I stumbled upon a conversation rather surreptitiously the other day at a coffee shop, feigning productivity and industriousness, that centered around theatre and its import to those ensconced in its numerous nebulas. Our conversation turned to the act of creation in theatre—of laboring, toiling, getting down to the proverbial nitty-gritty to put forth a dramaturgical experience that truly epitomized the blood, sweat and tears of the creative phenomena. My friend spoke of her high school productions, bare-boned and plagued by the all-too-common nonexistent budget for a school arts program, and how the most rewarding element of the staging was knowing she and her fellow actors had cleverly constructed an elaborate set (replete with striking verisimilitude) with virtually nothing to work with to do so. Their craft was embellished by their resourcefulness, their ingenuity.
I was reminded of this conversation immediately upon stepping foot in the Pittsburgh Actor’s Space, an intimate, discreet artistic haven surreptitiously nestled in the quaint storefronts in Etna. Officially opened to the public and theatre community three months ago (unofficially/officially on June 1st ) The Space is, in creator and owner Valerie Gasior’s words “a home for actors,” and exists as a physical palisade in which actors, directors, students, techies, writers and all others enmeshed in the dramaturgical world can congregate and find a place to hone their craft. When walking into The Space, I couldn’t help but be nostalgically transported to the moments I spent locked away in small, repurposed classrooms and trailers, testing the limits of how bawdy I could be in my improv and drama classes at the small Christian school I attended; the hours I spent interning at local, volunteer-run theatres in college, squirrelled off in musty prop rooms cataloguing and trying to create a semblance of order in the seas of mismatched shoes and old mannequin hands, marveling at the actors around me and the individuals laboring to create stunning sets from limited materials. Pittsburgh’s Actor’s Space, while not necessarily formidable in size just yet, pulsates with the vibrancy of every actor’s ambition, every burgeoning lust for the stage, for theatrical representation. The space has a vitality that exudes the theatrical experience, and is built on the foundation of the labor and pride of actors who literally construct their craft around them.
Much of this can be attributed to Valerie Gasior’s innate passion for acting, and her resilient commitment to fostering a thriving environment for actors and generating an organic, dynamic realm for actors to pursue their craft. A Pittsburgh native, Valerie has an extensive background in acting, and after studying at Point Park University’s Conservatory of the Arts and spending a brief amount of time in Los Angeles, she returned to Pittsburgh and worked for three years as an audition director at a local talent agency and pursue acting full time. Interestingly, her time working at a talent agency, which she never envisioned herself doing, may have been the galvanization to create the Actor’s Space, particularly combined with her devotion to acting. As Valerie assesses, she had never wanted to be “behind the scenes” but doing so allowed her a certain privileged perspective as to what the holistic theatre production experience entailed. Valerie’s craven need to act is one so familiar to so many in the theatre world—it was never a career choice or a moment of decision, it was an internal, driving need and desire to act and to sing that served, surprisingly, as a catalyst for a vocational path. Though is she working tirelessly to act full time—acting that is primarily focused on screen—ensuring that the Space functions as a realm in which all individuals, regardless of their exposure or time spent in the theatre, have a space to record, to rehearse, to sing, to stage, or to simply become more at one with their personal method. A testament to her own stamina and her unshakeable commitment to providing a haven for actors, Valerie opened the Space in clandestine fashion, and has worked alone to maintain the location, promote the space, and create a nebula of actors and artists who find the Space a boon. As Valerie so articulates, “acting is a living art and a lifestyle for those who pursue it, and that is behind every action at PAS,” and truly, The Space occupies, both in its physical properties and the spirit that imbues it, the blood, sweat and tears, the cutting room floor hutzpah that is the hallmark of theatre.
When I asked Valerie about what most influences her artistic output, what moments most compel her to delve further into the world of drama daily, she divulged a brief but impactful story, in which she and a fellow actor, enraptured, discussed the awe of her physicality taking over and moving in syncopation with her emotions in a scene without her even willing them to do so. This instant, of what Valerie very astutely sees as “the small, subtle ways your entire being gets connected to your intention further developing the story,” is crucial to the heart of The Space. Brief encounters with another actor, the safe space to fumble lines or test the timbre and delivery of your monologues, a room to stage fight scenes or simply begin to explore and expound upon the physical potential of your own body is crucial to art, and is what Valerie seeks to uphold in The Space. Located on 341 Butler St in Etna, The Space can be rented for $25.00 for a half hour, $35.00 for an hour, $100.00 for four hours, and $200.00 for the entire day (sensitive to the type of project though), though the prices are flexible based on actors’ needs. The Space provides a phenomenal opportunity for those in the theatre, film and general artistic community to discover and explore the physical dimensions of their art.
For more information about the Pittsburgh Actor’s Space, click here.