Putting a new spin on the lunch break, the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater yesterday introduced Friendship to the midday dance party. On Wednesday, the artsy work crowd from the East End neighborhoods descended on Penn Avenue’s Quiet Storm restaurant for Beats n Eats Volume I.
DJ Nate da Phat Barber manned the turntables in the vegan/vegetarian restaurant’s lounge, playing mostly hip hop and house music. A crowd of about 20 people, sitting at tables, bopped along from their chairs and swapped pleasantries between bites of tempeh and tofu.
The patrons — many greeted with cheek smooches and a friendly “How have you been?” — all seemed to know each other. “Everyone eats lunch so we’re all here anyway,” said Kelly-Strayhorn executive director Janera Solomon, “and it’s never too early to dance.” This group was mostly made up of dancers, but the theater’s monthly shindig is open to all “Penn Avenue creatives,” from designers and architects to visual artists.
Kelly-Strayhorn Theater also offers these gatherings to remind the neighborhood it's here. “A lot of East End people don’t know we’re open,” said box-office manager Jackie Baker, who stood outside the restaurant, handing out information, free tickets and Ring Pops. The theater, now named after two Pittsburgh greats (dancer Gene Kelly and composer Billy Strayhorn), first opened in 1914, as a movie theater. Before its current incarnation as a 350-seat live arts venue, with a specialty in contemporary dance, it had been frequently in and out of operation.
After the minglers had finished their meals and had a chance to catch up, Solomon took the mic to thank everyone for coming. “There’s only one rule with this party,” she said. “We have to dance.” DJ Nate kept the beats coming as most attendees abandoned their tables and hit the floor. This lunchtime dance party will continue with volumes 2 and 3 on July 10 and Aug. 14. For more information visit kelly-strayhorn.org.