Program Notes: Arts Blog |

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Pillow Project’s Backlit in a Whole New D

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 at 11:33 AM

The dance troupe made a strong showing this past weekend with the latest in its Backlit in a Whole New D performance series. It was meant mostly as just a fun show, and it delivered: Largely improvised, with the dancers working variations off a few set poses and moves, Backlit was fresh, sexy and unpredictable.

Artistic director Pearlann Porter’s touchstone is jazz dance, and indeed the soundtrack was jazzy instrumental music by The Beastie Boys. But there's nothing academic or even especially old-school about the company's take on it. The three men and two women worked seamlessly through a series of vignettes, some more theatrical, some abstract, and engaging all the way through.

The “Whole New D” aspect was a little sketchy. The show, lit largely from the side, was supposed to take on a trippy extra dimension once you donned the free 3D glasses. But the 3D effect was tough to discern and most people didn’t bother with the glasses. One problem was that Porter likes staging low-light performances. While that’s hindered other shows of hers I’ve seen, it worked here — but only if you didn’t wear the glasses, which turned the dancers into shadows.

Meanwhile, the Pillow Project’s attractions continues to include its unique space, and what Porter’s done with it. The loft-style venue dubbed The Space Upstairs, basically tucked into the rafters of Construction Junction, was several years back reconfigured into a high-ceilinged lounge, complete with sofas and a donation-only bar. It’s just the right combination of living-room and concert hall. Between the twice-nightly Backlit shows this past weekend, a drummer played live on a riser behind the bar, where Porter herself ably crafted teeny-tiny martinis.

You can check the scene out yourself on Feb. 9, when the Pillow Project continues its Second Saturdays series. Second Saturdays combines live and DJ’d music, improvised dance, visual art and multimedia elements. In Porter’s stead (she’s off to Paris for a bit), the show will be hosted by Zëk Stewart.

Second Saturdays runs 8 p.m. to midnight Sat., Feb. 9, at 214 N. Lexington Ave., in Point Breeze. The suggested donation is $10.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Local Author’s LARP Novel

Posted By on Mon, Jan 28, 2013 at 1:41 PM

The seed of Justin Calderone’s first novel was planted when he was driving on Washington Boulevard near Allegheny River Boulevard. He glanced at a little roadside park and saw some folks disporting themselves with replica medieval weaponry — swords, shields, bows and arrows.

The sight of Live Action Role Players made Calderone wonder whether, if necessary, “Could these LARPers defend us?”


The Penn Hills High School English teacher’s comic novel is titled LARP: The Battle for Verona. (Calderone, pictured above, co-credits his wife, Emily, with the plot.) The book follows Dennis, a twentysomething IT manager whose lone hobby is medieval-fantasy role-playing games — in which, known as Sir Den-Gar, he is notably successful.

Dennis is not good at much else, however, including romance. But then he and his LARP pals must respond to a real-life threat: an invasion by some rather, er, unlikely terrorists.

Calderone, 36, is not himself a LARPer. But thanks to summers off from school, he had plenty of time to research the lifestyle, from the foam swords to the social stigma LARPers face. He claims the book’s details are “very accurate.”

At least as accurate is the setting: The Penn Hills native, who’s lived on the same street his whole life, set the book in neighboring Verona, complete with such landmarks as the famously lavender Hulton Bridge. There’s one little exception: For plot reasons, the whole town has been transplanted to an island off the coast of Washington state.

The book was actually accepted by a Canadian publisher a couple years ago, and originally published by that outfit, Calderone says. But when the publisher switched its focus to erotica — guaranteeing that a book about geeks wouldn’t get much play, so to speak — Calderone bought back the rights and last year self-published the book through Amazon.

LARP’s theme, says Calderone, “is that society tells you you’re really not who you think you are.” Also, he adds, “Anybody can be a hero.”

Along with Amazon, the book is available locally at Mystery Lovers Bookshop, in Oakmont; House of the Dead, a zombie-themed boutique in Lawrenceville; and Copacetic Comics, in Polish Hill.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Visiting Artist to Speak on “Fictional Photography”

Posted By on Wed, Jan 23, 2013 at 1:45 PM

Point Park University’s lecture series “Speaking Light” continues with Friday’s talk by Andy Bloxham titled “Fictional Photography.”


Bloxham, who teaches at West Virginia Wesleyan College and Maine Media Workshops, says his work “centers on fictitious situations and events, told through the slight hint of a smirking camera.”

His photos, often featuring himself as a model — see “Plans Have Changed,” above — have been the subject of solo exhibitions in galleries around the country.

Bloxham speaks at 6 p.m. Fri., Jan. 25, in Thayer Hall’s JVH Auditorium, at 201 Wood St., on Point Park’s Downtown campus.

The talk is presented by the university’s School of Communications.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Inaugural Moth Pittsburgh GrandSLAM Championship

Posted By on Fri, Jan 18, 2013 at 9:48 AM

Pittsburgh was among the first cities to get its own officially sanctioned version of the popular New York-based storytelling series, and last night’s event at the New Hazlett Theater showed why.

An enthusiastic full house saw 10 tellers take the stage. Although all the tellers were locally based, demand for tickets was comparable to that for the annual touring Moth show that visits every summer.

The Moth is, simply, “real people telling true stories on a stage.” Most are not professional performers, though some are quite skilled.

The 10 tellers were the winners of the past year’s monthly Moth events at the Rex Theater, now gathered for a final tell-off. Last night’s theme was “Fish Out of Water,” but I bet at least half of the performers would have made the grade on the weekly Moth radio broadcasts showcasing top national performers (which airs locally Sunday nights on 90.5 WESA).

The winner, as determined by three teams of four judges each, was David Harris-Gershon. The writer told an hilarious but ultimately poignant story about posing as a woman in an Internet chatroom in order to win votes for Obama in 2008. His handle was “Adventurous Jen in Limbo.”

Other highlights included CMU grad student Chris Lambie-Hanson recounting his disillusioning childhood appearance on Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?, while massage therapist Nora Matthews — who began her story by saying “I am a weirdo” — told of her fantasy boyfriend from her college years … Shakespeare’s Richard III.

Monthly StorySLAM host Alan Olifson emceed. He’s a very funny guy, and it might be worth checking out the monthly shows at the Rex just for him. The next one is Feb. 16; the theme is Love Hurts.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Readings from Vintage Scandal Sheets this Weekend

Posted By on Thu, Jan 17, 2013 at 10:48 AM

Back in the day they titillated, and now they’ll amuse: this Friday and Saturday nights, Downtown, the “vintage pulp non-fiction” of classic gossip rags will provide the campy, slangy fare for a host of local performers.

The material comes from old-school tabloids including Whistler, Hush-Hush and Confidential — publications from the golden age of gossip and innuendo about sex, drugs and Hollywood.

You just can’t beat headlines like “My Father Sold Me,” “Temporary Lover” and “Marked for Scandal.”

The program, titled True Confessions, is presented by local playwright and performer Lissa Brennan to help relaunch her company, Dog & Pony Show. Brennan is a longtime afficionado of such noir-ish material.

Readers on both Friday and Saturday nights include Elena Bertolino-Alexandratos, Susan M. Morris, Alexi Morrissey, Bria Walker and Whiskey Daisy. Friday’s performers also include Karen Baum, Attack Theatre’s Michele de la Reza, Douglas Levine, Melissa Martin and Heather Mull (the latter also known as CP’s staff photographer). On Saturday, Gab Bonesso, Debra Gordon and Bricolage’s Tami Dixon join the line-up.

The shows are at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co., 937 Liberty Ave.

Tickets on Friday are $10. Tickets on Saturday are $25 and include food from Union Pig & Chicken and Station Street Hot Dogs. Both nights include beer from Fat Head’s.

See the Facebook page for more.

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