Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Karla Boos built Quantum Theatre to meet challenges usually of her own making. She has often said that she is fascinated by text that she doesn’t quite understand and energized by bringing it to life in a site-specific space.
In other words, Quantum is a company made for our times when theaters are reinventing themselves to meet the challenges of performing for an in-person audience during a global pandemic.
In an online announcement Wednesday of three 2020-21 shows, board director Carole King asked that audiences “take a leap of faith” with the company, which is what Quantum audiences always do. At the bidding of a new experience, audiences have followed Quantum to the edge of a lake in Highland Park, the ruins of a once posh Oakland restaurant and into nearly every nook of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Downtown, for an original work — plus dinner.
So it makes perfect sense that it is Quantum inviting us to share its hope and take the leap in bringing back in-person theatrical productions, beginning in August with Jay Ball’s irreverent contemporary adaptation of Homer, “An Odyssey.”
The production is contingent on many variables, including a possible summer surge of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania and Actors Equity Association easing its restrictions on contracts. There are no set dates on the schedule of just this reason.
But you can’t stop a theater company from hoping, and you can’t stop Quantum from planning the unexpected.
For “An Odyssey,” the actors will be performing with the Schenley Park rink, sans ice, as their stage, in a production directed by Jed Allen Harris and designed by Narelle Sissons.
The rink will be surrounded by benches for two, “with lots of room between them,” said Ms. Boos, while Ms. Sissons said the natural setting is appropriately “larger than life.” The biggest challenge likely will be amplifying sound to make up for the distance between performers and audience, but the nature of the story and natural setting gives the creative team license to go big.
“Hope” and “faith” were key words throughout the announcement, as newly named executive director Stewart Urist began by saying that slowly, carefully, “your environmental, highly innovative theater company is using every ounce of its ingenuity,” and taking every step that safety and science will allow, to return to in-person theater.
The second show of the season, slated for November, is “Chimerica,” previously scheduled to end the 2019-20 season but postponed due to the pandemic. It is the story of “The Tank Man” in the photo seen and felt around the world of a lone man standing before a tank in Tiananmen Square and the photographer who captured the image.
A cast of 12, including six Mandarin-speaking Asian actors, and the audience will spread out on an entire floor of the United Steelworkers Building, Downtown. As had been the production plan before social distancing became a necessity, the audience will be divided on either side of an elevator bank, with half seeing the U.S. portion of the play in person and the Chinese portion on screen, and the other half experiencing the show in the opposite way.
Art director Susan Tsu described “Chimerica” as a “Daniel in the lion’s den story — We have so many tank men in our world right now, represented by the Black Lives Matter movement, the #MeToo movement and the LBGTQIA movement.”
The recorded portion of the announcement found Ms. Boos in Westinghouse Park in North Point Breeze, site of the former estate of George Westinghouse and of the musical “The Current War,” about the rivalry that illuminated the world, between entrepreneur Westinghouse and inventor Thomas Edison.
Slotted for May or June 2021, “The Current War” was written by Michael Mitnick of Fox Chapel and made into a nonmusical film starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Edison and Michael Shannon as Westinghouse. Mr. Mitnick had set out to write a musical, starting in 2008, and it now will come home to its origins on the 175th anniversary of Westinghouse’s birth.
“The Current War” will be directed by Tome Cousin, his first Quantum collaboration, with Douglas Levine as music director. Singer Drew Leigh Williams and Mr. Levine unveiled a song from the show Wednesday evening.
Mr. Cousin said he was excited to be working on a story about the creation of technology that “all the characters think is going to change the world, which it did.”
Ms. Boos noted that the movie never realized Mr. Mitnick’s original vision, “which was a simple play with gorgeous music, so I’m so glad that Pittsburgh will get to see this world premiere and get to see this work as it was meant to be.”
Board president Ms. King noted that Quantum’s finances are in good shape and its staff has kept working throughout the COVID-19 shutdown, but no one is denying the uncertainty in the days and months ahead.
Ms. Boos’ fervent hope is that Quantum audiences will be watching “The Current War” around this time next year, and along with it, “Dr. Fauci rules benevolently, there is a vaccine in every clinic worldwide, and we’re gathered under a very large tent for social-distanced seating, in case we find that it is just plain fun.”