Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Quantum Theatre Tackles the Fast-Moving, Epic Drama Chimerica

 

        While it may take a village to raise a child, it takes fourteen actors playing close to 40 characters in nearly two score of scenes to bring to life Chimerica, a fictionalized dramatic look that starts with the premise that Tank Man may still be alive and goes on to explore bigger issues including freedom of the press, journalistic ethics, societal corruption and the effects of industrial pollution on the global ecology.

        If you’re old enough to recall, the image of a Chinese youth (Tank Man) who stood valiantly in front of a string of tanks during the Tienanmen Square demonstrations in Beijing on June 4, 1989, spread throughout the world like wildfire, setting off protests against the Chinese regime.

        British playwright, Lucy Kirkwood, fleshes out a play that spans two decades and flashes back and forth between scenes set in Beijing and New York with warp speed celerity. It’s no wonder that Quantum Theatre’s artistic director, Karla Boos chooses, as part of a pre-curtain prelude, to show two players on either end of a ping pong table volleying back and forth to establish the swift to and fro movement from locale to locale and time period to time period.

        This is one show where you have to keep not only your eye on the ball but an attentive ear to the dynamics of the dialogue as well.

Ariel Xiu (Liuli), Brian Kim (Zhang Wei) and Hansel Tan (Zhang Liu)
Credit: Quantum Theatre

        What follows is a Q&A with Quantum Theatre’s artistic director, Karla Boos, who also directs the show that discusses some of the issues around this provocative play.

Q: I read in the program forward that you saw the play in London in 2013. What was it that drew you in so much to want to do it here in Pittsburgh?

A: Well, I’m always attracted to plays that are sparky and innovative in the way they communicate, and also look for plays that I think will especially benefit from Quantum’s sensibilities, I guess I’d say we go for big ideas and themes but present them very intimately… Chimerica checked those boxes. But of course, I also felt its subject was relevant and important… what I couldn’t know was that would grow so much due to world events between that time I saw it in London and the year I finally got to present it.

Q: More relevant since the time you first saw it? Would you like to explain how?

A: Oh, first we thought it was more relevant than ever as Hong Kong activists seemed to be making serious headway in stopping suppressive intervention from Mainland China. Then came terrible persecution of Asians in America (or perhaps heightened awareness of what had been going on for a long time.) Sadly of course the Hong Kong protests produced a crushing backlash and now the play is more relevant because Xi Jinping has seen this as the moment to flex all the control muscles he’s got. And it’s always a good moment to look at how we’re complicit in what we criticize.

Q: With such an abundance of scene changes, how problematic was this for set designer Noah Glaister?

A: We did need space, for the fluid movement of pieces, and a good smooth floor, and good proportions for our room, to tell this sweeping story!  Noah worked hard to solve problems elegantly, and that was actually a whole team effort – light, sound, projections, props, costumes all elegantly move us through the many scenes lightning fast.

Kyle Haden (Joe) and Allison Weisgall (Tessa) Credit: Quantum Theatre

Q: I was particularly impressed with your use of the Chinese stringed instrument called the erhu, performed by Mimi Jong, who also composed and adapted the music. I felt that it gave an appropriate atmospheric aura to the play between scene changes. How did this idea come about? Did the playwright suggest something similar or did this concept spring from your creative team?

A: That was our idea… because we’re blessed in Pittsburgh with Mimi Jong. We’d have been crazy not to want her and all she brings.

Q: I see that Susan Tsu is given credit for art direction. What does this mean and how did she contribute to the production?

A: I wanted to collaborate in every way with this great artist and person, the minute I saw it I wanted to elevate her to be our fearless leader (as she’d actually been on many shows working under the title of Costume Designer in the past.) She inspires everyone with a million ideas, and she brings incredible personal experience of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, as well as the perspective of a Chinese American, with all its complexity.

Q: I understand that the actors were cast in January of 2020 and that the project was halted with the rise of covid. During the interval between January of last year and now, was there any interaction between you and the actors and creative team either by phone, Zoom or the Internet to discuss the road going forward? If so, how much did it go toward sculpting the vision of the play?

A: We had several points of very emotional contact – because we cancelled, rescheduled the production twice. It’s very emotional that we are all intact now, these 2 years later.  But we didn’t ‘work’ on the play… we were all working on all our pandemic projects, reinventing ourselves time and again!  And maybe we were just holding our breaths… IF we were lucky enough to get to do it, we’d come together with everything we had. And that’s what happened. The actors knew all their lines on first day (that never happens). We shared our personal ‘origin’ and ‘affiliation’ stories at Susan Tsu’s suggestion, and all cried, and then we got to work.

Chimerica is at The Maverick (former East Liberty YMCA), 120South Whitfield St. Pittsburgh through December 19. Run Time: Act One 65 minutes, Act Two 65 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. For tickets and more information, phone 412-362-1713 or www.quantumtheatre.com/chimerica/

Monday, November 29, 2021

W&J Arts Series: Dan Kamin presents Chaplin’s THE KID at 100


In 1921 Charlie Chaplin’s THE KID took the world by storm. The story of a penniless tramp who adopts an abandoned infant struck a powerful chord in the aftermath of a devastating war and equally devastating pandemic which left millions dead and thousands of children orphaned. In THE KID at 100 renowned mime artist and comedy choreographer Dan Kamin reveals what keeps this film fresh, funny and incredibly moving to this day. The program begins with the screening of a beautifully restored print of the film, followed by Kamin’s illustrated talk and a lively audience discussion.

November 30, 2021

Author of The Comedy of Charlie Chaplin: Artistry in Motion, Dan trained Robert Downey, Jr. for his Oscar-nominated performance in Chaplin, after which Downey said, “Dan’s insights are amazing.”

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Saturday, November 27, 2021

Holiday Shopping at Lana's Little House.

 

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Handmade Arcade Virtual Market is LIVE! Shop online now through Cyber Monday and feel good about shopping small this holiday.

 

What will you find?

Time to get comfy with your favorite beverage, relax, and shop from home now through Cyber Monday.

With 1000s of one-of-a-kind items made with love by over 200 artists and makers, the Handmade Arcade Virtual Market is your go-to place this holiday weekend for all your gift-giving needs. 
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Create a personalized account to save your favorites as you browse by clicking the heart icon ♡ in the corner of the slideshow on each maker's page. Then visit the FAVORITE MAKERS  page to make your purchases.
Items pictured are only available at the Virtual Market. Capes from The Rowdy Ladybug, romper by Beans Threads, soap by Up in Suds, earrings by Reware Vintage, print by Sadly Harmless, bag by BicycleTrash, scarf by LaVerne Kemp Studios.
Handmade Arcade In-Person Market  (next week!)
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GIVING TUESDAY IS ALMOST HERE!

We believe Handmade Arcade is a public good. After seventeen years, our core remains the same — we’re here to support makers as much as possible, to help them grow their small businesses, to support them in trying new ways of crafting, and to connect them with you. 

Giving Tuesday, the largest fundraising day of the year, is quickly approaching. This extremely important day helps to ensure that Handmade Arcade continues to serve Pittsburgh’s maker community for years to come. 

The maker community in Pittsburgh is special and strong — and you're a part of it. If you believe in what we're doing — and we think you do — we hope you'll help.

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