The Understory fosters creative space for student performance


Image via Center for Creativity webpage

The Center for Creativity’s new space for Pitt students, The Understory, in room B50 of the Cathedral of Learning.

By Katelyn Kruszewski, Staff Writer

Spotlights illuminate a hardwood stage. A piano sits at the back of the stage, bordered by a yellow drum set on the left and an electric and an acoustic guitar on the right. Plush, brightly colored beanbag chairs line the back of the room, providing a lounge area for audience members. A microphone stands at the front of the stage, waiting for a performer. 

The Understory, the Center for Creativity’s newest space, is open to all Pitt students, staff and faculty looking to express themselves through performance. Located in B50 in the Cathedral of Learning, The Understory, which opened two weeks ago, has music practice rooms, a stage, podcast equipment and sewing materials.

Kit Ayars, director of the C4C, said the student-led Arts and Humanities Task Force approached the University in 2018 with the idea for a creative space.

The pandemic brought everything to a sharp halt. We’d hoped to be able to open the space as a concrete outcome of the Year of Creativity, but we’re happy that The Understory is open now. And of course the C4C will also continue to provide creative resources via The Workshop and in the Text & conText Lab,” Ayars said.

The Understory is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Reservations are not required — however, students and clubs can reserve times in advance on the space’s website.

Erik Schuckers, manager of communications and programming for the C4C, said the space welcomes all individuals 一 regardless of their major.

“I think it’s especially important for students who may not be enrolled in those programs, so if they’re not music majors for instance,” Schuckers said. “They still have an interest in theater or music and want to pursue it. It can be really difficult to find the space to do that. I think there was this real demand for that kind of space.”

Image via Center for Creativity webpage

The practice rooms lining the right wall are sound resistant and include a variety of performance-based tech and instruments, Schuckers said. The space also includes a Mac with two microphones. The Mac includes downloaded editing software, Audible, for podcasting and music editing. Other rooms hold an acoustic-based guitar, an electric guitar, a drum kit and an electric keyboard. 

Schuckers said The Understory is C4C’s first-ever designated space for student performance.

“We really wanted to be able to provide an opportunity for performance-based creativity on campus. Our other two spaces are focused on other kinds of creative making, but we were eager to have a space where music and podcasting and theater and dance and all the kinds of performance based stuff could live,” Schuckers said.

Ayars said the C4C consulted performance departments such as Theater Arts and Music to create the space. Through collaboration the organization focused on obtaining resources for performance-related fields.

“The C4C provides opportunities for all members of the Pitt community to create and collaborate no matter what their major or department might be,” Ayars said. “We consulted with a number of units on campus, including the Dietrich School’s theatre arts and music departments, to help us focus in on where there were particular unmet needs.”

The C4C plans to host many open mic events throughout the semester so that all Pitt affiliates can volunteer or perform live at The Understory. Students can perform with guitars, voice, poetry and more. 

Eoin Olswold, a senior mathematics major who attended the space’s first open mic on Sept. 29, said the space is accessible and enjoyable.

“Open Mic Night was incredibly fun. A lot of talented people got to perform that might not have had the opportunity to otherwise,” Olswold said. “Everyone got onstage experience in a supportive community.”

In addition to hosting open mic nights, Schuckers said C4C plans to collaborate with classes such as Intro to Performance so that they can use the space later in the school year. 

“We’re interested in working with faculty who want to bring classes in as well,” Schuckers said. “There are some clubs like the Musical Theater Club who have indicated interest in using the space for various performances this fall. As those develop I’ll be getting the word out on them.”

Olswold said he thinks the resources available within the area will be favorable for many clubs.

“The size and available resources make it ideal for a lot of clubs,” Olswold said. “I’m excited to use it for myself and with the clubs that I’m a part of, but also for events like open mic that are now possible.”

Schuckers said The Understory is a safe space for all individuals to explore performance.

“Even if you’re not sure if you’re a performer or not, this is a great space to discover those elements about yourself. You can come in and you don’t have to know how to play the piano already, right?” Schuckers said. “If you have a desire to play, you can play and nobody’s going to grade you. There’s no evaluation here. It’s a place to explore.”