University of Pittsburgh
May 22, 2007

University of Pittsburgh Theatre Artists to Premiere "American Humbug" at 2007 Three Rivers Arts Festival


Sharon Blake


Cell: 412-277-6926

PITTSBURGH-The innovative and interactive new play "American Humbug"-the collaborative work of two Pitt faculty members, a student, and an alumnus-premieres June 2 and runs through June 17 as part of Pittsburgh's 2007 Three Rivers Arts Festival. All shows are at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown. Admission is $5.

Written by Lynne Conner, associate professor in Pitt's Department of Theatre Arts, and directed by Professor Bruce McConachie, department chair, "American Humbug" is an interactive satire that examines P. T. Barnum's influence on today's culture of "spin." The set is designed by local theater artist, puppeteer, and Pitt alumnus Tavia La Follette (MFA, 2002) and doubles as a piece of interactive installation art. The ensemble cast features Pitt graduate student Melissa Lynn Porterfield.

The "American Humbug" experience begins before the cast takes the stage. Audience members enter the performance space and plunge into La Follette's inventive take on P.T. Barnum's museum, where they can peruse his specimens, freaks, and wonders. The installation juxtaposes P.T. Barnum's era with our own and blurs the boundaries between performer and audience. Barnum soon makes his appearance as the evening's master of ceremonies, but the cast hijacks the play and puts Barnum on trial. His crime: perpetrating the great American hoax, over and over again. The audience has inherited Barnum's America, a world where no one can tell the difference between truth and spin.

"The play merges stage time and real time as it both celebrates and attacks Barnum's legacy-a 21st century America where hoaxing has become policy," says Conner.

"American Humbug" is produced by the Three River Arts Festival and ArtUp and supported by a Creative Heights Award from The Heinz Endowments and funding from The Pittsburgh Foundation.