Book Documents Pittsburgh's Theater History

Article excerpt

Lynne Conner used to think that Pittsburgh had no significant theater history.

She accepted the conventional wisdom that Pittsburgh was and is a blue-collar town with blue-collar tastes, a town that rejected new theatrical ideas and had no professional theaters before the Pittsburgh Public Theater opened in 1975.

"I assumed, like everyone else, that nothing (theatrically speaking) had happened in Pittsburgh, or, more accurately, nothing that mattered," says Conner, a Squirrel Hill resident and playwright, arts consultant, theater historian and an associate professor of theater at the University of Pittsburgh, where she teaches courses in theater, dance history and dramatic literature.

It wasn't until 1996 that she began to think differently.

That year, she became the resident playwright for the Sen. John Heinz Regional History Center. Conner began researching local history for a series of plays that were performed at the History Center. Along the way, she encountered artifacts and accounts about Pittsburgh's theatrical past.

"As the evidence of Pittsburgh's theatrical past piled up, I began to wonder if I was missing something important," she says."I realized that stuff happened here, and nobody knows it."

Intrigued, she widened and intensified her research. Five years ago, she decided to turn it into a book: "Pittsburgh in Stages: Two Hundred Years of Theater," which University of Pittsburgh Press published in late June.

"I realized that this is a story that hadn't been told, and it was up to me. There was misinformation out there, and I wanted to correct it," she says.

Beginning with the 1790s and continuing into the late 1990s, Conner provides strong and abundant evidence of a vibrant and continuous theater community that changed along with the social and economic communities that embraced it. …