Tell our readers what they can expect from “The Devil Is a Lie.” How does it build on the age-old tale of Faust?
At the risk of sounding cliché… expect the unexpected. “The Devil Is a Lie” is not your typical theatrical experience. There’s no announcement before the show starts to tell you to please silence your phones. In fact, we WANT the audience to use their phones the entire time. They’re going to be just as much a part of the show as our cast members. By doing this, we’ve created an immersive experience for every single person participating.
This will be a great show for people who aren’t “theater people.” You’ll be served a cocktail (if you’re over 21). You can walk around and take photos and talk to the cast. It will feel like an exclusive event. If you’ve never been before, this should be your entry into theater. But if you are a person who goes to the theater regularly, you’ll enjoy what is hopefully a new twist on the familiar form.
The story of Faust is 500-some years old. It’s pretty well known in Western literature – a man sells his soul to the devil in order to gain knowledge. There have been several iterations of it, including a 1938 adaptation by Gertrude Stein called “Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights.” Playwright Jennifer Chang has taken elements of both versions, mixed them together with pop culture, celebrities, and capitalism and created an amazing example of a revitalized classic. She’s done what the theater does best, which is create stories for us in the current moment — she’s made this ancient story applicable to the world we live in.
Like other Quantum shows, this won’t be staged in a traditional theater but in the Frick Building downtown. What role does the Gilded Age setting play in this production?
We can’t create this kind of environment in a theater setting — it would be too expensive! Scenic Designer Sasha Schwartz and I looked at the elements of the Frick Building and the Tenant Innovation Center and we’re able to transform those elements to put together the look of George Fast’s company Voltaire. It’s the merging of old and new money, Pittsburgh history, and industrialists and what they built and how it’s been reclaimed. You walk into the space and you see the touches of old buildings with modern tech. You see new money — excess, how people spend their money very quickly, flash.
As for your career, how’d you get into theater, and in what other ways are you involved in the arts here in Pittsburgh?
I grew up in Bethel Park — there are some great shots of me doing a play at the Oliver Miller Homestead in South Park. I enjoyed performing arts in elementary school, I joined the drama club in middle school, and then in high school I did every play that I could.
I think I first realized it was possible for me to have a career in the arts when I was a junior in college (at Wake Forest). They brought in a guest director who was a working professional and he saw promise in me and he told me I could pursue the arts beyond my education. It really meant something. That gave me the confidence to apply to grad school; I went to Columbia for my MFA and that was the first step on the path to a professional career in theater.
I really credit the resources of this area. People outside of western PA think of Pittsburgh as a blue-collar town focused only on sports. But they don’t know or understand our deep connection and understanding and love of the arts. My brother and I were talking about this the other day: growing up, we had access to all these incredible artistic opportunities. And he went down the path that lead to a career in music, and I went down the path toward a career in theater. He’s now the Dean of the School of Music at University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
I’m the Senior Associate Head and an Assistant Professor of Acting at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama. After graduating from Columbia, I worked out of New York for a while and then spent a couple of years in Oregon before moving to Chicago. And then the position at CMU brought me back to Pittsburgh. I was excited to come back and see the robustness of the theater scene here, to see all the companies doing all this great challenging work and being recognized on the national scene. I never thought I’d have the chance to come home for work, but being in Pittsburgh has actually enhanced my career in every way.
What are some of your favorite past productions to look back on?
I was part of a really incredible “Hamlet” production at the Shakespeare theater in DC. It was an all-star cast that was really, really fantastic and fun. And I directed “Hamlet” at the Island Shakespeare Festival – right after my son was born (talk about life-changing). I also directed a fun production of “The Winter’s Tale” at the Island Shakespeare Festival. It was really a mashup of “A Winter’s Tale” and “The Lovely Bones,” the Alice Sebold novel. I still don’t understand why it worked, but it did and was a really great experience.
I did a super long tour of “Raisin in the Sun” about 15 years ago that went to Cleveland Playhouse, The Guthrie, and Arizona Theater Company. That’s one of the artistic highs in my life — with an incredible cast, great cities, and it was right around Obama’s election and inauguration, so that was a really special time.
And “Chimerica” was my last role with Quantum Theatre. People like me don’t get to play roles like that so that was a special experience.
Whether arts events, food or other fun, where do you like to spend your downtime locally?
Right now, because it’s Lent season, a big one for me is Wholey’s Fish Market. It’s a great place to bring out-of-towners. And I’m currently trying to master the art of getting in line at the perfect time on a Friday.
I love coffee. A vital part of my day is figuring out the closest place to get a good cup of coffee in hand. Espresso a Mano, ARRIVISTE Coffee Roasters, de Fer — I calculate where I’m going and how I can get an outstanding cup.
Of course, I’m a devoted Steelers fan and try to see them as much as possible. And my family and I also never miss an opportunity to get lost in a maze at Simmons Farm.
Lastly, how long does “The Devil Is a Lie” run, and what other projects do you have coming up in 2023?
“The Devil Is A Lie” opens on April 7 and runs through April 30. Tuesday and Sunday evening shows are at 5:30pm, Wednesday – Saturday performances are at 8pm. There are a few special performances: Pay What You Can Night on April 5, Community Night on April 6, Opening Night with post-show reception on April 7, Sunday Q&A with the cast and crew on April 9, Social Q pre-show reception on April 12, pre-show wine tasting at the Quantum Quaff on April 13, and psychological post-show discussion of the characters Quantum on the Couch on April 22. And it’s all at Tenant Innovation Center in The Frick, 437 Grant Street.
For the rest of 2023… In late May and early June, I’m leading ColLABo, which brings together diverse cohorts of American theater artists for two weeks with a focus on developing new stories centering minority populations and marginalized voices and reinterpreting established plays to explore diverse perspectives.
In July, I travel to Colorado to direct “The Royale” at Creede Repertory Theatre. As that wraps, I move on to Milwaukee Rep in September for the world premiere of “Parental Advisory: a breakbeat play. To end the year, I’m directing “Miss Bennett: Christmas at Pemberley” for City Theatre from late November to mid-December.
And in between all of that excitement, I’m going to spend as much time with my family as possible.
Know of a person or organization that we ought to feature? Email your suggestion to firstname.lastname@example.org, and you could see their name in an upcoming newsletter!