Ever wonder who controls the marionette strings of Highmark First Night Pittsburgh?
While she won't take all the credit ("It's huge, but I have help"), Darcy Kucenic is directing the mammoth Downtown event on New Year's Eve for the second year in a row. The showcase for the region's artists includes more than 150 events at roughly 45 indoor and outdoor locations within the 14-block Cultural District.
This is the 10th year that the Cultural Trust has produced First Night. Festivities begin at 6 p.m. Dec. 31. (See all the details at www.firstnightpgh.org.)
Ms. Kucenic (pronounced CUSH-nik), 36, of Lawrenceville, is manager of education and operations for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, where she has worked her way up since joining the organization in 2000. Originally from Latrobe, she earned a master of arts management degree at Carnegie Mellon University.
She's single and has a brother who works in Washington, D.C., with Geographic Information System mapping.
What's the biggest challenge in pulling together First Night? It's like putting together a giant puzzle: What artists to book, what spaces are available, and how can they fit together for the most diverse program and best patron experience. Also, I can't control the weather (but that is why 90 percent of our venues are indoors)!
What did you learn from your first year directing the huge celebration that you'll use or do differently this year? No matter how hard you work on every detail, there are always improvements to make for the next year. The Trust continues to make purchasing buttons and obtaining vouchers as easy as possible. I am also very excited for the first time ever to have a First Night Gift Shop in Katz Plaza selling official Highmark First Night Pittsburgh merchandise. My must-have item is a pair of light-up gloves. I keep the sample at my desk and wear them for inspiration.
Where do you see First Night in five years? Showcasing the very best artists that Pittsburgh has to offer whether they were on stage, in your neighborhood or on TV; using light as art throughout the Cultural District in new and unique ways; and becoming the must-attend winter event in the city.
How do you handle the stress of organizing such a big event? Do you get any sleep the night before? I am so lucky to work with the very best core planning team at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and Flyspace Productions, so my stress is minimized because I trust them implicitly. It is not "my" event, it is "our" event. I do sleep the night before because I know that we worked as hard as we could to plan every detail possible.
Most mornings I get up at ... 6 a.m., hit the snooze button and roll out of bed a good 30 minutes later.
My perfect weekend: Nothing beats a lazy Sunday morning in my PJs, drinking coffee, reading the Sunday newspaper and watching reruns of "The Golden Girls."
I'm surprisingly good at ... making up nicknames for everything and everybody. I think I have my own language at this point.
My emergency dinner consists of ... string cheese. I don't cook.
On my last vacation ... I went to Cape May, N.J., with two of my best friends from high school, Michel and Erin, and along with our families, celebrated the beautiful beach wedding of our other best friend, Nicki. Most of my closest friends I've had since the eighth grade.
Pet peeve about Pittsburgh: The grocery store an hour before and an hour after a Steelers game.
Favorite spot in the 'Burgh: The Cultural District. It's my second home!
Can't live without ... Peanut butter. I have an addiction.
The best gift I've ever been given ... was most of the pieces of my Marilyn Monroe collection. My late grandmother bought me some amazing things, and now, my parents find great things at antique fairs and flea markets.
When I'm not at work, I can often be found ... teaching Spinning at the PNC Y!
Someday I'd like to ... be in the audience of my favorite late-night shows: "David Letterman," "Jimmy Fallon" and, most of all, "Chelsea Lately."
The best advice I've ever gotten: Keep on keepin' on.