First Night Pittsburgh marks 20th year

| Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

For the 20th year, Pittsburgh will ring in the new year with the family-friendly First Night Pittsburgh throughout the Cultural District, Downtown. The night begins and ends with fireworks, and in between there are nearly 150 activities scattered among 41 venues, most of which are indoors. Each year features new events and the return of old favorites, such as the parade down Penn Avenue at 8 p.m. featuring giant puppets.

New this year is an ice labyrinth by Rich Bubin of Ice Creations. Construction of the labyrinth will begin on Dec. 30 at the Eighth Street parking lot.

All the performances and activities are included when you buy the Highmark First Night Pittsburgh 2014 button, but some indoor performances require a free voucher because seating is limited. Here are some of the night's highlights.


Any major Pittsburgh celebration is bound to include fireworks, and First Night Pittsburgh offers two shows: one at the traditional midnight that welcomes 2014, and an earlier one at 6 p.m. for families with kids who don't want to stay out that late. You can start the night off with a bang with the Dollar Bank Children's Fireworks Display at Penn and Seventh avenues, along with a performance by local country band NoMAD from 6 to 7:15 p.m. at the Dollar Bank Stage. Then, at midnight, Zambelli Fireworks will shoot off the Future of Pittsburgh Grand Finale, which includes a countdown and raising of the Future of Pittsburgh Ball at Penn and Fifth. Accompanying this finale is a performance by headliner Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires, often called “The Screaming Eagle of Soul,” from 10:45 p.m. to 12:10 a.m. on the Highmark Stage.


‘First Look First Night'

Last summer, Bricolage Production Company created the buzz-worthy interactive adventure “Strata,” which became the season's must-have ticket. Now, First Night attendees can get a sneak peak at this innovative company's next immersive urban adventure, due to be unveiled at the 2014 Three Rivers Arts Festival.

Part interactive game, part performance, “First Look First Night” provides a 30- to 40-minute personal journey that encourages participants to interact with the world of art in a variety of city locations.

Opportunities to embark on this singular theatrical experience begin every 15 minutes from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. at Bricolage Production Company, 937 Liberty Ave.

‘Funeral in the Rain'

Two actors create 11 characters in F.J. Hartland's “Funeral in the Rain.”

The one-act play, which won the Pittsburgh New Works Festival's 2011 Donna Award for outstanding contribution by a playwright, is set at a funeral and runs 45 minutes.

It reminds audiences of the impact that one individual can have on the lives of many other people.

Performances are at 7 and 7:45 p.m. at CAPA School, 111 Ninth St.

Arcade Comedy Theater

Arcade Comedy Theater is planning enough improv and comedy to fill not one, but two performance spaces.

Player One, Arcade Comedy Theater's in-house troupe of experienced improvisers, will offer two 45-minute shows at 6:30 and 10:15 p.m. on the stage of the Cabaret at Theater Square, 655 Penn Ave.

Improv will also fill Arcade Comedy Theater's home stage, three blocks away at 811 Liberty Ave., with four additional shows at 6:30, 7:45, 9 and 10:15 p.m. Voucher required.

‘It Was the Coldest Year'

Zach Dorn's kid-friendly “It Was the Coldest Year” creates a miniature city constructed from junk for this puppet spectacle.

Dorn first created and performed this show in 2012 at Children's Museum of Pittsburgh.

Employing video technology, Dorn takes audiences on a 15-minute journey along cardboard streets and past copper-wire trees in this city created from medicine cabinets, desk lamps, Victorian dollhouses and repurposed junk. His travels reveal the secret lives of the city's pocket-size residents.

Performances are at 6:30, 7:30, 8:30, 9:30 and 10:30 p.m. at Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh, 212 Ninth St.


Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School

The pre-professional division of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School will present a mixed program including two modern works with the grand pas de deux from “The Nutcracker” to welcome the New Year.

The young dancers also will perform “The Medium is the Message” by Julia Adam, which she created to music by Brian Carson in 1990 and exemplifies her wit and unique sense of movement.

The third piece is a world premiere created by two of the student dancers. Caroline McDonald choreographed the piece for a dozen dancers to original music by Jack Hawn, who will perform it live.

The performance starts at 6:45 p.m. at the August Wilson Center. Voucher required.

Attack Theatre

Refreshing perspectives are sure to abound in Attack Theatre's “Traveling,” which takes as its point of departure a traveling salesman and his sample case of curiosities.

Directors Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope will explore the enormous potential of little things with a cast of five dancers who will lift, throw, tumble and leap with a host of small objects.

The performances start at 8:30 and 9:45 p.m. at the August Wilson Center. Voucher required.


Johnny Angel and the Halos

Johnny Angel and the Halos, a doo-wop band, have been entertaining audiences for more than five decades. The Pittsburgh-based band has performed with artists including James Brown, The Temptations, Four Tops, Chuck Berry, Frankie Valli and many others. Johnny Angel and the Halos will be performing two hourlong shows on New Year's Eve, taking audiences on a journey through the golden days of rock and soul music from the late 1950s through the '70s. The band will perform at 7 and 9 p.m. at the Benedum Center. Voucher required.


It's exceedingly rare, but kind of cool, when a band picks a name that gives you some clues about what they sound like.

Few, however, do it as perfectly as AppalAsia, who combine the wholly unconnected musical traditions of Appalachian folk and the manifold musical traditions of Asia. It's difficult to envision — and could be a train wreck in lesser hands — but AppalAsia makes the connections seem intuitive and natural, largely through the skill of the musicians involved: Mimi Jong on erhu (an ancient two-stringed bowed instrument from China), Sue Powers on banjo and Jeff Berman on mountain dulcimer, among other instruments.

AppalAsia will perform at 9 p.m. at the August Wilson Center, presented by the Silk Screen Asian Arts & Culture Organization.

River City Brass

James Gourlay says he will be sacrificing his knees to benefit First Night.

He's done it before, so he's something of an expert.

The native Scot, who is general director of River City Brass, says the “First Night Brasstacular” is being shaped as a “brass party” for people “who have never seen us or never go to concerts.”

It also will include Gourlay in his kilt to go along with some rousing music from his homeland.

He says the concert will be made up of a program of popular music, such as classic pieces by Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington and “Tequila.”

The brass band will play at 7 and 9 p.m. at the Byham Theater. Voucher required.

Mission Statement

When trumpeter Sean Jones moved to Pittsburgh 10 years ago, he quickly became aware of a mission.

He and drummer James Johnson III saw the need to form a band that would be an outlet for the performance skills and material of some of the best young players in the area.

The band was appropriately known as Mission Statement, and it will reunite at First Night. It will feature Jones and Johnson, along with bassist Paul Thompson and keyboardist Brett Williams, who was a little kid in Hampton when the band formed.

Jones says he hopes to lure saxophonist Jacob Yoffee, who was in a later iteration of the band, in for the gig from Los Angeles. If Yoffee is unable to make it, Jones says he is thinking about using a DJ to give the band a different sound.

The band will play from 6:30 to 10 p.m. at the Trust Arts Education Center, 805 Liberty Ave.

Broken Fences

It's been a while since we've seen harmonies this pretty, yet potent, from a Pittsburgh band. Yet, harmonies seem to come to Broken Fences — Morgan Erina and Guy Russo — as naturally as breathing. The pastoral folk-rock hymns of Fleet Foxes and the hushed, around-the-campfire introspection of Bon Iver are obvious reference points — or Simon & Garfunkel, if your memory goes back a little further. Broken Fences will be performing at 6:30 and 9:15 p.m. at the Trust Arts Education Center.


Yo-yo champion

Mark Hayward says one of the best parts of his career is that he can keep the tools of his trade in his jacket pocket.

Such is the advantage of being “a yo-yo guy,” as he calls himself.

Hayward of Edgewood promises “lots of tricks and lots of jokes” at his First Night show. Hayward grew up in Madison, Wis., and was given a yo-yo as a Christmas gift. At the same time, he got a book on juggling and started developing both talents.

Besides capturing a national yo-yo championship in 1995, he works as a stand-up and strolling performer.

His performances here will have plenty of audience interaction, he says.

Hayward will perform at 6:45, 8:30 and 9:45 p.m. at Fifth Avenue Place. Voucher required.

John Evans and Terry Jones

Comedians John Evans and Terry Jones will be delivering live laughs in two 45-minute performances on New Year's Eve. Evans started his comedy career in Tulsa, Okla., in 1996 and earned emcee status at the Tulsa Comedy Club. He then enjoyed success in Minneapolis and Los Angeles and has opened for prominent comedians including George Carlin and Lewis Black. He now headlines comedy clubs around the country. Jones got his start right here in Pittsburgh at age 18 at the Pittsburgh Improv, where a friend dared him to perform, and he discovered his gift. He has performed at many venues within and beyond Pittsburgh, including colleges. Evans and Jones will perform at 7:45 and 10:30 p.m. at Cabaret at Theater Square. Voucher required.

Ice Labyrinth

This year, First Night revelers seeking a truly cool feature can head to the event's first Ice Labyrinth, a fully immersive 5-foot-high and 40-by-40-feet walk-through maze of giant ice blocks complete with LED lighting.

The labyrinth, which will be next to Fire & Ice Plaza at the Eighth Street parking lot, is specially designed to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Highmark First Night Pittsburgh. It's designed by Ice Creations' Rich Bubin, a veteran of more than 250 professional ice competitions and 5,000 live-performance shows whose business is based in Churchill.

As in years past, the plaza will feature the Steel Town Fire performance troupe.

Silk Screen activities

Silk Screen: Asian Arts, an organization dedicated to promoting cross-cultural awareness and appreciation of Asia through the arts, will host a variety of all-ages events throughout the evening of First Night.

Performances include traditional Chinese dance with the Organization of Chinese Americans and the Yanlai Dance School; Ruby Jain, classical Indian and Bollywood dance; Little Shimmy belly dance school; Win-Win Kung Fu; Tadashi Kato, Japanese sword dancing; dances from the Philippines with the Filipino Association of Pittsburgh; and a decoration station where attendees can create bookmarks with Chinese calligraphy.

Silk Screen activities will be every 15 minutes from 6 to 10:45 p.m. at the August Wilson Center.


First National Bank Family Tent

Bring the entire family and stop at the First National Bank Family Tent for hands-on activities to keep you busy while you count down the final hours of 2013. Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh will help you create buttons and bookmarks while Citiparks will sponsor a hat-making class with a chance to express your artistic side at the roving art cart.

The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh will host a Strike a Pose event, where you can capture a fun image of what the museum is calling your “First Night Self.” If jewelry is your passion, then get to the booth where Kidsburgh & Remake Learning present Assemble for a chance to fashion an LED bracelet. This event is sponsored by the Sprout Fund.

Pittsburgh International Children's Theater will offer imaginative activities supporting the upcoming play “Stuck,” plus temporary tattoos. The Pittsburgh Center for the Arts/Pittsburgh Filmmakers will have lots of creative activities for all ages.

The tent also will host visits from three characters — Mr. McFeely from “Mister Rogers' Neighborhood” (8:30 to 9:30 p.m.), the Pirate Parrot (6:30 to 7:30 p.m.) and Steely McBeam (7:30 to 8:30 p.m.).

The First National Bank Family Tent will be at Penn and Seventh avenues. Most events are from 6 to 10 p.m.

Other creative activities

• It's All About You!, where children of all ages decorate “All About Me” posters from 6 to 10 p.m., Shaw Galleries at 805 Liberty Ave.

• Off the Wall Graffiti will be around from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at EQT Plaza at 625 Liberty Ave., helping people create what inspires them through a mock graffiti wall.

• Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse's Decoration Station will be available from 6 to 11 p.m. at Fifth Avenue Place.

• The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Fiddlesticks Family Concerts is from 6 to 10 p.m. at Heinz Hall Garden. Attendees can create a winter-theme craft and attend a meet-and-greet with Fiddlesticks, the Pittsburgh Symphony's feline musical ambassador to children.

• Urban Pathways Charter School's Decoration Station hands-on craft station is from 6 to 10 p.m. at the school at 914, 923, 925 and 927 Penn Ave.

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