Program Notes: Arts Blog |

Friday, April 26, 2013

Local Arts CSAs Announced

Posted By on Fri, Apr 26, 2013 at 3:45 PM

An idea new to Pittsburgh, community-supported art, has spurred two initiatives to launch practically at once. You can preview the art on offer at tonight's Gallery Crawl.

The concept is modeled on community-supported agriculture, in which shareholders in local farms get a weekly box in season of farm products. CSAs help farmers because it provides them with cash before the growing season, when they need it most.

Artists, as it happens, can use money upfront, too.

The New Hazlett’s Community Supported Art program — music, theater and dance. Shares cost $100, and shareholders gain admittance to six original performances at the theater — one every other month for a year starting in August.

Learn more about the artists and the program here.

The New Hazlett started selling shares this morning and had already sold eight by early afternoon, theater executive director Rene Conrad tells CP. She said the theater hopes to sell 300 shares.

Meantime, CSA PGH is offering physical artworks, from prints and sculptures to CDs. CSA PGH shares are $350 in exchange for six limited-edition artworks to be delivered to shareholders this summer. Learn more about the artists here.

CSA PGH starts selling shares next Tuesday. Only 50 will be sold. Casey Droege, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh assistant professor who spearheaded the project, tells CP she’s confident they’ll sell out quickly.

Several artists from both the New Hazlett CSA and CSA PGH will be at 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown, as part of tonight’s Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Gallery Crawl.

Look for more coverage of the art CSAs in an upcoming CP.

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Nora Chipaumire at the Kelly-Strayhorn

Posted By on Mon, Apr 22, 2013 at 1:12 PM

Noted choreographer Chipaumire’s latest dance work was dreamlike, by which I mean it was both partly memorable and largely baffling. And the latter quality, it appears, is by design.

More performance-art-with-dance than straight dance piece, Miriam consisted of two performers on an artfully cluttered, dimly lit stage, developing a mostly nonverbal relationship. I saw it Saturday night, the second of two weekend performances at the Kelly-Strayhorn.

The characters’ relationship had an Ariel-and-Caliban quality. The tall, lithe and rather imperious Okwui Okpokwasili, wearing a pair of tattered wings, contrasted the more sturdily built Chipaumire, whose vocal emanations were mostly a series of birdlike squeals and guttural grunts. In its serious comedy, it was also a bit suggestive of Beckett, but without the dialogue to carry you through.

The show’s opening sequence was striking. Chipaumire — first seen only as a bare, disembodied leg poking skyward — emerges with noisy thrashing from what appears to be a pile of trash, then approaches Okpokwasili, who is perched upstage, on a ladder. Shortly Okpokwasili descends, and a relationship that began with her giving choreographic orders to Chipaumire (through a megaphone) becomes more equal and even playful, if negotiated mostly in a glossolalia incomprehensible to the audience. It was all done to a first-rate sound design incorporating everything from percussive music and spoken word to electronic soundscapes.

Zimbabwe-born, New York-based Chipaumire has an international resume, including both her solo projects and her six years with the Urban Bush Women. She’s got a strong track record in Pittsburgh, too: Her solo work Chimurenga (which she performed in 2007 at the New Hazlett Theater) still ranks among the most powerful shows I’ve ever seen here. Both she and Okpokwasili are skilled, committed performers.

Miriam, meanwhile, came with no shortage of explanatory prefaces. Interviewed for a preview article by CP’s Steve Sucato, for instance, Chipaumire said that Miriam is about public personae, as reflected in the iconic figures and stories of both Miriam Makeba and the Virgin Mary. Elsewhere, she’s said that inspirations for the show include Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

All of which is surely true. (And there's a sung version of "Hail Mary" on the soundtrack, and I think at least one read-out excerpt from Conrad.) But in a 500-word essay included in the Kelly-Strayhorn show’s program, Chipaumire mentioned none of these influences, choosing instead to talk about otherness — the quality of being an outsider. It’s a feeling Chipaumire knows well. And in her essay, she writes that with Miriam, she means to make the audience itself feel like outsiders.

I’d say she succeeded, though that’s a goal difficult to reconcile with simultaneously engaging that same audience: For me, Miriam largely defied comprehension (and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t alone). And the occasional complete stage blackout was less a problem than was the fact that almost the entire rest of the show was performed in half-light. (Imagine a whole proscenium stage lit by a couple dozen low-wattage bulbs.)

This setup did make possible some fine effects, including a climactic dance by Chipaumire in a sort of voluminous cloak rendered powerfully mysterious in the dim. But while the nonlinear sound design was suitably suggestive, mostly, the darkness just made things hard to see.

“By playing with the ability to see or not see, I am trying to complicate the question of power while engaging, and challenging, theater traditions in the West,” Chipaumire writes. And if viewers end up dumbfounded, well, “Taking away the ‘right’ of the audience to comfortably comprehend is my attempt at bringing the audience towards what it feels like to be the other.”

Chipaumire played with similar ideas in the previous show she performed here, lions will roar, swans will fly, angles with wrestle heaven, rains will break: gukurahundi, in which the dancers spent most of the show behind a downstage scrim.

It’s good that artists like Chipaumire are pushing boundaries. Theater-goers probably benefit from a certain amount of disorientation; in most ways, it’s preferable to spoon-feeding. But perhaps it's possible to meet audiences a little closer to halfway.

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Friday, April 19, 2013

Everything is Terrible at Arcade Comedy Theater

Posted By on Fri, Apr 19, 2013 at 11:30 AM


Despite what its name might suggest, Chicago-based visual art and comedy group Everything is Terrible wants to make you laugh.

This Saturday at Downtown's new Arcade Comedy Theater, the group brings its pop-culture inspired comedy show to Pittsburgh with the ironically titled Zack Braff Laff Carafe. (Mr. Braff will not be present.)

The show features video presentations and live sketch comedy from Chicago comedians Natalie Jose and Megan Gailey and the Puterbaugh Sisterz. The group will bring its blog’s quirky appropriation of not-too-distant pop-culture reference points to illuminate the idea behind their title. Everything may be terrible, but it doesn't mean it can’t be funny.

Saturday’s event, hosted by libertarian mayoral nominee Travis Irvine, starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 or $5 for student rush tickets.

Arcade Comedy Theater is located at 811 Liberty Ave.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Duo's "Fireside Chat" Variety Show at Arcade

Posted By on Wed, Apr 17, 2013 at 5:56 PM

You might have seen them amazing the host on Letterman Mark Hayward using a yo-yo to light a match stuck betweeen Jonathan Burns’ teeth. Or maybe you’ve heard of Stunt Lab, their well-reviewed comedy show that’s played New York City.


Well, Hayward lives in Pittsburgh, Burns in Lancaster, and on Friday they bring a brand-new act to Downtown’s Arcade Comedy Theater.

Mark & Jonathan's Fireside Chat is a vaudeville/talk-show hybrid Hayward describes as “Ed Sullivan meets Johnny Carson.” Basically, they’ll host guest performers, then interview them about their work.

Friday’s two performances of Fireside Chat feature Cleveland-based magician Michael Kent and local musical-comedy troupe Bait & Switch. Also on the bill are comedy commercials from the resident Arcade Comedy Theater.

Hayward and Burns are longtime solo performers who recently teamed up. (Basically, as you can see in the photo, Burns is the goofy one, Hayward the serious one.)

Hayward is a top yo-yo artist and juggler who in addition to The Late Show with David Letterman has been on America’s Got Talent. Burns is a contortionist who’s had gigs around the world.

Their best-known collaboration might be Stunt Lab, which The New York Times called “extremely funny.” The show involves the pair using an array of everyday items — garbage bags, whipped cream, marshmallows, rat traps — to create comedic stunts.

Fireside Chat premieres with two performances Friday, at 8 and 10 p.m. Tickets are just $5-10.

Arcade Comedy Theater is at 811 Liberty Ave., Downtown.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Pitt Theater Legend Bows Before Retirement

Posted By on Thu, Apr 11, 2013 at 12:50 PM

After 44 years at the University of Pittsburgh, the man who founded the school’s theater department is retiring.


But he’s going out talking. Attilio “Buck” Favorini — who also founded the Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival and Pitt’s Shakespeare-in-the-Schools program — gives a free public lecture tomorrow afternoon at, appropriately enough, Pitt’s Charity Randall Theater.

The lecture, titled “The Last Class,” delves into a favorite Favorini topic: memory and the work of “memographers,” a word he coined to describe anyone who explores that terrain.

Favorini is a former New Yorker who joined Pitt’s faculty in 1969, after earning a doctorate in the history of theater at Yale. He was later named head of the school’s Division of Theatre Arts, which in 1982 became the Department of Theatre Arts, with Favorini as founding chair.

He chaired the department from 1982-92, and again from 1999-2006, and has served since as director of graduate studies in theater arts. But Favorini is perhaps best known to the theater-going public as a playwright and as longtime director of the Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival, which he founded in 1980. The festival ran for 13 seasons.

Favorini’s own plays often explored Pittsburgh history. His Steel/City (1976) looked at the corporate giants who founded the steel industry as well as at its workers. In the Garden of Live Flowers (2001), written with Lynne Connor, was about Rachel Carson. And 2012’s docudrama The Gammage Project explored the death of black motorist Jonny Gammage while in the custody of five white police officers. Favorini’s plays have been performed both locally and in other cities.

At Pitt, his accomplishments also include creation of the Teaching-Artist-in-Residence program for visiting faculty members. He also oversaw construction of Pitt’s Henry Heymann Theatre, located in the basement of the Stephen Foster Memorial, and a key venue for Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre (whose presence as the professional theater-in-residence there Favorini helped secure). And Shakespeare-in-the-Schools has provided in-school performances to more than 100,000 area students for more than two decades, according to a Pitt press release.

Favorini is also an editor and author. His works include the 2008 book Memory in Play: From Aeschylus to Sam Shepard.
Favorini’s retirement is official with the end of the spring semester. He says that during retirement he’ll focus on writing plays.

“I think I’m finished with the research part of my professional life and I’m going to direct more attention to the creative side,” he said in a phone interview with CP today.

Favorini delivers his lecture “The Last Class” at 4 p.m. tomorrow.

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Pitt Rep’s City of Asylum

Posted By on Thu, Apr 11, 2013 at 10:30 AM

City of Asylum/Pittsburgh, which shelters writers persecuted in their home countries, has done a pretty good job over the years representing itself and its guests. Since its founding, in 2004, its several guests from around the world have participated in numerous public readings and other events, and at least one went on to teach at Pitt.

Still, especially if you don’t know about COAP, the representative sampling of guest writers in this new stage work is worth a look before it closes Sunday.

The energetic student cast, directed by playwright and Pitt faculty member Cynthia Croot, are not for the most part close physical matches for the four writers, and, probably wisely, they don’t attempt impersonations.


In fact, current writer-in-residence Israel Centeno, of Venezuela, is portrayed by a woman, Lucy Clabby. Weiqi Li, however, captures a good deal of the signature wild energy of Chinese dissident poet Huang Xiang, the first COAP guest. Connor Shioshita Pickett evokes Salvadoran novelist Horacio Castellenos Moya’s acerbic wit, and Melissa Italiano and Chelsea Faber share the role of Burmese writer Khet Mar.

The show, consisting largely of staged vignettes from each writers’ work, is vividly staged. Here's Michelle Pilecki's review in this week's CP.

If I have one complaint, it’s that the play could have paid a bit more attention to the organization that it’s named after. Audiences unfamiliar with the group (which is Pittsburgh’s independent incarnation of an international network of COAs) could easily leave with a good sense of the writers’ writings but only a fuzzy notion of the organization that, after they’d suffered years of threats, torture or imprisonment, let them work in peace.

Performances of City of Asylum continue nightly through Sunday at the Charity Randall Theatre, Stephen Foster Memorial, in Oakland. Tickets are $12-25.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Kids’ Book on Beatles Has Local Illustrator

Posted By on Tue, Apr 9, 2013 at 11:00 AM

You can hardly discuss The Beatles without noting their collective sense of humor, but as far as I know, until now no one’s written a book about it. And if someone did, it couldn’t have been as lushly and cleverly illustrated as The Beatles Were Fab (and They Were Funny).

The oversized hardback, by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer, with illustrations by Stacy Innerst, is new from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Innerst is best known around here as a veteran illustrator for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (though on the book’s jacket, he notes that had his boyhood wish come true, he’d now be Ringo).

Here's his double-page spread depicting the four trying to name the band:


The book breezily traces John, Paul, George and Ringo from their youth in Liverpool to the late ’60s. But it focuses on those heady years between “Please Please Me” hitting No. 1 in the U.K. and the band's last real live show, at Candlestick Park. Those were the days when the boys teased the press with aplomb in exchanges like this one: “Q: What do you call your hairstyle? George: Arthur.”

In a world where pop stars were still rarely heard offstage, The Beatles’ carefree cheek paved the way for more radical dealings with the press — like Dylan’s, a couple years later — not to mention their own increasingly outspoken politics. (Though none of that, of course, figures in a kids’ book.)

While Fab comes complete with a bibliography, rest assured, parents, that this is a cleaned-up telling focusing on the lads’ light-hearted side — the public giddiness of Beatlemania being the touchstone.

Throughout, Innerst’s richly illustrations capture the band with just a loving touch of caricature and spot-on gestures. (Though it might have been fun to see what he could do with Sgt. Pepper’s silliness and maybe even a bit of psychedelia.)

If you remade A Hard Days’ Night as a children’s book — and in color — it would look a lot like The Beatles Were Fab.

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Local authors sought for event

Posted By on Mon, Apr 8, 2013 at 3:00 PM

Michel Sauret is seeking other Pittsburgh-based authors to join him at the inaugural Pittsburgh Authors Symposium.

The event, meant to introduce local writers to the community, will be held May 4 at — of course — Bruster’s Ice Cream of Ingomar, 9600 Perry Highway. What goes better with literature than ice cream?

As of last week’s announcement, Sauret said nine other other authors would be tabling at the Saturday-evening event, but more are welcome. While any published local author with a physical book to sell is eligible, Sauret says he is wrapping up the roster this week. There is no tabling fee.

Refreshments will be available (and not just ice cream). A percentage of Bruster’s sales during the event will benefit the Northland Public Library.

Interested authors should contact Marta Greca at

Sauret is the author of 2012 short-story collection Amidst Traffic.

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Historic Photo Exhibit Highlights March after King assassination

Posted By on Thu, Apr 4, 2013 at 11:04 AM


On April 7, 1968, three days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., residents of Pittsburgh's Hill District peacefully marched through the city, mourning the civil-rights leader's death.

Pittsburgh's nonviolent response came as public reaction to King's assassination was marked by intense riots in dozens of major cities, including Chicago and Los Angeles.

Informed of the potential for the march to become violent, freelance photographer, Charles R. “Chuck” Martin — who then worked as a photographer for United Way — walked across the Sixth Street Bridge, from the North Side, to shoot photos of the rally.

“The only thing anyone was talking about that day was the assassination. It felt like such a significant moment in history and it needed to be documented,” says Martin, now 85.

Armed with a pocket full of film and two cameras around his neck, Martin took more than 120 photos, documenting the peaceful demonstration.


Now, 45 years later, Martin has donated his entire collection negatives and black-and-white photos to the University of Pittsburgh. And tomorrow, Pitt hosts "MLK Jr. Pittsburgh March: Through the Lens of Charles Martin," displaying Martin’s photographs from that day.

The event, held in the Dick Thornburgh Room of the Hillman Library, will feature talks from Michael Dabrishus, Pitt’s assistant University librarian; Laurence Glasco, a Pitt professor of history; and Martin himself.

Pitt Library Communications Manager Crystal McCormick-Ware says few people would otherwise see these photos.

"When we received the collection, we were just ecstatic,” McCormick-Ware said.

Martin says he donated his images to the university’s library because so much of his work was in Allegheny County, and it seemed natural to want to preserve his photos at Pitt.

Twelve of Martin’s photos from the April 7, 1968, march will be on display inside the library, on the ground floor, through summer. Friday’s event runs 10-11 a.m.

Martin says it is important to recognize the events of 1968 in honoring Pittsburgh’s civil-right history.

“One of the last photos in the set is a pair of clenched hands — one black, one white — and the sign for Centre Avenue in the background. How it ought to be.”

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Author's experience echoes a generation's job woes

Posted By on Wed, Apr 3, 2013 at 11:58 AM

Written by Jeff Ihaza

Pittsburgh author Matthew Newton is familiar with the reality of economic decline. Raised at the end of the steel age, Newton has a perspective on the world informed by the unpredictability of local economies.

In 2009, against a backdrop of nationwide economic uncertainty, Newton learned he’d lost his job as an editor of a nonprofit automotive magazine. The news came just as the author and his wife were contemplating a larger family, while vacationing in the Laurel Highlands.


Newton, now 36, documents his troubles in a short eBook, available now via Thought Catalog, titled Death of a Good Job: A Memoir of the Great Recession.

“I think the title is a representation of all of the things surrounded by a good job: the idea of providing for a family that we’re sort of brought up with,” says Newton, who Founded the online journal Annals of Americus and whose work has been published by The Atlantic, Esquire, Forbes and others.

Much like a play, the 17-page book is divided into three parts, walking readers through the experience as through the stages of grief.

In Part 1, titled “Permanent Vacation,” Newton charts the emotions of an increasingly familiar American experience with a precision that comes only from having lived it.


“This is really the first major economic crisis for many people, and so many have been out of work for so long,” Newton says.

Newton often recalls the feeling of worthlessness associated with being fired over the phone. From there, he rebuilds. Part II, “Burn it Down,” brings readers into the awkwardness of collecting personal goods from a former workplace, with Newton’s inner monologue describing his racing thoughts in those moments.

The digital book is being distributed through the popular blog Thought Catalog, which Newton once edited for. It is also available in the Amazon Kindle bookstore.

In a literary landscape nearly as uncertain as the 2009 job market, Newton finds the emerging digital market a perfect ground for innovative work. He draws a parallel between the growing popularity of eBooks and the independent music scene, the content in both cases being in the hands of its creators.

“No one really knows what to expect out of all this yet,” Newton says.

By publishing his relatively short work digitally, Newton seeks in essence to creatie a market for works that might be too long for a typical magazine feature but too short for a traditional print book.

“I really had a concentrated burst of information. The first few drafts were longer and definitely had more expletives, but the finished product just sort of fit in this format,” Newton says.

As for the “death” of Newton’s job, the writer is currently working as an editor for a nonprofit that publishes academic journals. He continues to contribute work to Thought Catalog and is working on a nonfiction collection that depicts life in the suburbs called No Place for Disgrace.

Much like Death of a Good Job, Newton’s current project is influenced by personal experience. He lives in the suburb of Churchill with his wife and two sons.

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