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International Festival Of Firsts To Kick Off Downtown In September

This fall will be a good time to be an arts patron in Pittsburgh. 

For eight weeks starting in September, the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts will host some 30 artists and companies from 20 countries, each presenting a show or exhibit that’s a premiere for the U.S., North America or the world.

PITTSBURGH INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF FIRSTS runs Sept. 21-Nov. 11, at various Downtown venues. For more information, see

This will be the fourth Festival of Firsts presented by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, and the first since 2013 – the year the event made a splash with a giant rubber duck moored at the Point.

But even absent oversized toy waterfowl, organizers promised at Tuesday’s press event that the fest will be memorable.

“This year is the biggest and most diverse festival that we’ve ever brought to town,” said Scott Shiller, who produced the series for the Trust. “It actually has twice the length and three times the number of shows [as the previous Festival of Firsts.”

Shiller promised “more than 500 arts events” including theater, dance, visual arts and music.

The festival was about two years in the planning. The guest curator was a name familiar in local arts circles: Karla Boos, the founder and artistic director of Pittsburgh’s adventuresome Quantum Theatre.

“I was looking for innovators,” said Boos. “I was interested in artists in various ways who were addressing super-contemporary issues.” Though the fest doesn’t have an explicit theme, Boos said, “I was looking for hope rather than a really dark perspective. So the festival has a lot of celebration of human capabilities even if dark stories are told.”

The festival’s visual-arts curator is Murray Horne, who runs SPACE gallery and Wood Street Galleries and has been part of all four Festival of Firsts.

Artists this year will include a Nigerian sculptor; theater companies from South Africa, Chile and New Zealand; dance troupes from Haiti and China; and a music group from South Korea.

“There is something for everybody, whether it is immersive experiences at Trinity Church, to small intimate experiences with only 17 other audience members, to large scale super-spectacle productions on the Benedum Center stage with 2,400 audience members,” said Shiller.

Most events are ticketed but some will be free. All will be at Downtown venues.

Boos said some of the shows she’s most looking forward to include Karoo Moose -- No Fathers, by the South African troupe Baxter Theatre Center; In the Tunnel, by Israel’s Gesher Theater; and Joan Didion’s The White Album, by American artists Lars Jan and Early Morning Opera.

Other shows to look out for include the North American premiere of “Flying Girls,” a sculpture by Nigerian artist Peju Alatise; the U.S. premiere of Cri des Nago, by Haitian dance troupe Ayikodans; and the U.S. premiere of Tago, a musical work from South Korea.

The award for best promo photos might well go to Brazil's Deborah Colker Dance, who'll bring the U.S. premiere of Cao sem Plumas.

Local troupes are also represented, with Boos’ Quantum itself staging a new immersive theater work titled Chatterton, and Bricolage Production Company collaborating with Israeli troupe Hanut31 Theater & Gallery on a radio-style show tantalizingly titled Larger Than Life: Frankenstein & Karate Man Patrick Kim.

Boos also promised that the festival’s Sept. 21 kickoff event will be an “exciting” signature event to rival Florentijn Hofman’s giant rubber duck, a free attraction that brought people to the Point in droves.