Playwrights, actors perform under pressure during 24-hour event


Photo by Aaron Dobler

From left to right: Brett Goodnack, Cheryl Walker, TaeAjah Cannon and Sara Williams rehearsing their playing during the Bricolage Production Company’s “B.U.S. 10” event Feb. 28 at the New Hazlett Theater in Allegheny Center. 

By Aaron Dobler

The Bricolage Production Company staged “B.U.S. 10,” the tenth installment of its annual performance-based fundraiser, at the New Hazlett Theater in Allegheny Center on Feb. 28. The event consisted of six plays that were written, directed and performed within a 24-hour period, a silent auction, and VIP access to the process and the parties.

The two-night event raised over $30,000 for the company, which will be used to launch their 2015 season. They also reported a record-breaking audience that included famous Pittsburgh filmmaker Rick Sebak and Mayor Bill Peduto, who proclaimed Feb. 28, 2015 to be “B.U.S. 10th Anniversary Day.”

Bricolage was formed in 2001 as a guerilla theater company that created a heightened sense of involvement for audience members. The company has staged works in locations as diverse as the Union Project, an old firehouse, the boiler room of a South Side brew house and a vacant fitness center, but consider 937 Liberty Avenue the center of operations.

The Bricolage Urban Scrawl (B.U.S.) event has since outgrown their Downtown space, and rented the Northside’s New Hazlett Theater, which has ample performance and event space.

“It all starts when we put six different playwrights on six Port Authority buses,” Jackie Baker, general manager of Bricolage, said.

The bus rides were 90-minutes long and included as many Pittsburgh neighborhoods as possible. The project starts on the bus because public transportation provides a diverse glimpse into Pittsburgh’s daily life.

“Some people are getting steel mills in the background, and some people are getting college universities,” Baker said.

When the playwrights returned to the theater, six directors and 24 actors were waiting for them. Before splitting into six teams of four actors, the playwrights and the directors listened and watched as the actors each told personal “scar stories” about physical or emotional traumas. These stories helped determine which actors were right for each team.

The playwrights wrote through the night and submitted their scripts by 8 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 28, and then the actors and directors took over, finding space wherever they could throughout the theater to memorize their lines and work on their blocking.

“We have to launch six brand new plays and put on a fundraiser. At the same time, all around the theater they are rehearsing six completely brand new plays for the very first time,” Baker said.

At 6:30 p.m., each playwright was allotted a 15-minute tech rehearsal to run their show from cue-to-cue in the main theater, while out in the lobby the VIP reception was already underway.

“In the lobby, it’s a nice time and a party, and people are chatting and talking with excitement,” Baker said. “But behind the doors, there is more pandemonium than you could ever imagine.”

At 8:00 p.m., the doors opened, and the performance was treated as if it was any other show. The audience took their seats, and ready or not, the players took the stage.

Participation in B.U.S. is invitation-only and is considered a sign of acceptance into the Pittsburgh theater community.

“We try to mix veterans and new-timers so that everybody gets a good dose of it, but it’s hard to find people who are even willing because it’s so risky,” Baker said.

Actor Tommy LaFitte, whose film credits include “Out of the Furnace” and “The Silence of the Lambs,” found himself playing a pastor in a play called “This is a Love Story,” under the direction of Cameron Knight, an assistant professor of acting in the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama.

He was initially nervous about participating in one of the B.U.S events, but he was looking forward to the challenge. His troupe found an open space in the theater’s basement to rehearse.

“I had a lot of anxiety, but once I was in there, it was so much fun,” LaFitte said. “Good acting is hard. It takes a lot of courage. I get the lines to where they’re second nature, and then I turn it over to my instincts, and it just seems to flow.”

Meanwhile, at the top-level of the theater, Sheila McKenna, who is no stranger to the B.U.S. event, directed her troupe through “The Parade” by Peter J. Roth.

“I’ve done a bunch of them,” McKenna said. “Most of them have been as a director, and that’s the best possible position, believe me, because the acting part is terrifying. You basically squeeze a four-week rehearsal process into eight hours. It’s so much fun.”

“B.U.S. 10” was more than just a fundraising event. It was an intense and satisfying experience for everyone involved.

“Everybody knows that these plays did not exist yesterday, and that’s part of the excitement,” Baker said. “When you’re watching it, anything can happen.”

McKenna added: “It’s like a boot camp of sorts for actors. If you can survive this, you can do anything. At 7:35 p.m., everybody is in abject terror downstairs in the dressing room, but at 11:30 p.m., everybody is happy and laughing…and wants to do it again.”

Northside Chronicle Donation