This stage bio of African-American singer Roland Hayes isn’t a play in the standard sense. It’s more a succession of imagined scenes from his groundbreaking life, from childhood in rural Alabama poverty to stardom on world concert stages in the early 20th century.
Of course there’s plenty of music too, with the powerful voices of Jubilant Sykes (as Hayes) and Kecia Lewis (as his mother) booming out everything from vintage spirituals to German art song. Many scenes in fact feel built around the songs they lead up to.
This isn’t a heady evening at the theater. Playwright Daniel Beaty has arranged the scenes chronologically, with some flash-forwards to tie things together. And it’s all built around a few simple conflicts: Hayes’ desire to sing; his mother’s resistance to that career choice; and society’s resistance to a classically trained black vocalist. (Hayes was born in 1887; and we thought Marian Anderson, born 10 years later, in Philadelphia, had it tough — because, of course, she did.)
But the whites who kept Hayes down are represented in this show by a single character — a brutal Southern cop. The other seven roles played by actor and piano accompanist Tom Frey are all sympathetic. If more genteel influential persons ever barred the singer’s way — and they must have — we never get a concrete sense of it. Worse, despite some lyrical writing, Beatty never offers much insight into Hayes. He’s simply someone driven to sing and who hates segregation, both qualities you could have guessed going in.
Still, as Michelle Pilecki points out in her review of the show for CP, the skilled and tireless three-member cast are quite enjoyable. And Hayes’ amazing story — he died in 1942 — is too little known. If nothing else, Sykes’ performance makes sure you won’t forget it.
There are four more performances of Breath & Imagination: 8 p.m. tonight, 5:30 and 9 p.m. tomorrow, and a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday.
A new contest invites you to submit cultural images converted into digital Andy Warhol-style screen prints via The Warhol D.I.Y. POP App.
New York-based translation and marketing agency Acclaro and The Andy Warhol Museum present the social-media contest, called “POP Your Culture with The Warhol D.I.Y. Pop App.”
Submissions should be entered online on the Acclaro Facebook page. The contest launched March 21, and the deadline is midnight on March 31 (that's Sunday).
The DIY Pop App is available for smart phones that allow users to make any image as iconic as Warhol’s famed Campbell’s Soup Cans.
Here's a sample work.
The contest will have four winners, with the top three selected by Nicholas Chambers, the Milton Fine curator of art at The Warhol. The fourth winner will be selected by votes from the masses on Facebook.
The grand prize is a trip for two to Pittsburgh including a private tour of the current museum exhibition, Regarding Warhol. Second- and third-place winners willl receive gift certificates to The Warhol Store in the amounts of $300 and $200 respectively that are also valid online.
The fourth winner, selected by likes on Facebook, will have their submitted image set as The Warhol Facebook and Twitter profiles for a day, exposing their work to more than 550,000 combined followers.
In the way of many solo shows, Kim El’s new work is a tour de force.
In this full-length autobiographical play, the local performer and playwright portrays eight characters, only two of whom are explicitly versions of herself. And she’s a strong enough performer and storyteller that the more didactic aspects of the show seldom seem too heavy-handed.
There’s plenty of humor, too. If El’s portrayal of her grandmother coming to terms with a naked Barbie isn’t alone worth the price of admission, it’s close.
And if the show’s heart is El’s struggle with clinical depression, there’s much more to it than that. Particularly engaging is the protagonist's evolving relationship with the Hill District’s projects — from the downscale place she dpesn’t want to live as a kid but had to when her parents broke up, to the neighborhood she ardently defends as a college student when a clueless Duquesne University student advisor puts it down.
Here’s Michelle Pilecki’s review for CP.
There are three more performances of Straightening Combs this weekend, at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and a 3 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Tickets are $15-25.
Performer Ben Sota’s troupe — now 10 years old! — is doing a cute little show called “Cake” as its first Pittsburgh performance in a bit. It’s performed for free, outdoors in Market Square, Downtown, through Sunday.
Sota (as the dad) does some nice juggling and other tricks; Erin Carey some fine trapeze work (that’s her pictured, and bundled up); and Becca Bernard (as the birthday girl) and Bob Shryock contribute clowning and other talents, plus audience—participation hijinks. Cream pies are also involved.
The half-hour show had it first performance at noon today. I caught the 5 p.m. performance; the audience was just a couple dozen but appreciative (even if the applause was somewhat muffled by mittens).
“Cake” is on courtesy of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. There are six more performances, at noon, 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. tomorrow, and 2, 5 and 8 p.m. on Sunday.
Three years ago, J.J. Hensley had neither run a serious distance race nor thought about writing a book. But one challenge followed the other, and his debut novel, Resolve (The Permanent Press), is available now for pre-order on Kindle, with a hardback edition due tomorrow.
That’s what you call hitting the wall.
Hensley, who grew up in Huntington, W.V., is himself a former cop and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service. He moved to the Pittsburgh area in 2006 to work for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. The resident of Pittsburgh’s northern suburbs took up distance running and in 2010 completed his first half-marathon.
Right around that time, he also took his wife’s suggestion and turned his love of mysteries and thrillers (by the likes of James Grady, John Virdon and Vince Flynn) into his own writing habit.
“I started typing away,” he says simply. “It actually came fairly naturally to me.”
Building his own thriller around a distance race seemed natural, too. “You have a lot of time to think [during a race],” says Hensley, 38. “You’re running two-plus hours sometimes.” Moreover, he adds, “Each mile almost has its own story.”
Hensley’s sense of plotting and suspense, and his way with a short, snappy sentence, caught the eye (through his agent) of The Permanent Press, a long-running and rather prestigious indie publisher based in Sag Harbor, N.Y. The award-winning press, which has been featured in The New York Times, has published works that went on to win honors like the American Book Award.
Resolve is available in its Kindle incarnation tomorrow, and will shortly have other e-book and audio-book versions, says Hensley.
“I thought, 'What if you took that story of obsessive fans and flipped it to where it was the artist who was obsessed with the fan?,'” Wise said.
The plot unfolds as the question of what universe Morrigan Blue comes from arises, making for a fantasy-driven ride through a twisted love affair. The book will be the first of Wise's three e-books to be published in trade-paperback format.
Wise centered his story around a fictional depiction of Pittsburgh’s music scene, taking cues from real locations and experiences to make his backdrop.
“I’ve lived in this city for 23 years and at any given moment there are some really great bands playing out here," Wise said.
The author points to the collaborative nature of the musicians in Pittsburgh as his inspiration.
”I’ve always been a fan of local music in Pittsburgh — there’s a very communal feel to the music scene here that I think is great,” he says.
Scenes in the novel feature posters of bands playing at venues reminiscent of Pittsburgh stalwarts like the Rex and Altar Bar, as well as a few classic Pittsburgh band names peppered throughout the book like Easter eggs for devoted fans.
Wise can be found regularly at Phantom of The Attic Comics in Oakland, where he works. The book signing for his latest book will take place there from noon to 3 p.m. this Sunday.
Four notable zine-makers visit The Big Idea Cooperative Bookstore & Café on Wednesday night.
The Thank You For Being A Friend Zine Tour includes Taryn Hipp, JC, Kerri Radley and Sarah Rose.
Hipp, of New Jersey, calls herself “an old tattooed college lady who has been making zines for more than half her life.” Her current project is Sub Rosa, a collection of personal stories.
JC, who lives in Maryland, writes Tributaries, a perzine about growing up with rheumatoid arthritis.
Radley, of Philadelphia, writes the perzine Deafula, about her life as a deaf person.
And Rose, also of Philadelphia, puts out Tazewell’s Favorite Eccentric, about everything from surviving sexual abuse to making balloon animals for a living. Rose is also an organizer for Philly Zine Fest.
The tour (yes, the name’s a Golden Girls reference) hits Big Idea from 7-9 p.m. on Wednesday. The joint’s at 4812 Liberty Ave., in Bloomfield.
The show’s in a new venue for the Opera Theater, The Father Ryan Arts Center, in McKees Rocks.
The 1993 opera dramatizes events between 1903 and 1914 — pre-Fallingwater — as the legendary architect decides to leave his wife and children, including the storied murders and fire at Taliesen.
The opera features music by lauded American composer Daron Hagen and a libretto by Paul Muldoon, the Pulitzer-winning Irish poet. The Opera Theater production — which will get a full run at this year’s SummerFest, in July — will be staged by the troupe’s artistic director, Jonathan Eaton.
The cast of five includes Pittsburgh area native Kevin Kees as Wright and Lara Lynn Cottrill as Wright's lover, Mamah Cheney.
The show is at 7 p.m. tomorrow, at The Father Ryan Arts Center, 420 Chartiers Ave., in McKees Rocks.
Tickets are $9, or $19 for VIP seating. Call 412-771-3052 for more info.