An ad hoc group of performers is staging a curious sort of multimedia show tomorrow.
Starting at noon, in a nondescript building on Bigelow Boulevard, in Polish Hill, they’ll enact the stages of a single human life. Each hour of performance or screening time will cover several years of the life depicted.
Each of 12 artist groups is assigned an hour. The noon-1 p.m. slot covers birth to age 4; at 2 p.m. they’ll start working on ages 4 and 5; and so on.
Starting around 6 p.m., as tends to happens when we get older, things speed up, and they’ll cover a decade per hour.
It all ends, predictably enough, at midnight. But in between, there’ll be dinner (and other snacks), a wedding and, at 10 p.m., a dance party. (The latter is during the ages 65-74 sequence.)
The event has no formal title, but a press release also promises “storytelling … games, film screenings, a spelling bee, art-making … a mid-life crisis, an impossible task” and more.
In a phone interview today, organizer Christopher St. Pierre said that some of the hours are scripted plays (there’s one of those at 4 p.m., for instance), while others involve audience interaction. Performers include musicians from the band Lungs, Face, Feet.
Visitors can come and go at any time.
The venue is an art studio at 3577 Bigelow Blvd. It’s accessible from Bigelow if you’re westbound. But if you are eastbound, park on nearby Beethoven Street and walk up.
Admission is on a sliding scale of $5-10.
For more information, contact St. Pierre at 412-302-0248 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer-winning play does what good plays should by dragging secrets, emotions and hidden assumptions into the harsh light of day.
What Norris does especially well (and as ably communicated in this excellent production) is show how racism has shape-shifted as society changes — and how even the sort of people who might be his audience are implicated.
It’s easy to laugh, for instance, at the bald prejudice of a nerdy white 1950s real-estate salesman. (And whatever else it is, Clybourne Park is a very funny play.) But the laughter sticks in our throats when a confrontation over gentrification reveals that contemporary white thirtysomething yuppies have their own racial issues.
These are folks, for instance, who don’t understand why saying you once dated a black person is offensive to African Americans. Nor why your dating history isn’t even proof you’re not racist. Nor why, for that matter, having an African-American president doesn’t make us a post-racial society.
Ran across an interesting article in Slate about the media/social-media phenomenon of Charles Ramsey, the Cleveland guy who was a hero in the rescue of three captive women recently freed there.
Ramsey fully deserves praise. But writer Aisha Harris points out that his celebrity is part of a disturbing trend highlighting working-class African Americans whose manner and speech conform to a certain preconception, or make them entertaining in a certain way.
It’s an insidious kind of racism that disguises itself as tribute. And it’s the sort playwright Norris is so good at pinpointing.
Clybourne Park runs through May 19. Tickets are $15-55.
Four performances remain of this Pittsburgh-premiere production of a recent play about a Polish war atrocity little-known in the U.S.
Our Class, by Tadeusz Slobodzianek, is an artful docudrama that follows from childhood — and until death — a group of 10 classmates in the Polish village where, in 1941, Catholic villagers herded as many as 1,600 of their Jewish neighbors into a barn and set it on fire. Half the play's characters are Jews, half Catholics.
The show closes after Saturday’s performance. On Sunday, Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre sponsors a panel discussion titled “Good Neighbors/Bad Neighbors: How War & Conflict Change the Relationships Between Us.”
Panelists include none other than Jan Gross, the Polish historian who wrote Neighbors, the controversial 2000 book that was the basis for the play. Gross is now a history professor at Princeton University.
Other panelists include Penn State history professor Robert Szymczak; Pitt lecturer Anthony Novosel; Pitt psychology professor Edward Orchek; and Pitt associate professor of history Gregor Thum. The moderator is Dan Simpson, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist and former U.S. ambassador.
The discussion is at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Frick Fine Arts Building, on Pitt’s campus. Admission is free. A light reception and book sale follow.
For what it’s worth, I saw Our Class last night, and it’s sobering stuff that certainly provides plenty to talk about.
The play is an unblinking but not unsympathetic portrait of human weakness and human brutality. Slobodzianek shows how anti-Semitism and other social fissures were part of the classmates’ lives from an early age. (“The things you learn when you’re young stay with you your whole life,” says one character, now elderly, late the in play, without irony.) But these traits only achieved fullest and most terrifying expression under the stresses of consecutive occupations by the Soviets and the Nazis.
The play scores hypocrisy, especially the religious kind, but implicitly asks audience members how they would act under similar circumstances (assuming we could even imagine ourselves in them).
While it’s hard to view a few characters as anything but villains, and a couple as anything but victims, the lion’s share exist on the same plane most of us do, sometimes laudable, often not. It is startling to learn in the program book that some of the real people who inspired these characters, perpetrators and near-victims both, were still living past the turn of the millennium.
Here's Ted Hoover's review of the play for CP.
The lonely robot at Downtown's Robot Repair Shop is planning an escape.
The shop, at 210 Sixth St., opened in 2011 as part of Mayor Ravenstahl’s Project Pop Up: Downtown, which brought a number of small businesses and public-art spaces to Downtown in an effort to make the area “pop.” Its last day is Monday.
Project Pop Up’s goal was in many ways achieved: The landscape on Sixth Street is a flurry of activity, crowded restaurants bookend the repair shop’s storefront on the Downtown Street overlooking the water, and the area’s foot traffic is markedly increased.
Fraley says the street’s revitalization is a double-edged sword: It’s a net positive for the city, but it drives out projects like his shop, which closes its doors on May 6.
Fraley is grateful for the time that the shop had: The initial Project Pop Up grant was supposed to run out after a year, but public reception and the landlord’s appreciation for the shop kept the doors open an extra six months.
“Some people think it’s a real shop and they come in and I wonder like, ‘Do you have a robot?’ And then there is another set of people who really just appreciate the art behind it,” Fraley says.
The future of Robot Repair Shop remains uncertain. Fraley says he’d rather just “let the project fade” than to force his way into another, possibly less conducive, space. As for the last days of The Robot Repair Shop on Sixth Street, Fraley says he has “some special things planned.”
The lonely robot inside the shop will eventually dig his way out and into the street. Even after the doors are closed and the neighboring restaurant moves into the space, Fraley hopes his little robot shop would have left an impact on the city at large.
An idea new to Pittsburgh, community-supported art, has spurred two initiatives to launch practically at once. You can preview the art on offer at tonight's Gallery Crawl.
The concept is modeled on community-supported agriculture, in which shareholders in local farms get a weekly box in season of farm products. CSAs help farmers because it provides them with cash before the growing season, when they need it most.
Artists, as it happens, can use money upfront, too.
The New Hazlett’s Community Supported Art program — music, theater and dance. Shares cost $100, and shareholders gain admittance to six original performances at the theater — one every other month for a year starting in August.
Learn more about the artists and the program here.
The New Hazlett started selling shares this morning and had already sold eight by early afternoon, theater executive director Rene Conrad tells CP. She said the theater hopes to sell 300 shares.
Meantime, CSA PGH is offering physical artworks, from prints and sculptures to CDs. CSA PGH shares are $350 in exchange for six limited-edition artworks to be delivered to shareholders this summer. Learn more about the artists here.
CSA PGH starts selling shares next Tuesday. Only 50 will be sold. Casey Droege, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh assistant professor who spearheaded the project, tells CP she’s confident they’ll sell out quickly.
Several artists from both the New Hazlett CSA and CSA PGH will be at 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown, as part of tonight’s Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Gallery Crawl.
Look for more coverage of the art CSAs in an upcoming CP.
Noted choreographer Chipaumire’s latest dance work was dreamlike, by which I mean it was both partly memorable and largely baffling. And the latter quality, it appears, is by design.
More performance-art-with-dance than straight dance piece, Miriam consisted of two performers on an artfully cluttered, dimly lit stage, developing a mostly nonverbal relationship. I saw it Saturday night, the second of two weekend performances at the Kelly-Strayhorn.
The characters’ relationship had an Ariel-and-Caliban quality. The tall, lithe and rather imperious Okwui Okpokwasili, wearing a pair of tattered wings, contrasted the more sturdily built Chipaumire, whose vocal emanations were mostly a series of birdlike squeals and guttural grunts. In its serious comedy, it was also a bit suggestive of Beckett, but without the dialogue to carry you through.
The show’s opening sequence was striking. Chipaumire — first seen only as a bare, disembodied leg poking skyward — emerges with noisy thrashing from what appears to be a pile of trash, then approaches Okpokwasili, who is perched upstage, on a ladder. Shortly Okpokwasili descends, and a relationship that began with her giving choreographic orders to Chipaumire (through a megaphone) becomes more equal and even playful, if negotiated mostly in a glossolalia incomprehensible to the audience. It was all done to a first-rate sound design incorporating everything from percussive music and spoken word to electronic soundscapes.
Zimbabwe-born, New York-based Chipaumire has an international resume, including both her solo projects and her six years with the Urban Bush Women. She’s got a strong track record in Pittsburgh, too: Her solo work Chimurenga (which she performed in 2007 at the New Hazlett Theater) still ranks among the most powerful shows I’ve ever seen here. Both she and Okpokwasili are skilled, committed performers.
Miriam, meanwhile, came with no shortage of explanatory prefaces. Interviewed for a preview article by CP’s Steve Sucato, for instance, Chipaumire said that Miriam is about public personae, as reflected in the iconic figures and stories of both Miriam Makeba and the Virgin Mary. Elsewhere, she’s said that inspirations for the show include Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
All of which is surely true. (And there's a sung version of "Hail Mary" on the soundtrack, and I think at least one read-out excerpt from Conrad.) But in a 500-word essay included in the Kelly-Strayhorn show’s program, Chipaumire mentioned none of these influences, choosing instead to talk about otherness — the quality of being an outsider. It’s a feeling Chipaumire knows well. And in her essay, she writes that with Miriam, she means to make the audience itself feel like outsiders.
I’d say she succeeded, though that’s a goal difficult to reconcile with simultaneously engaging that same audience: For me, Miriam largely defied comprehension (and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t alone). And the occasional complete stage blackout was less a problem than was the fact that almost the entire rest of the show was performed in half-light. (Imagine a whole proscenium stage lit by a couple dozen low-wattage bulbs.)
This setup did make possible some fine effects, including a climactic dance by Chipaumire in a sort of voluminous cloak rendered powerfully mysterious in the dim. But while the nonlinear sound design was suitably suggestive, mostly, the darkness just made things hard to see.
“By playing with the ability to see or not see, I am trying to complicate the question of power while engaging, and challenging, theater traditions in the West,” Chipaumire writes. And if viewers end up dumbfounded, well, “Taking away the ‘right’ of the audience to comfortably comprehend is my attempt at bringing the audience towards what it feels like to be the other.”
Chipaumire played with similar ideas in the previous show she performed here, lions will roar, swans will fly, angles with wrestle heaven, rains will break: gukurahundi, in which the dancers spent most of the show behind a downstage scrim.
It’s good that artists like Chipaumire are pushing boundaries. Theater-goers probably benefit from a certain amount of disorientation; in most ways, it’s preferable to spoon-feeding. But perhaps it's possible to meet audiences a little closer to halfway.
This Saturday at Downtown's new Arcade Comedy Theater, the group brings its pop-culture inspired comedy show to Pittsburgh with the ironically titled Zack Braff Laff Carafe. (Mr. Braff will not be present.)
The show features video presentations and live sketch comedy from Chicago comedians Natalie Jose and Megan Gailey and the Puterbaugh Sisterz. The group will bring its blog’s quirky appropriation of not-too-distant pop-culture reference points to illuminate the idea behind their title. Everything may be terrible, but it doesn't mean it can’t be funny.
Saturday’s event, hosted by libertarian mayoral nominee Travis Irvine, starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 or $5 for student rush tickets.
Arcade Comedy Theater is located at 811 Liberty Ave.
You might have seen them amazing the host on Letterman — Mark Hayward using a yo-yo to light a match stuck betweeen Jonathan Burns’ teeth. Or maybe you’ve heard of Stunt Lab, their well-reviewed comedy show that’s played New York City.
Mark & Jonathan's Fireside Chat is a vaudeville/talk-show hybrid Hayward describes as “Ed Sullivan meets Johnny Carson.” Basically, they’ll host guest performers, then interview them about their work.
Friday’s two performances of Fireside Chat feature Cleveland-based magician Michael Kent and local musical-comedy troupe Bait & Switch. Also on the bill are comedy commercials from the resident Arcade Comedy Theater.
Hayward and Burns are longtime solo performers who recently teamed up. (Basically, as you can see in the photo, Burns is the goofy one, Hayward the serious one.)
Hayward is a top yo-yo artist and juggler who in addition to The Late Show with David Letterman has been on America’s Got Talent. Burns is a contortionist who’s had gigs around the world.
Their best-known collaboration might be Stunt Lab, which The New York Times called “extremely funny.” The show involves the pair using an array of everyday items — garbage bags, whipped cream, marshmallows, rat traps — to create comedic stunts.
Fireside Chat premieres with two performances Friday, at 8 and 10 p.m. Tickets are just $5-10.
Arcade Comedy Theater is at 811 Liberty Ave., Downtown.
After 44 years at the University of Pittsburgh, the man who founded the school’s theater department is retiring.
The lecture, titled “The Last Class,” delves into a favorite Favorini topic: memory and the work of “memographers,” a word he coined to describe anyone who explores that terrain.
Favorini is a former New Yorker who joined Pitt’s faculty in 1969, after earning a doctorate in the history of theater at Yale. He was later named head of the school’s Division of Theatre Arts, which in 1982 became the Department of Theatre Arts, with Favorini as founding chair.
He chaired the department from 1982-92, and again from 1999-2006, and has served since as director of graduate studies in theater arts. But Favorini is perhaps best known to the theater-going public as a playwright and as longtime director of the Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival, which he founded in 1980. The festival ran for 13 seasons.
Favorini’s own plays often explored Pittsburgh history. His Steel/City (1976) looked at the corporate giants who founded the steel industry as well as at its workers. In the Garden of Live Flowers (2001), written with Lynne Connor, was about Rachel Carson. And 2012’s docudrama The Gammage Project explored the death of black motorist Jonny Gammage while in the custody of five white police officers. Favorini’s plays have been performed both locally and in other cities.
At Pitt, his accomplishments also include creation of the Teaching-Artist-in-Residence program for visiting faculty members. He also oversaw construction of Pitt’s Henry Heymann Theatre, located in the basement of the Stephen Foster Memorial, and a key venue for Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre (whose presence as the professional theater-in-residence there Favorini helped secure). And Shakespeare-in-the-Schools has provided in-school performances to more than 100,000 area students for more than two decades, according to a Pitt press release.
Favorini is also an editor and author. His works include the 2008 book Memory in Play: From Aeschylus to Sam Shepard.
Favorini’s retirement is official with the end of the spring semester. He says that during retirement he’ll focus on writing plays.
“I think I’m finished with the research part of my professional life and I’m going to direct more attention to the creative side,” he said in a phone interview with CP today.
Favorini delivers his lecture “The Last Class” at 4 p.m. tomorrow.
City of Asylum/Pittsburgh, which shelters writers persecuted in their home countries, has done a pretty good job over the years representing itself and its guests. Since its founding, in 2004, its several guests from around the world have participated in numerous public readings and other events, and at least one went on to teach at Pitt.
Still, especially if you don’t know about COAP, the representative sampling of guest writers in this new stage work is worth a look before it closes Sunday.
The energetic student cast, directed by playwright and Pitt faculty member Cynthia Croot, are not for the most part close physical matches for the four writers, and, probably wisely, they don’t attempt impersonations.
The show, consisting largely of staged vignettes from each writers’ work, is vividly staged. Here's Michelle Pilecki's review in this week's CP.
If I have one complaint, it’s that the play could have paid a bit more attention to the organization that it’s named after. Audiences unfamiliar with the group (which is Pittsburgh’s independent incarnation of an international network of COAs) could easily leave with a good sense of the writers’ writings but only a fuzzy notion of the organization that, after they’d suffered years of threats, torture or imprisonment, let them work in peace.
Performances of City of Asylum continue nightly through Sunday at the Charity Randall Theatre, Stephen Foster Memorial, in Oakland. Tickets are $12-25.