Pittsburgh performance company uses Penn Avenue storefronts to stage live shows | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh performance company uses Penn Avenue storefronts to stage live shows

click to enlarge Portals on Penn - PHOTO: COURTESY OF BIG STORM PERFORMANCE COMPANY
Photo: courtesy of Big Storm Performance Company
Portals on Penn
Usually, visitors strolling through the art and commercial district of Penn Avenue will find gallery shows, good food, and even a cat cafe. In mid-August, the area will also play host to a different type of theater, where storefronts will become staging areas for various short productions.

Big Storm Performance Company will present Portals on Penn over the course of two weekends, inviting passersby to watch performers put on five short-length acts behind the windows of different storefronts. Portals on Penn premieres on Fri., Aug. 13, and continues through Sun., Aug. 15. The shows begin again for the final installation from Fri., Aug 20-Sun., Aug. 22.

Big Storm Performance Company co-founders Taylor Couch and José Pérez IV had the idea for Portals on Penn when the company conducted a smaller version of live storefront shows in May.


“We're excited to be able to extend the concept to some more locations and a longer experience for the audience,” Couch said.

The audience travels down two blocks on Penn Ave. to five different locations where they watch five-minute performances at each stop. Most of the performances take place behind the windows of storefronts where the audience will watch from the sidewalks.

The first act begins at Opportunity Fund on 5126 Penn Ave. and ends at Bantha Tea Bar, 5002 Penn Ave. Along the way, audiences will make brief stops at mossArchitects, VaultArt Studio, and The Irma Freeman Center for Imagination.

With concerns over COVID-19, Pérez and Couch wanted to use an outdoor environment as a safety precaution so audiences would feel comfortable watching the performances in person.


“With the last storefront show we did, it was just such a joy to see audiences again,” Pérez said. “There's a certain magic that can only happen with seeing other people in front of you.”

Although admission is free to attend Portals on Penn, reservations are required prior to the event. Big Storm recommends groups should be limited to eight people.

Big Storm said in a press release that the shows are intended for an adult audience, but children and even dogs are welcome to view the shows.

Couch and Pérez are their own “angel investors” at Big Storm Performance Company as they typically fund productions themselves. Performances are usually free to the public or admission is at a low price, but they accept donations that directly support the company’s performers and projects.

“The more people donate, the more we'll be able to reimburse our artists for all of their time and talents, and to be able to just keep things really either free or cheap as we keep going,” says Couch.

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