Pittsburgh encourages people to get AMPed

It can only be described as chaos, but it has the air of being contained by the close setting of the Brew House. A guy pees on stage. A CMU alumnus speaks his mind. Wrap that up with a good amount of booty-shaking, exposed navels, and a guy dropping his trousers at the sight of Vanna White, and you get another typical show at the Brew House in the South Side. AMP, an acronym that stands for Art, Music, and Performance, is a three-month long series featuring art, music, and performances by local artists. It is funded by The Sprout Fund, a local collaborative support fund designed to promote Pittsburgh talent. The series featured live bands at Club Caf? in January, art exhibitions at the Warhol in February, and performances on stage at the Brew House in March.

Friday?s event was as eclectic as a show could possibly be, combining spoken word with comedy and Middle Eastern dance. The show featured the Animal Club?s sketch comedy show, Alexi Morrissey?s spoken word, Call of the Wild interpretive exposition, and Khafif Middle Eastern Dance and Music.

The close-knit setting of the Brew House offered friendly faces and beer that made for a very pleasant evening. Young Pittsburgh 20-somethings wearing faded leather, long hair, and Doc Martens came to gather here in the heart of the South Side to laugh and enjoy local culture. It was a laid back setting where anybody could introduce themselves to the performers afterwards or during intermission, and where people mingled around the small, attached gallery featuring artwork by local Pittsburghers. Several CMU students surprised each other by recognizing people from their classes or around campus.

The first act up was a comedy troupe called The Animal Club, comprising four guys and a girl. The Animal Club Sketch Comedy Collective is a multimedia production company formed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2000. The group of 10 writers and performers are all graduates of the performing arts program from Point Park College, but include one former CMU student, Mike Balzer, who earned a performing arts degree from Point Park College. They have been touring all over the nation for four years. The emcee compared them to the comedy show Kids in the Hall, and described the Animal Club as ?Kids in the Garage.?

Opening up with a Broadway-style dance and song number, they quickly switched to a film clip that involved eating broken glass. The brief clip was immediately followed by a sketch involving a keyboard. This fast-paced, random comedy was a delight as the audience searched for a theme among the political references, man in a bag skit, religion parody, and an Adolf Hitler cereal film clip. Switching back and forth between music, sketch, and film kept the audience on their toes. The comedy show ended spectacularly with another song and dance sketch involving a fan of Wheel of Fortune, Alex Trebek, Vanna White, and Star Trek with his pants down to his ankles. The ending closed with the bang of a confetti popper and silly group pose.

The next performance was by CMU alumnus Alexi Morrisey, who read original poetry as spoken word. Described by the emcee as sounding like ?hitting your finger with a hammer after cutting off your other finger with a skill saw,? he came out looking like an instrumentalist rather than a linguist in a black blazer, black pants, and a goatee. He dove right into his ?word salad? and accentuated his poetry with gentle hand waving, dramatic pauses, and soothing voice. Despite his shaky nervous breath, his tone was strong and clear and well-rehearsed. He did not even bat an eye at his music stand of notes during the 20-minute monologue of his jumbled and confusing journey of words. He stood slightly dancing with his body, making sure to keep the audience?s sharp attention by suddenly changing the volume, speed, and tone of his voice, throwing in foreign accents, and even shaking the microphone violently. His poetry referenced outer space, politics, international relations, and Shakespeare.

Next up was the Call of the Wild performance, a strange and difficult-to-categorize interpretive sketch. This 13-person troupe combined instruments, funny costumes, movements, and props to portray a day in the life of a modern hunter without using dialogue. The stage was set with crude cardboard cut-out trees which matched the cardboard jeep that rolled in and unloaded the hunter and the orchestra. The orchestra consisted of a trio of French horn, bongos, and opera-like vocals. The hunter shocked the audience by actually urinating on stage, and then nonchalantly proceeded to put on face camouflage paint to prepare for the hunt. Slowly but surely all the animals showed themselves from their hiding places behind the trees and in turn hooted, clucked, squawked, and crowed on stage and up on a high balcony. The hunter ends up killing a huge unicorn-like monstrosity only to cut off its horn and drive away in the jeep. The climax was proclaimed with a cacophony of animal calls, instruments, and a variety of unidentifiable raucous.

A swirl of colorful dresses caught the audience?s eyes as the Khafif Middle Eastern Dancers shook their hips to the beat of the tabla, an Arabic drum. The final performance was a change of pace as the audience sat back and enjoyed the visual feast of three attractive girls, midriffs exposed, slowly moving their bodies to the beat. The repetitive sounds of the clarinet matched with a violin, along with the creative Middle Eastern costumes worn by the instrumentalists created an exotic ambience. Attention to detail was evident in the dancers? clothing as well. The intricate layers of colors and textures in their skirts and head-wraps nicely flowed and contrasted with their jingling, light-catching bras. Not quite belly-dancing, the traditional Turkish folk songs were choreographed skillfully by the dancers and the originality showed through from their line dances to their solo pieces. The five dances performed were unique and beautifully executed while the simple melodies and beats played continuously. The final number incorporated the Indian tabla, slightly different from the Arabic version, and had a faster beat that quickened steadily as the dancers ran around the stage in circles.

With AMP, you never know what to expect. If just one night is not enough, AMP featured another showcase in the Brew House the following night, which also had an and oddly mismatching lineup which differed from the Friday show.