When Andrew Minton and Larissa Jantonio came up with the idea for Aftershock Theatre, they knew they wanted to create a company that would foster change and provide a theatre outlet for younger, more diverse audiences. The fledgling company aims to provide a community space that offers access to affordable theater that is culturally relevant and encourages discussion.
Through their research at Carnegie Mellon University, the co-founders discovered performing arts largely targets older demographics. Aftershock Theatre is working to skew those metrics and challenge what is traditionally thought of as the ideal audience member.
When Minton purchased the performance space in June 2016, the building was in dire need of a facelift — but the old Slovenian Auditorium in Lawrenceville was exactly what he and Jantonio were looking for. The three story building has a history in the performing arts — it was a community theater space in the 20th Century. Minton, Jantonio and Andrea Romero, Aftershock’s strategic consultant, set out to breathe new life into the vacant auditorium.
“It just has all of the things that make you excited about theatre,” Minton said. “It’s got evidence of live space, it’s got evidence of footlights — the traps, the backstage is really wonderful. … The ability to use all three floors [for performances] … it really is our sandbox.”
Although there are still many renovations to be had, Aftershock Theatre has already come a long way since summer 2016.
Its Open House was held in November 2016 and offered audiences their choice of three short plays — “For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls” by Christopher Durang, “15 Minute Hamlet” by Tom Stoppard and “This Property is Condemned” by Tennessee Williams — performed on the first floor, second floor and basement, respectively.
More recently, Aftershock Theatre hosted Real/Time Intervention’s first solo production, “Angelmakers: Songs for Female Serial Killers”. Tickets for the show included a free drink from Aftershock’s bar — yes, they have an in-house bar — that drew a connection with the show by incorporating mini syringes and celery sticks shaved down to look like shivs.
To keep up momentum, Minton is working to adapt a few scripts he hopes to have in production by January or February. Aftershock’s shows will feature stripped down sets to allow for more artist-focused performances and experimentation with elements like assumed gender roles.
“We are trying to pick shows that are impactful to that audience [younger and diverse]. We try to pick shows that feel relevant to Pittsburgh,” Minton said. “We try to think how can we relate it to here? How do we engage people? How does it relate to people’s lives — because that’s what it should do.”
In order to create a stronger connection to the art and encourage dialogue, Aftershock Theatre plans to offer audiences the opportunity to participate in social activities like game nights, talk-backs and discussions.
“One of our big goals with this space is to have a place where you might want to spend time before or after a show,” Minton said. “You have an audience, hopefully from diverse backgrounds, who you bring together and they share this experience. And then to be able to discuss this experience or engage with that experience, they have that shared moment and that’s one of the things that is powerful about theater.”
As Minton, Jantonio and Romero move closer to completing the renovation of Aftershock Theatre, they want to continue to both host and produce shows that offer younger audiences access to the performing arts.
“Part of my theory of art is that good, powerful, useful, art should resonate throughout communities. It should send aftershocks out throughout the community,” Minton said.
For more information about Aftershock Theatre, visit http://www.aftershocktheatre.com/.
Photos taken from Aftershock’s Facebook Page.