Marty Giles gives a terrific performance of this script for one, Nancy Harris’ wrenching one-act adaption of the Tolstoy novella, at Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre.
The lone, upper-class character’s monologue is about his relationship with his wife, from their charming courtship through the affair she has with a childhood friend of her husband’s, and the tragic denouement.
Giles’ character is, by design, not admirable, or even terribly likable; his understanding of women is deeply sexist by modern standards. But he’s very real, even wondering to what degree he’s responsible for actively arranging the liaison between his wife and her lover.
My only complaint is the production's video component: I didn’t want to see what the wife or her lover looked like, because imagination is more powerful. And the moving-image projections distracted the audience from Giles himself, who was busily adding to his legacy as one of Pittsburgh’s main theatrical talents of the past two decades-plus.
Still, this is a show worth catching. It has five more performances through this Saturday, starting with tonight’s. Tickets are $25-48.
Nonprofit arts groups, perennially pressed for funding, also know they must adapt to a world of rapidly changing technology and, for many, aging audiences. While two keynote speakers at last week’s Americans For The Arts national convention, held in Pittsburgh, didn’t provide any reassurances on those counts, they did point the way to the future.
Speaking before several hundred attendees at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, author, sociologist and demographer Manuel Pastor laid out the numbers: America, as you probably heard after the 2010 U.S. Census, is well on its way to becoming a “majority-minority” nation; in fact, most kids under age 5 will be nonwhite as soon as next year. (That’s something that happened in California more than decade ago, Pastor pointed out.)
Meanwhile, says Pastor, there’s “a growing social distance between the old and the young,” not least because while the median age for non-Latino whites is 42, for African Americans it’s 32, and for Latinos 27. (Judging from the assembled crowd, members of AFTA, an arts-advocacy group, skew white and middle-aged.)
Added Pastor, whose emphasis is on equity and social justice, “The arts community isn’t putting enough money into these new communities.”
Pastor whose books include Just Growth: Inclusion and Prosperity in America’s Metropolitan Regions, co-writen with Chris Benner, is pretty well known for an academic. The second keynote speaker this past Friday was even more famous: Jim Messina, the former White House deputy chief of staff who’s still raking in the laurels for running Obama’s 2012 campaign.
Messina’s AFTA theme, “storytelling in politics,” had a lot to do with digital interfaces. “It’s a new America” was the mantra of the 2012 campaign, the first during which it was commonplace for people to make donations via their phones. To reach those mostly young voters, Messina says, the campaign created, for instance, 114 smartphone apps so Obama supporters could tell their undecided friends why they were voting for the president. The campaign similarly exploited Facebook.
It wasn’t all about the social media, though, said Messina (who now heads Obama’s online initiative Organizing for Action). The campaign also went to boxing matches (to canvass young Latino men) and did voter registration at nail salons. “That’s where people are,” Messina said simply.
How’s all this help arts groups?
Pastor said that engaging rising demographics requires philosophical changes: Equity and inclusion are crucial elements, not “add-ons.” He talked up approaches that would bridge “generations and geographies,” and praised programs like one that got kids out photographing and documenting the social and economic conditions around them. Because, he said, it’s not just about “diversity,” but social justice, too.
“Really what matters for art is it’s our way of making meaning, connecting with one another,” said Pastor. Don’t appeal to people’s interests (by telling them how some program will make their lives better), he said, but rather to their values. He cited last year’s national campaign to pass the Dream Act, which gives young undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. Supporters told stories that tapped into values like those reflected in the familiar “coming out” narrative from the gay-rights movement, or even narratives revolving around the simple fairness of letting kids — whose parents brought them to the U.S. — finish school.
Messina emphasized putting the case for the arts in very personal terms — like his own enriching experience with school arts programs while growing up in rural Montana. And like Pastor, he noted what he perceived as the essential optimism of the younger generation. The Obama campaign, he said, won because it perceived that “Elections are about the future.”
Arts groups likely still have a long way to go in the new America. At one point in Friday's program, Messina noted that the public’s biggest single source of news during the presidential campaign was Univision, the massive Spanish-language network. When he asked who in the audience of hundreds watched it, only about a half-dozen attendees raised their hands.
As usual, it’s a few blocks from the mains arts-fest action. But the Juried Visual Art Exhibition (and neighboring Flight School exhibit) are worth the short detour up Liberty Avenue.
Both shows are housed in the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Trust Arts Education Center, at 805-807 Liberty.
Highlights of the juried show, featuring 50 works by 38 regional artists, include another fine entry in painter Seth Clark’s mixed-media “Collapse” series, rendering buildings in the process of falling apart. (Clark is, deservedly, near-ubiquitous: He’s also got work on the third floor, in the Flight School Show, and in the Associated Artists annual, at the Carnegie; elsewhere Downtown, he’s even manning his own booth in the festival’s Artists’ Market!)
Other notable paintings include distinctive abstract works in oil by Thomas Bigatel, and Rex Chronister’s “The Last Supper,” which is a one-liner, but a good one.
Other intriguing 2D work includes Vincent Grech’s “RED 400” and “RED 5,” which impose elegantly minimal design elements over World War II-era Chicago newspapers, with their blend of fraught global bulletins (“McArthur’s Air Force Batters Formosa Bases”) and early-mid-century consumer come-ons (“Wise men are buying Wearington suits”). I also liked Bea Chiapelli’s sharp-eyed, mordantly humored “You Forgot the Corpses,” capturing graffitti on a flag-waving mural.
Among the installation works is Jenna Boyles’ “Why, Denny,” “a collar of nylon pantyhose” whose feet are nailed to the floor; it’s less effective as a dormant installation work than as the performance piece the installation enables, as documented in accompanying video and stills.
Also memorable is Matty Davis’ “(excerpt from) Amidst Endless Repetition Lies Equally Endless Variability,” which is both more and less conceptual than it sounds. Davis bought some hammers with either “lifetime” or “100-year” guarantees and used them to flatten nails on thick steel discs. He did this for three-and-a-half months; the hammers eventually shattered, and he displays five of them on the wall, along with the makeshift anvils and a pile of flattened nails.
And don’t miss Kyle Milne’s site-specifically clever “Red-Light Culture 1981.” On one of the exhibition spots along the window-wall facing Liberty, Milne’s hung on the wall and the windows themselves red tags and arrows recalling many of the landmarks of that vanished era’s nightlife: Jitters, Chez Kimberly, Condom Nation. As a reminder of impermanence, it’s a nice complement to Davis’ “Amidst Endless Repetition.”
The juried show was chosen by Cecile Shellman, of the August Wilson Center; Adam Welch, of Pittsburgh Center for the Arts; and Lauren Wetmore, a curatorial assistant for the 2013 Carnegie International. It was curated by Moxie DaDA. (Visitors can also choose their own favorites, with votes tallying toward a People’s Choice Award.)
The Flight School show, meanwhile, is a little sparser, but also worth a look. It’s assembled from work by recent fellows in a professional-development program for artists, and features work from such emerging practitioners as comics artist Jim Rugg, photographer Ben Hernstrom, painter/photographer Ryan Woodring, photographer Jennifer Nagle Myers, and abstract painter Stephanie Armbruster. My favorite here was Rafael Abreu-Canedo’s short video work “Commodities Trading”: From a high-elevation vantage point, looking out over a low flat cityscape at dusk, the camera captures flocks of birds moving in balletic tandem, swooping and turning in huge spectral forms, each made of dozens or hundreds of tiny bewinged bodies.
Both the Juried Visual Art Exhibition and the Flight School show continue through Sun., June 16.
WordPlay is storytelling with a beat: True stories told live on stage, with a soundtrack provided by a DJ. WordPlay creator Alan Olifson says he was inspired by the use of music on public radio’s This American Life, but the style also suggests The Moth plus music.
Olifson, a deft comic, also hosts Pittsburgh’s monthly Moth StorySLAMs, at the Rex Theater.
Friday night’s show at Bricolage, in fact, brought back three of the tellers who performed at January’s Moth Grand SLAM, at the New Hazlett: Todd Shaffer, Nora McLoughlin and David Harris-Gershon.
Harris-Gershon, who won that earlier contest, in fact told the same story, a doozy about posing as a woman in online chat rooms to win votes for Obama in 2008. Other highlights included McLoughlin’s “The Trouble With Monks,” about her arcane academic ventures in Ireland, and Olifson’s wincingly hilarious “Making the Cut,” about — yes — being asked to hold his nephew during the infant’s bris. The other teller Friday was Amanda Hamilton Roos.
The DJ was DJ Firefly, who hosts a show on WRCT and DJs at Remedy.
I was of two minds about the musical component. On the one hand, many of DJ Firefly’s choices were inspired. (I’m thinking especially of “Poppa’s Got a Brand New Bag” to close Olifson’s story, which … well, you had to be there.) On the other hand, I often found myself trying to identify the song rather than listening to the story. And in any case, the soundtrack needn’t be wall-to-wall to work; accents and flavoring, like they do it on TAL, can work better.
Still, Friday’s five stories, comprising an hour-long show, left everyone satisfied.
Olfison is seeking submissions for the next WordPlay, scheduled for Sept. 6. For details, email email@example.com.
And for storytelling fans — who seem to be in a growing demographic nowadays — the next Moth StorySLAM happens next Tuesday, with the theme “Fathers.”
“We’ll launch the duck around 6 p.m. that evening” is a phrase you don’t hear daily. But at this morning’s press conference, the Trust’s Paul Organisak was having some fun announcing the whimsical treat that will kick off this rather prestigious fall festival of performing and visual arts.
The duck in question is The Rubber Duck, an international phenomenon involving a yellow ducky the size of a yacht that’s already turned heads from Amsterdam to Sao Paulo and Hong Kong. Here’s a photo from the artist’s site:
As the festival’s title implies, it’ll be the first U.S. appearance for not just the Bunyanesque toy waterfowl, but also for each of seven edgy performance works and four visual art exhibitions, all in and around Downtown from Sept. 28-Oct. 26.
Previous Festivals of Firsts, in 2004 and 2008, were hits, and this one sounds pretty promising too.
The kickoff performance is a dance show by the internationally acclaimed Compagnie Marie Chouinard that includes the U.S. premiere of “Gymnopedies,” set to solo piano works by Erik Satie, and “Henri Michaux:Movements,” inspired by poems and drawings by the Belgian artist. The troupe is familiar to Pittsburgh Dance Council devotees — no coincidence, as Festival curator Organisak also runs the Dance Council.
Next comes Kiss & Cry, in which a miniature theater performance — featuring human hands portraying characters on tiny sets — is transformed into a “live movie” for the audience. The story is a drama about a woman recounting her greatest loves; the troupe is Belgium’s NanoDanses, Michèle Anne De Mey and Jaco Van Dormael.
Also on the program: The Pigenoning, Brooklyn-based Robin Frohardt’s darkly comic bunraku puppet work about an obsessive-compulsive man’s relationship with pigeons; Perth (Australia) Theatre Company’s It’s Dark Outside, a human-and-puppet drama about a man facing Alzheimer’s and Sundowner’s syndromes; and Swiss company Zimmerman & de Perrot’s Han was Heir, a crazy-looking Euro-circus-style show whose memorable components include a stage that revolves on a horizontal access (imagine a cross-sectioned four-room house rotating like a pinwheel).
But wait, there’s more. The most conceptual-sounding work is American artists Christopher McElroen and T. Ryder Smith’s Measure Back. As explained by McElroen at the press conference via Skype, it’s an interactive work about war, in which text and reference points from the Trojan War to modern torture manuals — not to mention technology including audience cell phones — are used to track the distance between wartime citizen-as-spectator and citizen-as-participant. It sounds duly harrowing.
And The God That Comes is Novia Scotia-based 2b theatre company’s one-man show inspired by Euripides’ The Bacchae. So it’s about “sex, wine and rock ‘n’ roll” and stars Hawksley Workman.
The FOF visual art component, announced by Wood Street Galleries coordinator Murray Horne, includes Kurt Hentschlager’s animated 3D audiovisual installation Hive, at Wood Street, and Hentschlager and Ulf Langheinrich’s installation Granular Synthesis, including large-scale video work “Model 5” and improvised immersive environment “POL,” at Space Gallery.
Tickets for all performances are $25. For more info, see call 412-456-666 or see www.TrustArts.org.
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.