The Buzz

Ira Glass headlines Pittsburgh Humanities Festival at Carnegie Mellon University.

Stories Lucie Hanes

Cover Photo by Rah Petherbridge Photography

The annual Humanities Festival returns to Pittsburgh this spring for its fifth year running. The festival features an impressive lineup of experts and professionals from all across the artistic spectrum. Theater, history, music, visual art, literature, sociology, politics, and entrepreneurship all come together through a variety of avenues to help connect the community.

Leaders in all of these intellectual and creative spheres will occupy the Cultural District from March 20 to 22 for three full days of interviews, roundtable discussions, performances, readings, and exhibitions. Community members also have the chance to present alongside these pundits, thanks to the Public Open Call opportunity, which invites anyone with their own knowledge or work to audition for a spot in the Festival’s lineup. The Festival includes events each of the three evenings along with Core Conversations presentations during the days.

Kicking off the featured evening events, Sh!t-faced Shakespeare takes the stage at Byham Theater on March 20 to perform its unconventional interpretation of Macbeth. Combine copious amounts of alcohol with dignified Shakespearean actors in front of a live audience, and no censors, and you get a version of “the Scottish Play” that would make even the playwright himself roll—or laugh along—in his grave. Join the cast in its rowdy imbibement throughout the show for a lighter take on tragedy.
Ira Glass from This American Life shares “Seven Things I’ve Learned” on the same stage the following night. He will discuss his experience developing and sustaining his iconic broadcast show and share more of the anecdotes that keep his nearly 5 million listeners coming back week after week. The broadcast, which boasts six Peabody awards, has led Glass throughout communities and environments all over the spectrum and left him with more lessons from the road than some might ever garner—but he’s eager to spread the love through storytelling from a bright, wide perspective.

Sunday night takes us to the Greer Cabaret Theater to hear from Blair Imani, who tackles issues of civil rights, equality, safety, and culture through the lens of the Great Migration. Imani titles her talk Making Our Way Home and focuses on how the flow of Black culture out of the South and throughout the rest of the United States has created the complex, diverse society that we know today—for better or for worse. Her two publications, alongside her nonprofit organization Equality for HER and countless public speaking appearances, have taken Imani to the forefront of the ongoing fight for equal rights, both within the Black community and beyond it in support of LGBTQ rights and female empowerment. Above all, she represents the intersectionality of minority identities as proof that there are no limits on individuals or communities when it comes to all the puzzle pieces of our character.

Throughout the daylight hours, Core Conversations sessions meet at the Trust Arts Education Center for discussions on topics ranging from musical influence to political predictions, beer brewing, film awards, racial relations, the criminal justice system, nutrition, and more. Core Conversations are an opportunity for attendees to absorb the topics and presenters in a more close-knit setting, engaging in what the Humanities Festival calls, “smart talk about stuff that matters.” The selections align with current issues of controversy and significance within and far beyond the local Pittsburgh community, and include something for anyone interested in diving deep through cultural layers. One of these presentations will be led by whoever wins the Public Open Call audition.

The Humanities Festival is the brainchild of Carnegie Mellon and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, whose relationship helps create this intersection between lofty intellectual thought and everyday street smarts. The University brings in strong research and solid ideas, while the Cultural Trust helps install those elements within the community. Because the festival focuses so heavily on public involvement, you can be sure to leave this event feeling rejuvenated and interested, not just talked at.

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