At the Bricolage Urban Scrawl, it's 24 hours to showtime


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As this weekend began, six playwrights journeyed into different pockets of Pittsburgh, taking 90-minute bus rides during Friday night's rush hour and using their experience as inspiration to write 10-minute plays.

"There's so much life and interesting humanity on the bus," said Tami Dixon, who produced this year's ninth annual Bricolage Urban Scrawl (B.U.S. 9, for short).

The six playwrights joined with six directors and plenty of actors to spend the next 24 hours creating the six plays, performed Saturday night at the New Hazlett Theater on the North Side.

This highly condensed mix of adrenaline, creativity and performance is a fundraiser for Bricolage, a Downtown theater group whose name means "making artful use of what is at hand." Actors bring one prop and one costume element from home.

Ms. Dixon sent each of the playwrights to a different neighborhood: Brighton Heights, Manchester, Highland Park, Lawrenceville, Mount Washington and West Park in McKees Rocks.

"Our rivers and our bridges sort of segregate us. We want to know what's happening in all of our neighborhoods," said Ms. Dixon, who grew up in Cleveland and moved here in 2005 after 10 years working with various New York City theater companies. She is Bricolage's producing artistic director, working alongside her husband, Jeffrey Carpenter, who founded Bricolage in 2001.

This beat-the-clock approach to creating theater celebrates the electrical thrill of live performance. During her stint in Manhattan, Ms. Dixon performed with The 24 Hour Plays, which has produced more than 500 plays since its founding in 1995.

Once the playwrights returned from their bus rides Friday night, they watched a parade of actors strut their skills on stage, and then cast their plays immediately afterward. Next came a long day's journey into night of script writing for the playwrights followed by intensive Saturday morning rehearsals, and many rounds of pizza.

In the maze of the New Hazlett Theater's ground floor and just beyond the costume shop door, four actors rehearsed "Hellfersartin," a look at what happens when two black men experience car trouble and wind up staying overnight in a scary motel, deep in the Kentucky foothills, run by a husband and wife.

Jason McCune played the hotel manager, his expressive blue eyes flashing with glee when he asked two African-American men if they wanted towels and air conditioning. As his strange wife, Tressa Glover wore a red robe and played a kind of female Igor to his folksy Southern proprietor.

In the theater's green room, Marci Woodruff directed a rehearsal of "Mind Music," which featured a man and woman listening to music on their ear buds and singing aloud while Sandy Zwier and Matt Henderson try to hold a conversation in Mark Clayton Southers' script.

"Did you go to college?" Ms. Zwier asked Matt Henderson.

"I was overqualified," he replied.

Upstairs in a room with an upright piano and a large Palladian window, Sheila McKenna directed "16 Is the Number of Complete Completeness," featuring Michael Fuller as Driver Billie.

Candace Walker played an assertive young woman mystified by the lack of cell phone service on the 16 Brighton Heights, but when she asked about it, Fuller deadpanned, "Oh, there's no service of any kind on this bus route. There is no service and there are no emergencies."

Patrick Cannon and Maggie Ryan necked passionately on the bus in a script called "Sapphire Blue," written by Wali Jamal and directed by Cameron Knight, an acting professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

While riding the 71B Highland Park, playwright Vanessa German witnessed the brutality of urban life. "She saw an excessive force arrest in Oakland," Ms. Dixon said, and the incident wound up in her play, "The Script."

In general, the actors enjoy the challenge of the sprint to the curtain.

One actor, Joshua Elijah Reese, rode the midnight to 6 a.m. bus from New York City to Pittsburgh to join the show; he was cast in "Hellfersartin." Some, however, cry or vomit before going on stage, while others occasionally freeze in the spotlight, Ms. Dixon said. "It's up to the theater gods."

Marylynne Pitz: mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648.


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