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Performing Arts Showcase Signals Pittsburgh's Continued Reopening

An audience gathered Tuesday on Flagstaff Hill for Vanessa German's solo show "hypersensitive."
Bill O'Driscoll
90.5 WESA
An audience gathered Tuesday on Flagstaff Hill for Vanessa German's solo show "hypersensitive."

Even as the pandemic continues to play out, in-person performances are beginning to return in greater numbers to Pittsburgh. One is Open Air: A Series in Celebration of the Performing Arts. It’s the season’s first large in-person arts showcase, and it began Tuesday on Flagstaff Hill, in Schenley Park.

“This is I think my first big event since the pandemic,” said Erin Swift, of Swissvale, who had just watched Vanessa German’s solo show “hypersensitive” with a friend in the opening night performance Tuesday evening.

“It was amazing. Incredible. Transformative,” Swift said of German’s impassioned “essay for the stage,” which addresses American society’s failure to protect and value Black women and girls.

Swift was one of about 300 in attendance, most of whom occupied folding chairs on the Flagstaff grass. The performance, produced by Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co., played out on Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s big mobile stage. PBT bought the stage in 2020 with just such events in mind, and in March announced Open Air, which features two weeks of shows by some 20 local troupes.

“I believe it is the first play we’ve been out to” since the pandemic began, said Aaron Washington, of Sewickley, who also attended “hypersensitive.” He said he and his wife would be “looking for more things outdoors. Looking for the weather to warm up a little bit so we can enjoy outdoor activities.”

The folding chairs were provided by the organizers, and patrons were permitted to rearrange them in small groups for social distancing. Pittsburgh Playwrights sent messages to ticket-holders indicating that face masks were required, but only about half of the audience appeared to be wearing them while seated.

The Open Air series features dance, music and theater by groups including the PBT, Pittsburgh Opera, Attack Theatre, Lemington Gospel Choir, and more. All performances are free, though some – including Tuesday’s show – include ticketed VIP seating. Audiences can also sit on the lawn behind the VIP seating area.

A complete schedule is here.

Other upcoming outdoors showcases include the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival, which opens June 4. The festival, staged by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, originally announced that its six music headliners would perform indoors, at the Byham Theater, but later relocated the shows to the festival’s usual venue, in Point State Park.

After that festival closes, the Western Pennsylvania Juneteenth Celebration, including a Black music festival, will also take place largely in Point State Park.

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: