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Friday, October 30, 2015

Posted By on Fri, Oct 30, 2015 at 2:38 PM

If Pitt’s drama productions aren’t a regular part of your theater diet, make an exception for this show. Pitt Stages, which utilizes mostly student actors, has scored a real coup as the first company in town to produce Quira Alegria Hudes’ 2012 Pulitzer-winner, a searching drama that weaves multiple strands of contemporary life into a tough-minded yet poignant narrative.

click to enlarge Christopher Collier and Anna Chen in "Water by the Spoonful" - PHOTO COURTESY OF VINCENT NOE
Photo courtesy of Vincent Noe
Christopher Collier and Anna Chen in "Water by the Spoonful"
As Ted Hoover points out in his review in this week’s CP, Hudes’ formal innovation copes with the fact that much of the interaction between at least four of the play’s six main characters takes place in an online chat room. She does this by having them address the audience, as if we were the other characters, with the dialogue they’d otherwise be typing. Nonetheless, one of the play’s themes is the dicey nature of online life, which can bring people together – in this case, as a support group for recovering crack addicts – but can take human relationships only so far.

As pleasingly theatrical in its execution as it is realistic in its action, Spoonful also explores race, class, ethnicity, family, community and the cost of warfare on warriors (and their victims). If that sounds complicated, well, it is, but the struggles of Hudes’ sharply etched characters still feel universal. (She is best known for her book for the hit Broadway musical In the Heights.) Ricardo Vila-Roger's direction keeps the focus sharp.

Three performances remain of Water by the Spoonful, at 8 p.m. tonight, 8 p.m. tomorrow and 2 p.m. Sunday. The show’s at the Heymann Theatre, 4200 Fifth Ave., right by the Cathedral of Learning, in Oakland.

Tickets are $12-25 and are available here.

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Posted By on Fri, Oct 30, 2015 at 12:53 PM

We slog through the twitter streams of the 2016 Presidential candidates and give you a weekly round-up of the more entertaining ones, every Friday.

Hillary Clinton re-tweeted out this photo, and America held its breath.

It's as good a reason as any with this crowd.

Not sure winning at Monopoly is the best message to send before the financial-issues debate.

Jeb! brought his custom shit-kickers to the debate, but alas, his magic boots failed him.

Dr. Ben Carson, neurosurgeon and nurse-creator

Your weekly photo of candidates shooting guns

Last week, I noted that no candidate had sent out any cat photo, despite cats' supremacy on the Internet. This week, one man from each party made an effort on National Cat Day.

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Posted By on Fri, Oct 30, 2015 at 12:50 PM

This week Pittsburgh City Council affirmatively recommended an agreement between the city's public safety department and Cover Your Assets Inc., a software company that helps manage secondary employment for police officers. The resolution would authorize the city to pay CYA $175,000 for another year of service beginning Nov. 1.

While council unanimously recommended the resolution, it did spark questions about secondary employment within the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. The bureau manages jobs police officers perform outside of their daily work such as providing security at construction sites, bars and restaurants.

"The money is only going to the scheduling of the officers, but nothing is allocated to any kind of specific or specialized training of the officer to perhaps understand how to do secondary detail in a nightlife district or to do secondary detail in a construction site," said Council President Bruce Kraus. "I'm not sure how officers are given the proper training and equipment to do the secondary detail jobs that we provide for them." 

Secondary employment has been subject to criticism over the years, most notably when it was involved in a 2013 FBI probe that looked into operations at the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. Critics have also claimed some officers were receiving preferential treatment by being given more off-duty employment opportunities than others.
"In our contract, officers have the right to secondary employment, but the department can define secondary employment so I'd like to have a better understanding of what secondary employment is defined as now and what it could possibly look like in the future," Kraus said. "We have a contract coming up, and what progress have we made to understanding what I believe to be a conflict of interest to have officers doing secondary detail at licensed establishments,be they alcohol gaming or adult entertainment?"

The new system with Cover Your Assets was put in place to address some of the prior criticism of secondary employment. But Councilor Dan Gilman said he's received complaints about the new system from community groups seeking to hire officers for their events.

"We had a number of incidents last year where no officers would show either because they hadn't signed up or got sick, or got held for overtime, all legitimate reasons. But then you're stuck, and it's five minutes before the event," said Gilman. "You don't have the safety you need for the public, and getting a hold of CYA was difficult."

These are issues the police bureau is working on, said Assistant Police Chief Thomas Stangrecki, who currently oversees the special events office in charge of secondary employment.

"There's a lot of work out there and needs for additional officers," Stangrecki said. "And a lot of times jobs aren't posted enough in advance for officers to look at them."

In 2013, after secondary employment received negative attention, administration of the special events office was changed. Stangrecki says officers who were handling secondary employment were transferred, and leadership was transferred to a supervisor who didn't have experience handling secondary employment.

"Regrettably there were some growing pains," Stangrecki said. "We've made a lot of progress along the way. The office is still changing, so we're constantly training new people. We're hoping to get some people who will be there for a while, to make sure details are filled and work through issues like whether to give a refund or not."

Kraus said he will arrange a briefing on the system and secondary employment prior to council's final vote on the resolution on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

"I fully recognize the need for a change from the past. It seems like this headed in the right direction. I also am very understanding that there are growing pains associated with it as new people learn new roles. But at $175,000, I also certainly expect a pretty good software package. That's more than many of the software packages in the city," Gilman said. "I'm certainly happy to support another year, but if this is the permanent solution, I'd like a more in-depth understanding. I think we share a common endgame, but I'm not 100 percent convinced that this is the best path to this end game."

As a supporter of secondary employment, Councilor Darlene Harris noted that the software system would not come at a cost to taxpayers because funding for the administration of off-duty jobs comes from fees billed to clients. For example, the city collects $4.38 per hour for every job and $25 per hour for police vehicle use.

"It's not coming out of taxpayer dollars anymore. It's coming from those who are utilizing our police force," said Harris. "I'm glad we got the program to the point where it's not costing tax payers anything and they are benefiting from it."

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Posted By on Fri, Oct 30, 2015 at 12:00 PM

By many accounts, independent bookstores are a dying breed. But some are bucking trend. And in Oakmont, Mystery Lovers Bookshop celebrates 25 years this weekend — a testament to the fact that, more than just where you buy your books, bookstores can also be staples of a community.

Mystery Lovers Bookshop opened in 1990, and was honored by the Mystery Writers of America with a Raven award in 2010. The store carries new copies of a wide variety of crime, thrillers and espionage fiction, and hosts an annual Festival of Mystery.

The store celebrates its longevity with a free event tomorrow from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. The event includes a special edition of its Coffee & Crime series, with local mystery author Nancy Martin, at 11 a.m. Martin will speak about her newest book, Miss Ruffles Inherits Everything (Minotaur Books), which will be available for purchase before its official Nov. 3 release.

Founders Mary Alice Gorman and Richard Goldman then arrive for a meet-and-greet, and to make a  special announcement. (The store's current owners, married couple Natalie Sacco and Trevor Thomas, took the place over this past May.)

The annual $0.10 book sale follows. Proceeds will be donated to a local charity that has yet to be announced.

Mystery Lovers Bookshop is located at 514 Allegheny River Blvd., in Oakmont. Light refreshments will be provided, and costumes are encouraged.

Click here for more info.

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Posted By on Fri, Oct 30, 2015 at 10:44 AM

Earlier this week City Paper reported on a potential strike for janitorial workers in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas. On Oct. 27, members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 32BJ voted to give union leadership the authority to call for a strike if a contract agreement wasn’t met with the Managers, Owners and Contractors Association (MOCA), the organization that handles negotiations for local offices and buildings.

But last evening, two days before their current contract was set to expire, SEIU reached a deal with MOCA. According to SEIU, the agreement "includes a fair wage increase and maintains benefits at their current level," for 1200 local employees.

In a statement Western Pennsylvania District Leader Sam Williamson said: “We are showing that employees and businesses can work together effectively to reach a fair agreement. This is a win-win for everyone. We are glad that the day-to-day operations of these buildings will continue. We are happy these hardworking men and women can continue making a family-sustaining wage which allows them to support their families and make our city’s economy stronger. These are good jobs. Together with our commercial office cleaners and newly organized security officers, we are strengthening the middle class."

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Posted By on Thu, Oct 29, 2015 at 4:04 PM

click to enlarge The Toxic Ten website allows users to type in their address to see how near or far they live from one of the ten largest polluters in Allegheny County. - WWW.TOXICTEN.ORG
The Toxic Ten website allows users to type in their address to see how near or far they live from one of the ten largest polluters in Allegheny County.
A new interactive website shows Allegheny County residents the top ten air polluters in the county.

After typing in an address, the website user can see how many miles away his or her house is from each of the ten industrial sites.

"This website will allow residents to learn more about the potential impacts on their health and how they can help ensure these facilities are cleaned up," said Stephen Riccardi of the environmental advocacy group PennEnvironment.

The organization rolled out the website in conjunction with the release of its "Toxic Ten" report written with the policy organization Frontier Group and funded by the Heinz Endowments and the Colcom Foundation. 

According to the report, "more than one in three Allegheny County residents lives within three miles of those 10 facilities."

The authors used the Environmental Protection Agency's scoring system called the Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators model, which takes industry-reported data (basically, which substances and how much were released over a period of time) and analyzes it against the risk factors posed by those substances — as defined by EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report listed four categories of potential health effects: cancer and issues with the cardiovascular, nervous and respiratory systems.

"This report offers a clear picture of where the responsibility lies," said Riccardi at the press conference releasing the report and rolling out the new website.

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Posted By on Thu, Oct 29, 2015 at 11:27 AM

click to enlarge IATSE's LGBT Pride t-shirt - PHOTO COURTESY OF SHAWN FOYLE
Photo courtesy of Shawn Foyle
IATSE's LGBT Pride t-shirt
This week City Paper reported about the apparent lack of progress with the Delta Foundation since the protests at Pittsburgh Pride by smaller, local LGBT groups. Protests were sparked by the selection of Iggy Azalea as headliner (the rapper had a history on social media of making comments that many felt were racist or homophobic), but protesters felt the issues went beyond that (Azelea later dropped out and was replaced by Nick Jonas). Demonstrators demanded more inclusive practices at Delta, particularly the participation of trans and people of color in Pride.

But another, less-reported group also engaged in the protests, calling out Delta for another issue: the exclusion of union stagehands at Delta events, particularly Pride.

Shawn Foyle of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 3 says he has been reaching out to Delta for years trying to convince them to hire union stagehands for their events. Foyle says that union stagehands should be considered for Pride because it is a large event held on public land and because labor unions have historically been allies to LGBT organizations.

Foyle says that despite a “cordial” meeting in April 2012, IATSE has not spoken with Van Horn or anyone at Delta since. “We don’t have a relationship,” he says.

Since the initial 2012 meeting, Foyle says he has written multiple letters and emails requesting a follow-up discussion on the possibility of including up to four union stagehands for Pride events. After receiving no response year after year, IATSE joined in on the 2015 Pride protests and handed out leaflets detailing their frustration.

Since their protest, there has appeared to be some falling out between Delta and some of its labor support. Adanjesus Marin of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania says SEIU dropped out of marching in the 2015 Pride parade and barred Delta from marching with SEIU in Pittsburgh’s Labor Day parade after he learned Delta had been ignoring IATSE. 

“We [at SEIU] decided to not march in the Pride parade after Delta turned its back on labor,” says Marin. “This is frustrating because Delta has been supportive of labor for years before this.” (Delta marched in the 2013 and 2014 Labor Day parade with SEIU.)

Marin, who is also the co-chair of LGBT union organization Pride at Work, says that SEIU tried to contact Delta with a letter about the IATSE issue before Pride, but Delta president Gary Van Horn ignored the letter. This is when SEIU decided to pull out of the Parade and to discontinue donations to Delta, Marin says.

“The fact is that [Delta] spends tens of thousands of dollars to bring in high-end entertainment,” says Marin. “They should be able to pay a living wage to the people who set up the stage. It would be a simple fix. we are talking about less than a handful of people.”

Foyle says that other IATSE unions march in Pride parades in places like Toronto and Portland and that IATSE Local 3 would be happy to march in the Pittsburgh Pride and donate to Delta, but not under the climate that currently exists.

Delta spokesperson Christine Bryan told CP in an email that Delta does not hire stagehands for their events but instead hires contractors to set stages, lighting and sound equipment. “We have asked [IATSE] to provide us with names of union shops in Pittsburgh that can provide these services and have been told that there are none,” wrote Bryan in an email.

Foyle says the response does not truly address the stagehand issue. He says contractors don’t usually have union stagehands as full-time staffers and that stagehands are hired as needed to assist contractors in preparing the stage and equipment for entertainment events.

Foyle says if experienced stagehands are not hired, then the contractors either put up the stage themselves or use “whatever help is necessary” to put up the equipment. Foyle says in the case of Pride, this extra help is usually volunteers, which can lead to potential problems.

“They don’t want to engage local people who actually do this for a living,” says Foyle. “It is easier and cheaper for Delta to pass the buck.”

Foyle also points out that if volunteers get hurt when helping to put up stages, they typically do not have any legal protections.

Bryan says that recently there have been attempts to improve communications between the feuding organizations. She says that Pittsburgh City Councilman Dan Gilman set up a meeting between Delta and IATSE, but the union cancelled the meeting.

Foyle says IATSE turned down the meeting because they had still not received a direct response from Delta after writing to them around Labor Day, and so they were skeptical of anything productive occurring at the sit down.

“We don’t believe that anything constructive would come out of this,” says Foyle. “We can read between the lines. The sit down was not happening for the right reasons.”

Foyle says IATSE would be willing to start discussions with Delta when the large LGBT nonprofit shows a desire to use some union stagehands for one of their events.

“This is what we do, and we do it right here in the Cultural District,” he says. “We support [LGBT] efforts. It would be nice if [Delta] included us.”

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Posted By on Wed, Oct 28, 2015 at 4:50 PM

A year after the release of his critically-acclaimed Cadillactica, Big K.R.I.T. returned this month with a surprise mixtape called It’s Better This Way. The cover, drawn by Eric Bailey, shows a cartoon K.R.I.T. standing at a crossroads. It’s classic fork-in-the-road stuff; Mordor vs the Shire, the road on the left gloomy and desolate, the other sunny, blue-skied and cartoonishly green (it is a cartoon). Signs pointing to the left say Regular, Follower, Ordinary, Pressure. Pointing to the right, a sign reads: It’s Better This Way. Seems like a no-brainer.

click to enlarge Big K.R.I.T. - ANDREW LITTEN
Andrew Litten
Big K.R.I.T.
Ambitious people don’t usually tout the “easy road”, nor do they celebrate it with cover art, but as Big K.R.I.T. explained to CP, the sunshine here isn’t about process, it’s about results. With this mixtape, the 29-year-old is shrugging off expectations and arguing that he’s better off, and we as his audience are too, when he does things his own way. Okay, granted, that’s pretty vanilla as far as revelations go, but it’s an internal one for K.R.I.T., and the external results sell the point. It’s a solid mixtape, far better than it needs to be, and a good indication of what to expect from him down the road.

With another release scheduled for next month (more about that later) and a 39 – city tour hitting Mr. Smalls tomorrow, City Paper caught up with Big K.R.I.T. in Atlanta via phone while he prepped for the road.

How do you spend the days leading up to a big tour?

Normally just try to relax, enjoy my house. You know trying to mentally prepare myself to really just put on the best show I possibly can, every day. And then rehearsals every day up until that point too because I’m definitely gonna be performing a lot of new content, so just wanna make sure everything’s perfectly tight and put together as far as creating a experience for the people. That’s really what’s going on. The last two days I try to make sure I got my wardrobe right and everything’s cleaned up with the house. Laundry, that’s what’s going on.

What’s the idea behind the title and cover art for It’s Better This Way?

For me, it’s just about always wanting to go with my good instinct musically. And when it comes to my projects, the music I create, normally not doing what everybody else is doing.

It was always better for me to go the way that I felt internally, that fit my personality, talking about my journey and where I would like to go musically. So It’s Better This Way is just me kinda relating to the people that the way I do music, the way I put out music, how I am creatively, is just better for me as a person and a musician. And once you sit down and listen to it, you’ll really understand “oh okay, it’s better to get this kind of music from K.R.I.T., you’re not gonna get it from anybody else, not this kinda music.”

Who drew the cover?

Eric Bailey did the cover art for It’s Better This Way, he also did the cover art for Return of 4eva, cover art for 4eva And A Day, Live At The Underground cover art, King Remembered For A Time cover art, too. It’s just amazing to be around the kind of artist that I can give him an idea and he can just collaborate on it so much, turn it into a body of work on its own.

So you tell him about the vibe of the record and he takes a stab at it?

Yeah definitely. And he always brings it more to life man, but for me it starts off with me scribbling something on a piece of paper and then I’ll send it to him and he turns it into what he turns it into.

You’ve been releasing a lot of music over the past year, with Cadillactica in October 2014, handful of collaborations over the year, then a mixtape last week, and it was recently announced that All My Life will be released in November-

Nah that’s not my Def Jam major label album. That’s something ... somebody bought masters of my music. That’s not something directly from Motown Def Jam.

Okay, either way, your output is pretty non-stop. Do you write a lot of music when you’re on tour?

Normally I don’t rap that much because after every performance every night, my voice isn’t in the kind of shape that where you could cut a record and sound 100 percent. So I try to focus on the production aspect.

Do you have a good setup in your bus, or you just need a laptop for that?

Just a laptop, man. Normally just a laptop, and a good mic. I’m actually more familiar with a very small compact idea as far as that setup is concerned, versus the huge boards you see in the studio.

Which part of the process do you enjoy more: performing or writing?

I would always prefer to be able to sit down, at the crib, or go to the studio, and work. Normally on a bus there’s a lot of things that you have to take into consideration. Gotta deal with the bus humming, the engine is always on so you gotta deal with that. Me, I’m the kinda person, I’m so focused on the show depending on where we’re going and if we adding new content, then it’s kinda hard to just sit down and focus on a track and write and try to remember certain things ...

Got anything new for this tour?

Oh yeah, man. I don’t know if you’ve been seeing on my Instagram, but I got a band, so that’s gonna complete the dynamic, of what people are seeing with me and my shows. Dibia$e, the main DJ, now he has the opportunity to turn the turntable in an instrument all his own. I’m excited ... but I really don’t wanna go too hard into telling people what’s going on, but it’s definitely going to be a shift in how certain songs and the way I perform them, and which songs I perform.

What else do you have on tap for this year?

Yeah man, as for me and my next album-album, it's gonna probably be next year. It’s Better This Way for me is probably the last project of this year that I put out, that I actually creatively, you know I had something to do with ...

And I just wanna let people know that certain amount of confusion thinking that [All My Life] is my next major label album, it’s not. It ain’t no beef or nothing like that, nothing at all, it’s just different, it’s work I did years ago that somebody owns, versus what I’m doing now. 

Big K.R.I.T. 8 p.m. Thu., Oct. 29. Mr. Small’s Theatre, 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. $18-20. All ages. 412-821-4447 or

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Posted By on Wed, Oct 28, 2015 at 4:18 PM

Following a rally earlier today, janitors with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have voted to strike if they fail to reach a contract agreement with local office buildings.  

"We're here to lift our employees up. We're bargaining for 1200 people here in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas," says Paul Griffin, a janitor at One PNC Plaza. "Whenever you raise people's standard of living, their communities benefit. I'm so proud to belong to a union that recognizes that connection that good jobs build strong communities."

According to SEIU, 250 of the 1200 members locally voted today to strike if contract negotiations between SEIU and Managers, Owners and Contractors Association (MOCA) aren't resolved. MOCA is a group that negotiates collective bargaining agreements on behalf of local buildings like U.S. Steel Tower, Gateway Center, PNC Plaza and Bayer headquarters.

Griffin, a McKeesport resident who has worked as a janitor for 29 years, says the union is looking for "an agreement that contains a decent wage increase, affordable healthcare and other fringe benefits that would add to their quality of life, like vacation days." The current contract expires at midnight on Saturday, Oct. 31.

"The one thing that struck me about this counter proposal is you have very low potential pay increases and they're asking us to pay more for healthcare," says Griffin. "When you combine the two, we're going backwards in a serious way."

According to SEIU, citing a report from MIT, downtown office cleaners earn $16 an hour on average. In surrounding areas, they  earn on average $11.25 an hour. The living wage for one adult supporting one child in Pittsburgh is $21.07 an hour. 

"I've seen what taking good jobs out of the community can do to families," Griffin says. "When you bargain for family sustaining jobs, it's good all the way around. We're looking for a family-friendly contract."

Even if an agreement isn't reached by Oct. 31, Griffin and SEIU communications specialist Traci Benjamin say today's vote does not guarantee a strike will start on Nov. 1.

"The vote today gives Paul and the other members of the bargaining committee the right to say when the strike would be," says Benjamin. "It gives them the authority to call for a strike."

And a strike would be detrimental to not only the employees who would lose wages, but the employees of local office buildings and the local economy as a whole, Griffin says. He cited a 1985 strike by Pittsburgh janitors that he believes played a role in securing worker's rights today.

"Today we're standing on the work they did," says Griffin. "We're trying to address the needs of employees that are presently in this industry, and we're looking to sustain this industry for the future. I want this to be an industry where young people can get jobs in the future."

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Posted By on Wed, Oct 28, 2015 at 3:14 PM

Every Wednesday, we make a Spotify playlist containing tracks from artists covered in the current music section. Listen below!