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Critic steeped in Pittsburgh theater scene dies

| Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Alice Carter in 2014

Having spent many years working in the theater world, Alice Carter could always find something positive in a production she was reviewing, according to her daughter.

“Someone worked really hard to put that play on, and being a person who had made some really good — and occasionally some really bad — theater, she went in with the notion that there would always be something good she could find,” said Mary Alice Carter.

Alice Carter of Millvale died Nov. 26, 2016, of complications following a stroke. She was 69.

Mrs. Carter was born Dec. 18, 1946, the eldest daughter of the late Mary Alice Thompson and Oliver Thompson.

She began her theater career as a costumer and a seamstress. After stints working as a clerk and then a reporter at the former North Hills News Record and the Valley News Dispatch, she became the theater critic for the Tribune-Review in the fall of 1997 and continued in that role for nearly two decades. She was also a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

Mrs. Carter attended the former Western College for Women in Ohio, where she earned her bachelor's degree, then pursued a graduate degree at Point Park College, where she met her husband, Roderick Carter.

“I was a teacher there in the theater program, and she came in as a graduate student to learn the practical aspects of theater,” Roderick Carter said.

Mrs. Carter was the stage manager for the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre when it started at the Pittsburgh Playhouse and, in the late 1970s, she and her husband had a resident theater company based out of Hartwood Acres, funded through the Kennedy Center's Changing Education Through the Arts initiative.

When that ended in 1980, they formed the Winter Theatre Company.

“We specialized in Alan Ayckbourn's plays,” Roderick Carter said. “We did his (‘Norman Conquests') trilogy and brought that to Pittsburgh.”

City Theatre Artistic Director Tracy Brigden knew Mrs. Carter since she moved to Pittsburgh 16 years ago.

“She was one of the reasons that the theater community here is so thriving,” Brigden said. “She was as much a part of the community as any playwright, actor or designer.”

Both Brigden and Roderick Carter said Mrs. Carter took pride in being as knowledgeable as possible about a production she was reviewing.

“She knew a lot, not just about the plays themselves, but about the whole process of making a play, which is rare in critics,” Brigden said.

Her husband said before reviewing a show, Mrs. Carter would read a copy of the script from the playhouse or from the Carters' extensive home library.

“She was constantly researching, she was very thorough and she had a drive to know what was going on,” Roderick Carter said.

At home, Mary Alice said her mother was once an avid gardener of vegetables and flowers, and always wanted her children to be learning.

“She took us out of school to go to Disney World one year but, while we were there, she said we had to learn the names of all the flowers they grew at Disney,” Mary Alice Carter said. “It had to be educational in some way. And she would take us to the library every Saturday. ‘There's always money for books'; that was her line.”

In many ways, that drive for knowledge was mirrored in her own life.

“She always wanted to learn, so she took a ton of classes, she traveled a lot, and she was just amazingly curious about the world,” Mary Alice Carter said.

Mrs. Carter's son Barker said as recently as last month, his mother was taking a class on perennial flowers at Phipps Conservatory.

And despite retiring as an official Tribune-Review employee, Mrs. Carter continued to write for the paper as a freelancer.

“She was still writing preview articles for us, right up until the show we did this past month,” Brigden said. “It's hard to fathom Pittsburgh theater without her.”

Van Kaplan, Pittsburgh CLO executive producer, said Mrs. Carter will be sorely missed in the theater community.

“Alice covered Pittsburgh CLO's musicals loyally in the almost 20 years I have been at CLO. She loved the theatre and wrote about it with heart, appreciation and conviction. Few achieve what she was able to in good, old fashioned newspaper criticism — where women's voices are still underrepresented.

“I will miss her on opening nights. She sat across the aisle from me, and I loved hearing her most delicious laugh. Maybe we will leave her seat empty for a time, as it won't be easy to fill.”

Funeral arrangements for Mrs. Carter weren't complete.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. He can be reached at pvarine@tribweb.com.

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