Theatre and the continued vitality of the dramaturgical community thrive upon collaborative spaces, dynamic connections, and open spaces—imagined or real. The rapidly popularizing phenomenon of incubator spaces, a phenomenon considered to be the cornerstone of modernization in a variety of different professional and creative realms, is integral to this development and maintenance of dynamic, theatrical communities. Capitalizing on this trend is the Musical Theatre Artists of Pittsburgh (MTAP), an incubator that operates as a creative, collective space in which individuals and troupes with symphonic visions or musicals already in motion to rehearse and present their pieces.
The heart of MTAP’s mission harkens back to the grassroots of theater, particularly musical theater, that depended upon shared space, multitudinous voices and visions, and a profound sense of community. MTAP’s core mission is one that is built upon the idea of fostering collaboration. With a membership impressively numbering over eighty individuals, MTAP has a remarkable group of members from a variety of backgrounds—be it seasoned professionals with extensive academic and performance experience, to schoolteachers and writers with a unique take on the creative process. Additionally, many of MTAP’s members have storied backgrounds in writing and performance, specifically from Carnegie Mellon and Pittsburgh Universities. As such, there is a strong current of community devotion and drive to cultivate an eclectic, open and prosperous microcosmic musical community that is specifically Pittsburgh-centric. Not only does the community-centered structure of MTAP–which features weekly meetings, collaborative rehearsal times, and open forums including all members—encourage a robust and vigorous performance environment, but it allows for artists with preconceived ideas to be challenged and preset conventions of performance and musicality to be deconstructed through unique interactions with other artists in an incubator space. Executive director and creative producer Stephanie Riso, a CMU alum who played a key role in founding two Pittsburgh creative outlets—PICT and Cabaret Pittsburgh—brings twenty years of expansive experience in musical theater (including stints as a lyricist in New York City’s illustrious musical theater scene) and a specific goal of lifting up and providing a financial backbone to the many artists who flock to MTAP.
An outstandingly compelling sub-sect of MTAP is the scintillatingly titled Hot Metal Musicals, which will undergo a tremendous revival after dormancy since 2015. In 2015, artists were called upon to partake in a plethora of diverse and stupendous musicals including Me, Myself and Others (written and composed by Pittsburgh favorite Eva Rainforth), Lazarus (created by well-known visual artist and creative visionary Chuck Sperry) and [best imitation] (by Jeremy Richter). The shows were designed to invite individuals to perform but also to provide their own input and directive notions. In anticipation of the exciting return of Hot Metal Musicals this summer, I was privileged enough to view a staged read-through of The Storm, a musical adaptation by Stephanie Riso derived from Alexander Ostrovsky’s play. The musical focused on the dire conditions of peasants near the banks of the Volga River, the burgeoning contempt due to egregious class disparity, and unexpected amorousness that buds in the midst of conflict. The staging was replete with exceptional vocal performances, and indicated a passionate and thrilling season ahead for Hot Metal Musicals and the performers affiliated with the company.
MTAP’s membership policy and encouragement of submissions and collaboration signal a phenomenal shift in Pittsburgh theatre—one that diversifies and strengthens the tapestry of community performance, simultaneously supporting creative identity and group interactions.
For more information about MTAP, what they’re up to and how to become a member, click here.
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