Pittsburgh actor Tami Dixon returns with "South Side Stories Revisited"
Only a decade separates Tami Dixon’s hit one-woman show “South Side Stories” from its new follow-up, “South Side Stories Revisited.” But the neighborhood has changed enough that this play honoring the people who live there will feel very different.
The veteran actor and writer debuted “South Side Stories” at City Theatre in 2012. It comprised a series of in-character monologues based on dozens of interviews Dixon conducted over four years, from the comic to the poignant. The show proved so popular that the South Side-based company brought it back the following season.
Last year, City asked Dixon to revisit the show again, but not reprise it outright. Co-artistic directors Mark Masterson and Clare Drobot wanted her to update it for a South Side that has since undergone a wave of new development and an influx of new residents, not to mention weathering the same travails as most every other neighborhood, from the pandemic to the opioid crisis.
“South Side Stories Revisited,” whose first preview performance is Sat., Jan. 13, covers all that ground and more. While a couple of monologues remain from the original, most of the 90-minute show is based on material from more than 40 interviews Dixon did with South Siders just this year. She conducted many of them the same way as she did the first round: out on the neighborhood’s sidewalks, hitting up strangers for stories.
There’s a librarian who keeps Narcan on hand for people who overdose. There’s a homeless vet. A Brazilian immigrant who’s lived in the neighborhood for three decades but gets abused by neighbors for being a stickler about litter. A husband and wife from Portugal, and a husband and wife who’ve each lived on the South Side their whole lives.
The show features scenic design by Tony Ferrieri and scene-setting projected animations by David Pohl, who also did the honors on the earlier production.
The original round of “South Side Stories” were told in the figurative shadow of the vanished J&L Steel mill, and largely by those who survived heavy industry’s collapse here in the 1980s. Dixon said “Revisited” is more concerned with recent time, perhaps especially the rupture that was the pandemic.
“It's not about the past,” she said. “We're not reaching 50 years back and talking about the mills. We're talking about right now and right now is confusing and scary. And how do you make a theater piece that's not prescriptive, you know, that allows the voices to be showcased without my personal agenda on top of it? How do I write a love letter to a world that's on fire?”
Dixon is different too. When she started doing interviews for “South Side Stories,” about 15 years ago, she was relatively new to the city, a South Side Slopes resident herself, and still searching for community. She’s since become an integral part of Pittsburgh, both as co-director of Bricolage Production Company and as a performer with credits with most of the city’s big independent theater troupes. (Last year she starred in “What The Constitution Means to Me” at City Theatre.)
Dixon developed “South Side Stories Revisited” with Drobot and the show’s director, Matt M. Morrow, a friend since their undergraduate days at Carnegie Mellon University who also collaborated on “South Side Stories.”
“What I was able to find underneath all of the pain and confusion of the right now was real beauty. And real dignity,” she said. “And people that are fighting for change, and people that are fighting for this community that they've lived in all their lives, or this community that promises something and they've just arrived and they want it to be what the promise was.”
“What I want to do — I'm not speaking, you know,” she added. “I'm listening. My job was to listen, and this is what I heard.”
“South Side Stories Revisited” runs through Feb. 18. More information on the show is here.