Culture | BLOGH: City Paper's Blog |
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 24, 2018

Posted By on Wed, Jan 24, 2018 at 4:00 PM

click to enlarge Pittsburgh and Japanese college students celebrate city's first Coming of Age Day
CP photo by Ryan Deto
American and international students participate in Coming of Age ceremony at Pitt on Jan. 10
The University of Pittsburgh participates in a program every year that allows college students from Japan to live in Pittsburgh briefly, so they can improve their English language skills. And while the Japanese students benefit from learning a new language, some of them miss out on a very important holiday they would have experienced in Japan.

Coming of Age Day, or Seijin no Hi, is a national Japanese holiday celebrated on the second Monday of January, and held to encourage Japanese residents who have turned 20 years of age to partake in all the benefits of becoming an adult. In Japan, turning 20 means residents can legally drink alcohol, smoke tobacco, drive and gamble.

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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 Pittsburgh Public Theater's new artistic director, 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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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Posted By on Tue, Dec 5, 2017 at 1:52 PM

click to enlarge First Night 2018 attractions announced (3)
Courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
Some cities drop pickles, roses and bologna at midnight. But on Highmark First Night, the ball rises as the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve.

Now in its 24th year, Highmark First Night, sponsored by Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and presented by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, returns on Dec. 31 with more than 100 events throughout Downtown's 14-block Cultural District. (While some First Night performances and attractions take place outdoors, most are indoors.)

This year’s theme, as announced this morning at a press conference Downtown, is “Love, Peace, Pittsburgh.”

The festivities begin at 6 p.m. with children’s fireworks sponsored by Dollar Bank on the Highmark Stage. Afterward, steelpan band Barrels to Beethoven kicks off the night's musical performances with its energetic tropical sound.

Other attractions include the Allegheny Health Network Parade, with Grand Marshal Randy Gilson, artist and creator of the North Side's Randyland, at 8 p.m.; performances by Arcade Comedy Theater’s Penny Arcade, at 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Player One, at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. at its new location at 811 Liberty Ave.; and Joe Grushecky & The Houserockers at the Benedum Center, at 7 p.m.

Outdoor warming and cell-phone charging stations return this year, and are located at the August Wilson Center and Katz Plaza.

click to enlarge First Night 2018 attractions announced (4)
Courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
Lee Fields & The Expressions headline the night, performing soul and funk anthems from 10:45 p.m. to 12:10 a.m. at the Highmark stage, at Liberty and Stanwix. During the performance, Lee and company will ring in the New Year with the raising of the Future of Pittsburgh Ball and Zambelli fireworks.

Admission buttons for First Night are $10, and are free for children 5 and under. They are available online at, in person at the box office at Theater Square on 655 Penn Ave.; or by phone at 412-456-6666. They are also available at a $1 discount with an Advantage Card at participating Giant Eagle stores.

For $40, attendees can purchase First Night Friend VIP buttons that grant access to priority seating, parking and a private lounge in the O’Reilly Theater, where they can relax with hot beverages and sweet treats.

For more information and a complete list of events, visit

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Posted By on Wed, Nov 29, 2017 at 10:25 AM

Tickets still remain for the Pittsburgh stop on Mike Birbiglia’s 25-city tour of his show The New One.

click to enlarge Comedian Mike Birbigilia at Pittsburgh's Byham this Friday
Photo courtesy of Evan Sung
The acclaimed actor and storytelling comedian is known for his wry, highly personal and artfully crafted one-man shows and comedy specials including Sleepwalk With Me, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend and Thank God For Jokes. He is a frequent contributor to public radio’s This American Life.

The show is at 7 p.m. this Fri., Dec. 1.

Tickets are $40.25 and are available here.

The Byham Theater is located at 101 Sixth St., Downtown.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Posted By on Tue, Aug 23, 2016 at 3:31 PM

Final week for "Seven Guitars" at Pittsburgh Playwrights, staged at August Wilson House
Photo courtesy of Gail Manker
Jonathan Berry (left) and Leslie "Ezra" Smith in "Seven Guitars."
Seeing August Wilson’s Seven Guitars performed in the very Hill District backyard in which it was set should give anyone chills, but also a sense of an artistic birthright restored: Wilson was raised on the Hill, and grew up in the house in front of that Bedford Avenue backyard, but who knows how long it’s been since one of his plays was actually staged in the neighborhood?

It’s not too much to call this fine Playwrights production “historic.” But if you want to see it, you’d better hurry: There are just five more performances through Sunday, and one of them (Saturday night’s) is already sold out. Fortunately, bowing to popular demand (all six performances the first two weeks sold out), Playwrights added weekend matinees this week, which has effectively doubled your chances of getting a seat.

With straw blanketing the yard’s bare dirt, and live chickens pecking away, the outdoor production takes you back to 1948, with seven characters (the “guitars” of the title) attached to the mystery of who killed bluesman Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton (though Barton, played by Jonathan Berry, is alive for most of the play, in extended flashback).

Director Mark Clayton Southers’ staging of the 1996 play runs about three and a half hours, including an intermission; it’s probably Wilson’s most discursive work. But it takes time to create a world on stage, and Seven Guitars features some of Wilson’s most pungent dialogue: As one character says, “You get a hit record and the white folks call you ‘Mister.’”

Here’s Michelle Pilecki’s review of the show for City Paper.

Bonus: The house is the under-construction arts center known as August Wilson House, so you can get a sneak peak at that, too. And you’ll be sitting within blocks of the real-life settings for several other Wilson plays, including Fences and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.

Seven Guitars takes place at 1727 Bedford Ave.

Tickets are $35 and are available here.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Posted By on Wed, Aug 17, 2016 at 2:25 PM

Japanese folk tales take center stage at Pittsburgh's City of Asylum on Saturday
Photo courtesy of City of Asylum
Kuniko Yamamoto

Visiting storyteller Kuniko Yamamoto will take families on a journey to Japan this Saturday at City of Asylum’s Alphabet City tent. Her Origami Tales continues a new series, Summer on Sampsonia, named after the North Side street that the nonprofit literary center calls home.

Combining origami, masks, musical instruments and mime to tell traditional tales, Yamamoto gives audiences a chance to experience firsthand the culture of Japan.

Yamamato is a native of Japan currently based in Florida. Trained by renowned mime/actor Tony Montanaro, Yamamoto has performed extensively at venues throughout the U.S., including Disney’s Epcot Center and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Thanks to her magician husband, she also incorporates subtle illusions into her ancient stories.

As City of Asylum preps for the upcoming opening of its new Alphabet City cultural center, in the former Masonic Building, near the Garden Theater, it continues using a large tent adjacent to its headquarters to host literary, jazz and cultural events.

Origami Tales takes place on Sat., Aug. 20, from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at 318 Sampsonia Way, on the North Side. The event is free to the public, but reservations are encouraged.

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Thursday, August 4, 2016

Posted By on Thu, Aug 4, 2016 at 11:27 AM

Revamped Pittsburgh park re-opens Saturday as August Wilson Park
Photo courtesy of Scott Roller/Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
Teenie Harris photos displayed along the fence by the park's half basketball court

Among Pittsburgh's neighborhood parks, there won't be one with a better view (to name just one amenity) than the brand-new August Wilson Park. The extensively renovated former Cliffside Park, with its spectacular view of the Allegheny River and the North Side, opens with a community celebration this Saturday.

click to enlarge Revamped Pittsburgh park re-opens Saturday as August Wilson Park
Photo courtesy of Scott Roller/Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
The view north from August Wilson Park (North Side visible in the background)
The park is named, of course, for Wilson, the two-time Pulitzer-winning playwright who grew up literally right around the corner. And in fact, that building on Bedford Street, now known as the August Wilson house is itself under renovation, and for the month is the venue for a production of Wilson's Seven Guitars.

The new park, which is fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, includes a multi-age playground, a half basketball court, a performance space and more.

Special features include installations honoring the work of Wilson himself and banners with photos by famed Pittsburgh-based photographer Charles "Teenie" Harris. (Featured quotes from Wilson's plays include this one, from Ma Rainey's Black Bottom: "You don't sing to feel better. You sing 'cause that's a way of understanding life.")

click to enlarge Revamped Pittsburgh park re-opens Saturday as August Wilson Park
Photo courtesy of Scott Roller/Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
Quotes from August Wilson plays adorn a wall in his namesake park.
Partners on the park's renovation included Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, the city's Parks and Recreation and Public Works departments, Hill House Association and the Daisy Wilson Artist Community (which is renovating the Wilson House), all with input from the community, according to a Parks Conservancy press release.

Saturday's events run from 2-4 p.m. and include a ribbon-cutting, "a festive all-ages procession along the park's winding entry path," music, activities for kids, and treats from Hill District food vendors.

August Wilson Park is located at 1801 Cliff St., a block off Bedford.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Posted By on Wed, Aug 3, 2016 at 3:15 PM

click to enlarge Iconic Pittsburgh filmmaker Tony Buba featured at the Carnegie tomorrow
Image courtesy of Ryan Loew and Matthew Newton
Tony Buba in "No Place But Home"

A new documentary short about one of Pittsburgh's most notable artists highlights a free evening with Buba at the museum.

In "No Place but Home," local filmmakers Ryan Loew and Matthew Newton let Buba tell the story of his four-decade career in his own words.

The eight-minute film covers a career largely defined by Buba's work illuminating his hometown of Braddock, the formerly booming Mon Valley mill town that, by the time Buba started making films, in the 1970s, had fallen on hard times.

Buba's work — including possibly his magnum opus, the feature-length "Rust Bowl fantasy" Lightning Over Braddock (1988) — has earned him international acclaim, and honors including, in 2012, a five-day retrospective at New York City's prestigious Anthology Film Archives.

click to enlarge Iconic Pittsburgh filmmaker Tony Buba featured at the Carnegie tomorrow (2)
Image courtesy of Braddock Films
Tony Buba (right) on the set of 1988's "Lightning Over Braddock"

Tomorrow's "No Place but Home" screening is followed by a selection of Buba's own signature shorts, including: "Betty's Corner Cafe" (1976), about a neighborhood bar and its characters; "Washing Walls With Mrs. G" (1980), his warmhearted and hilarious portrait of his grandmother; "Mill Hunk Herald" (1981), about the legendary workers' newspaper; "Fade Out" (1998), a film that lyrically suggests the town's fate at the hands of the planned Mon Valley Expressway; and 2007's "Ode to a Steeltown." There's also a never-before-seen short, followed by a Q&A with Buba.

The evening, co-sponsored by WESA 90.5 FM, is part of the Carnegie's Double Exposure series, which features artists, curators and others discussing the legacy of the avant-garde film and video of the 1960s-80s.

The event runs 6-8 p.m. Admission is free.

The Carnegie is located at 4400 Forbes Ave., in Oakland. 

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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Posted By on Tue, Jul 26, 2016 at 4:49 PM

If you've never been to this remarkable historic site and history center just an hour west of Pittsburgh, — and plenty of Pittsburghers haven't — this offer of free entry is the perfect excuse.

click to enlarge Free Admission to Pittsburgh-area Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village this weekend
Photo courtesy of John Heinz History Center
Meadowcroft Rockshelter
Meadowcroft, in Avella, Washington County, is home to what's touted as the longest continuous site of human habitation in North America: a massive rock overhang used as a seasonal shelter by Native Americans as long as 16,000 years ago.

In addition to interpretive exhibits about that attraction, Meadowcroft (part of the John Heinz History Center), also includes a replica of a 16th-century Eastern Woodland Indian Village and two 1770s-era structures like those European settlers would have inhabited in the Upper Ohio Valley.

Visitors can use an atlatl — a spear-throwing implement used by prehistoric hunters — watch a blacksmithing demonstration, and more.

Courtesy of the Jack Buncher Foundation, admission to Meadowcroft is free this Saturday and Sunday for all adults, children and seniors. 

Meadowcroft is open noon-5 p.m. on Saturday and 1-5 p.m. on Sunday.

For more information, see here.

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