Arts & Culture

Arts and culture reporting from 90.5 WESA.                    Sign up for our weekly eNews

For those with sensory sensitivities or autism spectrum disorder, a night out at the theater might seem impossible.

But this holiday season, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is hosting its second sensory-friendly production of "The Nutcracker," making the performance and venue more accessible.

Your Favorite Holiday Tunes by Request

Dec 19, 2014
Heather McClain / 90.5 WESA

For over thirty years WESA director of internships Kevin Gavin has hosted his All-Request Holiday Music Special. Kevin joins us for a preview of this year's special as well as a look back at Christmases past.

Gavin explains that he first got started airing holiday music in Pittsburgh 38 years ago, when WESA (then WDUQ) general manager Ken Duffy noticed a lack of Christmas music on the airwaves in Pittsburgh. Duffy asked Gavin to play whatever holiday music he could find, and Gavin dug up some holiday record albums and became an impromptu disc jockey.

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

Dec 19, 2014
Anthony Quintano / Flickr

With the year coming to a close and holiday celebrations abounding, travel contributor Elaine Labalme stops by with suggestions to help you answer the musical question, "What are you doing New Year's Eve?"

75 Years of the Nestle Chocolate Morsel

Dec 19, 2014
Ana Liza / Flickr

1939 was an important year in American pop culture. Some of the greatest Hollywood movies, including "Gone With the Wind" and the "Wizard of Oz" were released. Lou Gehrig retired and the "World of Tomorrow" World’s Fair opened in New York.

In the annals of baking, the chocolate chip cookie was created at the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts. A key ingredient in this iconic cookie is the Nestle morsel, which turns 75 this year. Roz O’Hearn, Communications & Brand Affairs Director for Nestle, talks about the morsel’s past, present and future.

According to O’Hearn, the chocolate morsel has an “accidental” origin story. Near Boston, a restaurant owner named Ruth Wakefield ran the Toll House Inn. Wakefield smashed a Nestle semisweet chocolate baking bar into small pieces to put into her cookie recipe, creating the first chocolate chip cookies.

Don't be a hero! Heed our sanity-saving holiday tips: intercept and re-gift your kids' presents, keep your sippy cup topped up at all times and phone it in whenever possible.

If you insist on making an effort, here's a taste of the finest last-minute holiday cheer Pittsburgh has to offer:

Market Square Holiday Market

Pittsburgh Symphony Holiday Pops

Courtesy of Slow Danger

Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight, who create both dance and music as Slow Danger, were drawn to each other’s willingness to explore new ways to interact with their art form.

Beginning with dance, they soon began creating their own music for their performances. Knight said it was inevitable for their art to “merge and intersect in that way.”

"The movement and the music, for us, goes hand in hand,” Knight said.

Thompson and Knight said their intention is to present an ambiguous identity that isn’t Anna, isn’t Taylor, but rather “this otherness that we create through.”

Untold Stories behind Holiday Songs

Dec 17, 2014
Pamla J. Eisenberg / Flickr

From “Jingle Bells” to “White Christmas,” many of our most popular holiday songs have interesting stories behind them. Pop culture contributor Joe Wos tells us the stories behind some of our favorite holiday songs.

Wos singles out “Jingle Bells” as possibly the first Christmas pop song. Originally intended as a Thanksgiving song, “Jingle Bells” became a popular drinking song and ultimately became associated with Christmas.

The Story Behind Andy Warhol's 13 Most Wanted

Dec 16, 2014
Courtesy of the Warhol Museum / Twitter

Fifty years ago, the 1964 World’s Fair opened in Queens, New York. The organizers commissioned work from Andy Warhol, to be displayed on the facade of the New York State Pavilion, one of the fair’s main venues. 

According to Jessica Beck, assistant curator at The Warhol Museum, the NY World's Fair was all about “Peace through understanding, and man’s place in this changing and shrinking world.” 

She says it was meant to be a family-friendly attraction. 

But at that time, Andy Warhol was still experimenting with pop art, and growing in notoriety. For his commissioned work, Warhol created “Thirteen Most Wanted Men,” a mural composed of 22 head-and-shoulder mug shots taken from a booklet created by the New York City Police Department with images of the most wanted criminals of 1962. The painting, unsurprisingly, caused a scandal. 

Rusty Stewart / Flickr

What impact could last month’s US elections, as well as the upcoming elections in Israel have on that region? 

We pose that question to our guest, J Street Chief-of-Staff Steve Krubiner, as he prepares for a discussion on the US-Israel relationship and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Find out why he's advocating for a two-state solution.

A New Venue For Storytelling in Pittsburgh

Dec 15, 2014
Lisa Kirchner

Chicago has its 2nd Story, Baltimore has the Stoop and public radio has The Moth. They’re all storytelling series where everyday citizens relate a true-life story.

The Pittsburgh Story Syndicate became the latest venue for people to connect and share their stories after holding several events in the city earlier this month. Bringing her storytelling skills back to Pittsburgh was author Lisa Kirchner who joined us in Studio A to discuss her creation.

Kirchner, who lives in New York City, was involved with the Moth as a story coach and traveled to places such as schools and rehab centers to encourage people to share their stories.

“To be able to tell your story is a way to connect more deeply with other humans… going onstage can be a lot of fun and a great motivator of people to hone their skills,” she said.

On Mondays at Cannon Coffee in Brookline, all participants put their name into a hat. When a name is drawn, that person comes up on stage and has five minutes to tell a true story- with a beginning, middle, and end. Other than that, Kirchner says there are no rules.

As the holidays approach, this week there’s a guest on tap for the Social Club: Vito Gerasole of Natrona Bottling Company and Girasole in Shadyside joins Yelp’s Rachel and 90.5 WESA’s Josh. He stops by to answer some pressing questions. For instance, is it soda or pop? Listen in for why, “Josh doesn’t give presents for his kids! He’s a Grinch.”

This weekend’s events:

Neighborhood Flea at the Pittsburgh Public Market

Superfriends Holiday Market: 12 Days Until Christmas

How Media Coverage of Sexual Assault Could Be Improved

Dec 11, 2014
Bob Mical / Flickr

In November, Rolling Stone published a story about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia, relying on the account of the victim. 

The magazine later apologized to readers, revealing it believed her story contained inaccuracies. We'll discuss the most recent developments with Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Tony Norman and Jeff Ritter, Communications Department Chair at La Roche College.

Finding Winter Warmth in a Bed and Breakfast Getaway

Dec 11, 2014
Jon-Mark Davey / Flickr

Looking for a way to de-stress from the holidays? Travel contributor Elaine Labalme suggests some bed and breakfast getaways in the Commonwealth. 

Local Perspectives on Celebrity Scandal and Damage Control

Dec 8, 2014
Dave / Flickr

Long considered one of America’s most beloved comedians, Bill Cosby is scheduled to perform in Pittsburgh this coming February. However, Cosby has been receiving a lot of negative press lately for allegations of sexual misconduct.

He is the latest in a long line of childhood heroes and lovable icons mired in scandal.

Pop culture contributor Joe Wos shared a brief history of celebrity scandal, from 1920’s silent movie actor Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, to kiddie-show icons Paul Reubens, known by many as Pee-wee Herman and Kevin Clash, who played Elmo on Sesame Street for almost 30 years.

Wos says Reubens is a great example of someone who managed to turn his negative public image around after the scandal broke. He says that’s partially because Reubens’ crime was victimless.

But for celebrities like Cosby, who portray themselves on TV and in real life, as having a higher moral standing, Wos says when those people fall from grace, “I hate to say that there’s some enjoyment in it but there is a sense that he was put in his place. When you set yourself up to lead by example, you better be Mr. Rogers.”

Damage Control

Considering the media’s obsession with the cult of celebrity and scandal, is it any wonder that American TV viewers have become obsessed with the ABC drama “Scandal”? Millions watch Olivia Pope “handle” and “fix” the reputations and images of high profile clients each Thursday night.

But in real life what does it take to repair one’s image after falling from grace?

Two Pittsburgh organizations known for their sometimes controversial art installations are teaming up to talk about the First Amendment.

Conflict Kitchen in Schenley Plaza and the Mattress Factory on the North Side are hosting a panel discussion Tuesday on the challenges artists face when creating and presenting work inspired by the relationship between Palestine, Israel and the United States.

Aimee DiAndrea

Pointe Magazine has included Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre soloists Luca Sbrizzi and Gabrielle Thurlow among its Top 10 Standout Performances of 2014. The dancers, who will be featured in PBT’s production of the holiday classic The Nutcracker, take a moment from their rehearsal to speak with us.

How Does a Book Become a Bestseller?

Dec 5, 2014
m01229 / Flickr

Thousands of people set out to write a book each year and get it published. Many hope to see their book turn into a bestseller.

But even when a writer tries to do everything right, there’s still no guarantee of success. For that reason, Irina Reyn, an Assistant professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh and author of the book “What Happened to Anna K?” has developed an undergraduate course focused how a manuscript becomes a book and how a book becomes a bestseller.

She joins us along with Mitch Hoffman, Executive Editor at Grand Central Publishing, a division of Hachette, to discuss what it takes to get a new book into the hands of readers.

Is there more to life than beer and cookies? Sure! There's also haggis, alligator tail, and other deep-fried curiosities.

Your weekend agenda in Pittsburgh:

Handmade Arcade

Brew Gentlemen's Food Truck Roundup

The Joy of Cookies

Do not expect to hear much out of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture for the next few months.

According to Pittsburgh Foundation spokesman Doug Root the Center will be entering a "quiet period" as an interim governing body has the facility assessed and searches for a new permanent oversight board.  

The temporary panel will include the heads of the Heinz Endowments, R.K. Mellon and the Pittsburgh Foundation — the three foundations that were instrumental in orchestrating a purchase of the bankrupt building from Dollar Bank.

ARAD Approves Largest Budget in 20-Year History

Dec 2, 2014

The Allegheny Regional Asset District will allocate more than it ever has in its 20-year history to organizations and projects in 2015.

The Board of Directors of the ARAD approved a $93.7 million budget Monday that details the distribution of $89.3 million in operating grants and $4.4 million in capital grants to a total of 90 nonprofit or government agencies.

Leigh Kelsey / Flickr

Congratulations, you just made it through the biggest eating holiday of the year!

With the fridge full of leftovers, the last thing you probably want to talk about is food, right? Well, travel contributor Elaine Labalme, is here to talk about some food destinations in the region worth visiting.

What to do with yourself after a full day of binge eating and all-around excess? We suggest three more days of exactly the same thing. Let the Hunger Games begin!

Meanwhile, we begin a three-week-long harangue urging you to shop local this holiday season. A few options to get you started this weekend:

I Made It! Holiday Market

Sample the Market

The Annual People's Gas Holiday Market Returns to Market Square

Nov 24, 2014
John Altdorfer

Vendors from around the world have returned for the 3rd People's Gas Holiday Market in Market Square. 

What draws them to the Steel City? We'll pose that question to Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership Vice President of Marketing and Communications Leigh White and holiday market vendor, Louise Larkin Manager of the Kathe Wohlfahrt Shop.

Dan Dion

At 2 p.m. on Sunday, 90.5 WESA is trying out a new cooking show, "America's Test Kitchen" from PBS. However it isn't a radio version of the TV show. Host Chris Kimball joins us to explain what's different.

And we'll talk with Ophira Eisenberg, host of the game show "Ask Me Another" which debuts Sunday morning at 10 a.m. Ms. Eisenberg was selected as one of New York Magazine's "Top ten comics that funny people find funny."

Ben McLeod / Flickr

This Sunday night at 7 p.m., 90.5 WESA welcomes a new show to the weekend lineup, an hour of storytelling called "Snap Judgment."

The program is hosted by Glynn Washington, whom the Atlantic referred to in a 2013 article as the fastest rising public radio star in memory.

Rachel may be at death's door, but it will take more than debilitating illness to stop the Social Club.

Light Up Night

CMNH After Dark

Piebird

Heinz Endowments

As revilers traipse around downtown looking at holiday lights Friday night and through the rest of the holiday season, the Breathe Project hopes they will take a few moments to learn a little bit about the region’s air quality.

The work titled Particle Falls is being projected on the façade of the Benedum Center on Penn Avenue. Its cascading lights give viewers a real-time look at how much pollution is in the air above their heads. To be more specific, it measures the fine particulate mater in the air.

Isabella Rossellini Performs "Green Porno" in Pittsburgh

Nov 20, 2014
Warhol Museum

Iconic actress, performer and model Isabella Rossellini comes to Pittsburgh Friday for a special presentation of her one-woman show, "Green Porno."

Adapted from the Sundance Channel series of the same name, Rossellini has created a unique performance-lecture focusing on the mating rituals of a variety of species.

She joins us to discuss her interest in animals and biodiversity and how it led to this show at Carnegie Music Hall, presented in conjunction with The Warhol Museum and the Carnegie Museum of Art & Natural History.

Rossellini says that her interest in animals began when she was just a girl, and later in life -- after many years as a model and actress -- she went back to school to study animal behavior.

When she started writing “Green Porno,” Rossellini explains that she worked hard to take dry scientific information and inject humor, create bold costumes and stage visually compelling scenarios to get accurate scientific information across in an entertaining way.

Mark Schultz / http://www.markschultz.com/

Olympic gold medal wrestler Mark Schultz joins us to discuss his book "Foxcatcher: The True Story of my Brother's Murder, John du Pont's Madness, and the Quest for Olympic Gold."

In it, he tells the story of the 1996 murder of his brother, fellow Olympic gold medalist Dave Schultz, at the hands of John E. du Pont at the Foxcatcher Farms estate in Pennsylvania.

A movie based on the events, also titled "Foxcatcher" has been released this month. He joins us today to talk about his career in wrestling, his thoughts about the film and his reaction to his brother's murder.

City Sidewalks Dressed in Holiday Style

Nov 20, 2014
Vlasta Juricek / Flickr

The holiday season is here. To help you get in the spirit, travel contributor Elaine Labalme suggests some destinations, within driving distance, where you can see city sidewalks dressed in holiday style.

Traveling in winter time requires some extra preparation when it comes to packing and planning for the weather, Labalme explains, but it’s well worth the effort.

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