Tami Dixon's South Side Stories premieres at City Theatre
Yinz ready for some stories ’bout the ’burgh?
Pittsburgh is known the globe over for its distinct and authentic neighborhoods--90 to be exact--and now one of them is coming to life on the stage, ready for its close-up. Showcasing the very nabe it has called home since, City Theatre
presents the world premiere of South Side Stories
, with local theater pioneer Tami Dixon making her playwrighting debut.
Written and performed by playwright and actor and South Side resident Dixon, co-founder of Downtown-based Bricolage Production Company, South Side Stories
runs November 10th through December 16th, in City Theatre’s Hamburg Studio Theatre. Opening night performance is Friday, November 16th, at 8 pm.
Taking audiences on a vibrant, hometown adventure, the ambitious one-woman show depicts a dynamic neighborhood--from steep city steps and teen rebellion, to the J & L plant and local haunts--via more than 100 interviews with South Side residents, multimedia projections by Pittsburgh-based artist David Pohl and original music by Nathan Leigh.
Out of this neighborhood
From the slopes and the flats, to the vibrant East Carson Street commercial corridor, theater-goers will experience a new perspective on the place where parking chairs and bar stools mark personal territories, where “paradise” is just one turn off 26th Street. And who better to weave the stories embedded within the street, steps and stoops of the South Side than the diverse populations of residents and business owners who have call it home? To bring these testimonials and shared experiences to life, Dixon plays 24 characters in the show.
Originally the village of Birmingham--an area annexed to the city in 1870-- the South Side was settled by German and Eastern European immigrants who sought work in Pittsburgh's steel mills. Now it's home to an eclectic mix of long-time residents, students, university and hospital employees, and artists, and young professionals. The neighborhood's 20-block portion of East Carson St. boasts countless eateries, bars, boutiques, and galleries, while quaint side streets and layers of row houses surround the business district.
Dixon began working on South Side Stories in 2009, after receiving a fellowship from TCG/the Fox Foundation,
which support the process of developing new works. An actor since age 2, Dixon has always felt at home on the stage, and was eager to participate in the process of play development and writing.
A Cleveland native and graduate of Carnegie Mellon, Dixon returned to Pittsburgh in 2005, after living in New York City. She moved to the South Side Slopes and immediately began to observe, and was struck by, Pittsburgh and her immediate neighborhood.
"I was really inspired and charmed by the South Side--the steps sprawled all over, the driving etiquette, the narrow streets and the parked cars. For 100 years, the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company dictated what life would be like here. The shadow that mill cast is deep and large and full of pride, says Dixon. "It built the rest of the country, the railroads and the Brooklyn Bridge, and now it has disappeared and is a mall."
"I am big believer in stories as a method of growth," she adds. "I am really interested in stories of survival, of blue collar, salt of the earth, hard working people. I am from Cleveland so I get that. I recognize myself here, and my father, in all of the people who live here. It screamed to me that there are stories here on the South Side."
Sharing South Side voices
To cull stories from a wide variety of South Side residents, Dixon organized a "Story Cart Tour," during the summer of 2010, setting up shop outside local businesses, such as Cupka’s Cafe and the Beehive coffeehouse. She was even invited to attend a cookout, where she met Mike and Nancy McMay. whose stories and family figure prominently in the play.
Along the way, Dixon recorded and wrote down stories shared by more than 100 neighbors, strangers, random passers-by, immigrants, and long-time and new residents, including women who have been making pierogies at St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Church on S. 7th St. for 60 years.
"I believe people want their lives to be witnessed. They want to tell their stories and hear their own stories in other people," says Dixon. "I went into this process not knowing what the result result would be. It was organic, and I did not want to place any barriers or methods in my way. I wanted to allow the project to unfold."
The resulting content, which ranges from the highly funny and poignant, to the deeply personal and sad, addresses a myriad of human experience, including addiction, race, community, family, loss and death, and the issue of what is left in a community over after something goes away.
"It's an unflinching look at a community I see myself in. I started out as a tour guide taking people through the South Side and then I had to address how and why I am connected to them, and why I was the one telling the stories. It's been an incredible learning process for me about the craft I have been in for most of my life," adds Dixon. "I realize these people have been in my body for years and now I am putting them into a physical space. I am telling real people's stories and I have to be really careful about honoring them."
In talking with older residents, Dixon learned that many feel that there is a lack of respect for what they have endured and witnessed in life. "I really hope that this microcosm I am talking about in detail can give a macro view. I would love to go on a Rust Belt American Tour. These stories speak louder than just the South Side or Pittsburgh."
Beyond the words
The creative team for South Side Stories
, which helped to realize Dixon's vision for merging words, images and sound, includes Tony Ferrieri (set designer and director of production), Sylvianne Shurman (costume designer), Andrew David Ostrowski (lighting designer), Nathan Leigh (composer and sound designer), David Pohl (projection designer), Carlyn Aquiline (literary manager and dramaturg), and Sheila McKenna (dialect coach).
Producing artistic director for Bricolage Production Company, which she runs with her husband, Jeffrey Carpenter, Dixon is a member of The August Wilson Center Theatre Ensemble and a recipient of a TCG/Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowship.
Director of South Side Stories
and associate artistic director at City Theatre, Matt M. Morrow received a BFA in directing from Carnegie Mellon, where he teaches in the university’s School of Drama. A member of the Lincoln Center Director’s Lab, Morrow is currently working on Jennifer Haley’s Froggy
at 3LD in NYC, which will make its world premiere at ACT in San Francisco.
Weekday matinees of South Side Stories
will be performed on Wednesday, November 28th and Wednesday, December 5th at 1pm.
View a complete performance schedule
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