For the first time in half a decade, Quantum Theatre is coming back to Downtown. The nomadic theatre company is poised to take over the majestic Union National Bank lobby in the historic Carlyle building for a whirlwind thirteen performances of J.T. Rogers’Madagascar. The play, which begins its run January 31, is set against the faded elegance of contemporary Rome.
“This play wanted to reference antiquity,” says Karla Boos, Artistic Director for the production. “Some plays want something gritty and industrial. But some don’t. [Madagascar] seemed to want touches that are classic, of a different era.” Boos also notes the unintentional synchronicity that emerges between the space and the play. For instance, the space is dominated by three marble columns. In the play, there are several trios: mother and twins, love triangles, and only three parts. Likewise, The Carlyle’s past as a financial institution, as well as its location in Pittsburgh’s historic financial district, speaks to the role that economic theory plays in the story of Madagascar.
Most of these things are happy accidents or the results of solutions to the problems of transforming a bank lobby into a theater. “Wonderful things come from our need to solve practical problems,” Boos says. “Marble is a cold surface—and bad for acoustics.” To soften the echoes, Scenic Designer Stephanie Mayer-Staley hung shrouds along the lobby’s walls. Madagascar is full of secrets; its characters are shrouded in mystery. “It’s an appropriate image,” Boos adds.
Quantum Theatre’s road to The Carlyle has been dependent on several partnerships with Downtown organizations, including the Pittsburgh Downtown Community Development Corporation (PDCDC) and Carlyle developer, the E.V. Bishoff Company. It began, again, with a happy accident: the PDCDC’s Communications Coordinator Hadley Pratt had been interviewing Ms. Boos about Quantum, and the subject of The Carlyle came up. Pratt knew someone who knew someone. “It was completely by chance,” Pratt says. “Very fortuitous.”
Quantum, Boos says, is ecstatic to be back in the center of the city. “We often feel like we’re a rogue artistic happening where there maybe isn’t as much art or theatre,” she says. “But it’s fun to be a part of the whole cultural center that is Downtown.” Adds Pratt: “Because [Quantum Theatre] is nomadic, it can translate to any place. It offers something different from what Downtown already has. I’m interested to see what Downtown does with Quantum!”
It’s hard to say when Quantum will return to Downtown. As always, the play dictates the space, not the other way around. But searching for the right setting for Madagascar has opened Quantum’s eyes to the opportunities that exist in the heart of Pittsburgh. All these spaces, just waiting to be transformed.
“What makes Quantum happen,” Boos adds, “is the open-minded thinking of people like those at the E.V. Bishoff Company. It’s a win-win. Two thousand people experience their building”—and Quantum gets a fantastic space for its production.
Catch Madagascar in The Carlyle at the corner of Fourth and Wood, beginning January 31 at 8 p.m. Get tickets now at https://www.quantumtheatre.com/tickets