off the WALL’s Cutting Edge 12th Season

I am thrilled to share with PITR readers, the opportunity I had to meet Virginia Wall Gruenert, Artistic Director and co-founder of off the WALL Productions. We sat together one evening in October,  discussing “alternative theater for grownups” and the company’s upcoming 12th season. I learned a lot speaking to Gruenert. We chatted at a small table in the theater lobby. She talked excitedly about the company’s upcoming season, the artists involved but also about off the WALL’s mission and the company’s passion toward helping shape the culture of Pittsburgh’s theater community through socially and politically relevant art.

off the WALL Productions, is the professional resident acting company at Carnegie Stage.  Located just 6 miles West of downtown Pittsburgh in the borough of Carnegie. The 93-seat playhouse is inconspicuous and intimate, aesthetic and unpretentious. If you have yet to see a production by off the WALL, the 2018- 19 season is the time to cross this destination off your theater bucket list.  Season 12 is anticipated to wow; win you over, pull you from a place of simple comfort and submerge the audience in cutting-edge, new and raw theatrics.

The 2018- 19 season begins November 30 with the world premiere of a newly adapted A Christmas Carol.  This rendition, co-adapted by film and stage celebrity Mark Coffin and Heidi Muller Smith, is a one-person interpretation showcasing just 2 roles; Scrooge and the narrator.  Don’t assume you will miss out on the significance of Dicken’s message due to a lack of characters.  A Christmas Carol will captivate theatergoers with sharp storytelling and ‘incredible light and sound projections’, promising to stir the emotive and environmental consciousness with a fresh and profound approach.

Staring Coffin and directed by Smith, A Christmas Carol runs November 30- December 15, 2018.

The second production of the season, the U.S. stage premiere of Mumburger, debuts March 1, 2019.  Mumburger, written by Butler, PA native Sarah Kosar and directed by esteemed local actor, author, and director Robyne Parrish, is a surreal story about love, life, and death, family and grief.  Mumburger examines family dynamics and obligation through all the bizarreness and eccentricity that accompanies a family unit.  Already somewhat familiar with the plot of the play I asked point blank, why choose Mumburger?   With a smile, she replied, “We’re off the WALL.  Why not?”  Mumburger will test an audiences frame of mind toward social norms and dark humor, leaving the playgoer contemplating their own boundaries.  I anticipate Mumburger will be the “it” show in ‘19.

Mumburger plays March 1-  March 16, 2019.

The 3rd and final show in season 12 is the Pittsburgh premiere of World Builders, by contemporary playwright Johanna Adams.  World Builders is the study of the inner working of the minds of two mentally ill adults participating in a clinical trial for a psychotropic drug.  The characters, Whitney and Max, each live within their own personal and private fantasy world.  As their treatment takes effect and their fabricated realms begin to diminish, Max and Whitney are faced with losing what is familiar in the process of assimilating into ‘normal’ society and accepting the very real relationship developing between them. World Builders encourages the audience to contemplate, what is real in an overly medicated society.  World Builders will be directed by prominent Pittsburgh actor Linda Haston and runs May 3- May 18, 2019.

One of five full equity theaters in Pittsburgh, off the WALL Productions, a 501(c) (3), has an awesome responsibility to Pittsburgh’s theater community.  Gruenert explained everyone she employs works under the appropriate union’s contract, from the designers to actors and all people in between. The actors “must be working under the contract of the Actor’s Equity Association”. This membership ensures all associates receive fair and equitable treatment and a living wage.  The support off the WALL Productions extends to Pittsburgh artists is insurmountable.  Gruenert revealed, “99.9% of the actors, directors cast and designers we hire are from Pittsburgh; if possible.  But I am adamant the right person fills the right role”.   Aside from establishing artists in their craft, Gruenert is fervent about the company’s focus on female-centric art.  Gruenert states, “our focus has always been on the female artist who is grossly underrepresented, especially in theater”.  The company’s dedication to uplifting female artists has earned them a 50/50 Applause Award, from The International Center for Women Playwrights, for 5 consecutive years.

off the WALL Productions, a paramount producer of socially relevant performances, consistently presents art which exhorts the audience into facing diverse and controversial issues around gender and politics.  The company’s passion for providing a safe space for artists to create is illustrated through the extraordinarily powerful work they stand behind, and the level of professionalism required to continue this commitment for well over a decade.

off the WALL Productions’ 12th season features three premiering plays, each directed by a female artist, written by or co-adapted by women, showcasing subjects which play an imminent function in today’s society. The coming season is challenging and engrossing; a sincere reflection of what is art. For more information visit https://www.insideoffthewall.com

Megan Grabowski works full time for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania but for fun she enjoys volunteering, as a trustee for the Crafton Public Library Board, the Girl Scouts and as a contributor to Pittsburgh in the Round. Megan grew up attending community theater performances with her parents and relishes the escapism and adventure live productions provide.  Now, a mother to 2 teenage daughters, Megan is thrilled to see her girls enjoying live shows, performing on stage and creating playlists of their favorite showtunes. To keep up on writing trends, news and cool cultural stuff, follow Megan on Facebook @mjgrabowskiwordsmith

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