Like so many cities in America, Pittsburgh is a city of immigrants. Each wave of new arrivals brings their own traditions, cultures, and stories. How these stories intersect with the culture at large is a major focus for Pittsburgh City Theatre’s next upcoming performance.
City Theatre’s South Side space will host Where Did We Sit On the Bus?, a hip-hop performance art piece conceived, written, and performed by Brian Quijada.
“The play is a one-man show, and he actually live-loops the entire soundtrack on stage,” says Clare Drobot, director of new play development at City Theatre. “The music is created on stage, he’s playing ukulele and looping beats and music to create this really special piece.”
When writing Where Did We Sit On the Bus?, Quijada took inspiration from a moment during his elementary school education in Chicago. The class was learning about the civil rights movement, specifically Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycotts. After learning black people were relegated to the back of the bus, while white people sat in front, Quijada wondered where people like him would have fallen in that racial hierarchy.
“He asked his teacher, ‘Where do I, as a young Latino man, fit into this?’,” Drobot says. “And his teacher responded with ‘Oh, next question.’”
That moment became the basis for Where Did We Sit On the Bus?. Through storytelling and music, Quijada examines how Hispanic culture fits into history and everyday life, especially in a world that often categorizes people as “black” and “white.”
“It feels incredibly prescient in how we talk about identity, culture and heritage in America, and it’s mixed in with the story of a young performer finding his voice,” Drobot says.
Quijada uses his own family and life story to make these points, discussing his childhood in the Chicago suburbs. The son of Salvadoran immigrants, Quijada talks about his parent’s arduous journeys from their home country to America, in the hopes of making a better life. After arriving, his father became a truck driver and his mother a housekeeper, trying to provide a stable life so that their children could reach success.
Quijada also describes how his early storytelling was influenced by his heritage. He describes how he would conjure up tales about his last name for his peers on the school playground. “Quijada” translates to “jawbone” in Spanish, and he would tell his friends that this came from a distant ancestor who could swallow people whole.
He also describes how this passion for storytelling transformed into his career in performing arts. A fixture in his high school theater department, Quijada describes looking to the audience during his performances, scanning the crowd for his parent’s faces. They only rarely attended, seeing theater as a “hobby,” not a professional pursuit. The evolution of their relationship in this regard is a focal point of the piece.
The show initially premiered in Chicago and played off-Broadway before coming to Pittsburgh. The show will be directed by Chay Yew, who directed the play at Chicago’s Victory Garden Theater where he is the artistic director.
“Brian is this incredible up-and-coming talent, and Chay is a legendary figure in the American theater,” Drobot says. “It’s exciting to be a part of that connection between Pittsburgh and the national theatrical landscape,” Drobot said.
Throughout the run of the show, City Theatre is offering several special promotions. Shows from January 19 to 24 will be “Pick-Your-Price-Previews,” where advance online tickets are offered for as low as $5, plus fees. Additionally, the performance on February 2 is a “pay what you want” performance, where a block of tickets will be available for whatever price a patron can pay.
The February 1 performance will be a particularly special event, titled “Green Room: Art and Afterparty.” The cast and artistic team will join a group of audience members in City Theatre’s Gordon Lounge after the show. House wine, Penn Brewery beer and snacks will be provided. Tickets for this special event are $30 and can be purchased online in advance with the promo code “GREENROOM.”
There will also be special performances for those with disabilities. American Sign Language interpreters will be present for the February 19 performance. Open captions and an audio description will also be available for those attending the February 17 performance.
Ultimately, Where Did We Sit On the Bus? is a story that will resonate with the Pittsburgh community, according to Drobot. And she is sure that Quijada’s charisma and talent will absorb theatergoers.
“People will fall in love with Brian,” Drobot says. “That’s the really unique part of this is seeing someone wear the hats of musician, actor, dancer, and writer all rolled into one.”
Where Did We Sit On the Bus? runs from January 19 to February 24, at Pittsburgh City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street. For box office and show time information, visit citytheatrecompany.org or call 412-431-2489.