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Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts

The Cultural Trust presents some of the best in international and local talent, and Pittsburgh shines.

'Manifold'will wrap the facade of the Benedum Center in an exciting and constantly changing video art display accompanied by a musical score. (Photo: Renee Rosensteel)

‘Manifold’will wrap the facade of the Benedum Center in an exciting and constantly changing video art display accompanied by a musical score. (Photo: Renee Rosensteel)

Pittsburgh has produced many amazing firsts including the Salk polio vaccine, the Ferris wheel, and first movie theater. The city has continued to generate new firsts including those of the arts and entertainment variety since 2004 with the first Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts. Since then the Festival has also occurred in 2008 and 2013, attracting over a million visitors to each one. The Festival features the never-before-seen: Pittsburgh, North American, and world premieres of various works of theater, visual art, physical theater, music, dance, and there’s even a beer and wine event. Remember the sensation when the big yellow inflatable duck visited town in 2013? That was a whimsical piece of public art from that year’s Festival.

The 2018 Festival features 30 international companies and artists from 20 arts organizations, including several talented Pittsburgh companies and artists. Produced by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, 2018’s Festival is double the length of its predecessors and offers triple the number of attractions. It runs for eight weeks, from September 21 thru November 11.

Pittsburgh: International City of Arts and Entertainment

J. Kevin McMahon, president and CEO of the Cultural Trust, told Entertainment Central, “We wanted to bring to Pittsburgh individual folks from around the world. Plus include some locals who are international in terms of their talent. We want to foster interaction between different groups. Festivals provide context, and this one is a big undertaking that we have been working on for over three years.” He also said, “By bringing these incredible performances and exhibits from around the world and pairing them with outstanding Pittsburgh-produced arts, the Cultural Trust wants to put the spotlight on Pittsburgh as an international city and make sure it is recognized locally and by people around the globe.”

Such a large endeavor requires a lot of help. In 2016 McMahon enlisted Scott Shiller, then working as CEO of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, to become vice president of artistic planning at the Cultural Trust and producer of the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts. The goal of the Festival, Shiller said, “is to add gasoline to the Pittsburgh arts and culture scene. To be part of the next wave in the Pittsburgh cultural scene. To make Pittsburgh the next city to achieve international arts and culture status.” Shiller continued, “Ultimately, art is the universal language, no matter what language is spoken … There’s more that unites us than divides us. This festival is so diverse that it has something for everyone: a family, a date, a grandmother.”

Quantum Theatre Artistic Director Karla Boos, known for producing very innovative plays, was asked to be the guest curator for the Festival’s theater component. Boos said, “I accepted the gig with the condition that Quantum also be part of the Festival.” She continues, “It was great to work with the sophisticated team [at the Trust] looking for theatrical possibilities. It was important to have international and local work in the international festival. Artists are interpreting our times through the innovative and hopeful celebration of human capabilities.”

Yabin Wang 'Moon Opera.'

Yabin Wang ‘Moon Opera.’

Murray Horne, curator of the Trust’s Wood Street Galleries, curated visual arts for this Festival of Firsts and has worked on every one of them. He said, “Since the last Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts, our team has learned that artists in the U.S. are working with global partners on the cutting edge of the visual and performing arts, and we are excited to explore these intersections over the course of this international survey.” A cadre of talented people on the Cultural Trust’s staff have also worked diligently on the 2018 Festival. Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts is supported by the FACE Foundation, the Richard King Mellon Foundation, and The Opportunity Fund.

What to See

There are so many outstanding premiers of local and international arts and entertainment works that the true answer is to follow your bliss and see as many as you can. Make one stop to the exhibits and attractions in the Cultural District or several. Enjoy one or more of the special performance events occurring.

The big public art displays like Beyond, a light and sound simulated travel tunnel, and Manifold, which will project a custom multimedia display onto the facade of the Benedum Center, accompanied by music, are very impressive and good places to start. In the next section you will see our previews, based on information from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, of the various exhibits and events broken into the categories of art, theater, dance, and music.



PUBLIC AND VISUAL ART  (Free and open to the public.)

September 21 – October 26

Beyond Playmodes Studio | Spain | U.S. Premiere
An immersive audio-video installation that explores the relationship between space, time, and perception inside a long tunnel giving the feeling of traveling without actually moving.
Pittsburgh’s Cultural District (free admission ticket required).

September 21 and 22. Four performances only.

Manifold | Filip Roca & Wang Lu | Spain | World Premiere
Roca’s abstract audio-visual narrative will wrap around the Benedum Center along Penn Avenue and 7th Street, generating space distortions and optical illusions, bending and lighting the many intricate parts of the façade. Noted Chinese composer Wang Lu’s original score, written specifically for Manifold, will be played by an ensemble of Pittsburgh musicians from several different genres.
7th Street and Penn Avenue (wrapping Benedum Center façade).

September 21

Gallery Crawl in the Cultural District | Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
14-block map of destinations, hosting US premieres of international multimedia artists, regional visual art exhibitions, live music, theater and dance performances, film screenings, hands-on creative activities, and special crawl after dark attractions. Also international and premiere programming, including a Global Artist Market. Starts at 5:30 p.m.

September 21 – December 9

Machine Culture | International Representation | World Premiere
Artists orchestrate and reconfigure bits and pieces of discarded industrial objects and post-consumer technology, transforming them into “objects of fascination.”
Space Gallery, 812 Liberty Avenue.

'50 Cities - 50 Traces.'

’50 Cities – 50 Traces.’

50 Cities-50 Traces | International Art & Peace Project (2018-2020) | World Premiere
Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons signed in 1968, the art works juxtapose individual traces from 50 Mayors for Peace cities, highlighting the diversity and beauty of these cities and the daily life taking place therein.
937 Liberty Gallery, 937 Liberty Avenue.

Antumbra | Keny Marshall | United States-Pittsburgh | World Premiere
Artist Keny Marshall builds kinetic and sculptural works as an alternative to the invisible “blackbox” world that popular technology inhabits. He uses found objects and hand-built devices to constructs mechanisms that are often ridiculous parodies of technology. The works protest the concept that the things you own should be controlled by someone else.
707 Penn Gallery, 707 Penn Avenue.

September 21 – December 31

NONOTAK | Noemi Schipfer, Takami Nakamoto | France | World & U.S. Premiere
Nonotak Studio is presenting two light and sound installations including a new version of narrow.V3 created specifically for the venue and the US premiere of Daydream V.5. The displays create an ethereal, immersive and dreamlike environment meant to surround the viewer.
Wood Street Galleries, 601 Wood Street.

October 13 – November 11

'Flying Girls.' (Photo: Ibeabuchi Benson Ugochukwu)

‘Flying Girls.’ (Photo: Ibeabuchi Benson Ugochukwu)

Flying Girls | Peju Alatise | Nigeria | North American Premiere
Flying Girls,  based on the story of Sim by Peju Alatise, concerns a little Yoruba girl who lives in two alternate worlds. In one world, she is a nine-year old who is rented out as a domestic servant in the city of Lagos. In the other, she can fly at will.
August Wilson Center, 980 Liberty Avenue.


THEATER  (Ticketed Programming)

September 14 – October 28

History has many faces. So does deception. In Quantum Theatre's 'Chatterton,' actors (L to R) Tim McGeever, Jonathan Visser, and Tony Bingham play key figures in a web of mystery that spans centuries. (Photo: Jason Snyder)

History has many faces. So does deception. In Quantum Theatre’s ‘Chatterton,’ actors (L to R) Tim McGeever, Jonathan Visser, and Tony Bingham play key figures in a web of mystery that spans centuries. (Photo: Jason Snyder)

Chatterton | Quantum Theatre | United States-Pittsburgh | World Premiere
Chatterton offers a trifecta of poets in three centuries, colorful London with Dickensian characters bristling with humor, and deep debates on what is real, what is fake, asking, is anything ‘authentic’ in the intertwining worlds of art and commerce? Chatterton is directed by Karla Boos, Quantum Theatre’s artistic director and the Festival’s guest curator for theater. The production features an all-star cast. See our September Theater Guide preview.
Trinity Cathedral, 328 Sixth Avenue.

September 22

Only the children see, and only the children speak, in 'Blind Cinema.' (Photo: Maria Baranova)

Only the children see, and only the children speak, in ‘Blind Cinema.’ (Photo: Maria Baranova)

Blind CinemaBritt Hatzius | United Kingdom, Belgium | Regional Premiere
In the darkness of a movie theater, audience members sit blindfolded and behind each row is a row of children. In hushed voices, these children describe a film only they can see. See our September Theater Guide preview.(Co-presented: 2018 Multiple Choice Events)
Harris Theater, 809 Liberty Avenue.

October 3 – 6

Gab Bonesso of 'Gab Squad.'

Gab Bonesso of ‘Gab Squad.’

Gab Squad | from the Josh and Gab Show | United States-Pittsburgh | World Premiere
Stand-up comic, and renowned childrens’/family educator, and musical artist, Gab Bonesso has her own unique mix of energetic songs, heartfelt discussion, and interactive comedic lessons, all with a message of tolerance and the celebration of creativity in participants.
Trust Arts Education Center, 807 Liberty Avenue.

October 5- 7

Joan Didion’s The White Album | a project by Lars Jan / Early Morning Opera,
co-commissioned by Center Theatre Group and BAM | United States | World Premiere
The White Album is theater meeting performance art. This innovative production brings Joan Didion’s seminal essay to life—performed in its entirety by Obie Award-winning actor Mia Barron—with a glassed-in ‘stage within a stage’ and a surprise behind every onstage door.
August Wilson Center, 980 Liberty Avenue.

October 11 –  13

In the Tunnel | Gesher Theater | Israel | North American Premiere
This gripping dark comedy finds two Israeli soldiers face to face with two Palestinians trapped in an underground tunnel. Enemies in a mousetrap they must now confront their greatest fears in order to escape; will they kill or save each other? Is there light at the end of the tunnel?
(Co-presented: 2018-2019 Cohen & Grigsby Trust Presents)
August Wilson Center, 980 Liberty Avenue.

October 12 -13

What’s That? | Teatr-Pralnia with CCA Dakh | Ukraine | North American Premiere
A super-charged puppet cabaret of real time events and Facebook feeds, iconic Ukrainian poetry, catchy vamps, and improvised action. Rambunctious and audacious, the piece asks its questions through the intense lens of childhood. How do we understand? Who are we in a time of sensationalized information and deceptive surfaces? Where is our place in our world and in history? What’s That??
Trust Arts Education Center, 807 Liberty Avenue.

October 17- 21

Mrs. Krishnan’s Party | Indian Ink Theatre Company | India, New Zealand | North American Premiere
When 100 strangers unexpectedly turn up for DJ James’ Onam party, his landlord Mrs. Krishman has no choice but to throw the party of her life. An immersive theater experience. The audience joins the party where there’s music, dancing, and a vegetarian dal is prepared live for each performance. Come as you are or wear that festive sari.
Trust Arts Education Center, 4th Floor, 805 Liberty Avenue.

October 25 -27

Midnight Radio presents 'Larger Than Life: Frankenstein'

Midnight Radio presents ‘Larger Than Life: Frankenstein’

Midnight Radio presents Larger Than Life: Frankenstein & Karate Man Patrick Kim Bricolage Production Company & Hanut31 Theater & Gallery | United States-Pittsburgh, Israel | World Premiere
Fictional worlds collide when larger-than-life stories of Frankenstein and Karate Man Patrick Kim are told in old-fashioned radio play style. Pittsburgh’s Bricolage Production Company pairs with Tel-Aviv’s Hanut31 to present this two-part limited-run engagement using Foley sound effects during the performance.
937 Liberty Gallery, 937 Liberty Avenue.

October 25 – 28

Karoo Moose – No Fathers | Baxter Theatre Center | South Africa | U.S. Premiere
The play details, with cleverness and creativity, the disintegration of the family unit and the violation of innocence endured by so many South African children. It combines African storytelling and magical realism.
Trust Arts Education Center, 805 Liberty Avenue.

November 2 – 10

Androcles and The Lion | Teatre Gruppe 38 | Denmark | Regional Premiere
(Co-presented: 2018-2019 EQT Bridge Theater Series)
Experience this legendary tale of danger, deception, and kindness in an unexpected and immersive way while reclining in a hammock under a radiant sky.
Trust Arts Education Center, Peirce Studio, 805 Liberty Avenue.


PHYSICAL THEATER  (Ticketed Programming)

September 25 – 30

HotelCirque Éloize | Canada | World Premiere
Hotel is the story of a place and the travelers who come passing through it. A stopover where lives intersect, collide and juxtapose for a brief time to generate tales and memories. The story takes place on an avant garde set with acrobatics, theater, dance and live music. See our September Theater Guide preview. (Co-presented: 2018-2019 PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh)
Benedum Center, 237 7th Street.

November 2 -3

ESPÆCE | A piece by Aurélien Bory and Compagnie 111 | France | Regional Premiere
Based upon the essay, “Species of Space – Espèces d’espace” by French writer Georges Perec. Bory combines elements of dance, music, magic, and circus in his visual theater productions.
August Wilson Center,  980 Liberty Avenue. 


DANCE  (Ticketed Programming)

October 13

Cão sem Plumas | Deborah Colker Dance | Brazil | U.S. Premiere(Co-presented: 2018-2019 Pittsburgh Dance Council)
The story is inspired by Brazilian writer João Cabral de Melo Neto’s poem, “Cão sem Plumas,” or Dog Without Feathers, is set in the beautiful yet impoverished Capibaribe River Region in Brazil. Tension between the elite and the river people come to a head as the dancers cover themselves with mud. Actual projections of the river enhance the production.
Byham Theater, 101 6th Street.

October 26 – 28

Cri des Nago | Ayikodans, founder Jeanguy Saintus | Haiti | U.S. Premiere
Ayikodans is considered to be the premiere professional dance company of Haiti. Their productions feature a new, contemporary Haitian aesthetic that is rooted in tradition, but also reflects a modern Caribbean culture and creativity.
August Wilson Center, 980 Liberty Avenue.

November 3

Moon Opera | Yabin | China | North American Premiere(Co-presented: 2018-2019 Pittsburgh Dance Council)
Noted Chinese choreographer,Yabin Wang, tells the story through the lens of Chinese culture and contemporary dance of a Peking Opera performer struggling between her dreams of artistic stardom and the harsh realities of maintaining her traditional role as a woman in society.
Byham Theater, 101 6th Street.


MUSIC  (Ticketed events)

October 1

Eva Noblezada: Direct from London | United Kingdom | Regional Premiere
International star Eva Noblezada makes her Pittsburgh concert debut. She’s starred on the West End of London and also on Broadway in the title role of Cameron Mackintosh’s epic revival of Miss Saigon. She is a 2017 Tony Award nominee. She’s also been singing in her own cabaret act which she will do for the Festival. (Co-presented: 2018-2019 Trust Cabaret Series)
Greer Cabaret Theater, 655 Penn Avenue.

October 18

Tago: Korean Drum IIKook Soo Ho, Angella Kwon, Kim Euik Hyoen | South Korea | U.S. Premiere
Tago means “Lighting Up the World by beating drums” and this show does just that with a mixture of traditional Korean drums and a hint of martial arts.(Co-presented: 2018-2019 Cohen & Grigsby Trust Presents)
Byham Theater, 101 6th Street.

November 6

Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra. (Photo: Martha Rial).

Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra. (Photo: Martha Rial).

Liberation | BNY Mellon Presents JazzLive: The Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra Featuring Sean Jones | U.S. | World Premiere
The Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra, featuring Sean Jones on trumpet, will perform several different pieces written and arranged by its members, which also includes a newly commissioned piece written specifically for this performance and inspired by the work of James Baldwin.
Greer Cabaret Theater, 655 Penn Avenue.


BEER AND WINE  (Ticketed events. Subscription only)

October 3

Wednesday Wine Flights: International Blind Flight Night | Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
This event will feature wines from several countries of artists appearing here in Pittsburgh for the International  Festival of Firsts.
Greer Cabaret Theater, 655 Penn Avenue.

October 16

Craft Beer School: Cheers! Prost! Nazdrovia! | Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
To celebrate the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts, this class will take us around the world sampling brews from the various countries represented during the Festival. Gene Ribnicky will host.
Greer Cabaret Theater, 655 Penn Avenue. 

Photos, videos and event info courtesy of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and the artists.          

Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central.