Pitt Stages in Collaboration: PPT’s The Importance of Being Earnest

Alumni and collaborators of Pitt Stages often meet up for work in Pittsburgh’s vibrant local theatre scene. Most recently, Pitt Theatre Arts was strongly represented in the Pittsburgh Public Theatre’s most recent rendition of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

We decided we’d catch up with them and ask a few questions about what it’s like coming from their unique Pitt Stages background, how it feels to work with old classmates and friends, and what they learn anew with each show. Check out what they had to say!


Special Guests:

Annmarie Duggan (Pitt Stages professor and IOBE Lighting Designer)

Kyle Huber (Pitt Stages alum and IOBE costume designer)

Joseph McGranaghan (Pitt Stages alum and IOBE cast)

Alex Manalo (Pitt Stages collaborator/choreographer and IOBE cast)


What drew you creatively to PPT's The Importance of Being Earnest?

Annmarie Duggan: In preproduction I really enjoyed the world we were looking to create.
Kyle Huber: As a member of the staff, I was excited when Earnest was announced as a part of the season. I think the play is hilarious, Oscar Wilde’s humor has held up so well for so long. The 1890’s is also probably my favorite period of historical fashion so getting the opportunity to dig into some of the construction methods and details while building these costumes was really exciting.
Joseph McGranaghan: Mostly it was Jenny Koons, the director and adaptor, whose reputation as a creative and boundary-pushing artist precedes her. Her casting call for the show said that she was hoping to build the piece collaboratively with seven "clowns" who could explore the humor and heart in the play through a classical and contemporary lens. That was music to my ears.
I also just love working at the Public. Everyone at the theater is so talented and kind. Great work happens there.
Alex Manalo: I was drawn creatively to The Importance of Being Earnest because this play is such a classic. Oscar Wilde is a genius playwright, he was so ahead of his time and you know I never performed this show before, so I was really excited to really sink my teeth in, and the fact that it was an adaptation by the brilliant director/adaptor Jenny Koons, I was really intrigued to play and collaborate and see how we can make this classic play our own.


What is your favorite part about collaborating cross-theatrically? Do you learn/are you able to teach any new skills?

Annmarie Duggan: I always learn from every show I do and that allow me to bring that experience back to the classroom.
Kyle Huber: I think what I have enjoyed most is hearing what their experiences where like when they were in school. Getting to hear about shows and experiences that I wasn’t around for is fun but it’s also interesting to learn about what traditions or ways of doing things that we all got to experience.


What is your favorite part about collaborating with Pitt folx outside of Pitt? 

Annmarie Duggan: Working professionally with other Pitt folks always brings me so much pride.
Kyle Huber: Sharing a vocabulary, having classes and instructors in common, swapping stories. There's a kind of unspoken connection and pride in Pitt Theatre that bonds you to other actors from the program. 
Alex Manalo: I love it! I love meeting new people I love learning and working with people who are trained elsewhere who do theatre in DC or do theatre in New York I just love talking with them about their experiences, and what has brought them success/what they think could be changed, just really getting the theatre minds working and melding together is really really neat.


How has it been similar or different working with PPT vs. working with Pitt Stages?

Kyle Huber:  Working at PPT has been great. For me the most similar aspect has been that I’m always learning something new. Costuming/Sewing is something that takes so much time to learn and get good at so getting to work with people who have all different skills, experiences, and bits of knowledge that I can learn from has carried through both costume shops.
Joseph McGranaghan: In terms of professionalism and commitment to artistic excellence, Pitt Stages and PPT have a lot in common. They both have long histories of shaping the theatre scene in this city. In both settings, I have had the opportunity to learn from great directors and more experienced actors.
For me personally, though, working onstage at Pitt and PPT have been very different experiences. Pitt Stages shows were among my first experiences onstage. I didn't work at the Public until I returned to Pittsburgh after being away for almost 2 decades. It is interesting to compare the two experiences because I inevitably compare myself as a young artist just learning the craft to myself at 40. I think about the ideas and training I've held on to, the things I've jettisoned, the ways I have changed. I'm happy to say I've grown as an actor. Life experience alone is a part of that. But I've taken what I learned at Pitt and tried to constantly continue my training. 
Alex Manalo: Working with PPT is similar to working with Pitt Stages in the sense that the creative teams, designers, and actors are all really on the same page. The designers always attend the production meetings and the communication is really strong, which I found really helpful when putting together a show because it does take a mid-sized village to put together a show. It’s not easy, but everyone does their part and really steps it up, which I always appreciate.  Its a bit afferent working with PPT they are celebrating their 50th year anniversary next year so they’ve had a long time to really work out how they want to run their theatre company, and they bring people from all over. So I’m from Pittsburgh. I’m one of the three actors from Pittsburgh, we also have Dylan Markey Myers who is a Pitt alum and Joe McGranaghan, but the 3 of us are locals and the 4 other members of the cast are coming from all over which is a bit different from Pitt but it is also the same because if you think about it, a lot of students are coming from all over auditioning for Pitt stages and so you get people from all different backgrounds.


What advice would you give a current student before they go out into the world and become a collaborating alum themselves?

Annmarie Duggan: As always, they should come prepared and ready to work hard. Above that that should know they are going into this show with family and that is always an exciting place to begin.
Kyle Huber: If you’re a design/tech student, I’d absolutely recommend reaching out to local theater companies and the local chapters of IATSE to see about getting on their hiring call lists. The connections I was able to make by taking a last-minute sewing call led to being a dresser on that show, and then sewing for and dressing several more shows, and eventually to a full-time position here at PPT. I also owe my ability to do this job to my time at Pitt. Part of my job is managing our costume stock, helping to pull things for our designers and for outside rentals. I wouldn’t be able to do that if I hadn’t spent so much time in our costume shop and learning about design and historical fashion from Karen. I’ve gotten to do a lot of craft work, construction, and alterations for PPT and I learned a lot of those skills from Ricky and Cindy. So, I would also recommend spending as much time as you can learning from the staff in whichever department you’re most interested in. Getting production experience from both designing shows and working in the shop is one of the most valuable things you can do with your time if you want to work in theater.
Joseph McGranaghan: Do theatre because you love it. Keep that flame alive by finding the artists who spark you and create ways to work with them. Never stop learning, experimenting, questioning. Oh, and bring your full self and full attention into the rehearsal room and production space - turn your phone off when you're working and engage with the flesh and blood people around you. It's a gift to get to do that in today's world.
Alex Manalo: Know that you don’t know everything. And the person you’re working with also doesn’t know everything. You can always grow and improve and learn and it can be helpful too.  Something I say to my students all the time is just be nice to everyone. You never know when your paths are going to cross again, you don’t know what people remember about you either. Being kind being helpful and learning is all that you can is chefs kiss, so good.


Were there any fun moments with other Pitt folx in rehearsal/on set during your work on The Importance of Being Earnest(At Pitt)?

Annmarie Duggan: Watching them work and take charge of this work brought me joy each day.
Joseph McGranaghan: I met the woman who would become my wife doing a scene for a friends' directing class at Pitt. Later, she and I would collaborate in productions of The Cherry Orchard and The Tempest in upstate New York. She became a director and educator and I stuck with acting and our professional lives forced us into a long distance relationship before we were reunited at the Asolo Repertory Theatre in Florida. We got married shortly thereafter. Pitt Theatre Arts = matchmaker.