This season, Pittsburgh theatre artists showed incredible resilience and found new ways to create and share with audiences through digital, drive-in, and immersive performances. They also continued developing their craft and supporting each other through online collaboration. Instead of waiting for things to reopen, the theatre community and its playwrights embraced the new formats.
Pittsburgh Public Theatre commissioned six local playwrights to reimagine classic texts for their Classics N’at Series: Tammy Ryan, Alec Silberblatt, Mora V. Harris, TJ Young, Brian Pope, Steven Wilson. This saw new plays inspired by Agatha Christie, Cyrano de Bergerac, and “The Gift of the Magi,” to name a few. CLO also found themselves pushing into the digital space with Songs for a New Year. Five creative teams developed new songs and choreography to accompany the performances. Matt Schatz and seven others put pen to paper and lyrics to melody in a series of performances that were released weekly across January and February of 2021.
12 Peers moved its annual MythBurgh event online, keeping all of the spooky content locals are used to with MythBurgh: Yinzer Scared Online. The six installments, spearheaded by Matt Henderson, who wrote Mystic Matt for the anthology series, continue to tap into the history and lore of the Steel City, calling on local writers to provide the texts for these supernatural tales. Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre got in the holiday spirit with their presentation of Ubuntu Holiday by Kim El. Grist From The Mill by Lissa Brennan also graced the Playwrights Theatre digital stage, continuing its look into Pittsburgh history.
Pittsburgh also enjoyed creative approaches to immersive theatre experiences, delivered through headphones, mailboxes, and car speakers. Quantum Theatre got audience members out of the house by guiding them via audio tour on two walking routes around the city in 10 For 21 adapted by Martin Giles. Post-Theatrical: An International Festival of Postal Plays was conceived of by RealTime Interventions, a Pittsburgh company run by member Molly Rice, as an experiment in tactile mail-based interactions during the era of screen-fatigue, including works from theatre companies throughout the country. RealTime’s collaboration with Millia Ayache of Beirut, Lebanon and City of Asylum will connect Pittsburghers with Beirutis through an interactive exchange of gifts in their postal play The Birth of Paper this summer.
City Theatre Company delved into drive-in performances, presenting F*ck 7th Grade, a collaboration between playwright Liza Berkenmeier and singer-songwriter Jill Sobule. This new musical was a part of their 2019-2020 season but has been rebranded as a world premiere concert film. It was performed live during their Drive-In Arts Festival and is now available to stream online. They also continued their tradition of fostering new playwrights through their all-digital productions of the Young Playwrights Festival. Using digital backgrounds and interesting streaming tricks, they created a shared universe where all three of the plays lived. All three winners were students from Pittsburgh and the surrounding area, ranging from 8th to 12th grade.
Finally, Musical Theatre Artists of Pittsburgh, spearheaded by Jeanne Drennan, and the Dramatists Guild Pittsburgh region collaborated in organizing the 10-Minute Musicals Project, pairing local librettists and playwrights with composers and supporting them through their collaboration with a series of Zoom workshops and sharing sessions. We look forward to seeing works developed by DG members Maureen McGranaghan, Judy Meiksin, Jennifer Schaupp, and Darlene Fedele Thompson performed in the coming months.
Like most communities, Pittsburgh knew that the show must go on. With the pandemic shutting down spaces and revamping seasons, the local theatre scene depended on new works created by local writers in what seemed like an unprecedented fashion. The time spent indoors was still used to foster the relationships between organizations and the artists that live here. As a result, new programming was born and the pivot to online shows and readings spurred a wealth of creativity and innovation. This time served as a way to reevaluate how we experience stories, either through letters, while sitting in our cars, or while watching a pre-recorded Zoom call. As we move back into traditional theatre spaces, we hope that the spirit of collaboration and experimentation continues in our local scene.
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