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'The Electric Baby' takes advantage of unusual setting

| Tuesday, March 27, 2012

When planning a new production, Quantum Theatre artistic director Karla Boos is a lot like a gardener.

After choosing a play, she looks for a place that will nurture it and help it blossom into a full production.

Since its founding in 1990, Quantum Theatre has done productions among the gravestones at Allegheny Cemetery in Lawrenceville, inside an empty swimming pool in the basement of the Braddock Carnegie Library and among the ruins of the former Lazarus department store, Downtown.

"We sign on to some environment that lends a lot (to the production) ... asking what the play needs to help us discover its essence," Boos says.

For "The Electric Baby," which begins its world-premiere performances Thursday, Boos and director Daniella Topol chose the Waldorf School of Pittsburgh in Bloomfield.

Some may know the century-old Victorian building complex as the former Ursuline Academy. Others may remember it from its mid-1990s existence as the home of Flying Pig Theatre.

The Waldorf School uses the multipurpose space most often for plays and special events, so making it available to the theater company didn't disrupt the school's routine much, says Veronica Harris, the parent representative to the school's board who has been serving as the liaison between the school and the theater company.

"It seemed like a great opportunity to connect with the community and get our name out to a broader community," Harris says. "(Quantum Theatre) are a wonderful group to work with. Karla (Boos) is the epitome of flexibility and collaboration."

Quantum Theatre delayed on-site set construction until one event was completed and will remove audience chairs after each performance to allow use of the room on some days.

Music classes have moved to the library, and Quantum Theatre will share its set with a school play scheduled to run at times that did not conflict with Quantum performances.

Those involved with the production did need to get the same background checks and clearances required of anyone who might have contact with students.

For Topol, the multipurpose room was a perfect setting for "The Electric Baby."

Stefanie Zadravec's drama follows a group of seemingly unrelated people -- a mother tending a fragile baby that glows like the moon, his Nigerian father who works as a cab driver, a troubled middle-aged couple, a waitress who is also a part-time escort and her restaurant co-worker.

"I liked its magical quality -- how people from different places and stories come together," says Boos.

It's set in Pittsburgh, but in a Pittsburgh that's viewed through the world of magical realism.

"The play is both magical and naturalistic, and I wanted a (production) that supported both styles," Topol says. "It calls for the audience to support the magic and the naturalism and move from world to world seamlessly."

When Topol visited the Waldorf School's auditorium and multipurpose room, she found a large, open space with big windows, a high ceiling emblazoned with stars and midnight-blue walls colorfully decorated with fantasy creatures.

"The essence (of the play) is this child that inspires so much hope," Topol says, adding that the room supported that feeling: "It was an amazing, enchanted room in a special building that is all about children and creating a space for children and hope."

Rather than use the traditional stage at one end of the room, scenic designer Stephanie Mayer-Staley is devising a series of isolated playing areas on the auditorium's floor, some of which can become connected as needed.

"We asked what the play needed and came up with this unusual configuration," Boos says.

"We wanted isolation and connectivity -- a central area where lives collide," Topol says. "We are trying to create an isolated world that ends up connecting."

Additional Information:

'The Electric Baby'

Produced by: Quantum Theatre

When: Thursday through April 22 at 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays and 7 p.m. Sundays

Admission: $35-$48 or $18 for students

Where: Waldorf School of Pittsburgh, 201 S. Winebiddle St., Bloomfield

Details: 888-718- 4253 or website

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