Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Final week for "Seven Guitars" at Pittsburgh Playwrights, staged at August Wilson House

Posted By on Tue, Aug 23, 2016 at 3:31 PM

Jonathan Berry (left) and Leslie "Ezra" Smith in "Seven Guitars." - PHOTO COURTESY OF GAIL MANKER
  • Photo courtesy of Gail Manker
  • Jonathan Berry (left) and Leslie "Ezra" Smith in "Seven Guitars."
Seeing August Wilson’s Seven Guitars performed in the very Hill District backyard in which it was set should give anyone chills, but also a sense of an artistic birthright restored: Wilson was raised on the Hill, and grew up in the house in front of that Bedford Avenue backyard, but who knows how long it’s been since one of his plays was actually staged in the neighborhood?

It’s not too much to call this fine Playwrights production “historic.” But if you want to see it, you’d better hurry: There are just five more performances through Sunday, and one of them (Saturday night’s) is already sold out. Fortunately, bowing to popular demand (all six performances the first two weeks sold out), Playwrights added weekend matinees this week, which has effectively doubled your chances of getting a seat.

With straw blanketing the yard’s bare dirt, and live chickens pecking away, the outdoor production takes you back to 1948, with seven characters (the “guitars” of the title) attached to the mystery of who killed bluesman Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton (though Barton, played by Jonathan Berry, is alive for most of the play, in extended flashback).

Director Mark Clayton Southers’ staging of the 1996 play runs about three and a half hours, including an intermission; it’s probably Wilson’s most discursive work. But it takes time to create a world on stage, and Seven Guitars features some of Wilson’s most pungent dialogue: As one character says, “You get a hit record and the white folks call you ‘Mister.’”

Here’s Michelle Pilecki’s review of the show for City Paper.

Bonus: The house is the under-construction arts center known as August Wilson House, so you can get a sneak peak at that, too. And you’ll be sitting within blocks of the real-life settings for several other Wilson plays, including Fences and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.

Seven Guitars takes place at 1727 Bedford Ave.

Tickets are $25 and are available here.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

What you need to know about Pittsburgh news this week

Posted By on Fri, Aug 19, 2016 at 3:59 PM

What's happening in Pittsburgh and beyond:

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1. Pa. AG Kathleen Kane
resigned this week after she was found guilty on perjury and obstruction charges. CP reports on its Politicrap blog about other attorneys general who were convicted of crimes while in office.

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CP PHOTO BY LUKE THOR TRAVIS
  • CP photo by Luke Thor Travis
2. Drake and Future — along with Canadian artists Roy Woods and DVSN — brought their Summer Sixteen Tour to Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center. Did you see our photo slideshow? (Drake even donned a Pens jersey.)

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CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
3. Wigle Whiskey is crowdfunding the establishment of the Whiskey of America Museum (abbreviated as WAM!). “It’s time to reclaim our place in whiskey history,” Wigle co-owner Meredith Meyer Grelli said, citing the Whiskey Rebellion in Western Pennsylvania in the 1700s. Carnegie Mellon University is even jumping in on the action by creating a robot for the museum that automates the malting process of making whiskey. 

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CP PHOTO OF KATIE MCGINTY BY RYAN DETO; IMAGE OF PAT TOOMEY PROVIDED BY CANDIDATE
  • CP photo of Katie McGinty by Ryan Deto; image of Pat Toomey provided by candidate
4. Democratic nominee Katie McGinty and incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey have agreed to two debate dates, but the Toomey campaign is pushing for more. “We certainly support having debates in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but why is Katie McGinty stopping at two?" said Toomey's campaign spokesperson Ted Kwong in a press release this week.

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PHOTO COURTESY OF MOMS CLEAN AIR FORCE
  • Photo courtesy of Moms Clean Air Force
5. Moms Clean Air Force held a "Play-In for Pollution Control" in Beaver this week to protest the possible air pollution that could be produced by the coming Shell ethane cracker plant to be built in Potter Township. “Southwestern Pennsylvania consistently has poor air quality year after year according to the American Lung Association. Adding additional heavy industry like the Shell petrochemical facility would greatly impact the air quality by releasing tons of pollution that can cause serious health issues,” said Patrice Tomcik, of Moms Clean Air Force, in a press release.

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6. GTECH's Two Wheels Lots of Green
bike ride is happening this weekend on Sat., Aug. 20. The ride aims to build awareness about urban greenspace throughout Pittsburgh's neighborhoods. “Our greenspaces are really unique,” says GTECH's Katherine Chamberlain. “They take many different shapes, and they’ve all been designed by neighborhood residents.”

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7. As Dick Dale prepares to take the stage at the Rex Theater this Saturday, CP editor Charlie Deitch takes a look back at his 2015 story that revealed Dale's chronic health problems. “When I’m on stage, the pain can be excruciating. Someone has to help me up on stage because I can’t do it alone," Dale said last year.

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On our music blog:

Listen up because every week on our FFW music blog, we feature artists that we're covering on our Spotify playlist!


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On the pages of our print edition:


CP PHOTO BY BILLY LUDT
  • CP photo by Billy Ludt
City Paper news intern Billy Ludt explores the Stonewall Sports Pittsburgh chapter and Steel City Sports, two recreational leagues for the LGBT community. The leagues comprises several sports, including softball, volleyball and bowling. “To find a sense of community was really important to me, and to also get back to a sport that I played since I was little,” says Ashley Durham, who plays for the Steel City Softball league.


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Looking back at Pittsburgh City Paper's 2015 Dick Dale story as he prepares to play the Rex Theater on Saturday

Posted By on Fri, Aug 19, 2016 at 2:58 PM

Dick Dale
  • Dick Dale
Last year around this time, I wrote a story about now-79-year-old surf-rock pioneer Dick Dale. At the time, I was a casual fan of Dick's music, and when I saw he was coming through town, music editor Margaret Welsh told me to try and set something up.

At the scheduled time, I called Dick's home and spoke to his wife, Lana Dale, and she said an emergency had come up and we'd need to reschedule. But schedules wouldn't allow another date before Dick left on tour, so she asked me if I could do it in five minutes and I agreed, but apparently Dick didn't: We talked for more than a half hour.

I don't want to recount the entire conversation here — you can read it at the link above. But as Dick gets ready to come back into town Saturday night, I've been thinking back on that piece and the attention it generated. The story had little to do with Dick's music and his significance in the shaping of modern music. Instead we talked about his scores of health issues, the constant pain he lives with, and that he had to keep touring to pay for the crucial medical supplies he needs. 

His story was heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. He explained:

“When I’m on stage, the pain can be excruciating. Someone has to help me up on stage because I can’t do it alone," Dale said last year. "“You tell the people, ‘Don’t be scared of dying,’ When your mind leaves this body, it is a beautiful thing and it is not to be feared. Don’t let that fear of dying affect the way you live.

“You take that fear and you use it as a driving force to keep moving forward, no matter how much pain you have. That’s how I do what I do on stage. I’m not afraid to die because it all gets beautiful from here.”


Dick's attitude toward his situation, I think, is what made this story resonate; that and the outrage that he must keep touring just to pay for supplies. Whatever it was, the story went viral within a few hours and spread over the next several weeks. It's become the most-read story on www.pghcitypaper.com. To this day, I still get emails asking about Dick and if he ever got help for his medical costs. I passed a lot of emails on to Dick and Lana in the past year, and although I wasn't able to get a follow-up interview, Lana has told me her husband is still chugging along despite the pain.

Dick plays the Rex Theater this Saturday night. I can't stress enough that if you're a fan of Dick Dale, surf rock or even just great guitar-playing, you need to see his show. Last year's was a jaw-dropping spectacle as the septuagenarian moved around the stage and played every instrument. It would be a disservice to say that he plays well for a 79-year-old; he shreds that guitar like an ageless beast. It's something that has to be experienced. 

And really, after reading our piece from last year and seeing what Dick is going through to be there, it's hard to come up for a reason not to go. I am currently not planning to go because of four busted ribs I suffered in a recent accident. But several times a day, I remember what Dick goes through and start to wonder if broken ribs are really a valid reason not to be there. If he can push through his pain, I'm thinking I probably can too.

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Camp classic inspires Pittsburgh duo’s musical on Saturday

Posted By on Thu, Aug 18, 2016 at 5:37 PM

Missy Moreno (left) and Connor McCanlus in "Whatever Happened to babyGRAND?" - PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHAEL RUBINO
  • Photo courtesy of Michael Rubino
  • Missy Moreno (left) and Connor McCanlus in "Whatever Happened to babyGRAND?"
Talented local duo babyGRAND, known for improvising whole musical comedies, perform a new but still largely improvised work, What Ever Happened to babyGRAND?

The show, which debuted at Arcade Comedy Theater during PrideFest 2016, adapts Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, the famed 1962 drama starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Davis plays a former child star who keeps her more successful sister, played by Crawford, a prisoner in their home after having run her over with a car decades earlier.

The show preserves the characters and iconic moments and costumes, but weaves them together “with improvised music crafted around a single audience suggestion.”

babyGRAND is composed of veteran locally based singers and actors Missy Moreno and Connor McCanlus. Moreno has toured with CLO’s Gallery of Heroes and worked with Chicago’s famed Second City comedy troupe. McCanlus has performed with Bricolage Productions, CLO Cabaret and Kinetic Theatre, and he runs the Pittsburgh Improv Jam.

What Ever Happened to babyGRAND? will be performed at 10 p.m. this Saturday at the CLO Cabaret Theater. The show runs 50 minutes.

Tickets are $10 at the door.

The CLO Cabaret Theater is located at 655 Penn Ave., Downtown.

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GTECH's bike tours combine green transportation with greenspaces

Posted By on Thu, Aug 18, 2016 at 3:55 PM

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At the cross section of alternative mobility and urban greenspaces comes an event that’s gathering serious and casual cyclists for a trip to one of Pittsburgh’s community-created greenspaces.


GTECH, a nonprofit that focuses on greenspace initiatives, is organizing its fifth annual neighborhood biking event, Two Wheels Lots of Green. This guided biking event takes riders on tours of Pittsburgh neighborhoods, stopping at local greenspaces along the way. This year’s Two Wheels Lots of Green tour will be in Pittsburgh's southern Hill Top neighborhoods.   


“Our greenspaces are really unique,” says GTECH relationship manager Katherine Chamberlain. “They take many different shapes, and they’ve all been designed by neighborhood residents.”


The event gives participants the choice to take a rigorous, hilly seven-mile ride or a leisurely four-mile ride, both through the Hill Top's Allentown and Beltzhoover neighborhoods. While stopped at greenspaces, riders will meet neighborhood residents who have dedicated time to creating a green space. The event is also attempting to raise awareness about the amount of underutilized or vacant land in Pittsburgh.

“We want the ride to be accessible to people who are familiar with biking in the city,” says Chamberlain.


“It’s also a great way for residents of the neighborhood to show ownership of their green space,”

says CEO and co-founder of GTECH, Andrew Butcher. “It can be difficult to find time to be exposed to all the amazing things that are happening in these neighborhoods.”  


The idea for Two Wheels Lots of Green came from the Social Capital Council, GTECH’s social outreach committee. One committee member, who happened to be an avid cyclist, wanted to create more interest in greenspaces.


“We said, ‘Boy, I really wish there was a way that I could experience these spaces and meet the people who made them,’” says Chamberlain.


Two Wheels Lots of Green started at a time when the German Marshall Fund, a grant-making organization, was seeking initiatives that dealt with alternative mobility (like biking) and urban green space. The event received the fund's support in 2012 and has occurred yearly since. The ride aligns with GTECH’s mission to make use of vacant and underutilized land in the city.

“It was a perfect time for us,” says Butcher. “‘Shine the light and share the love’ has become a sentiment for Two Wheels Lots of Green.”

Butcher said that crowds for Two Wheels Lots of Green have grown over the past several years; composed of a mix of serious bicyclists and people simply serious about greenspace.

“We’re very excited about aligning this event with Bike Fest,” says Butcher. “This is one of my favorite GTECH events.”


“We always enjoy seeing the connection between the riders,” says Chamberlain. "There’s a developed camaraderie in the groups through a shared interest in greenspaces.”


Two Wheels Lots of Green’s rides start and end at Garden on Gearing, running from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday. The bike tours are followed by a garden party back at Gearing, with live music, food and a pop-up playground provided by City of Play.


Participants can partake in “bike-powered” smoothies from Green Mountain Energy and iced coffee from Black Forge Coffee during the bike tours.


Tickets for Two Wheels Lots of Green are available for purchase on GTECH’s website.


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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Japanese folk tales take center stage at Pittsburgh's City of Asylum on Saturday

Posted By on Wed, Aug 17, 2016 at 2:25 PM

Kuniko Yamamoto - PHOTO COURTESY OF CITY OF ASYLUM
  • Photo courtesy of City of Asylum
  • Kuniko Yamamoto

Visiting storyteller Kuniko Yamamoto will take families on a journey to Japan this Saturday at City of Asylum’s Alphabet City tent. Her Origami Tales continues a new series, Summer on Sampsonia, named after the North Side street that the nonprofit literary center calls home.

Combining origami, masks, musical instruments and mime to tell traditional tales, Yamamoto gives audiences a chance to experience firsthand the culture of Japan.

Yamamato is a native of Japan currently based in Florida. Trained by renowned mime/actor Tony Montanaro, Yamamoto has performed extensively at venues throughout the U.S., including Disney’s Epcot Center and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Thanks to her magician husband, she also incorporates subtle illusions into her ancient stories.

As City of Asylum preps for the upcoming opening of its new Alphabet City cultural center, in the former Masonic Building, near the Garden Theater, it continues using a large tent adjacent to its headquarters to host literary, jazz and cultural events.

Origami Tales takes place on Sat., Aug. 20, from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at 318 Sampsonia Way, on the North Side. The event is free to the public, but reservations are encouraged.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Wigle Whiskey starting crowdfund to create a new whiskey museum in Pittsburgh

Posted By on Tue, Aug 16, 2016 at 2:22 PM

Chris Moehle of Robotics Hub (left) and Meredith Meyer Grelli of Wigle Whiskey (second from left) at the Wigle Whiskey Barrelhouse in the North Side. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Chris Moehle of Robotics Hub (left) and Meredith Meyer Grelli of Wigle Whiskey (second from left) at the Wigle Whiskey Barrelhouse in the North Side.
The company that brought back whiskey pride to the birthplace of the Whiskey Rebellion is taking another step toward spreading the traditions of Pennsylvania distilling. Wigle Whiskey is seeking to start an interactive whiskey museum here in Pittsburgh, adding to their mission of reigniting interest in the rye whiskey heritage of Western Pennsylvania.

“It’s time to reclaim our place in whiskey history,” Wigle co-owner Meredith Meyer Grelli said to a small crowd at the Wigle Whiskey Barrelhouse in the North Side yesterday. 

Grelli said that while Kentucky and the Bourbon Trail get most of the attention when it comes to whiskey heritage in the U.S., Western Pennsylvania actually deserves most of the credit for popularizing the spirit in America. After all, following George Washington’s quashing of the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania in the late 1700s, many distillers moved to Kentucky, where they created Bourbon shortly after.

The Whiskey of America Museum, or WAM!, will include exhibits on whiskey’s history in America, cultural displays detailing the spirit’s rise in popularity, do-it-yourself cocktail stations, and interactive exhibits that engage visitors in the science behind distilling. Grelli says that the Pittsburgh community will be an integral part of the process, and local artists, scientists and makers will contribute to the museum. Chris Moehle, of the Robotics Hub, a Carnegie Mellon University-General Electric collaboration, says the group has plans to create and showcase a robot for the museum that will automate the malting process of making whiskey.

“It’s going to be like a kids museum for adults, with alcohol,” says Grelli.

A bottle shop and tasting room will accompany the museum and will feature local spirits, beer, ciders and wine for sale. The museum site will also serve as the trailhead for the new Rye Whiskey Trail, which will stretch from Pittsburgh to George Washington's historic estate Mount Vernon, just south of Washington, D.C., following the Great Allegheny Passage and C & O Canal Towpath bike paths.

Many regional and national groups have already signed on to help create the museum, which Grelli emphasizes isn’t a Wigle museum, but a whiskey museum. A 16-member committee has formed and includes representatives from the Smithsonian Institute of American History, Heinz History Center, George Washington's Mount Vernon, Allegheny County Economic Development and Pittsburgh City Councilor Dan Gilman.

Wigle is contributing $250,000 to the project and is hoping to raise an additional $35,000 via a Kickstarter campaign. Pledges to WAM!’s crowdfunding campaign come with prizes like t-shirts, party invites and even engraved mini oak barrels. Grelli says the museum will start as a pop-up at a to-be-determined location in Downtown this November. Then they hope to find a permanent location somewhere in Pittsburgh that could open sometime in 2018. 

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Friday, August 12, 2016

What you need to know about Pittsburgh news this week

Posted By on Fri, Aug 12, 2016 at 2:49 PM

What's been going down in Pittsburgh:

CP PHOTO BY LUKE THOR TRAVIS
  • CP photo by Luke Thor Travis
1. Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa lit up on stage during their High Road Summer Tour stop at First Niagara Pavilion, near Pittsburgh. See our photos from the show.

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CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
2. Trump's veep pick, Mike Pence, stopped in Pittsburgh this week, which didn't go unnoticed by local Democratic officials and protesters who respectively held counter events and protests. “Take a hike, their plan doesn’t sell here,” Austin Davis, vice-chair of the Allegheny County Democratic Party, said about Trump and Pence to a crowd of protesters outside of Heinz History Center, where Pence was speaking.

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Video by Ashley Murray

3. Hillary Clinton campaign volunteers called voters from a phone bank in Pittsburgh's Allentown neighborhood this week. The campaign called the event a "Women to Women" phone-bank session, one of 14 such events across Pennsylvania as the campaign ramps up its efforts to reach the state's women voters.

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IMAGE COURTESY OF THE MATTRESS FACTORY
  • Image courtesy of the Mattress Factory
4. The Mattress Factory premiered Buffalo-based artist Dennis Maher's house-sized work A Second Home this week. The exhibit, made of varying architectural elements, including wooden archways and miniature curving staircases, takes up three floors of the Mattress Factory's galleries.

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PHOTO COURTESY OF HATCH ARTS COLLECTIVE
  • Photo courtesy of Hatch Arts Collective
5. Driftless, a play about fracking, closes this weekend at the New Hazlett Theater on Pittsburgh's North Side. In his review, CP arts editor Bill O'Driscoll calls the Hatch Arts Collective work its "biggest show yet" and describes it as an "artistically ambitious take on the hot-button topic of fracking."

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Special PolitiCrap blog:

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In a special PolitiCrap blog post, "Trump and Clinton in Pittsburgh City Paper: Through the Years," we go back through decades of our coverage to find references to and mentions of both 2016 presidential candidates. Because they've been public figures for so long, they don't have the advantage of building their own stories. The news media has backlogs upon backlogs of quotes. See how they fared on our pages.

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On our podcasts:

CP PHOTO BY CELINE ROBERTS
  • CP photo by Celine Roberts
On our Sound Bite podcast this week, Jeanette Harris of Gluten Free Goat gives us a tutorial on gluten-free baking. Spoiler alert: We make lime-coconut donuts (pictured above).

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From the pages of our print edition:


CP PHOTO BY LUKE THOR TRAVIS
  • CP photo by Luke Thor Travis
In the pages of our print edition this week, staff writer Ryan Deto explores the growing HIV epidemic in Pennsylvania's rural counties, where activists are trying to take action regardless of lack of support from local governments. Reported HIV cases in Washington County have increased from 18 to 107 over a seven-year period, with more than 11 percent caused by sharing of needles — an issue related to the Pennsylvania's growing heroin epidemic. Somerset County’s reported HIV cases have increased by more than 1,100 percent, and of those cases, 40 percent were caused by injection. “In rural communities that this has just never been a problem in, people are really being forced to confront it,” says Alice Bell, of Prevention Point Pittsburgh, a clean-needle exchange. “It’s here, it’s a huge problem, and we have to just get over whatever prejudices we have and whatever desire we have to put our heads in the sand, and deal with it.”



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Hillary Clinton campaign focuses on women in Pennsylvania

Posted By on Fri, Aug 12, 2016 at 11:18 AM

This week, the Pennsylvania arm of the Clinton campaign rolled out “Pennsylvania Women for Hillary” in its latest attempt to lock in a sizable demographic to which it already strongly appeals. (According to the latest Franklin & Marshall poll, Clinton is leading Trump in Pennsylvania among white women, 57 percent to 29 percent.)

The campaign held events across the state with specials guests like Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards and EMILY's List president Stephanie Schriock; there were at least 14 "Women to Women" phone banks, including one in Pittsburgh's Allentown neighborhood (see video below); and the campaign announced a new "Women's Council," featuring female public figures in Pennsylvania.


"What you have in Pa. is the power to have women voters stand up and stop Donald Trump from becoming president," Schriock told City Paper by phone. (EMILY's List, a group that works to elect pro-choice Democratic women, is featuring U.S. Senate candidate Katie McGinty, of Pennsylvania, on its website's homepage as a key candidate.) "Today we’re over on the Eastern side of the state energizing our volunteers and mak[ing] the case that Clinton and [running mate Tim] Kaine are going to make sure there’s an economy that works for everybody. Pittsburgh women have a lot at stake in this election too, and have a huge role in making sure we stop this divisive and dangerous agenda of Trump and the GOP."

The campaign says that women in Pennsylvania would benefit from a number of policies in Clinton’s economic plan, including instating a higher minimum wage, changing regulations to ensure equal pay for men and women, passing paid family leave, eliminating college tuition at public universities for families who make $125,000 or less, lowering child-care costs, providing tax relief to caregivers, and ensuring that all 4-year-olds receive quality pre-school.

While policies would of course be implemented on the federal level, the campaign invokes Pennsylvania's demographics. According to the plan, as of 2014, women working full-time in the state earned a median income of $39,905, compared to a man's median income for that year of $50,412. When combined, the plan says, that's a $19 billion yearly loss for full-time women workers.  According to the campaign, Clinton's paid-family-leave policy would impact 93,000 working families with newborn children each year in the state. And eliminating college tuition would affect the 86 percent of households that bring in less than $125,000 per year; 57 percent of college students in Pennsylvania are women.

Heather Arnet, executive director of the Pittsburgh-based Women and Girls Foundation, confirms that women in Pennsylvania face economic challenges: More than 60 percent of households living in poverty in the state are run by single moms; in Pittsburgh, it's 73 percent.

"Secretary Clinton’s campaign is completely accurate in saying that while women suffer economically throughout the U.S., it is especially acute here in Pa. and Western Pa.," Arnet says. "The wage gap here has traditionally been worse than the national average, especially for women of color."

Her organization is making a huge push to get paid family leave passed on the state level.

"What’s really important is that it is refreshing to see a presidential candidate talk about things like paid family leave or reproductive health care as economic-security issues," Arnet says. "In the past, they would be framed as women's issues or social issues. It's powerful that Secretary Clinton and her campaign are discussing these issues as part of her economic policy."

Several local women have joined the campaign's new Women's Council, which has nearly 100 members from across the state, including First Lady Frances Wolf.

"For me, it’s truly about getting women into leadership," says Democratic candidate for U.S. House Erin McClelland, who's running against 12th District incumbent Keith Rothfus. "Way too many women you talk to, as soon as you talk politics they regard it as dirty. A lot of them don’t even vote for that reason. Right now they do not have a seat at the negotiating table."

As a member of the council, McClelland says she is currently organizing a panel of young women in politics to discuss "issues women really care about, poverty, education, health care, particularly young women. It’s really hard getting young women involved in politics."
 
McClelland is in the company of other local women on the council, including Pittsburgh City Councilor Natalia Rudiak, Allegheny County Democratic Party Committee chair Nancy Patton Mills and City of Pittsburgh Chief Urban Affairs Officer Valerie McDonald Roberts, among several others.

With just about 90 days until the election and a huge demographic at stake, those who want to see Clinton in office will be working hard this fall.

"[Pennsylvania] is right in the middle of the big battleground," Schriock says. "You’re going to see a lot more of us coming through."


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Review: "Driftless" at Pittsburgh’s New Hazlett Theater

Posted By on Fri, Aug 12, 2016 at 10:59 AM

The cast of "Driftless" includes Trevor Butler (front) and at rear, from left, Siovhan Christensen, Alec Silberblatt, Tammy Tsai and Ken Bolden. - PHOTO COURTESY OF HATCH ARTS COLLECTIVE
  • Photo courtesy of Hatch Arts Collective
  • The cast of "Driftless" includes Trevor Butler (front) and at rear, from left, Siovhan Christensen, Alec Silberblatt, Tammy Tsai and Ken Bolden.

Performance troupe Hatch Arts Collective’s biggest show yet is an artistically ambitious take on the hot-button topic of fracking.

Hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas is practiced nationally, but Driftless is set mostly in Southwestern Pennsylvania, where drilling in the Marcellus Shale helped set off the fracking boom.

The two-act drama, which opened last night, uses fracking as a backdrop to the human story of one family –- though, much like horizontal drills break up rock for the gas inside, the reality of fracking keeps breaking through the narrative, imposing its own realities.

Driftless, written by Hatch co-founder Paul Kruse, is a curious mix of issue play, kitchen-sink drama and some highly theatrical experimental elements. Rare in contemporary plays, there’s also an earnest Catholicism, personified by the young priest, Father Peter (Trevor Butler).

Collin Howard (played by Alec Silverblatt) is a young man who works in the gas industry, and the job interrupts his home life by frequently taking him on the road. His wife, Sierra (Siovhan Christensen), comes to believe that their well water is contaminated by nearby drilling operations, and might be implicated in a recent family tragedy. Her parents are played by Ken Bolden and Tammy Tsai, double-cast as a sort of saints’ chorus of St. Peter and St. Barbara (the latter the patron saint of miners.)

The show’s two main sets are, literally, kitchens –- one in Collin and Sierra’s house, the other in the home of Peter’s father, in Minnesota. The latter setting is used to explore the little-discussed but highly destructive practice of mining for the sand used in fracking wells.

Like a recent novel set in Pennsylvania frack country, Jennifer Haigh’s excellent Heat & Light, Driftless gives voice to different perspectives on fracking, from its economic impacts to the environmental damage it causes; it also draws links between addiction in people and society’s addiction to fossil fuels.

That’s a lot for one play, but Driftless, directed by Adil Mansoor, is well-acted and memorably staged. (Though the volume on the sound design, which threatened to drown out the actors at some points, could use adjusting.)

Driftless has three more performances, at 8 p.m. tonight and tomorrow night and a Sunday matinee.
Tickets are $15-20 and are available here.

Hatch, whose mission includes promoting environmental justice, is hosting environmental groups pre- and post-show in the New Hazlett’s lobby. Groups giving brief talks last night were the Center for Coalfield Justice and Moms Clean Air Force.

The lobby also showcases artwork on fracking. Especially powerful were a series of photos by Mandy L. Kendall that captured the way gas flares from drilling rigs bathe rural Pennsylvania in light at night, further industrializing the countryside.

The New Hazlett Theater is located at 6 Allegheny Square East, on the North Side. 

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