East Liberty’s teen splendor spotlighted

Janera Solomon wants to showcase the myriad of summer fun that exists in the community of East Liberty.

“East Liberty is very alive with people shopping. It is vibrant and strong and has a lot to offer,” said Solomon.

As executive director of the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater which is based in East Liberty, she is able to do just that.

GETTING TOGETHER—From left: Shakirah Stephens, 11th grade, CAPA; Shakara Wright, ninth grade, CAPA; Tyler Humphries-Randolph, eighth grade, Sterrett Classical Academy.

For the second consecutive year, the theater is presenting its summer series of dance, theater, music, film and visual arts in a celebration of East Liberty.

“Celebrate East Liberty represents what we do all year—fostering community, connecting diverse artists and audiences and opening our doors with programming that is interesting and affordable. This summer, we feature family-friendly activities and performances including free workshops with visual artists,” said Joseph Hall, programming manager at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater.

Alumni Theater Company, the Kelly-Strayhorn’s resident youth theater company, is performing “Bad Seeds.”

“Bad Seeds” showcases the talents of teenagers who reside in East Liberty who wrote and produced the production. The show sheds light on some of the angst that teenagers go through and how they deal with it.

During its year in residence at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, the Alumni Theater Company has performed work that is geared towards teen-related issues. The performances are formatted for everyone to enjoy.

“The Kelly-Strayhorn Theater has a real artistic presence in Pittsburgh and Janera thought that we would fit into what the theater is all about,” said Hallie Donner, artistic director of Alumni Theater Company.

According to Donner, the majority of the 26 kids in the theater company live in East Liberty and have attended schools in the area.

“The kids are growing up in an urban setting and I know this play will resonate with teens and other people too. Adults will be pleased to see the kids doing something positive and the kids are glad to have a positive and productive platform to present their work,” Donner said.

“Bad Seeds” will run July 22-23. Matinees will be held both days at 10 a.m. and priced at $2.50 per person to encourage people to come out and support the effort. An eve­ning performance will be held July 23 at 7:30 p.m. Evening admission for general seating is $10 and $5 for students, artists and residents in the 15206 neighborhoods.

“We wanted the theater to be filled with programming for the neighborhood and for the summer. We tried to find things that had a broad appeal to people because they don’t want to spend a lot of money because they are going to reunions and on vacations,” Solomon said.

One of the activities that was a big hit last year that Solomon decided to bring back is the $2 Movie Classics, a series of classic feature films that focus on music and dance. The final movie, “Rappin,’” starring Mario Van Peebles as convict-turned-rapper John Hood, will be shown July 26 at 7 p.m. Moviegoers will also be treated to a mixer prior to the showing of the movie with DJ SMI of Classic Material.

“We partnered with the Shadow Lounge to come up with movies that people would enjoy and we decided on ‘Beat Street’ and ‘Rappin’” for this year. Last year we showed classic ’70s films and folks really liked it so we decided to do it again. We hope people come out and support it,” Solomon said.

According to Solomon, the entire Celebrate East Liberty event is being paid for through a successful fund­raising campaign the theater held earlier this year. She said the theater’s summer budget is about $5,000 while the winter budget comes in significantly higher at $40,000.

“We were trying to be as creative as possible with the limited funds that we have,” she said. “We try to make our dollars stretch and keep our expenses low. We’re always working hard to get new donors. We’re plugging along.”

The Celebrate East Liberty event culminates with the Gene Kelly birthday party Aug. 21.

The day will celebrate dance and film icon, Gene Kelly who was born Aug. 23, 1912 in East Liberty. Activities for the day include birthday cake and a paper-making workshop.

The Kelly-Strayhorn Theater is one of the last nine theaters standing that existed during East Liberty’s heyday in the 1950s. It is named for Pittsburgh performers Gene Kelly and Billy Strayhorn. The 350-seat theater is located at 5941 Penn Ave.

“East Liberty is a great place. People see it as a place where nothing happens and we want to change that perception,” Solomon said.

(For more information on the Celebrate East Liberty summer series or Kelly-Strayhorn Theater events, visit www.kelly-strayhorn.org. or call 412-363-3000.)


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