Program Notes: Arts Blog |

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Artist Talks at Center for the Arts

Posted By on Thu, Feb 28, 2013 at 9:55 AM

As usual, there are a ton of artists showing work right now at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. Starting tonight, the artists and artist teams represented in the ten exhibits will be showing up to discuss their work.

Tonight’s first set of talkers include Stephen Chalmers, whose grittily lyrical photos of people with no fixed abode — from “snowbirds” to off-the-gridders — make up his exhibit Transience. Chalmers teaches at Youngstown State University. Here's a sample of his work:


Also speaking tonight are Lizzy De Vita, about her video-based installation Homographies, and Pitt assistant professor Lenore D. Thomas, about Somewhere in Between, her wall-installation with projected imagery.

Future talks in the series are scheduled for March 14 (with artists Jonathan Chamberlain, David Montano and William McAllister) and March 30 (featuring eight artists with work at the PCA).

All the talks, including tonight’s are at 6 p.m. The PCA is located at 6300 Fifth Ave., in Shadyside. Admission is $3-5.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

PICT Board Ousts Company Co-Founder

Posted By on Tue, Feb 26, 2013 at 5:25 PM

The board of Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre Co. announced today that it has replaced artistic director Andrew Paul, who co-founded the company in 1997.

Paul and operations director Stephanie Riso led PICT from a start-up independent troupe to one of the city’s leading theater outfits. PICT was acclaimed for its renditions of classics from Shakespeare, Wilde, Beckett and Pinter to contemporary works by the likes of David Hare and Martin McDonagh.

Board president Gene O’Sullivan says the decision stemmed from Paul’s move, about two years ago, to Las Vegas, where he followed his wife after she landed a new job there.

For two seasons, Paul ran the company while living in Las Vegas, returning frequently, including to direct productions.

From a theater-goer’s perspective, the shows, in spaces at Pitt’s Stephen Foster Memorial, seemed to go off seamlessly; the boyish Paul himself remained a familiar presence, often introducing performances personally. He led annual theatrically themed trips for patrons to Ireland. And in a press release, O’Sullivan said, “We applaud Andrew Paul for the vision and leadership that have helped to establish PICT as a major part of the Pittsburgh theater scene.”

But, O’Sullivan said in a phone interview today, “The arts needs full-time support, year-round, in town.” Asked whether Paul’s absence affected the company’s fundraising or administration, O’Sullivan said the problem was “no one thing.” He did acknowledge that the company’s small staff — which has been down a development director for some months — felt the burden of Paul’s out-of-city residence.

“We really felt to move the company forward the way we want it to move forward” that they needed to let Paul go, said O’Sullivan.

PICT’s interim artistic directorship has been assumed by Alan Stanford, an acclaimed Irish actor and director who has worked with PICT regularly over the past few years. Stanford is a founder and past artistic director of Second Age Theatre Company, in Dublin, and an award-winning actor.

PICT’s 2013-14 season, crafted by Paul, will proceed as planned. It will open in April with the Pittsburgh premier of Our Class, a 2010 winner of Poland’s top literary prize. Paul was to direct that show; O’Sullivan said a replacement director will be named shortly.

Asked about a permanent replacement for Paul as artistic director, O’Sullivan said there is no timetable for filling the post, but added that Stanford would be in the running for the job.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Ballet Inspired by Grief Center Premieres

Posted By on Tue, Feb 19, 2013 at 6:12 PM

Post Written By Steve Sucato

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet artistic director Maria Caruso’s dance works have always come from a caring place. But the latest in her string of health-care-related dance works, Whispers of Light, literally comes from the Caring Place.

The poignant work is set to an original score by Carnegie Mellon University professor of composition Nancy Galbraith that’s performed live by a 13-piece orchestra. It was inspired by stories of loss from children at Highmark’s Caring Place, a center for grieving children, adolescents and their families.

Whispers of Light, which premieres with two performances this weekend, weaves together nine vignettes telling of loss, hope and caring into a 70-minute ballet performed by 18 dancers along with 14 children from the Caring Place.

As with her prior health-care-related works (such as 2010’s Heart (Function vs. Emotion)), choreographer Caruso immersed herself in the subject matter. This time, she attended portions of the Caring Place’s 10-week program, learning how the volunteer staff help those suffering from loss.

“I wanted [the ballet] to tell the story of the Caring Place through the transformation of volunteer worker into a symbol of hope,” says Caruso.

Caruso also incorporates into the ballet gestures and movement phrases culled and created from her interactions with the children whose stories helped inspire the ballet.

Says Caruso: “Whispers is a testament to the power of human connection and a tribute to good work done at the Caring Place.”

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet performs Whispers of Light at 8 p.m. Fri., Feb. 22, and 8 p.m. Sat., Feb. 23, at the Byham Theater. Tickets are $26.95-100. Call 412-456-6666 or see

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A Look Inside the "Nazi Olympics"

Posted By on Tue, Feb 19, 2013 at 3:32 PM

A large, arresting black-and-white photograph of relay runners entering Berlin’s Olympiastadion greets visitors to The August Wilson Center exhibition The Nazi Olympics: Berlin 1936.

At the center of the stadium, hordes of Nazi soldiers are clearly visible, establishing the central conflict of these games and this exhibit, on loan from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and presented in collaboration with the Holocaust Center of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. The show closes next week.

The 1936 Olympic Games were the most controversial to date. Adolph Hitler saw the games as a prime opportunity to spread anti-Semitic and racist propaganda, only relenting on a ban of blacks and Jews after threats of boycotts.

Sala Udin, co-executive director at the August Wilson Center, says the exhibit is a great way to reflect on both black history and Jewish history. At that moment, the two groups, facing similar obstacles, triumphed athletically.

“There was a large-scale attempt on Hitler’s part to demonize blacks and Jews leading up to the games. Were it not for the participation of black and Jewish athletes, Hitler could have been more successful in propagating these ideas,” Udin says.


The games also presented a complex issue from a historical perspective. As a result of hosting the games, Germany received a much-needed economic boom. Still reeling from the First World War, Germany’s economy greatly benefited from the full participation of nations like the United States.

In fact, there was a push to boycott the games from American groups. The exhibit features artifacts from groups hoping to convince athletes to boycott, as well as American anti-Semitic group’s opinions on the matter.

The exhibit follows chronologically the phases that led up to the Olympics. Starting with Hitler’s propaganda and vitriolic campaigns of demonization, leading into the debate surrounding the games, and finally the games themselves.

Jesse Owens and John Woodruff’s fantastic performances at the '36 games are highlighted in the form of rare video footage of their medal-winning runs.

The exhibit closes with an image as powerful as the one at its entrance: an immense photograph depicting the sheer size and scope of the concentration camp at Auschwitz.

The exhibit continues through Feb. 28. Tickets are $8. The August Wilson Center is located at 980 Liberty Ave., Downtown.

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Quantum’s “John Gabriel Borkman”

Posted By on Mon, Feb 18, 2013 at 10:13 AM

In promoting its new production of this 1896 play by Henrik Ibsen, about a disgraced businessman, Quantum Theatre is playing up parallels with modern bilkers like Bernie Madoff. Such echoes are real, but watching a performance last week I was more struck by resonances with rhetoric surrounding today’s natural-gas rush.

While he was jailed for defrauding investors, for instance, and Ibsen doesn't dwell on details, Borkman doesn’t seem to have been running a Madoff-style Ponzi scheme as such. Rather, he perceives himself as a titan of extractive industry: His schemes revolved around mining ventures.

From left to right: Robin Walsh, Malcolm Tulip and Bridget Connors.

Borkman in fact justifies his behavior (“I acquitted myself”) by casting himself as a herald of civilization who alone heard the precious minerals lying beneath the mountains, crying to be released. In other words, in trying to convince everyone else he wasn’t just after the money, he’s convinced himself of the same thing. Hard not to think of drilling outfits who say they’re pursuing “energy independence” for America by using fracking to “free” natural gas from rock formations deep within the earth.

The play — here’s Michelle Pilecki’s review for CP — is a cerebral, darkly comic melodrama about the relationships between Borkman, his wife, his former lover — who's also his wife’s sister — and his son, a young man whom all three adults fight over but who has his own ideas about how to live.

Director Martin Giles makes excellent use of the characteristically idiosyncratic space Quantum has chosen to stage the work. It’s a raw former industrial space on the first floor of East Liberty’s Hart Building, with a two-foot-high concrete platform running across backstage that stands in for the second-floor chambers where Borkman paces incessantly.

Extra credit to scenic designer Tony Ferrieri and lighting designer C. Todd Brown for finding a clever way to transform a Victorian living room into a snowy Nordic landscape in just a few minutes of stage time.

There are five more performances of John Gabriel Borkman today through Sunday, at 6022 Broad St.

Tickets are $18-48 and available at

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Kyle Abraham at Pittsburgh Dance Council

Posted By on Sun, Feb 17, 2013 at 11:34 AM

The Pittsburgh native’s Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion company successfully moved to its biggest stage here yet with the local premiere last night of Pavement.

The work, which debuted in New York in November, was the 35-year-old choreographer and dancer’s take on the contemporary black experience. His acknowledged touchstones included the film Boyz N The Hood. But what dominated were Abraham’s blending of diverse musical styles (opera, classical, hip-hop, soul) and a movement language that ranged from ballet to street dance, often transitioning in the blink of an eye.

Pavement’s set was the mockup of an outdoor basketball court (standing in, he’s said, for East Liberty, Homewood and the Hill), but nobody in the electric seven-member cast was hooping. Instead, the stage was the space for poetic evocations of inner-city life, sometimes carefree, often harsh. I’ve seen several of Abraham’s works here over the years — at venues including the Kelly-Strayhorn and New Hazlett theaters — and this was the most thematically rigorous and conceptually cohesive.

A powerful motif was the sight of a young black man — usually Abraham himself — lying on his stomach, legs splayed and wrists crossed behind his back. The first first instances, the young man in custody was placed there by (we assume) a “cop,” often protrayed by one of the company’s white dancers. Quickly, though, the young men were taking each other into custody … and then, unassisted, lying down and “cuffing” themselves.

The hour-long work’s arc included video images of an urban high-rise being imploded and, most disturbingly, a soundtrack ruptured by multiple sudden episodes of gunfire, sometimes accompanied by sobbing.

Somewhere in the middle of Pavement, it felt like Abraham started repeating themes and even staging, with only minor variations. And a couple stretches of empty stage (including the one that began the work) and sequences where dancers posed motionlessly upon the stage, were longer than necessary.

But those are fairly minor points. Abraham and his young troupe are seldom less than exciting to watch. It’s no wonder they’re a hit in New York, where they’re based, and even making a name overseas. Contemporary dance troupes can’t get much bigger locally than a Pittsburgh Dance Council booking, whose stage is typically reserved for more established American troupes and world-renowned European companies. Abraham made the most of it.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Local Cartoonist Gets Residency

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2013 at 3:27 PM

Ed Piskor is pretty excited about scoring the Columbus Museum of Art and Thurber House’s second-ever annual residency for a graphic artist/writer. But not for the reason you might think.


Sure, the author of Wizzywig and the forthcoming (and highly anticipated) The Hip Hop Family Tree will get a stipend and three weeks of housing in the historic house where famed cartoonist James Thurber lived.

And the residency — which was announced last week — includes a 12-week exhibition of his work (titled Ed Piskor’s Brain Rot, after his strip of that name) at the Columbus Museum of Art, where it’ll run alongside a Mark Rothko exhibition. Not too shabby.

But what really has the 30-year-old Munhall cartoonist and unrepentant fanboy jazzed is something at nearby Ohio State University. The school’s home to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, which houses a trove of comic-strip art, including original panels of stuff like Peanuts, Dick Tracy, Prince Valiant and even Al Jaffee’s famous “fold-ins” from Mad Magazine.

Piskor and fellow local cartoonists like Jim Rugg have actually already visited the library: “It was a religious sojourn, man.”

“It’s like the greatest stuff ever,” he adds. “I’m probably going to be raiding it to my good health.”

Now, Piskor’s virtually hopping with excitement about three weeks of nearly unfettered access. The Thurber house even has a second bedroom for visitors. “I’m inviting all my cartoonist friends.”

Otherwise, he’ll just be drawing. “Nothing’s going to change for me but the setting,” he says. “I just hope the feng shui is right.”

One more irony: Piskor, known for his earthy style, isn’t really a fan of the legendary Columbus native Thurber. “I never really responded to New Yorker cartoonists in any big way,” he says — “too sophisticated.”

Interviewed last week, Piskor wasn’t even sure how he’d gotten the internship. “It completely fell in my lap,” he says.

Piskor’s residency starts March 15.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Plays Wanted for Annual Festival

Posted By on Fri, Feb 8, 2013 at 4:29 PM

The venerable Pittsburgh New Works Festival has issued its annual call for one-acts.

The scripts must be previously unproduced. The playwrights can be from anywhere.

Twelve plays will be selected for mainstage productions in September, when the festival mounts its 23rd season at Off the Wall Theater Company's well-regarded new venue, in Carnegie. The scripts are matched with local theater companies, who then stage the work.

Playwrights are eligible to compete for the fest’s “Donna Award” for outstanding contribution by a playwright, which comes with a $500 prize.

The festival, a grassroots venture, typically attracts scripts from all over the country.

The deadline for submission is April 6. Submissions must be made online, including the $15 submission fee. Full guidelines are available here.

Additional questions? Call 412-944-2639or email

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Local Photographer Speaks About His Work in Mali

Posted By on Thu, Feb 7, 2013 at 9:23 AM


A crisp black and white photo of a Malian woman’s back — light shining from her right side making her shoulders glow and the intricately designed hair-wrap on her head shine, is just one of the moments captured by local photographer Joseph Edgar.

The West African nation of Mali is under increasing pressure as Islamist groups clash with rebels in the northern region of the country. While the conflict has reached a fever pitch in recent months, the nation has faced sporadic fighting for years.

In 2010, Joseph Edgar spent a semester in Mali as part of an abroad program facilitated by Antioch University.
Edgar chose to pursue what he called the rich history of photography in Mali through an apprenticeship with Malian photographer Fatoumata Diabate.
“I had been interested in photography on an amateur level since junior high, and when I got to Mali I figured I’d go that route.” Edgar said.


Edgar, now 32, went about capturing the day-to-day life in Mali, depicting a normalness that, in context, says volumes about life in the West African nation.
“The conflict wasn’t as much an issue in the time I was there—given the other things the country struggles with I don’t think people living their lives had the sporadic fighting in the north on their minds.” Edgar said.

This month, his work is on display at the Carnegie Library in Squirrel Hill. He gives an artist's talk today at 6 p.m.

His collection features photographs capturing a community of artists living in the southwestern state Bamako.

Edgar, a Pitt grad, is a writer and actor as well as a photographer. The work in the exhibit, titled Afternoons in Bamako: Mali 2010, is the culmination of an apprenticeship with Malian photographer Fatoumata Diabate.

Edgar's talk today is free and takes place in the library's Meeting Room B. The library (412-422-9650) is located at 5801 Forbes Ave.



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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Kelly-Strayhorn Hosts Emerging Choreographers

Posted By on Wed, Feb 6, 2013 at 2:29 PM

The Kelly-Strayhorn Theater’s successful Next Stage Residency for choreographers holds its annual works-in-progress showing this Saturday.

The featured artists presenting the results of the week-long residency are T. Lang, who heads Atlanta’s T. Lang Dance Ensembel, and Philadelphia-based choreographer Megan Mazarick.


Lang (pictured) and five dancers will perform excerpts from Mother/Mutha, her new work exploring the stories of African women who were forced to breed slaves.

Mazarick’s work-in-progress, Calvary, Cavalry, juxtaposes religion and the iconography of the old American West. (Think Christian symbolism partnered with horses and guns.) Performing the excerpts with Mazarick herself will be Pittsburgh dancers Jil Stifel and Darcy Shattner.

Notable works to emerge from previous Next Stage residencies include Kyle Abraham’s The Radio Show and Sidra Bell’s REVUE.

The works-in-progress showcase will be held not at the Kelly-Strayhorn proper, but at its satellite venue at The Alloy Studios, 5530 Penn Ave., in Friendship.

The show’s at 8 p.m. (with a pre-show mixer at 7 p.m.). Tickets are $15-35; see or call 412-363-3000.

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