Theater Notes, August 2021: To mask or not to mask? Ask the question, be decisive

Recurring commentary By Sharon Eberson

An informed audience is a safe audience, so here’s the latest on safety protocols for some August theater offerings in Pittsburgh.

As many theaters in our region are gearing up for the move indoors with outdoor shows. Quantum Theatre has already been there for most of June and is headed back again.

The nomadic company that matches environment to content was among the first up for in-person, post-shutdown performances with The Current War  — in a tent, in a park. For that world-premiere musical, patrons were masked, and temperatures were taken upon entry, where people were seated in pods. The company is back in a park, but this time out in the open, at the rink at Schenley Park for An Odyssey, opening Aug. 13. There are no requirements for the general admission seating. Chairs will be placed so groups can create pods, but there will be no escorted seating like there was for The Current War.

This week, Pittsburgh Public Theater returns for in-person performances with Barefoot in the Park — in a park. More precisely, Allegheny Overlook resides in the previously westbound lanes of Fort Duquesne Boulevard between 7th and Stanwix streets. Registrants for the free event in the public space have been instructed to BYOC — bring your own chair.

This is new territory for the Public. They have observed the concerts at the Overlook have attracted many more people than the 250 person capacity for Barefoot. There will be front-of-house folks on site for those in need of assistance.

One theater company that has rarely slowed down for the pandemic is Stage Right! of Greensburg, now holding shows at the outdoor Lamp Theatre. On its website, there is a warning for ticket-holders that:
“All Performances Subject to Change at ANY time to maintain Social Distancing and Mitigation Guidelines and Regulations.”

Before Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s planned indoor season gets underway, it has held outdoor concerts under its West End Canopy. Next up in its Artist Spotlight Series are Caroline Nicolian and Quinn Patrick Shannon. Temperature check, masks, and social distancing are among PMT’s protocols.

As Broadway gears up for reopening- Pass Over at the August Wilson Theatre follows Bruce Springsteen as the first shows to welcome patrons back indoors.To celebrate, West 52nd Street, between Eighth Avenue and Broadway, is closed to traffic Aug. 4 from 8-11 p.m. for a block party with live music and to-go food for purchase.

When The Band’s Visit reopens the PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh Series on Oct. 28, we may not know where the unvaccinated and the variants will have taken us. Still, we do know that tours and the presenting companies must abide by the Broadway League/Actors Equity agreement reached last week. Right now, those include masks and proof of vaccination for audiences, with children 12 and younger showing proof of recent negative tests.

If there’s a point here, it’s be safe and smart by being informed.


David Toole, whether with his rock band Identity X or has a voice that can fill Pittsburgh’s largest auditoriums — imagine what it can do from a mountaintop.

Folks in the Red Mountain region of southwest Utah don’t have to imagine. The Pittsburgher is currently starring in the title role of The Count of Monte Cristo, the Frank Wildhorn musical, at the picturesque Tuacahn Center for the Arts amphitheater.

Toole, a rocker, got his stage start with Ken Gargaro at Pittsburgh Musical Theater and has appeared in several Pittsburgh CLO shows. In a Tuacahn article for the Salt Lake Tribune, Toole said that it has been “a dream come true” working with Wildhorn and librettist/lyricist Jack Murphy.

“These two guys are the best at creating these larger-than-life narratives and these soundscapes that transport you to this huge world,” Toole is quoted.

The setting, tucked into the Red Mountains, is spectacular. Checkout Toole’s Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/p/CRR5BlvDbvR/?utm_source

Mark Clayton Southers, one of the busiest people in Pittsburgh showbiz, recently premiered his long-time project, Cyril, directed by Andrew Paul, at the Heinz History Center. The work-in-progress film expands Southers’ footprint as a writer. It spotlights Dr. Cyril Wecht, playing himself, being interviewed by a TV team (David Whalen, Sam Lothard) about some of his landmark cases in the context of Black Lives Matter. The black-and-white film also features Susie McGregor-Laine, Jenny Malarkey and Cherrita Southers.

Southers, the head of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company, can now add screenwriter and opera librettist to his list of credits. On Aug. 1, the Trilogy: An Opera Company in Newark, N.J., presented The Martinsville Seven, created by Dwayne Fulton from a text by Southers. The opera tells the true story of seven young men sent to the electric chair after being convicted of raping a white woman. Kevin Maynor produced the opera, with Julius Williams conducting and Dennis Robinson directing.

Trilogy: An Opera Company’s production of “The Martinsville Seven,” by Dwayne Fulton and Mark Clayton Southers. Photo by Mark Clayton Southers

The Martinsville Seven were executed in groups of four men and three over three days in 1951 at the former Virginia State Penitentiary — the most executions for crimes against a single victim in state history. There were mass protests at the time about the imbalance of sentencing imposed on Black people. Last year, the relatives of the executed men, along with the Innocence Project, requested apologies and posthumous pardons.

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