Playhouse shows serve audience interests and student training
Crafting a Winning Season
Theatre Department Chair Sheila McKenna at the Pittsburgh Playhouse.
Developing a new season at the Pittsburgh Playhouse is a complex process. Each year, even before the end of the previous season, the Conservatory of Performing Arts begins discussions about possible productions.
An artistic committee recommends selections for the two student companies, the Conservatory Theatre Company and Playhouse Jr. The group of 6-8 theatre faculty members reads dozens of plays over several months, often several at a time, and discusses them in meetings and via email.
The key consideration is student training, says Sheila McKenna, chair of the theatre department and head of the committee.
"We consider what's important in our students' training and what they are learning about genres, styles, movement, voice and speech in their coursework throughout all four years here," says McKenna.
First- and second-year students consider American Realism in depth, so the Conservatory Theatre Company regularly programs realistic plays. This year's selection is The Crucible by Arthur Miller.
Third-year students study styles and period works, and therefore the schedule regularly always includes a Shakespeare, Restoration or other period piece. This season, the company will produce The School for Scandal, a comic Restoration masterpiece, directed by guest artist Alan Stanford.
The first of two musicals, The Producers, will open the fall season and bring Tomé Cousin back to Pittsburgh to direct and choreograph and offer workshops for students on campus.
Students will also gain the insight of acclaimed director Jade King Carroll when she directs Seven Guitars by August Wilson and serves as a guest artist for the Conservatory Theatre Company.
Playhouse Jr. will concentrate its productions in the spring, offering three shows for children and young adults.
The University's professional company, The REP, will produce four works, starting with Tracy Letts's August: Osage County, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. Point Park's John Shepard will direct the production.
McKenna will direct the company's world premiere, Antarktikos by Andrea Stolowitz, opening in late March.
Each year Ronald Allan-Lindblom, vice president of the Conservatory and artistic director of the Pittsburgh Playhouse, makes the final decision on all of the season's shows after taking into account the Artistic Committee's recommendations and the advice of Earl Hughes, producing director, Kim Martin, production manager, Anthony Dennis, box office manager, and Chris Hays, marketing manager.
Including the student dance company's concerts, the Conservatory will host 18 main stage productions during the season and welcome up to 30,000 patrons.
"We have one of the most ambitious production schedules of any university in the country," says Lindblom.
"It provides our students with so many opportunities, and it allows the classroom to become the place to discuss what is discovered on the stage."
McKenna, who is now beginning her second year heading the theatre department, says this year's slate of shows offers much to the Conservatory's acting, musical theatre, stage management and technical theatre/design students in their training.
"We are particularly excited about this season," says McKenna. "The selections are diverse and well-written and present exciting challenges in language, movement, style and design."
Special Offer for Alumni
Point Park alumni receive a 50 percent discount off regular ticket prices. Visit or call the box office, 412-392-8000. For more information on the season, visit www.pittsburghplayhouse.com.
Text by Colleen Derda
Photo by Martha Rial
The Point is a magazine for alumni and friends of Point Park University