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Pittsburgh Troupe Offers Pandemic Theater In A Storefront

Between physical distancing, masking mandates, and Zoom meetings, many of us are feeling a bit alien toward each other lately. But a Pittsburgh theater troupe has found a new way to explore our common humanity while still playing following COVID-19 safety precautions.

In the family-friendly production “Beep Bop Boop Is Alien for ‘I Love You,’” Big Storm Performance Collaborative offers the premise of a friendly visitor from another galaxy who’s dropped in to take some pointers from Earth humans. A lone actor is stationed behind a glass storefront on Penn Ave., in Bloomfield, while the audience of up to six people will occupy chairs on the sidewalk.

Communicating by cellphone as well as gestures, audience members teach the curious alien about being human by exploring concepts from facial expressions to dreams and goals. The discussion topics will be posted on a sign in the window. The show lasts just 15 minutes. (The exact address will be revealed only to ticket-buyers.)

Three actors will take turns portraying aliens: Micaela Corn, Taylor Couch, and José Pérez IV. Pérez said test runs of the show have gone in interesting directions.

“We’ll start by being confused about, you know, what stir fry is, but it somehow gets to the point, people are talking about deep memories they have and their sort of core values,” he said.

Big Storm is a newer troupe. But while “Beep Bop Boop” isn’t its first show, it’s the first since the pandemic began.

“We just wanted to give people the opportunity to actually go out to the theater again and have that really intimate experience … while still feeling totally safe,” said Couch.

Audiences will be required to wear masks, and patrons of a given show are expected to all be a part of the same “pod,” said Pérez.

Pérez, who attended graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh, said the show grew out of interactive theater work he did in New York City, with some advice from Stop Motion Plant, a troupe that has staged storefront theater in Chicago.

“The premise of an alien is a very judgment-free way to let people tell us truth about being human and what they think,” said Couch. “And as aliens we’re able to just celebrate whatever they say, and that’s been a really cool thing we’re looking forward to exploring with our audiences.”

For more information, see Big Storm’s Facebook page.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: bodriscoll@wesa.fm
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