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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Corningworks’ “Right of Way” at Pittsburgh’s New Hazlett Theater

Posted By on Thu, Mar 31, 2016 at 1:41 PM

Drag has been edging into the mainstream at least since RuPaul’s Drag Race; these days, a fair swath of Middle America is comfortable kicking it about wigs and throwing shade. Of course, our cults of masculinity and femininity have hardly gone missing: What we’re seeing in North Carolina’s anti-transgender law and elsewhere is surely backlash in a culture where issues of gender are being discussed openly like never before.
Jezebel D'Opulence and Beth Corning - PHOTO COURTESY OF FRANK WALSH
  • Photo courtesy of Frank Walsh
  • Jezebel D'Opulence and Beth Corning
The thoughtful and entertaining new show from Beth Corning’s Glue Factory Project pairs the choreographer with local drag icon Jezebel Bebbington D’Opulence for a series of vignettes exploring gender, including what it means to be a woman.
     
Much of the show focuses on women’s struggle for equal regard. In an eloquent opening solo, Corning moves, as if through a dense fluid, beneath a video screen on which are projected pairs of words referring to positive traits in men (“strong,” “virile”) as perceived in women: “dominating bitch,” “slut.” Later, Corning does a clever solo with a dancing mirror (wheeled about by an assistant) in which her character enumerates the careful-stepping strategies women must employ to navigate daily life in a way men take for granted.
   
 “I couldn’t be … entitled to safety,” she says she recognized, and later notes “the privilege of obliviousness” granted men. (The text for this part is by local author Sarah Shotland.)
     
Women must constantly think about how they’re being perceived by others, Corning says. “Being a woman is a performance I engage in every day. And that’s because there’s always an audience.”
     
Segments featuring Jezebel, meanwhile, largely explore what it means to be born in a male body but to consider oneself female. She first appears with Corning in matching unisex garb, in a sequence set to recorded interviews in which Corning asks interview subjects to “identify yourself” (genderwise); in voiceover, Jezebel recounts the difficulties of growing up gay in Puerto Rico.
     
The show’s themes overlap when Corning ends her mirror solo by saying, “I’m exhausted by the act” of being a woman — followed immediately by Jezebel’s first appearance in full drag, in a sequined dress, red push-up bra and four-inch stilettos (also sequined), embracing the audience Corning’s character wishes would grant her a reprieve.
     
Archly, Jezebel reads from an academically worded essay about the seeming contradictions of drag as a performance of womanhood — and a caricature, at that. But these are contradictions Jezebel immediately erases with her signature performance of Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” – expertly lip-synced, with the moves and cheekbones to do Miss Tina proud indeed.
     
A later segment featuring both performers includes some amusing audience interaction and a demonstration of how each approaches walking in heels.
     
Corning and Jezebel have different movement styles – the contrast between a seasoned drag artist and a life-long professional dancer and contemporary-dance choreographer. Yet so much of drag is mime, after all, and Jezebel brings unquestionable authenticity.
     
Each of the show’s two big themes – the struggles of women for equality, and womanhood as performance – could support a show by itself. To integrate them is ambitious, and in Right of Way the overlap is both enjoyable and provocative. (Though I'm tempted to sum it up with a quote from RuPaul: "You're born naked and the rest is drag.")
     
Right of Way has four more performances, starting with tonight’s at 8 p.m. and concluding with the 2 p.m. show on Sunday.
     
Tickets are $25-30 and are available here. Admission to the Sunday matinee is pay-what-you-can at the door; regular-priced tickets can be purchased online ahead of time.
     
The New Hazlett Theater is located at 6 Allegheny Square East, on the North Side.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Listen Up! March 30

Posted By on Wed, Mar 30, 2016 at 1:34 PM

Every Wednesday, we make a Spotify playlist containing tracks from artists mentioned in the current music section. Experience the paper without any of that tiresome reading!


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“Miss Julie, Clarissa and John” at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 30, 2016 at 10:00 AM

This week brings the final four performances of this new play that most critics have been loving as much as CP’s Ted Hoover did. Audiences seem to have been pleased, too: Playwrights extended the show’s run a week to make possible these four extra shows.

Tami Dixon (left) and Chrystal Bates in "Miss Julie, Clarissa and John" - PHOTO COURTESY OF GAIL L. MANKER
  • Photo courtesy of Gail L. Manker
  • Tami Dixon (left) and Chrystal Bates in "Miss Julie, Clarissa and John"
Indeed, I can’t add any better advice than this: Go. Mark Clayton Southers, the troupe’s founder and a seasoned playwright, has outdone himself with this drama inspired by August Strindberg’s 1888 classic Miss Julie, about an illicit affair between a rich woman and her father’s top servant. Sagely, Southers retains the time period but transfers the action to Virginia and makes the servant a freed former African-American slave. All this builds on Strindberg’s dynamics while opening up a vast thematic and emotional range.

The production nails just about everything, from scenic designer Tony Ferrieri’s raw-wood set to the sharp direction by Monteze Freeland. The acting is top-notch: In Tami Dixon’s hands, the impetuous Julie becomes a chilling portrait of white privilege avant la lettre, while Kevin Brown is solid as John and Chrystal Bates (one of Pittsburgh theater’s best-kept secrets) spectacular as John’s woman, the servant Clarissa.

Self-love and self-hate, the complicated politics of desire and, of course, America’s tortured history of race –- Southers gets it all down. A favorite moment: The magic that Southers works with John’s retelling of the fairy tale of Snow White as a way of professing his love for Clarissa. It's funny, shrewd and deeply moving all at once.

Shows remain at 8 p.m. nightly tomorrow and Friday, and 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday.

Tickets are $25-30 and are available here.

Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre is located on the third floor of 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown.

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A conversation with this week’s Pittsburgh City Paper Pirates Preview cover artist Joshua Gragg

Posted By on Wed, Mar 30, 2016 at 7:00 AM

Pittsburgh artist Joshua Gragg and his Pittsburgh City Paper cover illustration - PHOTO COURTESY OF JOSHUA GRAGG
  • Photo courtesy of Joshua Gragg
  • Pittsburgh artist Joshua Gragg and his Pittsburgh City Paper cover illustration


When I emailed local artist Joshua Gragg to see if he’d be interested in illustrating Jung Ho Kang for our Pirates Preview cover, he was quick to agree: “I LOVE Kang.” I knew he was a huge Pirates fan before I reached out to him; he frequently posts illustrations of Pirates players on his Twitter account  and his Instagram, so what better artist to choose for this week’s cover? Plus, editor Charlie Deitch and I have been itching to use him for another portrait since he did such a great job last year on a cover illustration of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.

Gragg, 35, lives in Bethel Park with his wife, Jenna, and two kids, Ben and Ellie. In addition to creating art both traditionally and digitally, he also works full time for a weather website doing front-end design and development. “Most of my days are spent building web ads and trying to get people to click on something.” When he’s not doing that, he’s “playing with my kids, messing around in the garage with various projects or playing drums in my basement.” And chances are, if the Pirates are on TV, he’s also watching.

We caught up with him over email after he was done with this week’s cover illustration.

You specialize in celebrity portraits. Any celebrities take notice of their likenesses yet? (I heard through the grapevine that Bill Peduto’s mom liked the cover you illustrated of him for us last year.)
I started doing celebrity illustrations about two years ago or so for fun. I kind of stumbled upon a process and developed a style that people responded positively to, so I just kept making them.

I’ve gotten the occasional “like” from a celebrity on social media and U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman recently shared an illustration I did of him from his Instagram account. 

Joshua Gragg's 2015 cover illustration of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto
  • Joshua Gragg's 2015 cover illustration of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto

You create your illustrations digitally. Has that always been your preferred medium?
I’ve worked with computer design and animation ever since I was a teenager, but I really started to refine my skills at Pittsburgh Technical Institute in Oakdale, where I attended as an adult student from 2008-2010. While there, I got much better at Illustrator and Photoshop and gained exposure to various applications and techniques that I’ve since built upon and use daily.

I can tell you’re a big Pirates fan because I’ve seen you post illustrations of different players like Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen, and you seemed pretty psyched when I told you we wanted to feature Jung Ho Kang. Do you have a favorite player?
I absolutely love the Buccos! I have different favorite players for different reasons. I love Cervelli’s fiery passion and Josh Harrison’s hustle and swagger. Marte also seems like a dude who knows how to have a good time, and how could you not love Jung Ho Kang? His smile and passion transcend language barriers. Plus, he has a portrait of himself tattooed on his ankle! How rad is that!? That said, they all bring something to the overall team characteristic that makes them so fun to watch and root for. 

Give me a prediction for the team this year.
I think we need Kang to bounce back from the injury, and for the starting rotation to hold it together until we can call up one of those young arms from Indy this summer. We also need to do better against the NL Central and avoid the wildcard game all together. We do that and the sky is the limit for this team. Go Bucs!

Any projects coming up you want to share with everyone?
I’m gonna have a booth at the Steel City Con at the Monroeville Convention Center April 15-17 where I’ll be selling my prints. You can also see more of my work at www.popmediaillustrated.com.


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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Pittsburgh's Thrival Innovation + Music Festival announces initial 2016 lineup

Posted By on Tue, Mar 29, 2016 at 5:45 PM

Following a "Blind Faith" promotion earlier this month - where music fans could buy festival passes without knowing who exactly they'd be seeing - Thrival Innovation + Music Festival has announced some of the performers appearing at this year's event, happening Sept. 20-24. 

More acts will be added to the schedule in the coming months, but headliners include electropop band Chvrches; electronic music elder-statesmen Thievery Corporation; long-standing indie-rockers Metric, funk ensemble Lettuce, indie-dance group Rumblebucket; Sir the Baptist, who irreverently blends gospel, r&b and club music; cheery pop band Wild Child; and locally-based singer-songwriter Brooke Annibale. Early Bird tickets are currently available.

Launched by Pittsburgh non-profit Thrill Mill in 2013, Thrival also features a series of innovation-focused programs on a variety of themes, which this year will include  AuthentiCity, The Ripple Effect and Lost and Found.

Learn more at Thrival's website, and checkout our coverage of the 2015 festival. 

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Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman releases ad on impact of heroin addiction

Posted By on Tue, Mar 29, 2016 at 1:48 PM


This week, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and Braddock Mayor John Fetterman released an ad on the growing heroin epidemic that is affecting Pennsylvania and the U.S.

In the video, Fetterman walks through abandon homes in North Braddock, which neighbors Fetterman's community, calling one of the abandoned homes a "cathedral to addiction" because people broke in and striped the home of what is valuable, like its copper piping, to sell and fuel their drug addiction. (In fact, City Paper wrote in February about another nearby community, Turtle Creek, that is also experience a heroin epidemic.)

"What would our country look like if 30 years ago we didn't declare a war on drugs but we declared a war on addiction and treated it like the medical condition that it is," Fetterman asks in the ad. "How many millions of families lives would not have been damaged or destroyed by seeing their loved ones get sent away for years and years through mandatory sentencing?" 

Fetterman's press release points out that more than half of Pennsylvania's drug overdose deaths in 2014 were a result of heroin use, according to a report from the Drug Enforcement Administration. In Allegheny County, opioid overdose deaths were down from 326 in 2014, to 246 in 2015, but the majority of overdose deaths were still caused from opioids (particularly herion) in 2015, according to Allegheny County Office of the Medical Examiner.

Fetterman says in the press release that white suburban neighborhoods have also been experience rising opioid use, but communities of color have been the hardest hit by the epidemic. Fetterman points to his first hand experience as mayor of a community that has experienced such problems as why he wanted to highlight the heroin issue.

The ad is available online and will be showed over the air in select Pennsylvania TV markets.

Pennsylvania's primary election is April 26, and Fetterman is going up against former state environmental secretary Katie McGinty, former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, and Findlay township small business owner Joe Vodvarka. To learn more about other issues important to the U.S. Senate candidates, read CP's coverage of their thoughts on affordable housing, fracking, and gun control

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Artists Sought to Create Temporary Works in Pittsburgh Communities

Posted By on Tue, Mar 29, 2016 at 1:45 PM

Artist-information sessions begin this week for the Temporary Public Art and Placemaking Program.
neighborhoodallies_primary_full-color_rgb_300px.png
     
The initiative of Neighborhood Allies and the city’s Office of Public Art seeks to team community-based organizations,  artists and residents to develop a temporary work of public art to be displayed in each of six communities in both Pittsburgh proper and first-ring suburbs. The neighborhoods are Millvale, Larimer, Homewood, Wilkinsburg, the Hill District and the Southern Hilltops.

gpac.png
     The artist-information sessions, each hosted by a participating community-based organization, will help artists learn about the program and the application process.

Five info sessions remain, starting with tomorrow night’s at the Kingsley Center, 6435 Frankstown Ave., in Larimer, at 5 p.m. Wed., March 30.
*   The Homewood session is at 5 p.m. Thu., March 31, at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Homewood, 7101 Hamilton Ave.
*   The Wilkinsburg session is at 4 p.m. Mon., April 4, at Landmarks Preservation Resource Center, 744 Rebecca Ave.
*   In the Hill District, the meeting is at 5 p.m. Tue., April 5, at the Blakey Program Center, 1908 Wylie Ave.
*   And the Southern Hilltops meetings is at 6:30 p.m. Tue., April 19, at UrbanKind, 827 E. Warrington Ave., in Allentown.

For the full call for artists, and additional info, see here.
     
Artists will be selected by the participating community-based organizations through an RFQ process facilitated by Neighborhood Allies and the Office of Public Art.
     
The deadline to apply is May 2.

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Monday, March 28, 2016

MP3 Monday: Jordan Montgomery

Posted By on Mon, Mar 28, 2016 at 2:22 PM

jordan_montgomery.jpg
This week’s download comes from rapper Jordan Montgomery, who just released his debut record, Driving While Black, in February. Stream or download the Idasa Tariq-produced track “Know My Name,” below, and read Alex Gordon's interview with Montgomery here


Download link has expired, sorry!

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Friday, March 25, 2016

U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton opens campaign office in Pittsburgh

Posted By on Fri, Mar 25, 2016 at 3:24 PM



A young person wrote “Feminism. DUH.” on a wall-sized poster headed with the prompt “I’m with her because …” The walls were covered from floor to to ceiling with that infamous ‘H’ logo in a seemingly endless combination of colors.

“Wow. What a crowd we have here tonight. What a cross-section of Pittsburgh. Young people. Middle-aged people. People as old as me,” County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said to a laughing crowd of Hillary Clinton supporters. “We know that this is Hillary Clinton country.”

On Thursday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton opened her first Pennsylvania campaign office in East Liberty. Both Clinton and her opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, opened campaign offices in Pittsburgh this week in advance of the March 28 deadline to register for the primary vote.

The new offices seemed to match the candidates. Clinton’s new office is neat, organized, covered in campaign memorabilia — in-line with what one might expect from a campaign office. Unlike at the grassroots, rustic setting of the Sanders campaign office, there were no reggae songs singing of revolution at the Clinton event.

Continue reading »

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A conversation with Dylan Rau of Bear Hands

Posted By on Fri, Mar 25, 2016 at 12:11 PM

Bear Hands - NINA WESTERVELT
  • Nina Westervelt
  • Bear Hands
"Giants" was pretty much the song of the summer 2014. And now the band behind that banger is back with a new album, You'll Pay for This, out April 15 on Spensive Sounds, and currently on the Spring Fling Rock AF 2016 tour with Cage The Elephant, Silversun Pickups and Foals. We caught up with Bear Hands vocalist / guitarist Dylan Rau earlier this month in advance of the Pittsburgh date of the tour at Petersen Events Center on March 25.

On You’ll Pay For This, how did this theme of money play into the album and the recording process?
I think money is omnipresent is people’s mind, ya know? You can never have enough of it. People that don’t have money are obsessed obviously obsessed with trying to climb the ladder. People who have tons of money are obsessed to an even crazier degree. I don’t know, I think some of that got instilled in some of the songs. We realized we had a song called “I Won’t Pay” and for some reason years before that Ted [Feldman] and I had a sustained joke that we would end a song on stage short yelling “You’ll pay for this.” I don’t know why we thought that was very funny. Then when it was time to name the record, we realized we could tie a couple things together phonetically and I don’t know.

In reading the press materials for the new record, you said something like, with people having short attentions spans, it’s hard to grab them. But you thought you were able to grab them with You’ll Pay For This. What did you do to pull the listener in with this album?
Right. I think the band has always tried to be a lot of different things at the same time and allow each song to range pretty widely, in terms of generic indicators. That’s kind of how I listen to music. I listen to it more on a song by song basis. I listen to a lot of different genres. Rap and dance and indie and super bubblegum pop or whatever. We kind of wanted the record to be a pastiche of everything or a palate of what’s going on in music and what is going on forever, I think. And I think we tried to do that in every record and this one we did it even better, hopefully. Hopefully you always improve.

You’re releasing the album on the band’s own label. How does it feel to get back to a DIY approach? Does the album mean more to you doing it this way? How did you settle on self-releasing?
Yea it does make it mean more to us. We’re more involved on a day to day and minutia level of decision making. Also, our management company has a great team and have a lot of people who work really hard and help us out. So that’s really important also. But yea, I want to see my baby do well. And seeing as we’re the only artist on the label right now, it kind of has to do well. But in the future, we would love to be able to find someone exciting on the road in some weird town and put out music with him or her.

Between Distraction and the new album, was there anything you consciously changed between the two? Did you try to incorporate different genres, do anything different from a songwriting perspective? Or was it just the band evolving?
There wasn’t really a conscious effort, but the main difference is Ted [Feldman] has come into his own as a songwriter. On Distraction, I think Ted maybe came up with the initial idea on two songs or so and on this record, more like half. We’ve been collaborating a lot more intensely. I think previously I would just kind of go away and write the bones of the song and bring it to the band and we would put it together. Whereas this time, there was a lot of me and Ted, eyeball to eyeball, working on things. I’m really happy. He’s a really good songwriter. It’s so great to have a partner like that.

At this point, Bear Hands has been around for 10 years. How does it feel now compared to when you guys started out in 2006?
I feel a tremendous amount of accomplishment for making this band go for 10 years. There were many times when it was difficult to go on and we weren’t making any money. There were peaks and valleys in how interested people were with the band. I think we operated under the “just don’t break up” kind of rule. We would take extended breaks from each other after we went on tours for a long time. We knew we just needed to stay away. The foursome, it works. And now it feels like it’s not made of glass and could fall apart. We’ve become pretty invested in each other.

Obviously, you’ve had a great deal of success with the band. Specifically with the popularity of Distraction and how well received “Giants” was as a single and getting a lot of radio play, was that a big boost for the band?
Yea, definitely. Both records felt like inflection points in the band’s trajectory. Just being able to get your first full length record out is like a hurdle many bands don’t get over, which requires a lot of work and money and preparedness that not everyone has. And Distraction was obviously a major step forward in terms of numbers and people across the country being interested and getting play on the radio. So yea, 2014 we toured basically the entire year and the show were getting bigger and bigger. That’s a great feeling after doing it for so long.

The last time you played Pittsburgh was in 2014. I know you tour a lot and go through a lot of cities, but do you have any memories from your time playing here?
I had a crazy night in Pittsburgh once where I think we might have gotten banned for life from the Brillobox because of an accident with some spray paint. So that’s a Pittsburgh memory of mine. We’ve actually had so many good shows in Pittsburgh. I really like the town and we have friends there also. But yea that one night didn’t go as planned… I would just like to add: Brillobox we’re sorry. Please have us back.

Being a band that called Brooklyn home for a number of years, what do you think about the music and bands coming out of there? Is it annoying to you? Do you like that it has been a haven for bands and a growing music scene?
No, it doesn’t annoy me at all. I spent some formative years in Brooklyn. I really have much love and affinity for it. I’m kind of trying to extradite myself to California right now, but I think it will forever be a wealth of creativity and a lot of special people there, clearly. It is a competitive environment also but that’s often times necessary to make good art. I’m proud of everyone who comes out of Brooklyn. Brooklyn, big ups. 

BEAR HANDS, CAGE THE ELEPHANT, SILVERSUN PICKUPS, FOALS. 7 p.m. Fri., March 25. Petersen Events Center, Oakland. $25-215. 412-648-3054 or www.peterseneventscenter.com

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