When Kelly-Strayhorn Theater executive director Janera Solomon set out five years ago to beef up the theater's programming, she wanted to make the venue in East Liberty a place where people could turn for something different.
"I knew I didn't want to present what the other arts organizations were presenting," she said.
She opted for works-in-progress, rather than established classics, and choreography that challenged comfort zones and creativity.
"It does take some more planning and more resources and more energy ... but there are people in Pittsburgh who are adventurous when it comes to their entertainment options," she said.
The 2012-13 KST Presents lineup boasts many artistic adventures in dance, theater and music. It opens Friday with a world premiere by New York-based Camille A. Brown & Dancers in "Mr. TOL E. RAncE," which explores topics of race tolerance and stereotypes in the media.
"I think we've shown people are willing to come and see a show they haven't heard of if it sounds interesting," Ms. Solomon said. "We've become, I think, a place that draws people who are just looking for things that are a little bit outside the norm artistically and culturally, and it's nice to have that reputation."
The season offers a mix of Pittsburgh and world premieres, works by local and international artists and some returning favorites. KST regulars may recognize some of the dance contributors, including Luke Murphy, Ms. Brown, Staycee Pearl and anonymous bodies and idiosynCrazy Productions (both from Philadelphia), from previous seasons or the annual newMoves contemporary dance festival. Many also have presented in the past at KST works-in-progress of the productions audiences will see this time in their entirety.
KST also will welcome back Pig Iron Theater Company of Philadelphia. In May, the troupe will make its Pittsburgh premiere of new work "Zero Cost House," which examines Japanese director Toshiki Okada's observations of life in Yokohama after a tsunami.
Although they're different works by different artists, many touch on common themes of race, identity, culture and technology.
"I think when you look at the whole season collectively, it represents a set of ideas that are out in the world right now," Ms. Solomon said.
The theater also has family-friendly events scheduled, such as the Martin Luther King Jr. and Halloween celebrations. This mix of daring art for adults and shows and activities that all ages can enjoy appeals to a broad range of people, Ms. Solomon said.
Over the years, audiences have grown and relationships with other nearby businesses have been forged. In the past, some establishments in East Liberty didn't even know KST existed.
"There's definitely a change," she said. "Our neighbors recognize we're here. We're doing something exciting, and they want to be a part of it."
Ms. Solomon is optimistic that, moving forward, both theater attendance and partnerships with other community organizations will keep improving.
"We are hoping that with all this increased traffic and with more businesses and more residents living right around our theater, that will add to an already pretty exciting neighborhood," she said. "There's a lot of energy in East Liberty right now, and I think it's only going to continue to grow."
KELLY-STRAYHORN THEATER 2012-13 SEASON
Performances held at Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, East Liberty, unless noted.
• Camille A. Brown & Dancers, "Mr. TOL E. RAncE," 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
• Hear/Now Series of New Sound, 8 p.m. Sept. 22 at The Alloy Studios, Friendship.
• chelfitsch Theater Company, "Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner and the Farewell Speech," 8 p.m. Sept. 28 and 29.
• Halloween Mayhem, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Oct. 27.
• "My People" film series, 7 p.m. Nov. 6, 13 and 20.
• Luke Murphy, "Drenched," 8 p.m. Nov. 16 and 17.
• "Suite Life," fifth annual Billy Strayhorn birthday bash, 8 p.m. Nov. 24.
• idiosynCrazy Productions, "Private Places," 8 p.m. Dec. 14 and 15.
• KST Holiday Bazaar, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Dec. 22.
• East Liberty Celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., noon-4 p.m. Jan. 21.
• NextStage Dance Residency showcase, 8 p.m. Jan. 26, The Alloy Studios.
• Staycee Pearl dance project, "... on being ...," 8 p.m. Feb. 22 and 23.
• SUNSTAR music festival, March 6-9.
• Lionel Popkin, "Ruth Doesn't Live Here Anymore," 8 p.m. March 15 and 16.
• anonymous bodies, "Mash Up Body," 8 p.m. April 5 and 6.
• Nora Chipaumire, "Miriam," 8 p.m. April 19 and 20.
• Pig Iron Theater Company, "Zero Cost House," May.
• Full Bloom Summer Dance Party, June 1.
Information: www.kelly-strayhorn.org or 412-363-3000.
Sara Bauknecht: email@example.com.