Pittsburgh illustrators create original pieces for Pittsburgh CLO’s Up and Away | Theater Reviews + Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
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Pittsburgh illustrators create original pieces for Pittsburgh CLO’s Up and Away 

“Seeing the theater creative process was really interesting.”

“Learning to fly,” by Lisa Rasmussen
  • “Learning to fly,” by Lisa Rasmussen

Pittsburgh CLO’s Up and Away tells the story of the world’s first superhero. In it, five actors take on the heroic task of performing the roles of more than 50 characters. 

It’s an admirable undertaking, to be sure, but when local artist Lisa Rasmussen attended one of the rehearsals for the new musical, she spent a lot of time thinking not of the actors assigned to such an ambitious task, but the people behind the scenes.

“I was thinking, ‘This is a story about the first superhero,’ and looking around the room and thinking, ‘There are a lot of people working backstage, who are working really hard on the production, but they’re not really going to be recognized because they’re not onstage,’” Rasmussen says.

She and five other artists had been invited to the rehearsals for Up and Away as part of a new collaboration between Pittsburgh CLO and the Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators.

“We were invited to sit there and observe and draw, and then we all went back to our studios and produced artwork based on what we’d seen,” Rasmussen says. 

“It was interesting during the rehearsals to see someone else’s creative process in a different medium. I know what my creative process is. I teach students all day long. I know what their creative process looks like. But it’s illustration and graphic design. Seeing the theater creative process was really interesting.”

Several of the pieces created by the PSI artists are currently on display at CLO Cabaret’s Backstage Bar. Rasmussen’s pieces focus on what she calls the “unsung heroes in a play about a hero.” In one of her pieces, she focused on the director standing in front of members of the cast. The director’s back was to Rasmussen, but the director is still the focal point of the piece.

“Rehearsing the music,” by Vince Ornato
  • “Rehearsing the music,” by Vince Ornato

Up and Away takes place in Farmtown, USA, and centers around brothers Joe and Jerry Jessup. Joe wants to move to the big city, while Jerry is content with his life on the farm. But their lives are irrevocably changed when Joe realizes he has superpowers. It’s finally the opportunity he’s been waiting for. Joe rushes out of town on his way to find fame and fortune, but, as with most of life’s journeys, things don’t go quite as planned. When Joe runs into trouble, it’s non-super-powered Jerry who is there to help him.

The show was created by composer Kristin Bair and writer-lyricist Kevin Hammonds. It stars Michael Greer, Christine Laitta, Quinn Patrick Shannon, Erika Strasburg, John Wascavage, Waseem Alzer and Julianne Avolio.

“It was fantastically entertaining. It was funny, the music was great, it had the right mix of pathos amidst the comedy,” says Vince Ornato, another of the illustrators whose work is featured in the Up and Away exhibit. 

The on-site work the artists were invited to do during the CLO rehearsals is second-nature to Ornato, who has been practicing the art for most of his career. He ended up creating 15 drawings from his observations, and five of them ended up in the exhibit.

“I do a lot of on-site drawing, it’s how I developed my career. So, it was a natural thing for me,” Ornato says. “I like the confrontation. I still haven’t lost the thrill of having a blank piece of paper and a line, and within a few minutes, you create something out of thin air. It’s what they call ‘trying to make the line dance.’”



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