By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
Of all industries affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, live performances are one of the most drastically impacted. Around the nation, organizations centered on live music and theater have had to radically rethink programming for this year and next. City Theatre, for instance, just concluded a very successful Drive-In Arts Festival meant to help address the incompatibility of live performance and pandemic restrictions.
Following that example, starting October 3, Pittsburgh Musical Theater will be hosting a series of artist spotlight shows in their new West End Canopy outdoor venue. “Michael Misko: Magician, Comedian, Cracker of Wise” will be the first in an ongoing series highlighting local performers.
This will be the first show open to the public at Pittsburgh Musical Theater since the pandemic cut their 2019-2020 season short in March. To solve the problem of how to continue staging programs, it was clear to executive artistic director Colleen Doyno that the organization needed to think outside the box.
“Once we realized that this was not something short-lived, that this was something that was going to continue, our most important thought was…’How do we get that face-to face interaction? How do we get our artists employed again?’” said Doyno.
Doyno and her team decided to investigate the possibility of creating an outdoor venue for live music and performances. Fortunately, Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s West End performance venue has a large outdoor parking area, an ideal space to erect a tent canopy.
“We did purchase a 40’ x 100’ tent canopy,” said Doyno. “We erected it in late May. The ten of us on our team put it together.”
Dubbed “West End Canopy” after the neighborhood it resides in, the tent theater is able to host live music and dramatic performances for 200 safely distanced audience members. Over the summer, the tent also hosted classes and showcase performances for students of PMT’s performing arts school.
The artist spotlight series will feature shows in October and November, as well as monthly performances next summer. The first will showcase Michael Misko, an internationally recognized magician and comedian based in Pittsburgh.
“That’s meant for the audience to feel an intimate conversation and music with a local artist…, not being in a produced, scripted show, but instead seeing the heart of them and hearing everything in their words,” said Doyno.
While the tent will not be able to remain through the winter, plans are already in place to reconstruct the tent for programs in summer 2021.
“It will be something we carry through December this year,” said Doyno. “We will take it back down, and in the middle of May next year, we’ll put it back up. We have a couple things scheduled for the months of June through October next year.”
But before the tent comes down, PMT plans to stage a holiday special, encouraging members of the community to brave the Pittsburgh weather and immerse themselves in a magical winter wonderland.
“We’re going to do a wonderful holiday celebration that involves the entire West End,” said Doyno. “It may be snowing, carolers will be on the street and we’ll have our winter coats on. I think it’s a way of bringing people out of their homes, away from their screens, and start to enjoy the world again.”
“Michael Misko: Magician, Comedian, Cracker of Wise” will play October 3 at the West End Canopy, 327 South Main Street. Audience members must wear masks and receive a contactless temperature test before entry. For more information, visit pittsburghmusicals.com.