Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts

PIFoF logoPittsburgh has shed its rust-belt image. Even though that transition is ongoing, our city is consistently ranked as “one of the best places in the world to live.” Today we are known both as an “Eds” and “Meds” town and a sports town. The arts, however, are what gives Pittsburgh its soul and humanity. This fall Pittsburgh will take center stage in the art world with international level events that present the “greatest and grandest” of new works to the city and the world.

The Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts is a showcase of more than thirty international companies and artists, hailing from over twenty countries and six continents, which includes representation from Pittsburgh’s own arts community as well. The Festival,  produced by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, starts September 21stwith a nearly eight-week long run of never-before-seen theater, dance, music, visual art, and immersive experiences curated to “awe, inspire, surprise, and delight.”

The festival has leadership from Pittsburgh’s artistic community in that Quantum Theatre’s Karla Boos serves as its Guest Curator and, along with Quantum, presenting the premiere of immersive production Chatterton, in Trinity Cathedral, Bricolage Production Company will present new work Larger than Life: Frankenstein, a radio drama taken straight from the original 1818 novel. (More on these productions later in this article.)

Scott Shiller, the Festival’s producer, has been in Pittsburgh for almost two years now since joining the Trust as its first VP of Artistic Planning. We spoke on a wide range of topics, with a focus on this year’s Festival. Shiller: “Our goal with this edition of the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts is to reflect the world through these unique artist’s voices.”

“This is Pittsburgh’s moment in the art world. It is an exciting time for arts in Pittsburgh. The region is growing, changing and embracing the art.  We have been working for over eighteen months with a group of like-minded curators.”

“The state of the international world has changed since the first edition of the festival in 2005. This year [the festival] includes South America, Africa, Asia with an increasing focus on the woman’s voice.” Encompassing a full range of arts disciplines—theater, dance, music, visual art. It is the DNA of the pieces ties the festival together.”

In her curatorial role Quantum Theatre’s Artistic Director Karla Boos based her selection of artists “on what speaks meaningfully in international performance in 2018.  Pittsburgh is a global city. Artists here as well as across the globe are working from a global perspective. In different ways, we’re addressing contemporary conditions and relatable human struggles.”

“This International is the largest and most diverse in its history. I hope to not only represent our commonalities and the unique imagination of artists breaking ground on six continents, but to create a sense of spontaneous collaboration, camaraderie, and interaction. We will share ideas and learn, inspire each other, as well as audiences. In my 18 month’s of travel I’ve been continuously amazed by the artist’s imagination!”

It is no small coincidence that The International Festival of First leads into the 57th edition of Carnegie International, a major international exhibition of contemporary art. which opens mid-Festival at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art on October 13th and runs to March 25th, 2019.

On Friday, September 21st, the 2018 International Festival of Firsts kicks off its gargantuan eight week run with the U.S. premiere of Beyond, the immersive audiovisual installation by Barcelona-based research studio Playmodes. Beyond runs through November 11th.

For the remainder of this post, we are going to focus on the Quantum and Bricolage productions that are part of the Festival and provide three of the titles in the theatre category. For more info and complete Festival lineup and ticketing info visit https://trustarts.org/pct_home/festivals/pittsburgh-international-festival-of-firsts-

Pittsburgh in the Round will keep you updated with openings and closings so you won’t miss any of the theatrical productions.

ChattertonThe first to open is the world premiere of Chatterton by Quantum Theatre, adapted from Sir Peter Ackroyd’s award-winning novel and directed by Karla Boos. Chatterton will be staged at the historic Trinity Cathedral from September 14th to October 28th.

The plot takes inspiration from the Romantic era’s most famous suicide, an 18th-century poet who took his young life. He was immortalized 100 years later by a very famous painting. Modeling for that painting was Victorian poet George Meredith, whose own dramatic life is also featured in the story.  Poet Charles Wychwood goes on a hunt to solve the paintings mysterious puzzles from the past – is what we believe about Thomas Chatterton truth or fiction? Chatterton explores what is real and what is fake in the intertwining worlds of art and commerce. The all-star cast includes Tony Bingham as Wychwood,  Tim McGeever as George Meredith, Helena Ruoti as Harriet Scope, and Jonathan Visser. as Thomas Chatterton with Ken Bolden, Martin Giles, Eamonn McElfresh, Jeff Monahan, Gayle Pazerski, Charlie Russell, Alan Stanford, and Tammy Tsai.

The production immerses its audiences in the haunting spaces of the Cathedral. Multiple locations within the cathedral include the sanctuary, altar, choir rehearsal room, and chapel. The design team features C. Todd Brown (lighting), District 5 (sound), Stephanie Mayer-Staley (set), Joe Seamans (projections), and Robert C. T. Steele (costumes).

The experience begins with pre-show drinks in Pittsburgh’s oldest churchyard and includes a full intermission dinner by the celebrity chef of the week.

Director Boos notes “The show has an interactive narrative that allows the audience to make decisions and asks them to consider what really happened; what is a misconstruction of history, and why we believe the things we do.  The audience moves in three performance tracts that sometimes intersect. The painting, the art, the themes, tie it all back together.”

For more information on Chattertonvisit  http://www.quantumtheatre.com/chatterton

FrankensteinBricolage Production Company’s Midnight Radio takes the form of a classic 1940s radio broadcast. For the Festival it features a double bill;  Larger Than Life: Frankenstein along with Karate Man Patrick Kim by Israel’s Hanut31.

This production of Frankenstein has been adapted by Bricolage’s Principal Creative and co-founder Tami Dixon directly from Mary Shelly’s original source material. It is a much darker portrayal of the tenacious young scientist hell-bent on recreating human life. The result is a creature born so hideous he was forsaken by his maker and shunned by society. Frankenstein’s monster come alive with Foley sound effects, vintage commercial spoofs, and an array of vocal acrobatics!

Dixon states “It is a classic man/maker story, the pursuit of perfection and the responsibility of creation. Abandoned by his creator and shunned by society the creature is alone in a world unwilling to accept his humanity. With no name, condemned solely based on his looks, he is never shown even a shred of human compassion. Deprived of the simple need to love and be loved, he falls prey to his last resort: violence. Who should be held responsible?  The show explores the power of knowledge and how its unbridled pursuit can lead to destruction. Is this ultimate fate the cost of ‘progress’?”

(This Festival production is an abridged version of the full production which Bricolage will present November 1-10.)

The second half of the bill is Hanut31’s production of The Adventures Of Karate Man, Patrick Kim which brings to life the adventures of Israeli superspy Patrick Kim,  the central character of a series of books that first appeared in the 1960’s. Patrick Kim’s exploits combine Cold War drama with karate fighting and sex. “He’s a lean, mean fighting machine! The name is Kim. Patrick Kim.”

This Midnight Radio series premiers on Oct 25th and runs to the 27th at the Bricolage Theatre.

Guest Curator Karla Boos was looking for “unusual forms and imagination that create WOW!” in her selection of the works to be presented. The Festival’s tagline is “These are the ones you remember forever.” This fall Pittsburghers and our guests from around the world will take that challenge. Get out there and immerse yourself in the arts and our city’s soul!

For more information on specific events, schedules and tickets click here.

George Hoover got his start in theatre in Miami when his family ran the Coconut Grove Playhouse. His career encompasses a variety of work in both the design and technical side of motion pictures, live theatre, and television. George is a three-time Emmy Award winner, member of the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame, Broadcasting & Cable Technology Leadership Award winner, Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers Life Fellow, and most importantly a passionate theatre person and generally handy guy.

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