Posted by: Anya Martin | October 24, 2008

How PIFOF Changed Me

Recently, I tried to see the Gravity of Light exhibit by the revered Starn twins. In addition to moonlighting as a PIFOF blogger, I work a 9 to 5-er. Seeing that Gravity of Light was only open from noon-6pm during the week, I had to duck out early to get to the Strip District by 5. At 5:10, I am clearly standing in front of worn brick warehouse with the number 3000 tattooed across it. “3000 Liberty Avenue” the brochure says.

Gravity of Light

Gravity of Light

But I can’t find the entrance. I recognize a blurry poster of a gray-faced monk from promo materials, which is pasted over a small door that opens onto Liberty. I pull on the door. I yank. I push. Nothing. I try knocking. I knock louder. Perhaps I’m just at the wrong place. Luckily, I know who to call — Doug McDermott, technical theatre guru extraordinaire, and with Rob Long the heart of Clear Story Creative, the production company managing the festival.

“Doug,” I say, “Where’s Gravity of Light? I’m standing at 3000 Liberty Avenue, but I can’t get in.”

D: Are you across from City Collision car shop?

A: Yes.

D: You haven’t walked passed the Strip Club yet have you?

A: Nope

And then Doug does something amazing. He goes on a monologue something to the effect of:

“Well, maybe you can go in the back door. Duck under the railing between the Pipe Building and the red brick warehouse. Go up that little cobblestone side alley. Ignore the little, rusting, iron door off to your left, that’s just a closed shaft. Keep walking up the alley. You should see a little hill with clumps of grass ahead. The alley dead ends. To your right you should pass under a closed air conditioning shaft. It’s covered with a plywood circle. Keep walking. Now to your left should be two doors. That’s the back of the Pipe Building. One’s a large garage door, which the old railroad tracks run into, and then there’s a small door to the left of that. Try that door.”

This door is locked too, but I don’t care at the moment.

“Oh my God! Doug. That was amazing. You have this whole area memorized like a picture in your head. Do you have a photographic memory?”

He chuckles a little embarrassed, a little proud, and says “Ah, well no, but I just kind of have a memory for industrial or production details…I mean I can’t remember my kid’s birthday, but I know that kind of stuff. Want to see more?”


“Follow the railroad tracks to right in front of the Pipe Building. About two feet in front of the garage door, there’s part of a really old chain there. It’s huge. The links are like four inches or more.”

“Wow!” I quiz him, “What’s across from me in the alley?”

“The back of the brick warehouse. There’s a large white garage door and to the left of that a small metal door.”

“Holy crap!” I say, “Doug, you are a savant!”

Just then Karla Boos, artistic director of Pittsburgh’s Quantum Theatre drives up from an intersecting back alley. “Well, Doug,” I say, “Everything is still locked. They must have closed up early, but I gotta go, Karla Boos just pulled up.”

“Oh yeah,” he says. “Quantum Theatre’s storage is in that warehouse too.” I mean the guy must know every theatre pulley in the city!

Karla approaches. “It’s locked,” I say. “They must have closed early.” We engage in some conversation about the Festival. Something similar to:

K: Did you see Liga?

A: Oh, yes, what’d you think?

K: I thought it was a commentary on theatre and theatre people.

A: Well, I definitely think it was about the rules of pretend, so that makes sense.

She goes on to explain how her daughter was sure that the show was about reality TV. She had some good evidence to support this. Cool interpretations.

K: Did you see Sentidos yet?

A: Yes, I loved it. It’s incredible. It’s an experience.

K: Everyone keeps saying that. I’m seeing it tomorrow. But I must admit, I have a chip on my shoulder about it. It doesn’t seem like theatre to me. I mean, isn’t theatre about community experience? But then I guess, here we are talking about it. And I keep getting into conversations with people about it. Everyone asks me if I have seen it yet.

A: Yeah, that’s true. Everyone is talking about it.

We muse over this for a while, then realize we are both hunched over in defense of the cold win. We decide it’s time to leave the alley. I warn her that I may have write about this in the blog.

As Karla pulls away, I head back down the alley taking stock of Doug’s observations. The wind is cold, despite the gorgeous sunny weather. It’s an odd paradox.

I grew up in the country, and I always thought autumn sunlight was the most beautiful. The fields of shorn off crops and drying corn stalks just seem to glow soft shades of gold and orange. But as I head back to my car, I notice the same seems to be true of these tired Strip warehouses. Under the saturated hues of a fall sunset, they really look to be part of a gentle natural landscape.


I’m still stupidly wearing summer shoes though the weather has turned, and I feel every little piece of gravel and uneven sidewalk under my feet. My senses are still more awake after my love affair with Teatro de los Sentidos.

The entire PIFOF experience seems to be commenting on itself now. From one of my first articles interviewing Doug McDermott about the making of The Echo of the Shadow, to the experience of it. From Liga to discussions on theatre and community in Pittsburgh. I’m appreciating the enveloping fall light-even though I still have not seen Gravity of Light.

And though I’m exhausted from PIFOF, and it feels like my wrists might collapse and my brain turn to steam if I have to write one more blog at 5am – I am filled with an immense gratitude for this city and this festival. For this incredible embarrassment of artistic riches.

And like one of those NPR bits these days playing for Pittsburgh 250, “What Pittsburgh Means to Me,” I want to unabashedly write about “How PIFOF has changed me.”



  1. Thanks for all of your 5 am writings. They are incredible. They allowed those of us outside the area to live vicariously.

  2. I went to see gravity of light yesterday, my guess is that they had too many people complaining about not being able to find the entrance. There was a sign outside the door that said where to go in at. It was nice, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to see it. Do be warned tough, the girl at the front said that the glasses we had to wear were UV protected, but they are just plastic safety glasses.

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