On this episode of Yinzer Backstage Pass, I got to go behind the curtain to explore the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Byham Theater.
I was a “theater kid” in high school, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to explore this 119 year-old theater in Downtown Pittsburgh. John Mumper, director of theaters and facilities for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, and Ann Urwin, the theater’s operations manager, were my tour guides for the day. They let me check out every backstage nook and cranny.
We started in the audience area where they pointed out the orchestra pit that can move up and down with a special mechanical system. I asked if they could run it for us, and they called a friendly stagehand over who pushed a button and suddenly the first few rows of the theater were sinking into the ground. Until they installed this system 20 years ago, the crew had to disassemble a scaffolding system every time they wanted to use the orchestra pit. That took a lot longer than the 60 seconds it takes to run the modern mechanical system.
John and Ann took me into the wings where they pointed out the remnants of the old box seats that are still intact, but hidden behind a wall constructed during a renovation more than 50 years ago. John pointed out that the view from these box seats wouldn’t have been very good — they faced the audience more than the stage. These seats were often purchased by folks who were more interested in being seen rather than seeing what was happening on stage, said John. There were many more backstage stops — but you’ll have to watch the video to see those.
To see what’s coming up at the Byham and other Downtown theaters, visit the Cultural Trust’s online calendar.
If you want more Yinzer Backstage Pass, check out our most recent episode — we visited a Duquesne Light Company substation in Oakland to learn about how electricity travels around Pittsburgh.