Arts | BLOGH: City Paper's Blog |
Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Posted By on Tue, May 1, 2018 at 4:29 PM

click to enlarge The lecture hall at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Main Branch - PHOTO COURTESY OF PIOTRUS, CREATIVE COMMONS
Photo courtesy of Piotrus, Creative Commons
The lecture hall at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Main Branch
In April, controversy ensued following an online scuffle between local comedian Day Bracey and far-right comedian Owen Benjamin. The New Hazlett Theater canceled Benjamin’s show after discovering his history of racist and homophobic comments on social media. Bracey, who is African American, reacted by saying other venues shouldn't work with Benjamin.

But, on April 28, Benjamin secured a venue and performed a comedy show. He rented out the lecture hall at the Main Branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, in Oakland. According to Carnegie Library spokesperson Suzanne Thinnes, Benjamin rented out the space as a private event, and the library didn’t promote or market the show, nor does the library promote or market any private event. Tickets were sold through Benjamin’s website, and the location of the event was only shared after tickets were purchased.

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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Posted By on Thu, Apr 26, 2018 at 11:54 AM

click to enlarge Pittsburgh workers removing the Stephen Foster statue - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
CP photo by Ryan Deto
Pittsburgh workers removing the Stephen Foster statue
Early in the morning on April 26, the controversial Stephen Foster statue was removed from its post in Oakland. In October 2017, the Pittsburgh Arts Commission voted to remove the statue, which many Pittsburghers had deemed racist for its minstrel-like depiction of a black man sitting at Foster’s feet. Foster, a native Pittsburgher, is the famous composer of songs like “Oh! Susanna” and “Camptown Races.”

The statue came off of its post fairly easily. A crew of several Department of Public Works employees wrapped thick rope around the statue and it was pulled off the base with a backhoe. The ropes were removed after the statue was loaded onto a flatbed truck; the truck drove slowly away and nothing was damaged.

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Thursday, April 5, 2018

Posted By on Thu, Apr 5, 2018 at 1:11 PM

Photo courtesy of Alisha Wormsley
The removal of a message from a public-art project last week is stirring controversy in Pittsburgh.

The Last Billboard, created by Carnegie Mellon professor Jon Rubin, has been posting messages by local artists to a billboard on top of a building in East Liberty since 2013, but last week marks the first time the building's landlord intervened. "There Are Black People In The Future" was posted to the billboard on March 3 and removed several weeks later.

"Last week, The Last Billboard’s landlord, We Do Property, forced Alisha’s text to be taken down over objections to the content (through a never-before evoked clause in the lease that gives the landlord the right to approve text)," Rubin wrote in a statement on the project's website on April 3.

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Posted By on Thu, Feb 15, 2018 at 11:47 AM

The ToomSeum's Downtown location on Liberty Avenue - CP FILE PHOTO
CP file photo
The ToomSeum's Downtown location on Liberty Avenue
(Editor's note: This article has been updated)

Since 2009, the cartoon-art museum, the ToonSeum, has occupied an intimate location on Liberty Avenue in Downtown, Pittsburgh. It has also occupied a special place in the hearts of fans of comic books, cartoons and superheroes.

But on Feb. 14, the museum announced it would be closing its permanent location and switching to a roaming-museum model.

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Friday, February 2, 2018

Posted By on Fri, Feb 2, 2018 at 3:42 PM

New performance-art series folkLAB: In Our Voice seeks artists who publicly identify as queer for its April/May production.

folkLAB aims to create a new American folklore through the voices of the oppressed. The troupe debuted in December with a show by women artists.

folkLAB organizes small ensembles who identify with a specific public identity and work intensively for 3.5 weeks to create a brand-new performance piece inspired by any folklore they choose. (The December show, Femme, drew on sources including the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, for instance.)

Ensemble members are paid 65 percent of net ticket sales and a small stipend. The forthcoming show's working title is "Prodigalis."

Applicants must be available for all rehearsals (mostly on weekday evenings), tech rehearsals and performance dates. Applications must include a letter of intent stating the applicant's interest in the project, and two artist "or tangentially artistic" professional references. Recommended but not required are performance experience, devising experience, and interdisciplinary art experience.

Email with entries, statements of interest or questions.

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Posted By on Thu, Feb 1, 2018 at 12:14 PM

After nearly 21 years here, tomorrow's my last day at City Paper.

I'm heading to 90.5 WESA, where I'll be arts and culture reporter.

I'd like to thank all my colleagues over the years, our readers, and all the people and institutions I've written about, for making it such a memorable ride. It all started back in 1997, when nobody at CP had email yet and the whole office shared one dial-up internet connection.

If you'll indulge me, to cap things off, here are some of my own favorite articles from over the years, culled from some of the nearly 1,100 issues I've been part of here.

Many are long-form pieces, from the days when we had the time and newsprint to run such articles weekly; they were a challenge to report and write, but looking back, they're some of the most worthwhile things I did.

All but one of these 18 articles are from 2003 or later, because that's as far back as CP's online archive goes. (Too bad; I have some faves from the early years, too.)

In chronological order:

This 2002 piece on motorcycle road-racer Keith Reed is not in our archive, but was cut-and-pasted by an enterprising message-boarder. (I think a few drop-caps are missing, but like some text magically salvaged from the library of Alexandria, it's mostly there.)

An April 2004 profile of falconer and bird-of-prey expert Earl Schriver, whose life's mission is to disabuse the public of what he called "the Bambi complex."

Big ideas are fun. Here's "Muse You Can Use," a May 2005 piece on what art's good for or whether it needs to be good for anything at all.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Posted By on Wed, Jan 31, 2018 at 12:26 PM

Muriel Rukeyser was a political activist and important American poet, and one of her most notable works was The Book of the Dead. The 1938 poetry sequence was written in response to the Hawk's Nest Tunnel disaster in West Virginia, in which hundreds of miners died of silicosis.

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Posted By on Mon, Dec 11, 2017 at 4:19 PM

Maybe it’s too early to ask Marya Sea Kaminski what kind of artistic director she’ll be at Pittsburgh Public Theater. After all, Kaminski, currently associate artistic director at Seattle Repertory Theatre, was just hired here last week, and she won’t move to Pittsburgh until next summer.

click to enlarge Marya Sea Kaminski
Marya Sea Kaminski
But Kaminski is young (40) and new to town, and her resume has a little edge to it — including Seattle Rep’s spectacular recent community-centered staging of The Odyssey (more on which later). The Public is Pittsburgh's largest independent theater company, with a $7 million budget and a contemporary, 650-seat theater in the heart of Downtown's burgeoning Cultural District. And in announcing her hiring, the Public's board chair, Michael H. Ginsberg, called Kaminski "one of the most dynamic artistic leaders in the country." All of that makes her intriguing enough that we asked about her plans here anyway.

Short answer: Kaminski (first name pronounced “mar-RYE-ah”) thinks the Public has a great legacy, and that outgoing artistic director/managing director Ted Pappas (who led the Public for an impressive 18 years) has done a great job, both artistically and fiscally. But Kaminski also says she is committed to developing and showcasing new and underrepresented theatrical voices.

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Friday, December 8, 2017

Posted By on Fri, Dec 8, 2017 at 10:00 AM

Stephen Karam's comedic family drama is built around a Thanksgiving dinner that feels ripped from this past November.

click to enlarge J. Tucker Smith and Valeri Mudek in "The Humans" - PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHAEL HENNINGER
Photo courtesy of Michael Henninger
J. Tucker Smith and Valeri Mudek in "The Humans"
The parents and grandmother, from Scranton, are visiting the youngest daughter and her boyfriend in their Manhattan apartment, joined by the older daughter, who lives in Philly. There's Catholicism, regret, ribbing, "I love you, but I'm just saying," dementia, overlapping dialogue, and lots of bathroom breaks.

The acting is terrific in this local premiere at Pittsburgh Public Theater, and director Pamela Berlin orchestrates the action on the bi-level set beautifully, leaving room for tender human moments that are all the more moving for their brevity. It's quite funny, also.

As Ted Hoover notes in his review for CP, the play's ending is rather mystifying. But it is, if nothing else, open-ended, and provides lots of fodder for discussion.

The Humans has four more performances, tonight through Sunday.

Tickets are $15.75-65 and are available here.

The O'Reilly Theater is located at 621 Penn Ave., Downtown.

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Posted By on Fri, Dec 8, 2017 at 9:32 AM

Attack Theatre’s latest show was inspired by the writings of Jimmy Cvetic. But this wasn’t exactly the Cvetic those familiar with his work might think of.

click to enlarge Attack Theatre's "In Defense of Gravity" - PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHN ALTDORFER
Photo courtesy of John Altdorfer
Attack Theatre's "In Defense of Gravity"
Cvetic is one of a kind: a Vietnam veteran, retired undercover narcotics cop, boxing coach and poet, and his poetry reflects his resume. It’s full of cops, crooks, drug dealers and prostitutes and nutjobs. From the plainspoken Bukowski school, it’s highly narrative, gritty (to say the least), sometimes graphic and often profane, if always also humane and leavened by a good deal of humor.

In Defense of Gravity, whose premiere run had four showings this past weekend at the George R. White Studio, in the Strip District, lacked many of those qualities. Instead, it took a handful of lines from Cvetic’s poetry and used them to construct its own story about loss and hope.

Attack co-founder and co-artistic director Peter Kope embodied the central figure, while the company’s six other dancers served, either collectively or individually, as foils for or representations of his state of mind. Throughout, the performers moved mostly to the sounds of a stellar live band playing mostly original compositions; the group included percussionist Jeff Berman; keyboardist Ben Brosche; Ben Opie on clarinet and saxophone; and vocalist Anqwenique.

The work's opening passage depicted the protagonist’s loneliness and and sorrow — a function, we’re shown, of the loss of a young child. A second, playful section found the ensemble engaging in Attack’s familiar, and occasionally gravity-defying, athletic derring-do. The concluding sequence of the hour-long work depicted healing and resolve.

The lost child was represented by a pink baby blanket and a series of toys extracted from a wooden chest; a scene when the performers array these items at center stage traveled to the edge of sentimentality and perhaps past it. (A certain sentimentality, it should be said, is not unknown in Cvetic’s writing, no matter how earthy it typically is.) But the overall shape of the work and the skill of the performers ultimately carried the evening.

The concept and vibrant choreography are credited to Kope and fellow co-founder and artistic director Michele de la Reza (who also performed), while the remaining five performers were credited with “movement invention.” Kaitlin Dann, Dane Toney, Ashley Williams and Sarah Zielinski contributed solid solos, while company newcomer Simon Phillips made a noteworthy debut, moving with power and grace and radiating charisma.

In Defense of Gravity (the title, in acronym, references Cvetic’s cop nickname, “Dog”) distills a few aspects of Cvetic’s work. There’s his mordant humor — “It’s not the fall that hurts, it’s the sudden stop, followed by the bounce,” goes one line quoted in the show’s recorded voiceovers (spoken by Cvetic himself and actor Patrick Jordan). But mostly there’s hope, and the determination to go on in the face of heartbreak. As the concluding lines say, “As for the broken pieces you have gathered, keep them, they belong to you.”

At Saturday night’s show, Cvetic himself briefly addressed the audience post-performance. He was clad in his usual backward ballcap, novelty T-shirt and Converse. He probably wasn’t most people’s picture of a poet, but as In Defense of Gravity demonstrated, success doesn’t have to be about meeting audience expectations.

Here’s Steve Sucato’s preview of the show for CP.

And there’s more on Cvetic and his writings here, here and here. You can also find dozens of his poems elsewhere on City Paper’s web site.

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