Best of the 'Burgh 2015: Arts & Culture

Our editors' FRESH TAKES on our favorite Pittsburgh things, including the best event you'll have a tough time attending and where you can paint your new favorite wine glass.

Best Return of the Old Medicine Show

Miracle Elixir Side Show
Pain, fire and telepathy are on the menu at Professor Style’s Miracle Elixir Side Show. Even with handyman Zephyr Wilcox III hammering nails into his face and Lavinia Warren eating fire or reading minds, the Victorian-era medicine show is fun for all ages. Under the guidance of Professor Nicodemus Styles, the troupe boasts a variety of shows that test the limits of human comfort in a fun-and-freaky experience. Whether they’re playing around with sharp objects or fire, the cast of the Miracle Elixir Side Show will blow your mind. Literally. —EZ; photo by Michael Ray


Best Event You’ll Have a Tough Time Attending

Steel City Big Pour
Since 2007, Construction Junction has held the Steel City Big Pour as its largest annual fundraising event (after deciding that a beer tasting was more in line with its image than, say, a formal gala). The event supports job training programs, rent on Construction Junction’s sizable facility and more — and always sells out almost instantly. Years ago, the Big Pour crashed the servers of its previous ticketing service. To score tickets for this year’s event — scheduled Sept. 12, with tickets going on sale later this month — park yourself at a computer, keep refreshing when the onsale time hits and hope. —SC; photo by Jeni Benz


Best Spot for Budding Edgar Allan Poes to Hone Their Skills

Flashbang! Writing Studio
“Nevermore” are the days of bottled creativity and lifeless descriptions. Flashbang! Writing Studio students write where life happens: in museums, parks and community spaces. Whether they sign up for a one-day class, a multiple-week course or a tutoring session, middle-school and high-school students experiment with poetry and form while immersed in Pittsburgh’s budding literary community. From wandering around The Andy Warhol Museum to workshopping over lattes, husband and wife Sarah and Jeff Boyle form a literary tag team that is committed to burying writer’s block alive. —EZ


Best Marriage of Sights and Sounds

Squonk Opera
Operas may marry visuals with audio, but Squonk Opera has been known to take things to another level. The company’s latest touring show, “Pneumatica,” is centered around air. For the production, which premiered at the 2014 Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival, Squonkers play various instruments, such as the accordion that causes the tall Lady Pneumatica structure to move and breathe. The decades-old troupe generally balances the presence of sight and sound in its shows, but some performances, such as the memorable “Mayhem and Majesty,” fixate a little more on one sense; that show celebrated sound and its effect on the body. —KM; photo by Emily O'Donnell


Best Reason to Get a Little Dirty

Dirty Ball
At Dirty Ball, the only thing “dirty” is the dancing. Cue the lights and open the curtain because Attack Theatre holds this colorful event only once a year, traditionally in the spring. The all-night affair features dance performances, hip DJs, eclectic art installations, fashion showdowns and cocktails, so you can get down and dirty in the Pittsburgh arts scene. Proceeds from tickets, ranging in price from $50 to $250, go back to the theater, helping to fund season performances and education programs. If you’re in a crunch for cash but not creativity, you could volunteer for a set number of hours and attend the event for free. So roll up your sleeves and dig into the Dirty Ball. —EZ

412/281-3305,; photo by Steven Caldicott Wilson


Best Excuse to Close Down the Library

After Hours @ the Library
Get lost in the library for a few hours. The best time to go is after work. With cocktails. And a photo booth. And tours of rooms not typically open to the public. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has been hosting its 21-and-up after-hours parties for about five years; the next event will be held in October at the main branch. Each evening has a theme — past events have revolved around a night circus, “Where’s Waldo?” and “The Wizard of Oz.” Grab a friend and follow the yellow brick road. There’s no place like the library. —LD

4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland; 412/622-6276,; photo courtesy Carnegie Library


Best Way to Help out While Terrified

Hundred Acres Manor
Sure, you’re being intimidated, screamed at, scared and confused. Repeat the magic words: “This is all for charity.” Hundred Acres Manor, a yearly Halloween attraction in South Park, has over the past 11 years raised more than $1.2 million for local charities; after expenses, all proceeds are donated to local causes such as the Homeless Children’s Education Fund and Animal Friends. Don’t think that its philanthropic spirit makes Hundred Acres Manor a tame haunt, though; the bloody scares here definitely are R-rated. New for 2015: an escape room game and a laser-tag area (both ticketed separately from the main attraction). —SC

1 Hundred Acres Drive, Bethel Park;; photo by Brandon P. Donnelly


Most Overlooked Gem at the Carnegie

Miniatures Collection at the Carnegie Museum of Art
Of all the treasures at the Carnegie Museum of Art, nearly none is so lovable as the Miniatures Collection. First, there’s its humble location, tucked into a crooked alley between the Hall of Sculpture and the Hall of Architecture. Then there is its thoughtful presentation: a series of picture windows with a handrail for leaning as you seek a closer look. Finally, there are the skillful miniatures. They are a series of ornate living and dining rooms complete with a postage-stamp-sized New York Times, silverware fit for mice and even realistic parquet flooring and intricate etchings hanging on the walls. —EL

4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland; 412/622-3131,; photo by Bryan Conley


Best Mid-day Distraction

Eat That, Read This
When Maryland native Adam Shuck hunts for material for “Eat That, Read This,” his anything-and-everything Pittsburgh (and sometimes more) e-newsletter, he says he warms up with “missed connections” on Craigslist. Then he gets to the heavier stuff — human rights, current events and the like. In the weekday roundups, you’ll get commentary on everything from political insights, to updates in the arts scene, to romantic happenings at LA Fitness in Bakery Square. It’s all filtered through Shuck’s uncensored, snappy and delightfully clever point-of-view. Sign up, and you’re guaranteed the most yinz-specific medley of happenings possible in a single email.  —BL

*Editor’s Note: “Eat That, Read This” has featured Pittsburgh Magazine’s work. We chose to highlight this newsletter in our Best of the ’Burgh feature because of what it brings to the city.


Best Place to See Railcar History

Pennsylvania Trolley Museum
Pittsburghers love our trolleys. Whether we remember jumping on one to shop downtown at Kaufmann’s, traveling to Kennywood on a summer day in our childhood or just seeing them on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” they’re part of our region’s well-loved history. The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum near Washington, Pa., boasts an ever-growing collection of about 50 — 15 of which have been restored to working condition. You can tour the site and take a 4-mile round trip on one of the vintage vehicles, but we recommend visiting with the family during one of the museum’s three holiday celebrations: Bunny Trolley, Pumpkin Patch Trolley or Santa Trolley, when the site is decked out to its finest. —LD

1 Museum Road; 724/228-9256,; photo courtesy the museum


Best Place to Paint Your New Favorite Wine Glass

ARTrageous Studio
Art-centric outings are all the rage. Bring your own bottle and let your creative side run free at Erin Leone’s ARTrageous Studio, offering more than just canvas-painting sessions. Our favorite class is the one where you can paint your own wine glass. Bring your favorite vino and then paint two glasses as you laugh with loved ones. We bet those will be conversation-starters at your next home party. On the opposite end of the spectrum, one of Leone’s freshly rolled-out offerings is the onesie-painting party package, perfect for parents-to-be who are seeking alternate baby-shower options. —KM

100 Church Road, Wexford; 724/719-2181,; photo courtesy the studio


Best Underground Concerts

Pittsburgh Winery
If you want to set the mood, impress a date or, hey, even propose — do it at Pittsburgh Winery’s hideaway downstairs concert sanctuary. Tucked away in the Strip, the winery’s basement venue is shadowy, rustic and downright sexy. And the tunes aren’t bad, either. Thanks to co-owner Tim Gaber, who plays in a couple of local bands himself, the stage was “built by musicians, for musicians.” Get your tickets early — whether the shows feature a brazen jazz ensemble or a mellow acoustic act, they almost always sell out, packed with lovebirds, wine aficionados and music buffs alike. —BL

2815 Penn Ave., Strip District; 412/566-1000,; photo by Katelyn Rose Petraitis


Best Reinvention of Trivia Night

Adventure Bingo at Union Pig & Chicken
How to liven up the pub quiz? Marry it to another longstanding social game — thus creating a hybrid better than the sum of its parts. At Union Pig & Chicken’s Wednesday-night Adventure Bingo, you’ll be handed a sheet of bingo cards and a dauber; when hilarious host Alexi Morrissey yells out one of the specially marked numbers on your sheet, you’re to shout “Adventure!” and prepare for a question that relates to the night’s theme (recent topics have included spies, monsters, pro wrestling and Joss Whedon). You can win prizes for correct answers or bingos — and you can eat barbecue and drink cocktails while you do it. —SC

220 N. Highland Ave., East Liberty;; photo by Randi Voss


Best Abbreviated Art Performance

Art Madness
In the time it takes to sing along to a few favorite songs, Art Madness creator George Williams can churn out an original piece of art. Armed with a paintbrush in each hand, Williams’s high-energy performance involves flinging paint at a life-size canvas while bebopping around to music until suddenly — and to the delight of onlookers — a portrait of a local sports figure or celebrity is visible. An art teacher in the Seneca Valley School District when he’s not performing at fundraisers or other events, Williams can speed-paint a portrait in the length of three to five tunes. —JS

Talent Network Inc., 412/264-4727,; photo courtesy the artist


Best Bite-Sized Theater Series

Bricolage Production Co.’s Immersive Encounters
Bricolage Production Co. brought immersive theater to Pittsburgh in 2012 with “STRATA,” a brain-bending journey through a futuristic self-help center. In that show — plus last year’s “Ojo” and this year’s immersive project, the Braddock-spanning “SAINTS TOUR” (pictured) — the audience moved from place to place, experiencing a work of theater intimately and interactively. This year, Bricolage launched the “Immersive Encounters” series, consisting of short installations along the same lines; guests experience a brief immersive theater piece, alone, around lunchtime or right after work. Bricolage requests that audiences not discuss what they’ve experienced. More encounters are scheduled for 2015. —SC

sign up at;; photo by Tami Dixon


Best Nerd Fantasy Come to Life

Arcade Comedy Theater’s Knights of the Arcade
Improv comedy never has been cooler than today — former members of famous troupes such as Second City and The Groundlings now have a stranglehold on Hollywood comedy (see: Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, Stephen Colbert) — which makes Pittsburgh’s Knights of the Arcade a refreshing, dorktastic change. Once a month, the improv group plays and acts out a fast-paced game of “Dungeons & Dragons” onstage at Arcade Comedy Theater based on audience members’ suggestions: fighting a giant sloth or taking out a murderous fairy that lives in a teacup. —PD

811 Liberty Ave., downtown; 412/339-0608,; photo by Louis Stein


Best Short-Form Entertainment

Rob Johnston’s Vines
Vine started in 2013 as a website offering users a chance to deliver six-second video clips to their “followers.” Rob Johnston, a video journalist at WPXI-TV, signed up the first week but admits he wasn’t very active until two weeks later. More than two years later, the good-humored personality regularly translates song lyrics, emotions and other subjects for his audience while wearing oversized heart costumes, sitting in large bowls of cereal and even collaborating with his girlfriend and her son, whom he met through the social platform. Bottom line: If you’re in need of a laugh — and are short on time — he should be able to provide a little pick-me-up. —KM


Best Pitch-Perfect Group at Pitt

C Flat Run
A ca-awesome! While “Pitch Perfect 2” dominated at the box office, a real-life a cappella group was taking the nation by storm. Made up of 16 University of Pittsburgh undergraduate students, the co-ed C Flat Run has been singing and dancing its way through gigs around the Pittsburgh region since 2009. Twice it’s been named a semifinalist at the Great Lakes Quarterfinal of the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (yes, that’s the same competition featured in “Pitch Perfect”). The act — which calls itself “the sexiest group on campus” — recently wrapped up a Kickstarter campaign to help raise money for its first professional EP. —JS; photo courtesy C Flat Run


Categories: Best of the ‘Burgh