Wanting a Bit of a New York Recess: On PLAYGROUND!

So being in New York is amazing, but it means missing the Playground Festival at Carnegie Mellon, and that makes me profoundly sad.

The Playground Festival has been an institution at Carnegie Mellon for seven years now. The main principle is that sometimes when you’re really busy learning how to make theatre, you don’t have a lot of time to just make theatre. Playground changed that, lending resources out to student productions, installations, readings, performance art, and (in recent years) the errant film.

By no means is the Festival perfect. There are three main production spaces and ticketing is always an issue in terms of both space within the theaters and the long lines that crop up at the beginning of every new ticketing session. As the Festival grows in popularity, more proposals get sent in which sort of inevitably means more proposals get rejected. Usually we all heal by the time Playground Week actually starts. (Or we become distracted by our own huge projects. Thank you Cass and Olivia for bringing me on to Dr. Horrible!)

Even with some of the hurt feelings, Playground is a wonderful opportunity for both students from other departments and other schools and citizens of greater Pittsburgh to figure out exactly what goes on in the School of Drama once you leave the infamous “watering hole” of a lobby.

The whole program is online at the CMU website and I encourage anyone who’s living in Pittsburgh to get up the nerve to venture into the primal world that is the Purnell Center for the Arts.

Some Pieces I Really Want to Make Sure You Don’t Miss

First of all, PigPen‘s The Nightmare Show, which is in the Chosky this year so seating shouldn’t be as limited as it usually is. Anyone who goes to or is associated with the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama tends to know what we mean when we say PigPen, but for the uninitiated I ask you to think back to the first time you slept outside without your parents. The first time you sat next to a fire and didn’t know what was waiting out there in the forest.

Failing any camping experience I want you to think back to the first time someone told you a story that took your breath away. The first time you forgot that the storyteller was your dad or your mom or your very tired older brother. That is the effect that PipPen achieves. That moment when your Scoutmaster who was just a big kid by day becomes a monster and a sage in the firelight.

I don't know where those young men think they're taking that lamp, but it's not going to end well.

(Photo credit Caitlin Kimball)

They describe themselves as such:

PigPen creates atmospheric theatrical fables with a unique blend of shadow puppetry, group movement, live music, and very clever lighting effects.

But it is so much more than that. It’s campfire theater. It’s an accordion and banjos and aquariums and funny faces and strange accents. It’s fairy tales with the savagery of the ancient and the wit of the modern. And it’s so much better when you don’t know what you’re in for.

Also, the music is amazing.

The Playground Festival is also a great place to find interesting adaptations of works like One Thousand Paper Cranes, Howl, E.P.I.C.A.C., the Tortoise, Pig and Other Unfit Children’s Stories, Playing Playboy (based on Gloria Steinem’s undercover work as a Playboy Bunny), Harold and the Purple Crayon, a musical version of the Gothic novel The Monk (I’m having a geekgasm right now!), and the performance that threatens to be even more epic in scale than Dr. Horrible was, A Clockwork Orange.

Plus so many interesting new plays and a slew of one person shows/cabarets!

There’s also The Good Samaritans Present: Thursday Night Live! in its final year. I am so heartbroken that these guys are seniors this year. TNL is way more consistently funny than Saturday Night Live‘s been for the last ten years. Not to damn them with faint praise, because, honestly, this comedy is funny, smart, and at times vulgar. Best of all worlds.

Another senior we lose with this festival is the best music director and one of the most talented people I know, Matt Aument, who will be giving his senior recital Friday night on the Philip Chosky stage. Everybody needs to go because I cannot and it is going to be the coolest thing in the history of the world. Nobody knows music theater like Matta, and if you give the boy a twenty piece orchestra, he’s going to want the best singers CMU’s got, and we’re going to want to keep him forever.

It all closes out with Under the Covers, the best exercise in celebrity impersonation ever!

Also, Jacob in the Elevator is going to be the coolest installation Playground’s even seen.

Sometimes I really wish I could go out and play. PLAYGROUND: YOU WANT TO GO TO THERE!

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