Dear Reader, I’ll be there … I may even be in costume! Won’t you join me?
Indulge in local libations from Pennsylvania Pure Distilleries, Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka and BLY Silver Rum. Feed your inner child with a delightful array of festival food. Tantalize the senses in a collection of mini immersive stations, each one designed by different performers, artists, and designers.
While I realize that you, dear Reader, are the kind of person who gets out regularly to see live performance by our fabulous local artists at our terrific local theaters, I also know that sometimes you just want to curl up and stream something smart, incisive, and new.
Got you covered. Not only is the web series “[Blank] My Life” completely wierd and wonderful in the best of all possible ways, it’s also really well written and very stylishly filmed.
Trust me: it’s what all the cool kids in town are binge-watching right now. Written, produced, and performed by a group of wickedly talented Carnegie Mellon alums – including Alex Spieth, Ben Viertel, Stephen Tonti, Trevor McQueen, Luka Glinsky, Arya Shahi, Lucia Rodriguez, and several others – the third season also features several familiar faces from here in the ‘burgh, including Gregory Lehane and Randy Kovitz.
The trailer for Season 3 was just released today (see below). I’m still catching up on Seasons 1 & 2; if you need to as well, you can find them here.
What will you do, now that football season is over?
Well, there’s an embarrassment of performance riches in town right now. Where to begin?
Perhaps with Five, a dance performance by the Conservatory of Dance at Point Park. This is a world premiere of original modern dance choreography by Rubén Graciani and Kiesha Lalama that features a stunningly athletic ensemble of dancers from Point Park University. For reasons that will be clear to those of you who see the piece, I’m in no position to review it, but having seen it “from the inside,” so to speak, I can highly recommend it. Just enjoy the vibrant, mesmerizing choreography and don’t think too hard about whether or not you can figure out a coherent story (it is dance, after all, and not theater!)
Or if your football jonesing is better sated with musical theater, you’ve got choices! There’s the Broadway touring show of Cabaret at the Benedum – I saw this production on Broadway two years ago and loved it. The Pittsburgh Public Theater just opened Guys and Dolls, and the professional company of Pittsburgh Musical Theater will be opening a (G-rated) live version of Saturday Night Fever at the Byham (both of which I’ll be seeing and blogging about later this week). Looking for something racier than a G-rating? The CMU School of Drama’s got The Full Monty, under the direction of Patrick Wilson, opening February 18 and running just two weeks. Rumor has it tickets are selling fast…you won’t see me writing about a CMU production on this blog (sorry, but I’ve made it a policy not to review our own shows) but I find that our students rarely disappoint.
Don’t like musicals? Not interested in young men doing striptease? Some Brighter Distance has another week left in its run at City Theatre, and it’s followed, beginning February 17, with Sister’s Easter Catechism, the latest in that popular series. You might also want to catch Mary Rawson’s superb performance in Quantum’s one-woman show Ciara before it closes on February 14.
If your taste runs to the experimental and off-the wall, the New Hazlett’s CSA Performance Series is presenting a one-night performance “A Brand New World: Kill the Artist” on Feb. 11 which sounds mighty interesting, and is making me wish I had one of Hermione Grainger’s time-turners so that I could be two places at once that evening.
Looking further ahead, there are a few shows coming up that I’m marking in my calendar way in advance. I’m nerdily excited about the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater’s early March production Miss Julie, Clarissa, and John, which is an adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie, a play I adore. Also coming in March: Mark C. Thompson’s new work, Kimono, at Off The Wall in Carnegie. And then there’s the barebones production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, at the New Hazlett, and Annie Baker’s play The Flick, which has stirred lots of buzz, at the Pittsburgh Playhouse – both of these open in April. I can hardly wait.
Rumor has it, too, that Bricolage is working on a super-secret new project for early summer…but until they spill the beans on that show, their next big thing will be their annual B.U.S. –
I’ve got my tickets, do you have yours?
It’s been a while since I posted about theater – that’s cuz there hasn’t been all that much happening in town (at least, not much that I’ve been invited to!) Gypsy is opening this weekend at CLO, but, alas, I will miss it because of travel. As I look at my calendar I see several other things coming up – if you’re reading this, and in Pittsburgh this summer, put them on your calendar, too!
Next weekend, PICT Classic Theatre is opening Sharon’s Grave, by Irish playwright John B. Keane. It’s a play I’m not familiar with, but the publicity materials promise “a great Irish yarn about love, legends, and the land.” It will run July 16 – August 1.
Also next weekend – and next weekend only! – a new company called Lamplighter Productions will be bringing to the Maker Theater on Ellsworth in Shadyside their original, collaboratively created work How to be a GoodPerson(TM), a “radically inclusive” theater piece that explores the question of how to distinguish the genuine and important from the artificial and trivial in a world filled with information “noise.” This theater company has adopted the ethos of radical hospitality innovated by Mixed Blood Theatre of Minneapolis: tickets to this production are free of charge, but reservations are necessary. I should add, in the spirit of full disclosure, that two of the collaborators on this production are current students at the CMU School of Drama (Jordan Sucher & Vanessa Frank). They are mounting short runs here in Pittsburgh & in New York this summer.
Also coming up: Front Porth Theatrical’s Light in the Piazza, opening the weekend of August 21, and Quantum Theatre’s baroque opera interpretation of The Winter’s Tale, produced in collaboration with Chatham Baroque and Attack Theatre and opening September 21.
Is there something else I ought to have on my calendar this summer? Let me know…I’m streaming way too many movies on Netflix lately!!
And there’s more!
I had forgotten that I had, on my phone, video of one of the more playful exhibits. The Russian exhibition, entitled “Meyerhold’s Dream,” lured the visitor in with a striking intervention into the hallway outside. Check this out:
Inside, an enormous man – Meyerhold – sleeping & breathing (& “dreaming”) – it’s his back that has burst through the wall:
This exhibit won the Gold Medal for Best PQ15 Publication – the book that accompanied this exhibit used a comic strip approach to deal with foundational ideas about scenography in a humorous and playful way. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any online images of this book, which was very clever and engaging.
I also wanted to share some photos of the CMU student performance of an original work, “Enfantine,” which told the story of childhood trauma in a mythical-poetic way, with puppets & masks carefully transported from Pittsburgh to Prague! The creative team behind this performance included Zoe Clayton, Olivia Hern, Rachel Abrams, Danielle Kling-Joseph, Abby Botnick, Anna Rosati, Rebecca Liu, and Keith Kelly.
UPDATE: Here’s a link to video of that performance:
And here are some selected images (all photos by Susan Tsu):
I bet you thought I was done posting about PQ15 — I know I did! But then, lo and behold, I received an email from CMU alum (and top notch dramaturg, I may add…now based in NYC) Rachel Abrams, with descriptions of all sorts of stuff I missed (it’s a huge event, you’d need to be four people to do everything on the program!!)
So hear, without further ado, are photos and blurbs from Rachel:
“The first official day of PQ featured a talk titled, ‘Space-shifter: Jerzy Gurawski and the Architecture of Theatrical Space.’ Scholar Dariusz Kosiński gave a lecture on how Gurawski used both theatre design and architecture to redefine the performer/audience member relationship. Towards the end of the session, the PQ organizers tried to Skype with Gurawski himself so that he could talk about his work. Alas, after a few hopeful moments of connection, the technology sputtered and crashed, and we resorted to an audience Q&A with Kosiński to end.”
I may or may not have mentioned in my first PQ post that the Gold Medal PQ 2015 for Provoking a Dialogue went to Mia David, curator of the exhibition of Serbia: Power(less) – Response(ability) and the curatorial team of the students’ exhibition of Serbia: Process, or What DOES Matter to Me. Rachel attended this exhibit on the second day of PQ, and writes: “Over the course of ten days, new Serbian artists were invited daily to create live installations/performance art, or to create their still art in public, while being monitored by surveillance cameras feeding into screens in the next room. In a PQ talk titled, ‘Stages of Utopia,’ one of the Serbian curators (whose name does not appear on the original program) highlighted the tension here between surveillance built to protect citizens and the discomfort of losing one’s own privacy.”
Remember how I mentioned the “Makers” exhibit in the Bethlehem Gallery – where students put on food performances? I saw only two of these. Here’s another, “Recipe for the Heart of a Dog,” which Rachel attended:
She writes: “A performance group from Cyprus created a non-linear experience in which, according to the PQ programme, ‘Food is prepared as experimental surgery and served as a medical discovery.’ I was particularly compelled by images of a young woman undergoing a sort of ‘food plastic surgery,’ where cast members in lab coats stuffed her limbs with bread and colored her with a cranberry paste, before the patient rose again as a ‘bread Frankenstein.’ For me, the performance evoked commentary on women’s complex relationship between food and our bodies (for example, saying ‘That extra piece of bread is gonna stick to my thighs,’ and then considering which cultures may consider that ‘extra stuffing’ to be beautiful and desirable). Then the performers transitioned into preparing a party with food as ‘medicine’…which in many cases actually meant food spiked with vodka served to the audience.” Here are a couple more photos:
“Brazil’s exhibition featured a giant sculpture of dodecahedrons resembling a tree with silver globes as its fruit. Each globe offered a window into a different Brazilian designer’s work.”
“Australia’s exhibition had a series of projects featured in books on studio tables, and the book descriptions corresponded with a film presentation of the work. The project featured in this image focused on Aboriginal displacement and their descendants’ struggles with homelessness.”
CMU alum Erik Lawson and CMU professor Joe Pino, respectively, presenting their designs at the PQ Sound Kitchen:
“Erik’s piece, a delightful three-movement duet between synthesizer and harp, used statistical evidence of climate change (average temperature, ice cap coverage, etc.) over the last few decades from multiple cities to dictate the pace and tone of the music. Even with such dire undertones emitting from this data, the piece does not merely bemoan the state of our planet or cite direct blame for its destruction. Instead, Erik’s choice to feature a soothing harp, complemented by just a soft synth line and kept pure with a fairly simple instrumentation, makes the listener long for Earth’s beauty when a foreboding synth line takes over, warning us that we could lose this beauty forever. Joe’s inspiration for his piece came from a novel (unfortunately I missed the title!) in which the protagonist’s mind wanders as he bottle-feeds his infant. This piece evoked fragmented and muffled memories of murky voices and events, and the surreal yet familiar soundscape created, as Susan Tsu referred to it, a ‘lucid dream.'”
And then there is the “OBJECTS” exhibit: “The Objects exhibit featured props and other items that designers associate with their productions or stories from their theatrical landscapes. The exhibit itself was fairly simple: a table filled with the objects, unlabeled, and behind them a black booth with a looped film of the designers tell the stories of the objects. Some of my favorite stories included: a prop poodle with a bloody detachable head that came to symbolize the director’s ex-boyfriend, a mask made of hammock material as a commentary on homelessness in Mexico, an authentic wooden weapon from New Zealand used as a prop, a flying pig that a designer features in her sets as a memorial to a director who died of cancer (who told all his friends and family, ‘I will beat cancer when pigs fly,’ and found his house filled with flying pig figurines), a Queen Elizabeth crown that saved the opera signer wearing it from a piece of scenery that fell during a performance, a rhino mask with tiny eye holes responsible for many actor injuries, an authentic Mexican grinding set used onstage, and a key from a women’s penitentiary in Chicago that went missing during a performance in a prison (which a designer found someone slipped into her bag months later).
I have two videos from PQ that I’m going to try to upload in the next post, one from Rachel, and one that I forgot I had on my phone. Stay tuned to see if the technology demons are on my side!
The theme of this year’s PQ – “Shared Space – Music Weather Politics” – gave me hope that there might be a really strong engagement with climate change and sustainability among the theater artists presenting their work. I know there’s a difference between the weather and climate, I guess I’d just hoped that the thematic focus would pull exhibitors toward a consideration of how theater can take on the bigger question of the human relationship to the nonhuman, which is both an ecological question and a political one.
I was, I’m sorry to report, largely disappointed in that hope. There were only a handful of exhibits that used scenography to grapple with ecological issues – Poland’s “Post-Apocalypsis” was one; as was Ireland’s “Activating Affective Atmospheres,” which used “a range of technologies to synthesize sensory experiences of weather … co-created by participatory audiences… to probe the inter relationships of weather, technology, atmosphere and people.” The Philippine exhibit powerfully drew attention to the local effects of global climate change: their sculptural representation of a small boat made of bamboo highlighted the nation’s resilience in the response to recent ecological catastrophes.
In addition, many of the designs projected in the UK Exhibit “Make/Believe” seem to have been for productions that were eco-centric (for example, Tanja Beer’s concept and set design for “The Living Stage,” and Myriddin Wannell’s production design for “The Passion”).
But for the most part, I looked in vain for a good deal of evidence that the world’s theater designers and scenographers were making any kind of collective commitment to more sustainable production practices – if they are, they were not advertising it very loudly in these exhibitions.
A welcome exception was an outdoor exhibit that it would have been easy to miss. In a courtyard near the Naprstek Museum was a sort of gazebo made from repurposed wooden theater seats that showcased theaters from around the world that are “recycling” space & materials and aiming for a greater sustainability in their practice:
I am, frankly, baffled not only by the otherwise seeming lack of a real engagement on the part of the world’s scenographers with the need to find more sustainable and eco-friendly ways to make theater, but also by the near-absence at PQ15 of theatrical stories that grapple with climate change, ecological sustainability, and the socio-political effects that ecological catastrophes have had and will continue to have on human communities. I’m gonna get on my soapbox here: It’s 2015. When are the world’s theater artists going to wake up to their responsibility to be part of the solution?
Do you want to know more about how to make sustainable theater, or more about ecodrama, ecodramaturgy, and performance and ecology? Here is a very short list of good places to start (and I apologize for the brazen self-promotion in one of the links below):
Readings in Performance and Ecology. (Ed. Wendy Arons & Theresa J. May)
Greening Up Our Houses: a Guide to More Ecologically Sound Theater. (Larry Fried & Theresa J. May)
Research Theatre, Climate Change, and the Ecocide Project: The Ecocide Theatre Casebook (Una Chaudhuri & Shonni Enelow)
Continuing with my whirlwind written tour of PQ15, I’ll move on to some of the highlights from the installations in the “Section of Countries and Regions.” As my colleague Susan Tsu advised me before the PQ began, in many ways the student work presented was more compelling than the “professional” work. This may be because so many of the national curators have chosen (or have been constrained) to exhibit a collection of what they considered the best or most innovative design work done in their region or country’s theatres over the last four years, which meant that many of these exhibits display a whole bunch of model boxes and design sketches and photo slide shows on ipads without much context. Such exhibits, while by no means uninteresting, become very hard to differentiate from each other after the dozenth of the type. No matter how artfully such collections are arranged, there is often an overwhelming amount of visual information to take in, and I’ve found it difficult to focus on the individual elements (particularly when those elements were displayed on mini ipad screens, as seemed to be the trend!) This may be why I’ve been so taken with installations like the border performances put on by the students from the UK and Utrecht, or the scenographic exercises presented by the Belgian, Latvian, and Hungarian student sections – the unified vision helps me to focus more closely on their creativity and craft and on the use of design as a storytelling device. Nevertheless, in addition to the award winners I wrote about in my first PQ post, there is a lot of amazing design work on display in the “Countries and Regions” sections!
(Note: I’m linking in the following to the PQ websites for individual countries because I didn’t always get great photos of all of these.]
The USA professional exhibit, “Vortex of Our Dreams,” presents an illuminated tornado gathering up scenographic and sound work from a number of really fabulous productions – and we Tartans were pretty tickled to note the large number of alums whose work was on display, including Bryce Cutler for the site-specific, ecologically sustainable, “upcycled” scenic design for In the Basement Theater Company’s The Lady in Red – which featured a number of CMU alumni both on and off stage – and sound designer Erik T. Lawson for his work on Victor Frange Presents GAS, which was an original collaboration by several CMU alumni, including Sarah Kron, Dan O’Neil, Patrick Rizzotti, Bryce Cutler, and Bart Cortright (follow the links for images from those two parts of the exhibit). I found this exhibit quite snazzy, but visually overwhelming – the forest is cool, but it is hard to focus on the individual trees, so to speak. The exhibit does invite the visitor in to interact – there’s a stairway to climb, and spools of wire to allow you to add your own twist to the wiry chaos.
The USA student exhibit, “Transcend: the Designer as Creator,” is a set of bright red lockers with displays of student projects inside. I was underwhelmed by this curatorial concept and presentation; in fact, you get a better sense of the quality of these students’ work from the USITT website than from the exhibition on display.
One of the most effective installations is the United Kingdom’s “Make/Believe,” which projects designs and scenes of individual work on all four walls of their exhibition space – a strategy that allows the visitor to be immersed in each work (there’s seating, too, which is welcome after a long day on your feet!) This installation received a Special Award for the complexity and richness of its selection. In the evenings, you can get a mini-immersive “Solotoria” theater experience: you put on headphones and put your head inside a curtained box that has been outfitted like a grand theater, and watch a miniature ballet, magic show, opera, or comedy sketch. They only last a couple of minutes, but are worth waiting for.
The Catalan exhibit, “Catalan Ways,” is also really striking. On a turntable is a sculpture of a naked figure crawling and reaching out; projected video transforms this sculpture in surprising ways, from a ghost-like apparition to a skeleton to a figure in flames. I wasn’t able to get a clear photo but here are some images from the PQ website (follow the link above for more).
Another exhibition that has a lot of spectacular appeal is the Hungarian exhibition, “Donor for Prometheus,” which presents the myth of Prometheus and asks visitors to donate their livers to help him out (!). Each evening they bring out a live bird of prey that flies down onto their hanging Prometheus figure and eats a bit of its “liver”; the sculpture is then used to melt metal, which is poured onto text stamped in the sand below, and the cast text is lifted out and mounted around the installation. By end of today the full phrase will be spelled out around the installation; when I visited, it was still backwards and in Latin so I wasn’t able to make out what it said.
The Canadian team took a novel approach to presenting individual design work; their installation, “Shared [private] space,” is a set of old-fashioned outhouses with interactive installations inside that immerse you in the design world of each production. You have to wait, much as you might for a port-a-potty, for the person before you to be “done,” which creates an interesting audience/exhibit dynamic. As with the UK exhibit, this presentation strategy gives more focus to each individual design; it also allows for some interesting surprises when you open the door (one outhouse has a live performer inside!)
Spain’s exhibit, titled “Muérete,” invites the visitor to imagine, and embrace, her own mortality. Here, a picture may indeed be worth a thousand words (that’s projected video of maggots crawling all over me; visible to me in a mirror on the ceiling):
The Danish contingent has brought a project that is aimed at getting people to see the world from another perspective. Called “Through Different Eyes,” the exhibition invites visitors to transform themselves – using theatrical makeup, wigs, and costumes – into a person of another race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, and/or gender. Participants are encouraged to walk around in public (go shopping, etc) for a couple of hours and experience what it is like to inhabit someone else’s perspective; they then receive a before and after photo as a souvenir. The producing organization, “Global Stories,” has used this project as a diversity awareness tool at a number of festivals and exhibitions as well as at schools and corporations. I didn’t have a chance to participate (the line was loooong) but, like the Estonia project, this seems an excellent example of how people are using the tools of theater to effect real world change.
PQ15 ends today. I’ll post more tomorrow, but the final image I want to leave you with today is this beautiful three-dimensional mandala from the Mongolian exhibit, designed by Ariunbold Sundui.