Carroll County Times

Artscape on the 'Go:' Pittsburgh's Squonk Opera creates production set on truck

The Squonk Opera does not need a stage for its latest show.

They just need a place to park a 34-foot-long truck.

For their 20th anniversary, the innovative Pittsburgh-based Squonk Opera created the "GO Roadshow," which is performed on the same vehicle that is used to transport the set.

Attendees to the 31st annual Artscape, promoted as the largest free arts festival in the United States, will be among the first to see the "GO Roadshow," which premiered in Pittsburgh last month and has not yet been performed outside the Steel City.

The truck was retrofitted with a wall made of rotors and a spinning grand piano. The set features a huge inflatable blimp at the top, which is designed, in part, to attract visitors to the spectacle. Performances will be at noon, 2, 4 and 6 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the intersection of Charles and Preston streets during Artscape.

Artistic Director Steve O'Hearn, who worked with 10-20 artists to create the complex, traveling stage, shared with the Times how the organization got the idea for the show and the difficulties in putting the set together.

Q: How do you come up with the ideas for your productions?

A: A lot of times, it's whatever is right in front of us at the time. For instance, we started this show by simply deciding we wanted to do another outdoor show, just like "Astro-rama," which is actually a big outdoor show we premiered at the University of Maryland.

Q: How is the "GO Roadshow" different?

A: We loved the accessibility of ["Astro-rama"], but it took three days to set up and two days to come down. We decided we wanted to do an outdoors show we could set up in a flash and would be self-contained with all the technology you need on stage. What we came to was an idea as simple as, why don't we just do the show on the truck we come in on?

Q: This particular show really harkens back to traditional 20th century entertainment, doesn't it?

A: When you look at the history of it, it's very American in a lot of ways when you're talking about the traveling show essentially being on the vehicle it travels on. It was really fun to look at. It seemed like a fun and exciting and potentially Squonk-like project and then you are looking for every excuse you can get to come up with a new idea or do something brazen that hasn't been done before.

Q: After 20 years of creating shows like this, do you know your technological limitations?

A: What we know from experience is you have to think of the idea and then figure out how to make them. And some of the ideas will simply be impossible or don't work well.

Q: Does the show on the truck itself make setup easier?

A: Absolutely. It's still a fairly intensive setup. It still takes us 2 or 3 hours to set it up and 2 or 3 hours to take it down and make it legal for street driving.

Q: Since these performances are all free, do you think you will be bringing this form of entertainment to folks who might not traditionally see it?

A: I think what we really enjoy about the outdoor shows is the accessibility to anyone. It's so democratic, so American.

Q: This is almost brand new, right?

A: We've done it only it in Pittsburgh. This will be our first out-of-state show.

Q: When you testing out the truck, was there some concern about what is actually going to work or what isn't?

A: For the most part, everything went as planned. There have been some surprising things like how weather has affected some of our set pieces. A little bit of rain can do a lot of damage in some circumstances even when the stuff is built out of weather resistant plywood and steel. That and transport is always delicate. Even though we just made it, this show is already being booked as far away as Arizona, so now all these delicate instruments, pieces and kinetic props have to travel 2,000 miles and still work when they get there.

Q: Have you played at Artscape before?

A: No, we haven't, but we have a great love for Baltimore. We've played there many times over the year. Years ago, we played at the Baltimore Theater Project and we played at the American Visionary Art Museum several times and we've been to the University of Maryland in College Park. They've helped us premiere several new shows. We all pretty much love Baltimore. It's a sister city in a sense to Pittsburgh with the authenticity and character it has and the lack of pretense.