With its balanced blend of classics, musicals, and new works, the Pittsburgh theatre scene is often synonymous with the Pittsburgh Public Theater. Taking the reins of the Public is no small task, especially on the heels of beloved producing artistic director Ted Pappas’ almost two-decade tenure there. Yet when you talk to the Public’s new artistic director, Marya Sea Kaminski, one is instantly drawn to her energetically at ease style and you come away fully confident the Public is going to keep blossoming in new and interesting ways under her direction.
Kaminski is a recent Pittsburgh transplant moving here after seventeen years in Seattle where she spent the last four years as the associate artistic director of the Seattle Repertory Theatre. However, her mark on Seattle’s theatre scene goes back much further. In 2004, she co-founded Seattle’s Washington Theatre Ensemble as she was finishing her MFA in acting at the University of Washington. The ensemble is still together and thriving, showing she’s clearly wired to drive a long-term vision.
Kaminski is no stranger to the east coast. She grew up in Rochester, New York and earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Pennsylvania. She then migrated westward to Seattle for graduate school. Shrugging, she explains she stayed longer than she expected, a relatable experience for anyone who’s made a move for one reason and then lingered for a dozen others.
As a new Pittsburgh resident, Kaminski observes that the first question people always ask her is where she lives. To her, this illustrates (correctly) just how much people here connect and identify with their neighborhoods. If you’re curious, the answer is the North Side. In fact, she’s already beginning to sound like a local as she quickly enumerates her neighborhood favorites: the City of Asylum Bookstore, Arnold’s Tea, and swimming in the public pool.
Pittsburgh’s obsession with community is fitting. One of Kaminski’s fundamental beliefs is to create theatre for the people. At Seattle Repertory, she directed a mass-scale production of The Odyssey with 150 cast members. She did it in partnership with Public Works Seattle. Professional actors were in the lead roles, but it required collaboration from five communities, uniting a broad swath of strangers in the shared pursuit of artistic creation. The production opened spaces for both inaugural theatre performers and new attendees, which is what excited Kaminski the most.
Theatre patrons tend to follow class lines, so expanding the periphery of Seattle Repertory’s audience was incredibly gratifying for Kaminski. Her production of The Odyssey brought waves of theatre newcomers, and one already senses Kaminski has ambitious plans for Pittsburgh. In fact, she laughingly quoted P. Diddy in the course of our conversation: “I don’t feel like I want to be on the stage. I want to be the stage.” Kaminski is humble, and she clarified this wasn’t egotistical; it’s about providing a forum to uplift other artists, be it in Seattle or now here in Pittsburgh. She readily admits she’s just learning Pittsburgh and its theatre scene and is grateful for the luxury of coming into a theater with a highly engaged base. She looks forward to carrying on the legacy of the Public while also bringing a fresh new perspective.
The 2018-2019 season already promises to be dynamic. It will open with a classic, Pride and Prejudice. Lest we yawn at the familiarity of the Bennets and Mr. Darcy, this is a fast-paced modern take by playwright Kate Hamill who’s adapting all of Jane Austen’s canon. The show’s director, Desdemona Chiang, is planning some innovative reimaginings of the O’Reilly space for the production. This first show is already demonstrating how the Public will take the old and continue to not only make it relevant but push theatre forward. Next up will be Lynn Nottage’s 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Sweat, directed by Justin Emeka. This play about Reading, Pennsylvania steelworkers getting laid off will cut to the core here in the Steel City where that’s not just a story but a shaping part of our communal experience and memory.
2019 will kickstart with Kaminski’s direction of her inspired adaptation of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Ted Pappas will return to the Public to direct Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House Part 2, which continues Nora’s story from Ibsen’s 1879 original. Paula Vogel’s Indecent, directed by Risa Brainin, will bring another female story to the stage. The season will literally conclude in the future with Jordan Harrison’s tech-driven Marjorie Prime, which will be Kaminski’s second directing effort at the Public. The Odyssey is just one example of how Kaminski is wired to think beyond the traditional proscenium. She’s eager to partner outside of traditional theatre spaces, and with tech giant Carnegie Mellon here, there are rich possibilities for the AI-driven landscape of Marjorie Prime.
Under Kaminski’s leadership, there is much to look forward to inside the O’Reilly Theater both this season and beyond. The Public will clearly continue to reign supreme, helping to in Kaminski’s own words “curate great theatre conversations.”
For more information about the Pittsburgh Public Theater and its upcoming season, visit their website at https://ppt.org
Photos courtesy of the Pittsburgh Public Theater.
Tiffany Raymond has her PhD in 20th century American drama from the University of Southern California where her research focused on labor and social protest theatre. She also has two master’s degrees, one from the University of Southern California and one from the University of Tennessee. She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her family. In addition to being a theatre nerd, she’s also a tech geek, avid reader and occasional half-marathon runner.