates returning the classroom and the theater, “so excited to be a part of this scholarly aspects of this practice.”

And in more practical terms, Duggan reminds this Pitt Theater Arts alumna that “theater teaches you that there is a due date!”

Pitt Stages subscriptions and tickets are on sale online with discounts for University of Pittsburgh faculty and staff. The season begins on October 6 with its final performance on April 9. Follow all ongoing Theatre Arts news and events at

Read more about how Pitt Theatre Arts and others at University of Pittsburgh explore “pracadamics” in Becoming a Pracademic, by Tom Pacio, 2010 MFA graduate.

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