Pitt Stages to produce live theater this fall

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The theater arts department has yet to decide whether this year’s Pitt Stages shows will take place in person or be moved to a virtual platform due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

By Charlie Taylor, Culture Editor

Shakespeare said all the world’s a stage, which is good news for Pitt’s theater program, since the department’s actual stages may remain closed during fall semester.

Pitt Stages offers public plays put on by students and theater arts faculty. Faculty members and grad students direct Mainstage productions, while undergrads have the opportunity to write and direct Student Labs. According to Annmarie Duggan, the department chair for theater arts, the department has yet to decide whether the shows scheduled for the upcoming academic year will take place in person or be moved to a virtual platform due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Duggan said a number of options are possible for the fall — including limiting the audience size to ensure social distancing, livestreaming shows from the physical stage or doing the entire production over Zoom. She said the department is waiting until closer to the start of the fall semester to decide which option will be safest.

“Of course [an in-person show] is our first choice,” Duggan said. “We have not made that decision yet because we just don’t feel like there’s enough data to make it, but number one is the safety of our students.”

Duggan also said no matter how the fall semester pans out, students will still have the opportunity to perform, direct and do behind-the-scenes tech and design work as part of their theater education. For students interested in the technical side of theater, Duggan said their contributions to a Zoom show might involve making sure the audio and visual elements go smoothly.

“The opportunities will still be there,” Duggan said. “Students will still be able to audition, be cast [and] work with faculty directors, and student directors will be able to work.”

One student director working on a show for this fall is Jenna Teplitzky, a rising senior theater arts and history double major. As part of Pitt Stages’ Student Labs, which offer students the opportunity to write and/or direct their own plays, her production of professional playwright Melanie Marnich’s “These Shining Lives” is currently scheduled for mid-November.

The show follows the true story of the “radium girls,” a group of women working in the Radium Dial factory who sue their employer in the late 1930s after becoming ill from their working conditions.

Teplitzky said when she applied to direct a Student Lab, she was able to choose the play she wanted to direct. She said she selected “These Shining Lives” because the show contained mostly women’s roles and centered on women’s issues, something she thought was lacking in past Pitt Stages productions.

“I was auditioning at the theater department and it would be two roles for women in a show, 60 women audition, three roles for men in a show, 10 men audition,” she said. “[‘These Shining Lives’] is written by a woman, written about women [and] has four roles for women and two for men.”

With a historical play, Teplitzky said much of the work she has to do as a director involves putting together a team of student collaborators, including actors, stage managers, lighting designers and costume designers, not only to rehearse the play, but to consider how each element fits into the historical context of the story.

“We would develop the show through weeks of rehearsal, but even before that, meetings and artistic research. This is a historical play, so there’s gonna be a lot of historical research,” Teplitzky said.

Like “These Shining Lives,” the upcoming Mainstage production of “Miss You Like Hell” also focuses on uplifting often-marginalized voices. It tells the story of a young woman, Olivia, who goes on a cross-country road trip her undocumented mother, Beatriz.

According to Bria Walker, the play’s director and an assistant professor of theater arts, the show speaks to our current political climate while also telling a deeply human story.

“This story humanizes the immigration debate as well as some other policies within our federal and state governments,” Walker said. “You get to see these women try to navigate this complicated time in our current history.”

Walker said when selecting the shows to be performed this season, the Pitt Stages selection committee paid special attention to stories with important social and political implications.

“Some things we consider when producing a season of shows are what is going on socially and politically in the world [and which] shows we feel the student body needs to have experience with,” Walker said.

Walker also said whether or not her production will be in person, what really matters is that she will be able to tell a compelling story that she thinks needs to be heard.

“As artists, we have to be flexible and create with what is given to us in the moment,” Walker said. “No matter what decision we come to, the story will be told and it will be beautiful.”

Teplitzky also said no matter what happens with her show, she knows it’s just one opportunity she’ll have throughout her lifetime.

“My show is not the priority. Public health and safety is so important,” Teplitzky said. “There will be other shows.”

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