August Wilson, one of America’s greatest playwrights, grew up in the Hill District and set most of his plays here. In Oakland, Carnegie Mellon offers one of the best drama programs in the country. City Theatre and the Pittsburgh Public are a one-two punch of regional theater excellence. The city has too many small acting companies to count. Most of our high schools put on a musical every year, culminating in the Gene Kelly Awards. And every Broadway tour stops in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh is a theater town. But our theaters are hurting.
In the New York Times, writer Isaac Butler recently chronicled the abrupt closing or downsizing of regional theatres and theatre festivals across the country, caused by shrinking subscriber bases, the pandemic’s effect on audiences and resulting rising ticket prices. Clare Drobot, one of City Theatre’s Co-Artistic Directors, told a Post-Gazette editorial writer that City lost close to 40% of their audience over the 18 months they had to shut down. “We’re still in recovery,” she said, facing the same “industry-wide challenges” as other local theaters.
Thankfully, another Pittsburgh tradition is the city’s commitment to philanthropy. The city’s foundation community with be essential to the renewed flourishing of the theater scene. While the city government’s efforts to support art and drama have stalled, Allegheny County has stepped up in the form of Regional Asset District grants to local theater organizations such as Dreams of Hope, Front Porch Theatricals, Kelly Strayhorn Theater, New Hazlett Theater, New Horizon Theater, the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, Pittsburgh Musical Theater, Pittsburgh Playwrights Company, Quantum Theatre and the Saltworks Theatre Company, among others.
But an infusion of cash, while helpful, doesn’t make up for the absence of an audience. No acting company wants to play to an empty house. It’s time for Pittsburghers to show up for, and at, our theaters. Luckily, there’s no shortage of Pittsburgh-related performances to see this season.
There’s “South Side Stories,” one of the upcoming shows at City, in which local star Tami Dixon revisits her 2012 one-woman show, telling new tales from the neighborhood. Or, at the Public this fall, there’s “Billy Strayhorn: Something to Live For,” a new musical about the Homewood-raised composer. Or, if you hurry, you can catch Joe Turner’s “Come and Gone” at the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company before it closes in September.
Or maybe you don’t care about a Pittsburgh connection, but would enjoy “Evil Dead, the Musical” (at Pittsburgh Musical Theatre in October), or the operatic work One-Log Bridge, which explores immigration at the New Hazlett in December. Or maybe one of the dozens of other shows around town this season is right for you.
The theater is a place to find community — somewhere it’s okay to laugh, cry and feel together. Our theaters, big and tiny, need us in their seats, this season. And we need them.
When the lights go down, let’s show up.
First Published August 21, 2023, 5:30am