CP Illustration: Lucy Chen
Sharon McCune has had a lot of roles in the Pittsburgh theater community, both on stage and off. Most recently, she starred in Quantum Theatre’s production of An Odyssey
, and previously worked with Pittsburgh Public Theater, Bricolage, and other local theater companies. She also instructs future performers as a part-time faculty member at Point Park University.
Now, McCune is taking on a new role, curating the Expand the Canon reading series as associate producer at PICT Classic Theatre. The program is described in a press release as presenting six new and existing plays that “amplify the stories of women and People of Color.”
Expand the Canon marks an effort by PICT to both redefine the idea of “classic” theater that has long dictated its offerings, and to bring in as many new voices as possible. It will also serve as part of the celebrations for PICT’s 25th anniversary season.
PICT general operations manager, Catherine Kolos, says the series was inspired by the Expand the Canon series created by Brooklyn-based Hedgepig Ensemble Theatre.
“They were listing plays that put forward the voices of women in classic theater who were typically marginalized or left out of the story completely,” says Kolos. “And we thought, what a great idea, what a great concept.”
She adds that, as they started planning for the new PICT season back in December 2020, they realized the company could not do full productions for the series, but still wanted to “employ as many people as possible” and “bring as many new voices into PICT as possible.”
Kolos and McCune admit that the American idea of classic theater remains largely focused on a white, cis, predominantly Eurocentric male viewpoint, bringing to mind giants like Shakespeare.
This has been especially true for PICT, a company that, since it was founded in 1996, has been noted for its dedication to the works of Irish and English playwrights and writers. In recent years, the theater, now based in WQED Studios, has produced stage adaptations of The Old Curiosity Shop
by Charles Dickens and The Woman in Black
, an English ghost story based on the 1983 novel by Susan Hill. Even newer works, like PICT’s 2019 premiere of Run the Rabbit Path
by Pittsburgh playwright Ray Werner, followed two Irish-American brothers working in the city’s steel mills.
Kolos says PICT will still deliver the age-old plays beloved by theater fans, while also introducing them to new concepts and perspectives.
“It is not just an expansion and an introduction of new material for our audiences, it's also new material for us as well,” says Kolos. “This season ... it's not just going to focus on what we've done well in the past and celebrate the last 25 years, we're going to focus on the future, too. And that's not to say that we are abandoning Shakespeare and Irish productions, we are just adding to that.”
The Expand the Canon readings will be presented free to the public in the atrium of the Rodef Shalom Congregation in Oakland. Meanwhile, PICT will present its production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It
, directed by PICT’s artistic and executive Alan Stanford, from Oct. 30 through Nov. 20 at WQED. A production of Irish playwright Samuel Beckett’s Endgame
is set for February 2022.
Photo: Heather Mull
Previous production of The Heiress at PICT Classic Theatre
In addition to Expand the Canon, PICT will complete the season with a production of Mart Crowley’s 1968 work Boys in the Band
, one of the first plays to focus on the LGBTQ experience. The PICT production of the work, which follows a group of gay men in Manhattan who gather for a birthday party, will be directed by Monteze Freeland, an award-winning, Pittsburgh-based Black actor, director, writer, and producer.
While McCune wants to keep the content of Expand the Canon under wraps until an official announcement on Oct. 1, a release teases at some possibilities, including “Native American takes on Shakespearean themes, a sexy baroque Mexican comedy, dramatic pieces by playwrights including Lorraine Hansberryand Katori Hall, and a wickedly exciting take on Dracula from the women's perspective.”
McCune says the series has been especially eye-opening for her, as she set about trying to find new, mostly unexplored material to include. She was especially affected by a collection of one-act plays by Black female playwrights in the late 1800s, and also looked at selections from the Spanish Golden Age, defined as an especially rich era for the arts dating back to 1492.
Kolos says As You Like It
will celebrate where PICT has been, while the Expand the Canon series and Boys in the Band
, which she calls an “American classic and modern classic,” are “focusing on the future where we're going.” She adds that hiring talent like Freeland emphasizes the importance of not just “expanding the voices in the stories we tell” but “expanding the voices to tell those stories as well.”
“So I'm hoping that this is planting seeds of some really beautiful, beautiful things to grow in PICT through the next 25 years,” says Kolos.
Classsic Theatre. picttheatre.org