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Report from the IPAY Showcase in Pittsburgh

February 5, 2010

Just got back from the annual Showcase sponsored by IPAY (International Performing Arts for Youth). IPAY is made up of arts presenters, artists, and artist managers, all on a mission to bring high-quality performing arts to young audiences. I love being involved with this group because I meet all kinds of people from around the world who share my passion for getting kids hooked on drama, music, dance, storytelling, and other live theater. During Showcase I was voted onto the IPAY Board of Directors. It’s a tremendous honor to receive this recognition from my peers. I’m totally psyched about taking on a leadership role in the organization.

About 300 people attend the IPAY Showcase each year. We see shows—a LOT of shows—from companies around the world. This year there were 20 full-length showcases, as well as “spotlights”—10-minute excerpts—of an additional 23 shows. The companies were from the U.S., Canada, the U.K., the Netherlands, Spain, Australia, and even Iceland. I’ve discovered some of my favorite shows and companies through Showcase and brought them here to the State Theatre. Among them are Det Lille Turneteater’s astonishing Hamlet and the playful, touching Snowflake. This week is the State Theatre’s residency with ScrapArtsMusic, an ensemble I first saw at the Montreal Showcase in 2003. I’ve been waiting seven years to get them here!

Showcase is held in a different place each year; this time it was in Pittsburgh. Our host was the Pittsburgh International Children’s Theater, which is part of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. The Trust has transformed downtown Pittsburgh by restoring the city’s grand theaters, building new facilities, commissioning public art projects, and developing urban parks and riverfront recreation spaces. I have to say… the vast array of Pittsburgh’s arts resources made me more than a little envious! We saw Showcases at nine different venues, including the brand-new and totally cool August Wilson Center. Loved the sail-like exterior and rich purple interior.

When I wasn’t watching showcases, I was in the exhibit hall talking to artists and artists managers, participating in professional development sessions, and of course, partying with friends and colleagues! With so many activities packed into four days, the conference kept me hopping from 8am until as late as 11pm. By the way, the Director of Marketing at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is none other than Marc Fleming, who used to be Marking Director at the State Theatre. Marc and I had a chance to catch up a little over lunch at a fantastic restaurant called Nine on Nine. If you’re ever in Pittsburgh, give it a try.
Pittsburgh was my 16th Showcase, but my first time as a member of the Selection Committee. Our group met back in June to review the submissions and choose which ones would be awarded a showcase slot. I felt both excited and a little scared; conference attendees can be absolutely brutal if they don’t like the showcase selections. I can tell you, the screening process is difficult! The committee makes its selections based on videos—always a risky proposition when it comes to assessing live theater. A couple of shows didn’t quite live up to their videos. The opposite happens, too. There was a one-woman show called Nearly Lear, an ingenious retelling of Shakespeare’s play. Based on the video, we awarded it only a ten-minute spotlight. Seeing it live, we all wished we’d given it a full showcase. Still, the feedback was that the Selection Committee did a great job overall.

Two of my favorite productions presented at Showcase were Australian imports. Plop! is a quirky, imaginative show for very young children. We Built This City, a “public construction extravaganza,” is an installation piece in which kids and families build and then destroy an entire city made out of thousands of empty cardboard boxes. I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun! With any luck, you’ll get to see these shows someday at the State Theatre.

—Lian Farrer, Vice President for Education, State Theatre

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