Friday, November 7, 2014

Wicked Author Visits the Carnegie on Sunday

Posted By on Fri, Nov 7, 2014 at 1:00 PM

Gregory Maguire, who wrote the novel behind the bewitchingly famous Broadway hit, visits Carnegie Library Lecture Hall this Sunday for a talk and a book signing, courtesy of Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures' series for kids and teens.

Maguire has just released a new historical fantasy for a younger audience called Egg & Spoon.The book, set in turn-of-the-century Tsarist Russia, follows an impoverished child named Elena Rudina as well as a noble family visiting the Tsar and Russian folklore’s most infamous villain, Baba Yaga.

The New York Times called it a “series of dreamy, expertly painted vignettes.”

Egg & Spoon revisits Russian fairy tales that inspired a book 30 years earlier in Maguire's career, The Dream Stealer. Macguire’s other children's titles include Matchless (a remake of Hans Christian Andersen’s "The Little Match Girl,") and Making Mischief (a tribute to the author of Where the Wild Things Are). Additionally, in 1987, he founded a non-profit educational charity, Children's Literature New England, Inc.

The event takes place at 2:30 p.m. this Sunday. The venue is located at 4400 Forbes Ave. in Oakland.

For tickets, see here, and use the code BABAYAGA to save $2 off every ticket. Children three and under come free.

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Mobile Sculpture Workshop Unveiling Saturday

Posted By on Fri, Nov 7, 2014 at 8:24 AM

The Industrial Arts Co-op’s summer-long initiative to teach metalworking and sculpture to area youths wraps with the presentation of the completed sculpture.

Here’s CP’s article on the program.

The bird sculpture will be permanently installed in Hazelwood, where much of the work was done.

The unveiling and community celebration is set for 1-4 p.m. this Saturday at Propel Hazelwood, at 5401 Glenwood Ave. The event is free. More details are here.

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

CP Cartoonist Gives Talk on Ill-Fated Public Artwork on Saturday

Posted By on Thu, Nov 6, 2014 at 9:03 AM

Eric Lidji is more than the cartoonist who contribute the often poignantly deadpan "Public Notices" to City Paper each week. He's also an archival consultant in the Heinz History Center's Detre Library & Archives for the Rauh Jewish Archives and an arts-and-culture writer for Pittsburgh Magazine.

H. Douglas Pickerings Clarion Call circa 1985
  • Photo courtesy of Eric Lidji
  • H. Douglas Pickering's "Clarion Call" circa 1985
AndLidji is writing a book about "Clarion Call" — a sculpture by H. Douglas Pickering that was completed in 1985 and then stolen before it could be permanently installed. The work had taken Pickering, a Carnegie Mellon University art professor, nine years to complete. At 10 feet tall and weighing 800 pounds, it was meant as a symbol of hope for a city ravaged by the collapse of its heavy industry. (It's pictured here at Gateway Center.)

On Saturday at the Center Lidji gives a talk titled "'Clarion Call': The Life & Death of a Work of Art." The lecture is "an exploration of how communities value, present, and preserve public art. ... The story of Clarion Call offers a glimpse into the life and work of an underappreciated Pittsburgh artist and provides insight into the history and controversies of public art in Pittsburgh during the 20th century."

The talk, part of the museum's Saturday Speaker Series, is free with museum admission and runs from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. (Come early for coffee and danish.)

Admission to the museum is $6-15. RSVP for the talk to Sandra Baker at or 412-454-6412.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Food-themed art exhibition opens Friday

Posted By on Wed, Nov 5, 2014 at 2:14 PM

We're entering the foodiest time of the year, complete with farmers' markets overflowing. Future Tenant celebrates with Bountiful, a group exhibition exploring human relationships with food.

"At best, food can be seen as a symbol of tradition, stability, and affection; at its worst, it can represent struggles with self-esteem, waste, and substance abuse," says a press release.

The show includes paintings, photographs, illustrations ... and gummy candies ... by eight artists, including Cayla Skillin-Brauchle, David Pohl, Diane White, Kay Healy, Ruby Wang, Stephanie Shulman, Taylor Preston and Terez Lacovino.

Shulman's wooden sculpture, for instance, depicts the "weight" of a slice of cake, "and her love/hate relationship with the subject." Preston's photos depict the slow destruction of a birthday-cake setting. And Lacovino offers an interactive installation that lets visitors "cook" their own images with a toaster.

The show opens with a reception this Friday, from 6-9 p.m., and runs through Dec. 7. The gallery is open 4-8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, noon-8 p.m. on Saturdays, and 1-6 p.m. on Sundays.

On Nov. 22, from 3-5 p.m., Future Tenant will host Bountiful Harvest, a sustainable-food panel and tasting. Local organizations and restaurants will share their interest in healthy and organic eating.

Future Tenant, a nonprofit art space run by the graduate arts-management program at Carnegie Mellon University, is located at 819 Penn Ave., Downtown. Admission is free.

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Monday, November 3, 2014

Circus hits town Wednesday; equestrian ringmaster talks circus life

Posted By on Mon, Nov 3, 2014 at 2:51 PM

Andre McClain is the ringmaster for The Greatest Show on Earth, a lesson in the importance of race representation and, overall, one heck of a company man.

  • Feld Entertainment

His first-ever visit to a circus was Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's 132th tour, in 2002, when he was researching the use of stilts for his one-man rodeo act. After he got backstage, chatting with some clowns, his animal-training expertise reached the rights ears, and McClain was offered and accepted a job working with Ringling's exotic-animal staff.

“I started from the bottom, and I really I didn’t expect to be get far,” McClain said in a recent phone interview. “To me, it’s an honor, and its still an honor. There have been more presidents than ringmasters in the past hundred years.”

A baritone-bass, McClain sings from atop his high horse during the show. He visits the CONSOL Energy Center next week with the 143rd Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Built To Amaze! tour, which is a construction-themed show with a community-minded message.

“It's a battle of the sexes,” McClain says. “We prove at the end of the show that it really takes everyone to accomplish something.”

Before life under the big top, McClain grew up on a ranch in Kansas City, and he acquired his equestrian skills from his family’s long African-American cowboy heritage. He got in the saddle for the first time at age 5, and his father founded America’s first all-black touring rodeo, the Bill Pickett Rodeo, in 1984.

Once he left the rodeo for the circus, McClain began to move up Ringling’s ranks, finding an idol who looked like him along the way.

“The ringmaster idea wasn’t in my head until I first got that first [exotic-animal] gig, and I saw Johnathan Lee Iverson,” McClain says.

Iverson was Ringling Brother’s first African-American ringmaster, and McClain says his mindset changed once he saw someone who didn’t look like all the previous ringmasters.

“I wanted to be that guy,” McClain says.

After a different job offer, McClain forgot about that goal for a bit, and settled into life as the host of the circus’s pre-show.

“I loved it, didn’t want to give up,” McClain says. “Until two years ago when they came with the contract. They handed my folder, and they said they want [me] to be the ringmaster."

At first, McClain thought the joke was on him.

“I was like, 'Get out of here,' and I just started laughing,” McClain says.

The punchline never came, and McClain realized he had gotten what he wanted all those years ago.

“I was so excited. I didn’t even read all of the contract! I just signed the paper,” McClain says.

McClain sits at the top seat today with his wife, Daniele, a Ringlette (singer and dancer), beside him, and hopes to inspire audiences just like Iverson inspired him.

“I like to show to all kids and adults that no matter what you look like, how you feel, you too can make your dreams come true,” McClain says. “No matter how high you want to be in life, you can do it, no matter what you want to do.”

The circus starts at 7 p.m. Wed. Nov 5, and performances continue through Nov. 9.

CONSOL is located at 1001 Fifth Ave., in Uptown. Tickets are $10-115 and are available at 412-804-7904 or

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sing-Off Competition seeks student vocalists

Posted By on Thu, Oct 30, 2014 at 3:00 PM

Pittsburgh’s youngest songbirds should start warming up their vocal cords.

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust seeks student singers for its fifth annual Sing-Off Competition. The winner will perform live at the Benedum Center during Highmark First Night Pittsburgh 2015, an all ages, alcohol-free New Year’s Eve celebration highlighting the city’s arts. The winner will also receive two $500 cash prizes for themselves and their school’s music department.

The competition welcomes individual students and student groups of 20 members or fewer from grades 6 through 12. The students must be affiliated with a middle or high school in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Last year’s winner was Savannah Wiggins, from Penn Hills High School.

Contestants should submit a video performance of two songs, one of which must be a Motown classic to coincide with Motown the Musical 's tour stop here, Dec. 30 to Jan. 4. The students should upload the performance videos, which must be less than 10 minutes long, on YouTube, then submit it on the Highmark First Night Pittsburgh 2015 website.

An internal panel will review the performances, and narrow things down to five contestants, from among whom a guest judge will select a winner.

The video and application deadline is midnight on Fri., Nov. 21.

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Macbeth at PICT Classic Theatre

Posted By on Fri, Oct 24, 2014 at 10:49 AM

Three performances remain of this effective staging of Shakespeare’s tragedy, whose supernatural doings complement its gore-filled portrait of ambition gone off the rails.

Patrick Jordan (left) and David Whalen in Macbeth
It’s also among Shakespeare’s most streamlined and straightforward plays, with a couple famous soliliquies (“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow”) and plenty of examples of his additions to the English language, including might be the earliest recorded knock-knock jokes.

The title role is played by Pittsburgh’s busiest leading man, David Whalen, with support form top local talent like Gayle Pazerski, James FitzGerald and Patrick Jordan.

The production, directed by PICT's Alan Stanford, looks great, too. Costume-designer Michael Montgomery has everyone wearing headscarves (a la motorcyclists), which has a curious visual leveling effect (because you can’t see anyone’s hair). Notable too are the movement styles for the three witches — floating weightlessly on their toes — and witch goddess Hecate (played by Karen Baum), who creeps around like a spider. (The choreographer is Mark Conway Thompson.)

Here’s Gwendolyn Kiste’s review for CP.

The remaining shows are at 8 p.m. tonight and tomorrow, and the 2 p.m. Saturday matinee. Macbeth is staged in the appropriately classic confines of the Charity Randall Theatre, inside Oakland’s Stephen Foster Memorial, at 4301 Forbes Ave.

Tickets are $25-48 and are available here.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Final Performances of The Book of Ezra at Pittsburgh Playwrights

Posted By on Thu, Oct 23, 2014 at 9:00 AM

Leslie “Ezra” Smith’s one-man autobiographical stage show is notable for several reasons. It’s the first solo theatrical show for this longtime stage actor and stalwart of the local spoken-word scene. It’s also a chance to hear a story rare on local stages, the coming-of-age of a young black man.

Leslie Ezra Smith in The Book of Ezra
  • Photo courtesy of Tene Croom
  • Leslie "Ezra" Smith in "The Book of Ezra"
As I noted in my preview for CP, Smith frames the evening as an attempt to assemble his story for the benefit of his own 15-year-old son — the sort of story Smith never got from his own absentee father.

It’s a moving show, with a lot of interesting insights. For instance, as Tyler Plosia emphasizes in his review for CP, Smith’s stories about his formative influences delve into not only some you might expect — Maya Angelou, the speeches of Malcolm X — but also hip-hop music. As a source of information about the world, and adulthood, hip hop served Smith as the father he never really had.

I was also struck by a story that Smith, who grew up in Pittsburgh, tells in the show about another big influence on him: his grade-school music teacher, Ms. Hudson. “Miss Hudson was the first artist in my life,” he says, recalling her lessons about singing technique and the class’s rendition of “The Greatest Love of All.”

With cash-strapped schools cutting art and music classes, this should especially give us pause. Here’s an example of a kid who was most engaged at school — to the point that he cites it three decades later — not by an “academic” class, but by a dedicated teacher in a subject that many budget-makers declare expendable. And he went on to become a pretty fair artist himself.

The Book of Ezra has two more performances, tomorrow and Saturday, both at 8 p.m. at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre, 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown.

Tickets are $10-25 and are available here.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Day Room Window at the New Hazlett Theater

Posted By on Wed, Oct 22, 2014 at 3:38 PM

Review Written by Danielle Fox

Pittsburgh playwright and director Bonnie Cohen shows audiences what happens to our nation’s youths behind bars in her new play, Day Room Window.

  • Zac Cageao/Rusted Sol Pictures

The show was born from Cohen’s time counseling nine girls incarcerated as adults in a corrections center in Washington state. The girls’ lack of rehabilitation horrified and stuck with Cohen. Ten years later, she wrote this play to give the girls a voice.

The independent production premiered last Thursday, and opens with the young inmates perched throughout the New Hazlett Theater’s three-tiered set. A spotlight flashes from girl to girl as each divulges snippets of her conviction story: drunk driving, manslaughter, assault and other undisguised horrors. Quick and fittingly abrasive, the strong opening scene puts them in a key spot for Cohen to show their personal growth throughout the plot.

Caroline White, a prison matron played by Debra Gordon, runs the center, which brings in Naomi, a counselor played by Jennifer Tober, to teach the girls and facilitate a female-issues class every Friday.

Washington-state law allows for zero contact with adult inmates, and the girls are caged in a “day room,” growing ever more unruly and angry. Despite their conditions, the girls warm a bit more to Naomi each week, revealing their broken home lives but also their individual talents and creativity.

Cohen’s play is spotted with overdone moments possibly intended to be feel-good scenes, but the young actresses’ satisfying performances hold it together. Alona Williams and Ada Zech, respectively playing inmates
Jade and Julie, both display raw stage prowess. Overall, the play is a strong showcase for Pittsburgh’s acting future.

However, pursuing social justice rarely equals pure entertainment. At points, watching Day Room Window is exhausting work. The show is performed without intermission, and audiences are hit with the girls’ stories of injustice, mental illness and sexual assaults without a break and before they can recover from the previously revealed tragedy.

Tober’s performance could also do with a bit less overbearing motherly love. Her strongest moments are late in the play when she speaks plainly with the girls about employing psychological rituals to curb violent thoughts.

Still, the educational value of Day Room Window is unmatched by anything in Pittsburgh theaters currently. It is a fearless undertaking by all those involved, and for the price of a ticket, you’ll leave a more compassionate human being.

Day Room Window has four more performances, at 7:30 p.m. nightly tonight through Saturday. Tickets are $10-20 and are available here.

The New Hazlett is located at 6 Allegheny Square East (412-320-5842), on the North Side.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Documentary Filmmaker at Melwood Tomorrow

Posted By on Tue, Oct 21, 2014 at 11:26 AM

Milwaukee-based Stephen Wetzel is the visiting artist at this Pittsburgh Filmmakers venue.

Stephen Wetzels Kid Beat Box ...
  • Stephen Wetzel's "Kid Beat Box ..."
Wetzel, known for his observational documentaries, will screen three short films and read from the forthcoming latest volume of his book Occasional Performances and Wayward Writings.

Wetzel teaches at the University of Wisconsin — Milwaukee. His films have included “Men’s Hockey” (2003), about the pre-game rituals of a minor-league team, and “From the Archives of an Inventor” (2009), a portrait of an eccentric Midwesterner composed entirely of footage from the subject’s own videotape archive.

“Archives” won a jury award at the 48th Ann Arbor Film Festival. Here’s the fest’s interview with Wetzel.

At the Melwood, Wetzel will screen “Kid Beat Box: Twenty-two Tapes, Edit Nine,” which he describes as “an experiment in biography, anthromentary, experimental document, flimsy structuralist video [and] short documentary essay”; “The First Shot is Silent,” which commemorates a thriving fishing village bulldozed into an industrial corridor; and “Of the Iron Range,” which documents the annual wood-tick races in a former mining town in Minnesota.

Get a taste of Wetzel’s style in this online version of “Iron Range.”

The screening at at 8 p.m. tomorrow night. The Melwood Screening Room is at 477 Melwood Ave., in Oakland. Tickets are $5.

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