Our Town

OurTown-Poster-WebThornton Wilder’s 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Our Town, marks the opening of the mainstage season for University of Pittsburgh Stages in the newly renovated Richard E. Rauh Studio Theatre.

Our Town is a deceptively easy play to produce, famously requiring a minimal set and easily understood dialogue. But don’t let the surface simplicity fool you; this is a production that to be fully realized requires nuanced acting, a firm control of pacing, and obsessive attention to detail.

The problem starts with the director’s note, which focused on the casting choices for the show, explaining casting was not based on “physical appearance,” but instead on “who seemed to inhabit the character in an interesting and/or compelling way.”  The director’s note went on to explain how the casting affected the interpretation of character and dialogue. All well and good, but the result of this self-conscious emphasis on the casting was to draw focus away from the play itself and onto the actors, not the story. In practice, director Ricardo Vila-Roger seems to have attempted to create a production that allowed for racial diversity and gender equity. Commendable goals, and I applaud the attempt, but he “over-corrected” sometimes from my perspective.

He was most successful at building an ethnically diverse acting company, who worked well as an ensemble, giving committed, balanced performances. In fact, I think this production was more successful at providing a racially diverse cast than most of the productions I’ve seen in Pittsburgh in recent years. Kudos for that! What I didn’t like was the inauthentic use of Spanish for some of the Webbs’ dialogue. To my admittedly limited ears, it didn’t sound like any of the actors were actually native Spanish speakers; the accents were off, and so the addition of Spanish in the play didn’t seem organic. I didn’t mind the idea, but the execution was clumsy, which took away from the performances in the end.

Mr. Vila-Roger was less successful in his decisions around gender in the casting. He did not cast traditionally with the gender of the actor matching the gender of the character in all cases. Nor did he use gender-neutral casting to fill the roles, where actors don’t necessarily play characters that match their own gender. Instead, he cast several females as male characters, and then changed all of those characters to females. (Side note: he did not cast any males as female characters.) For me, this just didn’t work. It created too many anachronistic moments that simply did not mesh with the period dialogue of the play. This was especially egregious in the case of “Editor Webb” — Mr. Webb in the original script. The decision was made to play “Editor Webb” as a female character, leaving us in the audience to reconcile the idea that an openly lesbian couple would be married and have children in 1901 small town New Hampshire. While it’s a nice thought, it stretches the bounds of verisimilitude past the breaking point. It takes you out of the play too much. Not to mention that Editor Webb’s dialogue, particularly that between him/herself and George before and during the wedding simply didn’t work with a female Editor Webb. The dialogue, written in the 1930’s about the early 1900’s, wasn’t built for that kind of a stretch.

Let me be clear, I have no problem with actors of any gender playing characters of any gender. There is a long history of this practice, and it works quite well. But this changing of the character’s gender to match the actor’s gender seems almost regressive, as though women can’t play male roles. And, ultimately it takes the audience out of the world of the play.

In the end, by focusing the audience so much on his casting, by trying to be everything to everybody, and by trying to make an early twentieth century play fit the model of a twenty-first-century ideal, the director created a tortuous framework that distracted the audience from the simple meditation on ordinary life and death that is Our Town.

Despite all of these concerns, I commend Mr. Vila-Roger on this production, because it does what good university theater should do – it experiments with the form; it reimagines traditions; it allows a space for both professional and casual theater practitioners to expand the limits of their work.

This production of Our Town was a pleasant, university level production with good production values. I especially liked the directorial/design choice made at the end of the play when Emily’s ghost returns to her past to visit her family, and we see the colors and details of the world that Emily missed in life (you’ll have to see it to understand what I mean). The show was moving, bringing several audience members to tears in the third act. And best of all, the actors were emotionally brave and committed to their performances.

Our Town is playing at The Richard E. Rauh Studio Theatre on the University of Pittsburgh’s Oakland campus, through October 15, 2017.  For tickets, call 412-624-7529 or visit www.play.pitt.edu

Baltimore

Baltimore 8.5x5.5 2nd[2]College campuses in America are a hotbed of cultural discourse. As they should be. However, unlike the last hundred years of existing as a space for entire generations to generate a stance on progressivism, collective academic discourse has become confusing. If student bodies aren’t being accused of being violent anti-extremist extremists, they’re instead accused of too quickly retreating into safe spaces.

As national conversations of race shift and boil over, so too does the world of academia. Baltimore, a play by Kirsten Greenidge, places a diverse cast of characters with a diverse range of opinions into this impossible noise machine/puzzle box. Fiona (Gabrielle Kogut), a white, female student, draws a racist caricature on the whiteboard of Alissa (Tyler Cruz), who is black. Fiona, who grew up in a primarily black neighborhood and is dating a black student, claims her experience grants her immunity to the ‘r’ word and refuses to take responsibility for her actions.

Yet, it would be unfair to say that Pitt’s production is a dry, self-serious affair. Director Ricardo Vila-Roger is more than happy to reinforce Greenidge’s moments of levity, particularly in the easily overwhelmed Shelby (Daria M. Sullivan), a black student who refuses to identify or be identified by her race. She’s a likable person with some questionable beliefs; she is also a reminder that trying to out-debate a college dean before you’ve even attained your BA is a categorically awful idea.

Shelby’s intentional absence from most of the show’s more explosive conversations is in itself worth dissecting. It is her inalienable right to choose how she defines herself, but exactly how little space does that grant her in a conversation about wider cultural conversations? And when does a strict, colorless perspective become active oppression?

Just as Shelby is an excellent window into racial ethics that go beyond simple good vs. evil paradigms, she is also an unfortunate stand-in for the play’s moments of thematic weightlessness. Baltimore is a series of monologues in its second act, many of which stand up to scrutiny in the moment but start to feel like a series of belabored pontifications as they begin to accrue.

There are so many moments of revelation and reflection that characters quickly begin losing their humanity and instead become interactive embodiments of cultural perspective; we learn a lot about demographic identity but the all-important notion of individual identity is lost. That Shelby’s role is to be a pre and post arbiter of the ‘I don’t see race’ perspective makes sense on paper, but in practice her re-emergence into the play makes her feel oddly out of place. Baltimore ceased to be about these specific people an act ago, so we’re basically left waiting for her larger monologue about why her perspective has earned saliency.

Baltimore, rather uniquely, is a play in which the problem is also the solution. How else can one solve conflicts that emerge naturally from charged racial discourse other than with more charged racial discourse? In this way, Greenidge’s play doesn’t suggest a solution so much as it urges us to remain present, and with an open ear. Even Fiona, a character that very easily could descend into outright villainhood, is at worst an ignorant bully; maybe she’s not so easy to relate to, sure, but she isn’t so bad as to warrant an outright dismissal, either.

I exited the Henry Heymann Theater feeling totally in my head, mentally digesting the play as a kind of unsolvable Rubik’s cube with way too many of one color. Baltimore is a thoughtful play and as a result, it will generate thought in those who choose to attend it. Still, its perspective may be too ‘forest-for-the-trees’ to also leave you with a feeling.

Special thanks to Pitt Stages for complimentary press tickets. Baltimore runs at the Henry Heymann Theater through April 9. For tickets and more information, click here. 

Peter and the Starcatcher

17620182_1831228916903076_1273660694744146106_oHow does one continue the timeless story of a boy who never grows up?

Steven Spielberg’s Hook notwithstanding, the obvious answer to that question is to explore his past.

And that’s just what Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson did in the 2006 YA novel Peter and the Starcatcher. Their incredible success with the book series (surely due to their respect for the incredibly rich source material) led playwright Rick Elice to adapt their work into a charmingly meta and humorous stage play of the same name. Since its 2009 premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse, Starcatcher has wowed New York and national audiences with the wit of its craftsmanship and the universality of its themes.

Pitt Stages’s current production, docked at the Charity Randall Theater, may torpedo Wayne Barker’s musical score but it undoubtedly soars straight on ‘til morning in almost every other aspect.

Before the green getup—in the 1885 British Empire—Peter Pan had no home and no name. Still reeling from a traumatizing stint in an orphanage, the Boy once again finds himself trapped by circumstance. This time, he’s a prisoner on a ship called Neverland with his two best friends, Ted and Prentiss. Little do they know that, above deck, the ship’s captain Bill Slank has masterminded a devious switcheroo that mistakenly lands a great treasure on his vessel rather than on the majestic Wasp.

This is good news for no one. Not for Lord Aster who was tasked by the Queen herself (God save her!) to protect the mysterious and mystical “starstuff” that lies within the treasure chest. Not for the bumbling band of pirates, led by the silly and sinister Black Stache, who commandeer the Wasp to steal the treasure.

As a starcatcher-in-training working to safeguard the power of starstuff (the ability to realize the dreams of anyone who possesses it), Aster’s young, confident, and wildly adventurous daughter Molly takes it upon herself to complete her father’s mission. After she ditches her shrieking governess Mrs. Bumbrake, Molly begins to explore the ship. There are horrors and delights aplenty aboard the Neverland but nothing like the company of her peers, alike in age and disposition. Jockeying for leadership of the team all the while, the lost boys and Molly work together to thwart Black Stache’s dastardly plans.

Eventually, the stage is set for J.M. Barrie’s classic tale to play out. But a litany of unexpected starboard and port twists and turns will leave you and our heroes on the edge of the plank throughout.

While the magical exploits of the Aster family are dazzling, I strongly believe that the real starcatcher at the center of this production is director Kathryn Markey. She has assembled a spirited crew of actors brimming with talent and infectious enthusiasm. It’s rare to see performers clearly having so much fun while expertly navigating such intricate design and staging.

Imagine my surprise when I perused my playbill and found out that several members of the diverse 19-person ensemble were making their Pitt Stages acting debuts. That’s proof that these actors aren’t just stars on the rise, but also shooting stars.

Brightest among them are Tanner Prime, Molly Balk, and Dennis Schebetta. Like the play, their performances truly set sail in Act II. Prime’s adorable pluckiness and vulnerability make his character’s wish to never grow up seem like something we should all aspire to. As the Boy’s most colorful adversaries, Fighting Prawn and Black Stache, Balk and Schebetta showcase their unmatched charisma and sense of comedic timing.

Zachary Romah, Sabrina Rothschild, Alex Knapp, and Sean Gallagher also shine as pairs of Lost Boys and unlikely lovers, respectively.

In addition to crafting a versatile landscape evoking equal parts childlike wonder and workmanlike grit, scenic designer Gianni Downs should also be credited with providing Markey a lively canvas on which to paint her various thrilling stage pictures. Their work goes hand in hand—more like hand in rope, in this case—during all the show’s most action-packed moments. Markey channels the inherent whimsy of Starcatcher most potently when she seamlessly transforms her actors into doors, animals, and crashing ocean waves. Downs’s creative combination of hand-painted and hand-built pieces more than live up to Donyale Werle’s Tony-winning Broadway sets.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the sound design by Tyler Bensen or the costume design by KJ Gilmer. Both are plagued by a troubling sameness. It’s a problem when you can close your eyes and not be sure if you’re listening to the hiss of an angry housecat or the growl of a hungry crocodile. It’s a bigger problem when the iconic swashbuckling style of the man who will become Captain Hook is watered down to the point of resembling poor Captain Jack Sparrow cosplay.

Still, there is tons to admire in Pitt Stages’s Peter and the Starcatcher. Growing up doesn’t seem so bad if it means just aging the two and half hours of this energetic and touching production’s runtime. Believe me and fly your way over to the theater.

Peter and the Starcatcher runs through April 9th at the Charity Randall Theater. For more information, click here.

Thank you to Pitt Stages for the complimentary tickets.

 

 

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

unnamedThe cold and snow got you down? Then a trip to The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at the Henry Hayman Theatre on the University of Pittsburgh campus just might help with your winter doldrums.

Set at the Putnam County Middle School, the 25th annual spelling bee is complete with a quirky cast of characters on either side of the microphone. Word pronouncer Douglas Panch returns to the Bee after a long hiatus due to a mysterious incident.  Grade schooler William Barfée spells words with his feet. There is an ex-con who serves as a “comfort counselor” to help troubled students.  Throw in a speller who wears a cape and goes into a trance when spelling, a couple of gifted kids, some shy kids, the janitor, absent parents and a dim bulb or two and you have a recipe for, well, a typical spelling bee.

Through the early rounds, we learn how each of the students has made it to the finals; some due to their spelling skill and some due to dumb luck.  As the words become multisyllabic, and the pressure mounts tensions rise. After all, what could possibly go wrong at a spelling bee?Putnam production 3

There are a few things you should know. Prior to the show’s start, several audience members are selected as guest spellers. On preview night, they were quite funny.   There is a new addition to the show and as best as I can figure, only this Pitt production has a mascot. The Putnam County Middle School’s mascot is a mermaid!  Who knew? She(?) is played swimmingly and silently by pharmacy major David Steffes. I can’t explain it, but he’s funny and it works. There are some other alterations to the original casting to accommodate available talent.

Currently, the University’s Theatre Arts program is in the midst of a rebuilding phase. This season and the selection of Spelling Bee reflect an increased emphasis on musical theatre. Not unexpected from a program in the rebuilding phase with a mostly undergraduate cast from a variety of majors and interests is an unevenness in vocal, dance and acting skills.

Director Robert Frankenberry’s direction brings out the stereotypical perceptions of what each character should be like without creating empathy for the difficulties of growing up as a teenager.Putnam production 2

A couple of standout performances s are the Vice Principal, Doug Panch, played with a perfect sense of lust, leering and sick humor by MFA candidate Jose´ Perez IV. Corey Forman shows his comedic skills as the cape wearing, possibly autistic, definitely odd Leaf Coneybear.  Rachaelmae Pulliam is delightful as the snot-nosed William Barfee, the boy who spells with his feet. Lauryn Morgan Thomas nails the overly studious, Catholic schoolgirl Marcy Park. I would have liked Fenice Thompson’s Mitch the “comfort counselor” to be just a bit more menacing in counterpoint to the character’s title.

The Henry Heymann theatre is an intimate three-quarter thrust space. The Set Designer Laura Velenti has perfectly recreated a school gym down to the team banners and mandatory metal screen over the glass clock cover. There is nice paintwork on the multi-hued ceramic brick back wall and the wooden floor. Megan Bresser’s Lighting Design takes advantage of the flashbacks for some lighting fun. Three-quarter round staging in a theatre with low ceilings is tough to light creatively while keeping the light out of the audience’s eyes and still letting everyone see the actors. Nice job. Costumes by Minjee Kasckow captured the unique nature of the characters that inhabited them.Putnam production 1

Those of you who have read my reviews know I’m a stickler for good sound design, particularly musicals in intimate venues. Zach Beatty-Brown’s sound design and its execution was exemplary in that it was subtle and filled in audibility where needed. A very nice touch was the change in the sound when actors approached the stand microphone to spell their words and Panch as he was pronouncing into his desk microphone

I personally like reviewing shows staged in three-quarter thrust venues. It gives me a chance to watch the audience, see how they react, look at how they are engaged and their facial expressions.  Tonight’s audience of mostly college students laughed and enjoyed the performance.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee plays at the Henry Heymann Theatre on the Pitt campus, now through the 19th, with Sunday matinees. For tickets and more information, click here. 

A special thanks to the University of Pittsburgh, Theatre Arts Department for the complimentary tickets to the show. Photos courtesy of University of Pittsburgh Stages. 

5 Musicals You Don’t Want to Miss This Winter

The selection of which musical to produce in any given season can be a dilemma. There are many factors to consider that include casting, designer, director and performance space. These decisions need to be made many months before the show opens; sometimes the producers get lucky and pick shows that have relevance to today’s world.

We got very lucky this year.

This winter ’s musicals are a diverse mix of offerings that range from a Disney musical to two classics that are surprisingly pertinent today and two musicals just for fun.hunchback

Pittsburgh Musical Theatre is celebrating their 25th season with a production of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, which is based Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel and the 1996 Disney animated film. Its music is by Alan Meken with lyrics by CMU grad Stephen Schwartz, who also wrote lyrics for Pippin, Godspell and Wicked.

The main character is Quasimodo, the deformed bell/ringer at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in 15th century Paris. He is held captive by an evil archdeacon and his own perception of self loathing. He escapes for a day to join the rowdy crowd at the Feast of Fools only to be treated cruelly except for Esmeralda, a beautiful free spirited gypsy.  There is a plot brewing to destroy the gypsies but Quasimodo saves the day and the gypsies.

Well-known Pittsburgh native Quinn Patrick Shannon plays Quasimodo. Quinn recently appeared as Nicely Nicely Johnson in the Pittsburgh Public Theater’s production of Guys and Dolls, and is currently in playing the role of the White Guy in the Toxic Avenger at the CLO Cabaret.  “Pittsburgh loves Quinn and he should be a big draw for the show” according to PMT’s Rodney Burrell.

The choice of The Hunchback of Notre Dame this season “continues PMT’s tradition of producing challenging musicals with a realistic gritty slant” said Burrell. The baseline of Victor Hugo’s story is the “realization of ones self-relevance” and a reminder to us all never to judge a person’s worth by their appearance.

This show is co-directed by Colleen Doyno and PMT founder Ken Gagaro, and it retains its powerful message particularly in today’s climate.

Performances are at the Byham Theatre; it opens on Thursday, January 26th and runs through February 5th, with Sunday matinees. Tickets and more information can be found here. 

Spellingbee3-FINThe University of Pittsburgh Department of Theatre Arts presents their second “just for the fun of it show”, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Putnam Valley Middle School is hosting their 25th annual spelling bee competition, and there’s a quirky cast of characters on either side of the microphone. Word pronouncer Douglas Panch returns to the Bee after a long hiatus due to a mysterious incident.  Grade schooler William Barfée spells words with his feet. There are many more special friends who spell out H I L A R I T Y with H E A R T.

Tensions run high as the words become multisyllabic, and the pressure mounts. What could possibly go wrong?

Annmarie Duggan, new Chair of the Department at Pitt, says Spelling Bee was chosen because it is funny and heartwarming good time intended to counter the winter doldrums.

The cast is made up of completely Pitt undergraduates and reflects Pitt’s increased focus on musical theatre. “It is the strongest cast show this season” says Duggan.  This show marks the Pitt directing debut of Rob Frankenberry, one of our city’s most often seen directors and performers. “The beautiful and adorable set, costume and lighting design are all by Pitt undergrads.”  It plays at the Henry Heymann Theatre on the Pitt campus, February 9th through the 19th, with Sunday matinees.

For tickets and more information click here.pumpboys

Pittsburgh CLO takes us on a fun all-American road trip of southern-fried rock, rhythm and blues with Pump Boys and Dinettes at the CLO Cabaret, which runs January 26th to April 15th.

Two friends wrote the musical about their experience working in New York’s restaurant scene. The ensemble of six friends sings of joy and heartbreak while they play away on a variety of musical instruments just shy of the kitchen sink in this Tony nominated musical.

Tickets are available now, for more information click here.

The Carnegie Mellon School of Ragtime-JPEGDrama, subscription series presents Ragtime,
based on E.L. Doctorow’s acclaimed 1975 book.  The story is a window to many cultural and social classes and with a discerning eye addresses race, economic disparity and immigration.

This is a story of opportunity and oppression, Ragtime reflects on the limitations of justice, hope for the future, and humanity’s interconnectivity; ideas as important today as they were 100 years ago.

Director Tom’e Cousin says “Ragtime had always been on the list to try and do.  It just happened that this years seniors are a great fit with a few additional roles to be played by juniors.  The work is extremely timely but that was not planned.”

“Ragtime is a new American classic and given the highly charged political and social comments embedded within CMU’s high caliber performances are not to be missed. I personally have a creative reputation for unique interpretations and original concepts.”

Ragtime runs at The Philip Chosky Theater on the CMU campus February 23rd to March 4th.

Tickets and more information can be found here. 

cabaretSplit Stage in Westmoreland county presents the multiple Tony award wining Cabaret at the newly restored Lamp Theatre in Irwin, co-directed by Nate Newell and Rob Jessup

Cabaret takes place in Berlin at the seedy Kit Kat Klub as the Nazis are rising to power.  It revolves around the relationship of an American writer and a young cabaret singer just as alarming political developments take hold in pre-WWII Germany.

When asked Why Cabaret?  Co-Director and Split Stage Co-Founder Rob Jessup said  “The decision to produce Cabaret is very relevant now with the election and current political climate.  There is an opportunity to shape our production to create the desired impact for today.”

While this musical was first produced on Broadway in 1966, Rob promises his Cabaret will “be much more topical & gritty: and will have a more “beat up and weathered look” than the recent revivals. Sally the English singer will be more “stark and grounded having been through the ringer….the Lamp Theatre is the perfect venue for our Cabaret.”

For more information about Split Stage and their upcoming production, click here. 

Winter 2017 is shaping up to be another great season for musical theatre, come enjoy!

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 play.pitt.edu.

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.

Check out the rest of our Collegiate Preview and follow along with our Collegiate adventures on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with the hashtag #PITRUniversity!