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Friday, February 24, 2012

CP Video Premiere: Bluebird Midwest

Posted By on Fri, Feb 24, 2012 at 9:00 AM

Good morning!

You may remember last year when I profiled White Wives, the punk band headed up by Roger Harvey and Anti-Flag's Chris No. 2. Harvey used to play under the name Dandelion Snow; his new project, though, is called Bluebird Midwest.

Today, we're premiering a brand-new video from Bluebird Midwest. If you like it, feel free to check Roger out tomorrow night at Brillobox; Bluebird Midwest is playing there on a bill with Eureka Birds and Horse Or Cycle, in a show put on by the local music blog Draw Us Lines.

Without further ado — "I've Always Loved You," the new video from Bluebird Midwest:

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

"The Gammage Project" Talkback with Cyril Wecht

Posted By on Thu, Feb 23, 2012 at 3:25 PM

Larry John Meyers as Cyril Wecht in The Gammage Project.
  • Larry John Meyers as Cyril Wecht in The Gammage Project.

Sometimes when there are talkbacks after live dance or theater performances, the audience doesn't seem to know what to ask, or falls back on old standbys ("What inspired you?").

No such trouble with Pitt Repertory Theatre and Pittsburgh Playwright's world-premiere docudrama about the infamous 1995 death of black businessman Jonny Gammage at the hands of five white suburban-Pittsburgh police officers. There's plenty to discuss, especially when the guest talker is Cyril Wecht, the famously loquacious forensic pathologist and former county coroner who is among the characters depicted in Attilio "Buck" Favorini's play (which has a three-day run at Downtown's August Wilson Center coming up, March 2-4).

As CP's Ted Hoover noted in his review, the production has its rough aspects. But The Gammage Project is nonetheless a powerful anatomy of the miscarriage of justice that included both Gammage's death and the judicial proceedings that followed ... in which the violent demise of a lone unarmed man at a routine traffic stop produced no criminal convictions.

Each of the show's nine performances thus far, at Pitt's Heymann Theater, has been followed by a talkback with someone portrayed in the play. The Feb. 18 show I saw was Wecht's second go-round, and he addressed a few of the more egregious lapses of justice the play highlights.

A lawyer himself, Wecht had also worked at one time or another with all the lawyers the play depicts, whether prosecution or defense. And there can't be too many people who know forensic pathology better. As Wecht noted on Feb. 18, he had been deposed for the following Monday on a West Virginia case of a  police shooting of a black man. (He says he was booked to discuss the case on Geraldo, as well.)

Aside from racism, the play makes clear that the chief impediment to justice for Gammage was the fact that when police officers are charged with crimes, the prosecutors come from the Allegheny County District Attorney's office. That's the same office that must work year-round with law-enforcement officers — a monster conflict of interest.

At the talkback, Wecht said the cases of cops accused of crimes should instead be prosecuted by the state attorney general.

From that conflict of interest, meanwhile, every other problem with the Gammage case seemed to flow. For instance, two of the five cops involved in the traffic stop where Gammage died were never charged with crimes. They were widely seen to have been granted immunity in exchange for testimony implicating the other officers — a move Wecht called "inexplicable."

And there's more. At the coroner's inquest, Keith Henderson, the Whitehall officer whom prosecutors considered their star witness, had said incriminating things about the behavior of other officeers. At the criminal trials, however, he changed his story — and there was no sworn statement from him to consult. Wecht called prosecutors' failure to obtain such a statement "absolutely incredible."

Wecht also asked why prosecutors never made the seemingly obvious move of objecting to two of the juries being drawn from lily-white Chester and Lackawanna counties.

Meanwhile, Wecht was quizzed by an audience member about a key scene in the play involving him (as played by the splendid Larry John Meyers).

The scene (drawn like much of the play from the public record) finds Wecht as a witness for the prosecution. Under repeated questioning by an officer's defense attorney, Wecht testifies that he is unable to say, based on the forensic evidence, which officer did what in the traffic stop, and thus who was ultimately responsible for Gammage's death. The judge declared a mistrial, saying that Wecht's statement would irreparably prejudice the jury.

The head prosecutor, Anthony Krastek, said that he didn't object on the ground of badgering the witness because he thought Wecht was holding his own. Wecht says today that while he wishes Krastek would have objected, he regrets the statement.

"I shouldn't have given that answer," he said last Friday. "I got pissed off." But, he added, he's still not sure the statement amounted to the need for a mistrial.

There are three more chances to see The Gammage Project. The show is restaged next weekend, March 2-4, at the August Wilson Center. Tickets are $15-20.

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Samite plays Saturday at Carnegie Lecture Hall

Posted By on Thu, Feb 23, 2012 at 12:33 PM

With a tranquil voice that glides over notes like silk, East African flutist Samite delivers twelve tracks of entrancing folk music on his album My Music World.

Samite, who produced the album himself, has toured the world expanding his music’s reach to countries such as Tanzania, Liberia and Kenya. He travels to Pittsburgh this week to perform at the Carnegie Lecture Hall in Oakland on Sat., Feb. 25 at 7:30 p.m. His performance is presented by Calliope: The Pittsburgh Folk Music Society.

My Music World reveals several of Samite’s strenghs as a songwriter and vocalist. He demonstrates an impressive control over his breathing in “If I Could Fly I Would Fly to This Song,” in which his voice does not quaver even during the longest notes. His ability to blend his voice well with a background of percussive instruments can be heard in “Ninze,” a playful tune with an upbeat melody.

The high point of the album comes with “Tusimbe Emiti,” a slow, airy song with female background vocals that complement Samite’s rich tone. Each percussion part can be heard clearly, and the steady rhythm makes it relaxing yet energizing. Overall, My Music World triumphs by lulling its listeners into a mellow atmosphere of colorful instrumentation and calming vocals.

Tickets for Samite’s show are $38 in advance, $43 at the door and $20 for student rush. For more information, call Calliope at 412-361-1915 or visit www.calliopehouse.org.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

MP3 Monday: Sneaky Mike

Posted By on Mon, Feb 20, 2012 at 1:07 PM

Sneaky Mike
  • Sneaky Mike

Hey everyone!

This Monday's MP3 comes from local rapper Sneaky Mike, who was featured in our Local Beat section a few weeks ago. The song is "I Look Like Lil B (RSK remix)" and comes from his recently released EP I Look Like Sneaky. If you want to hear more from Sneaky Mike, you can buy the album here. Enjoy!

Sorry, download link expired!

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Call for Film Scripts Generates Surprises

Posted By on Mon, Feb 20, 2012 at 12:09 PM

A local screenwriting group headed by theatrical director, writer and actor Bob Scott was curious to find out just how many talented writers we have in the Burgh. "Hollywood's best-kept secret" has been out for a while: Our city's varied topography, talent pool and appealing tax credits continue to attract filmmakers. In the past two years we've hosted features like Unstoppable, Won't Back Down and The Dark Night.

Filmmakers may come and go. But Pittsburgh stays. So what about our own? Is the film boom influencing us?

Curious and eager to bring attention to our talent, Scott and the Carnegie Screenwriters (CSW) asked the public to submit screenplays, with one condition: The work must have either advanced to the final rounds of a nationally recognized screenwriting competition or been optioned by a production company.

Once again, Pittsburgh surprised us — and not with Terrible Towel lingerie.

The group received 26 feature-length scripts.

"We weren't sure what to expect," says Scott. "Some members of our group have scripts that have been optioned or have won or placed well in contests. We didn't know how many other area writers might be out there who qualified.  I was hoping for a dozen. We received more than twice that."

And what's inspiring all this work?

 "We received a lot of romantic comedies ... surprisingly, more from male writers than female," Bob says. In Thirty, for example, Ben Castiac is dangerously close to his next birthday. After reuniting with his old girlfriend Kate, he tries to win her back before turning 30.

"Other than that we had a nice mix of sci-fi, thrillers, dramas and historical fiction," Scott adds.

In what CSW calls "a different kind of environmental disaster movie,"  The Whiskey Mower tells the story of a man trying to develop the first hydrogen-powered lawnmower who instead creates one that manufactures whiskey, becoming wildly successful for all the wrong reasons. 

CSW is now working to get these scripts in front of industry players. Scott says that several film and TV producers have already expressed an interest in reviewing the list.

However, Scott, the CSW and the screenwriters know that matching each screenplay with the right agent or producer won't be easy.

As for the 26 writers who submitted work, Scott says: "Now it's just a matter of waiting to hear from someone. After that, it's between the writer and the interested party. You have to be persistent and have a very thick skin. All artists face rejection.  It can never be taken personally and we learn what we can from rejection notices, critiques and script coverage."

Scott's advice for other aspiring screenwriter: "Learn about script structure, formatting, plot, creating characters, dialogue," he says. "Take classes. Read the books. Start with Syd Field's book Screenplay. It covers all of the basics. Buy a copy of The Screenwriter's Bible, by David Trottier. Read magazines such as Script and Creative Screenwriting. Read anything by William Goldman. Look for the stories inside you that are clamoring to be told. Write, then rewrite. Just don't stop writing."

Bob Scott can be reached at rhscott69@aol.com.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Road Rage: Dems and Republicans square off over transportation

Posted By on Fri, Feb 17, 2012 at 6:01 PM

In the mounting fight over funding transportation in the state, Republicans and Democrats each fired shots today.

First, Gov. Tom Corbett – in Pittsburgh to tour Calgon Carbon Corporation -- told reporters that Democratic lawmakers were "ballsy" for criticizing him on not acting yet on a transportation funding solution, the Tribune-Review reported.

Noting that Democrats had failed to provide a lasting funding source during 8 years under Governor Ed Rendell, Corbett said: "For them to call on me and say, 'We need to fix this problem in the first 14, 13 months you're in office ... It's ballsy."

Democratic lawmakers had their own take on the situation. Democratic leader Frank Dermody D-Oakmont was "amused by the governor's colorful language, but notes that both Democrats and Republican lawmakers have pleaded with the governor to do something," says Bill Patton, Dermody's spokesman, in an e-mail. "Tom Corbett took office 13 months ago, established a commission to study transportation 12 months ago, received the commission's recommendations seven months ago, and in his second annual budget address 10 days ago Mr. Corbett claimed to have 'developed some workable solutions.'"

Dermody also upped the rhetorical ante today, issuing a co-sponsorship memorandum asserting that he planned to introduce legislation that would rename the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to the "Department of Deferred Maintenance."

According to Dermody's memorandum, the bill "would serve an important purpose in highlighting that Gov. Corbett's inaction on transportation funding has effectively changed the mission of the Department ... While I have full respect for the Secretary and the work done by thousands of dedicated PennDOT public servants under the most difficult circumstances I believe that changing the name to Department of Deferred Maintenance is appropriate and reflects a situation the Governor created by his failure to lead."

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One Pittsburgh puts out the welcome mat for Corbett

Posted By on Fri, Feb 17, 2012 at 12:45 PM

Outside the Duquesne Club today, members of One Pittsburgh protested proposed state budget cuts to education and health services by laying out a human "red carpet" outside the club, where Gov. Tom Corbett was said to be attending a business luncheon.

The protesters' chants varied from "Hey Gov, where's the love? Give some dime to the 99," and "Hey you, millionaires, pay your fair share." Business-suit clad members of the private club walked around them or into the streets. Shortly before noon, when the luncheon was reportedly to start, six protestors rolled out a red carpet and laid underneath it on the sidewalk.

"All of the time, red carpets are laid out for so-called dignitaries," said Bob Glidden, of Point Breeze, who was under the carpet. "This is symbolic of how they are walking all over people to accumulate wealth."

Corbett did not make an appearance. But as protesters lay down, a security guard from the club asked that they move from the sidewalk. After One Pittsburgh members countered that it was a public space, the security guard said, "Fine, have it your way." A few minutes later, city police arrived on bicycle and motorcycle, and eventually four cars arrived.

"You can protest but we just need you to stand up," said Sgt. Robert Miller. "You can't block the sidewalk and force people out on the streets. We're trying to make this as peaceful as possible."

The protestors complied and rolled up the carpet, and remained in front of the club for a short while after chanting, before marching away yelling "We'll be back!"

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Win tickets to see Dethlehem tomorrow (Saturday)

Posted By on Fri, Feb 17, 2012 at 9:34 AM

Dethlehem
  • Dethlehem

Attention, goodly sirs and damsels:

Tomorrow evening at Stage AE, Pittsburgh most ridiculous and most popular metal band, Dethlehem, returns to the stage after a lineup change. The show is $8 and doors open at 8, but you can WIN two tickets for FREE right now via FFW>>.

How? I will tell you how.

I am going to roll a 12-sided die. Right now. I will tell Dethlehem's Overlord Brom what number I rolled. You, below, in the comments, will guess one (1) number between 1 and 12. The first person to guess the right number — or the closest guesser by 2 p.m. today, if no one has hit it by then — will win two spots on Dethlehem's guest list for tomorrow night's show.

Play fair; I can tell if you're stuffing the ballot box entering multiple times. Also, please use your real e-mail address when you comment, so that we can contact you.

Thanks for playing!

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Public Announces New Season

Posted By on Thu, Feb 16, 2012 at 4:42 PM

Artistic director Ted Pappas is calling the Pittsburgh Public Theater's next season "Made in America," with a focus on homegrown work about domestic themes. Of special note are three newer plays, two of them contemporary-set.

Perhaps chief among these is playwright Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park, which won the 2011 Pulitzer for drama. Provocatively, it looks at the same house in a Chicago neighborhood in two different time periods: in 1959, with a black family that's the first to break the color line, and in 2009, as a white family prepares to help gentrify the now-black neighborhood. The show opens in April 2013.

Also notable is another take on social class: David Lindsay-Abaire's Good People, which also hit Broadway in 2011. The latest from the Rabbit Hole playwright concerns a low-income single mother reconnecting with the now-wealthy doctor whom she grew up poor with in Boston. The show opens this November, and will be directed by City Theatre's Tracy Brigden.

And race will sound a keynote in Thurgood, playwright George Stevens, Jr.'s acclaimed 2006 one-man show about Thurgood Marshall, the civil-rights lawyer who became the first African-American justice on the Supreme Court. On Broadway, the role was played by Laurence Fishburne; the Public's production opens in March 2013.

The schedule also includes a couple chestnuts — Garson Kanin's classic comedy Born Yesterday (September) and 1776, the musical with characters named Adams, Jefferson and Franklin (January 2013). The Public's season-closer is TBD.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

City council approves partial settlement in Miles case

Posted By on Wed, Feb 15, 2012 at 3:25 PM

City Council unanimously approved a $75,000 partial settlement Wednesday between the City of Pittsburgh and Jordan Miles, freeing the city of "direct liability" in the Homewood resident's civil suit stemming from his high-profile beating and arrest at the hands of three city police officers two years ago.

The settlement, which doesn't impact the complaints against the individual officers, eliminates sections of the lawsuit claiming that the city failed to properly train, supervise and discipline its officers. But while it is no longer a defendant in the civil suit, the city could eventually be financially liable for a verdict or settlement involving officers Richard Ewing, Michael Saldutte and David Sisak, since the city typically insures its employees against job-related lawsuits.

As a result of the settlement, the civil suit will no longer include an entire section entitled, "Municipal Liability." Included in that section are charges that the city "failed to establish a training program, disciplinary or supervisory procedures adequate to enable police officers to carry out their duties."

The lawsuit continues: "The failure of the Defendant City to provide the proper training, supervision and discipline has caused the Plaintiff and others to suffer violations of their Constitutional rights and created an environment which encourages police officers to take the law into their own hands."

Settling with the Miles family is certainly a good thing for the city, but it's hard to say what indirect liabilities the city could face in the future. Neither city Solicitor Dan Regan nor police union attorney Bryan Campbell immediately returned phone calls for comment. (We will post an update as soon as we hear from them.)

This isn't the first settlement the city has offered Miles. In June, the Miles family rejected a $180,000 settlement, which would have ended the litigation entirely.

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