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A Conversation with Mark Freeman 

Some nights, it seems, you can't attend a play, dance show or gallery opening in Pittsburgh without spotting Mark Freeman. The Rhode Island native moved here in 1988 to work for the U.S. Department of Energy, where he's now an international program adviser for the National Energy Technology Laboratory. Freeman, of South Park, suggested CP meet him at Entrepreneurial Thursdays, a monthly business-networking event at Red Star Tavern.

 

How often are you out?

I try to get out maybe half the nights of the week.

 

Mid-January is slow for the arts. Where have you been in the last few days?

Let me think. Count backwards. Last night was CityLive! [an arts talk and performance], at the New Hazlett Theater. The night before was the amazing African [-American] Heroes concert at Heinz Hall, with the Pittsburgh Symphony and [Pittsburgh] Interfaith Choir. Sunday I stayed home, did some house-hunting. Saturday -- there were some galleries that were just closing [shows], like that Artists Image Resource, in the North Side, and the [Jewish Community Center] Holocaust exhibit. You would be surprised how good some of the shows are at our houses of worship here. Like at First Night, they had the Balmoral [Highlanders], the Scottish dancing and drumming [at Downtown's First Presbyterian Church].

 

It sounds exhausting.

I think the arts is getting so big and vibrant now, it's almost impossible to go to everything.

 

Would you, ideally, go to every single thing?

Yeah. If I was living in a hotel, maybe.

 

Do you ever plan to go out and then decide to bag it?

Maybe if it's snowing. I will feel bummed out if I miss something. When I was going to the theater less often, you would read the year-end review of the best dance shows and plays, and maybe of the 20, you saw like one. You feel like, "Aw, I missed out."

 

What was your most noteworthy arts experience in 2007?

A play called Pill Hill [from New Horizon Theater]. The play is about six mill buddies in Chicago, and they're seeing in the '70s that this ride is about to end. One character, Joe, portrayed by Jonathan Berry, by the end of the third act is practically homeless. I brought a girlfriend of mine [who] had a good job, studied literature. She had never been to the Kelly-Strayhorn [Theater], had never seen a black theater production in Pittsburgh. She was so moved by that play, she ended up quitting her job, living off her savings for several months, and now is enrolled full time to get her Ph.D. She so identified with that Joe character. That, to me, gives me joy.

 

Have you always been an arts patron?

Actually, no. My background is in chemical engineering. I took that safe career path.

Probably to about six, seven years ago, I was probably more of a couple-time-a-year person. Couple times at CLO [Civic Light Opera]. A typical suburb-dweller. I think over time my tastes have changed.

 

What's unusual about Pittsburgh's arts scene?

When you look at all of the touring shows that come here -- from China, from Finland, from all over the world -- I think that's pretty exciting. I believe that the [Pittsburgh] area is being promoted as the world's smallest global city. If you like opera, they have two major opera companies here. You might find cities twice, three times the size that might not even have one.

 

You like opera, too?

I'm beginning to take an interest.

 

You're single?

Yeah. And all my relatives live out of town. I'm the proud uncle who gets the kids all the toys and stuff. I do have more free time, I guess, than the average person.

 

Are there other people who attend so many shows?

A few. A lot of the people I know that do like going to the shows are not originally from Pittsburgh. It's amazing. And I don't know if it's because they're looking at Pittsburgh with a fresh set of eyes, or [if] they have more free time. But they see what Pittsburgh has.

 

Do you have anything else planned tonight?

No. I think I'm probably going to go home. I have some friends to go with to [Squonk Opera's] Pittsburgh: The Opera. If I was just by myself, I would go to that tonight, opening night. But I'll wait till Sunday.

click to enlarge HEATHER MULL

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