Senior leadership changes at Pittsburgh Opera

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

Pittsburgh Opera just announced a new director of development. More from the press release:

Pittsburgh, PA... Pittsburgh Opera announces a change in senior leadership with the appointment of Cynthia N. McCormick to the position of Director of Development and External Relations, effective June 1, 2014. Ms. McCormick steps into the position held by John Federico, who will be moving to Philadelphia, PA to work for the Cultural Data Project.

Ms. McCormick, who has worked for the Carnegie Museums since 2002, most recently as Associate Vice President for Government Affairs, was responsible for government relations and public affairs programs on behalf of all four of the Carnegie Museums (Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, The Andy Warhol Museum, and Carnegie Science Center). Pittsburgh Opera General Director Christopher Hahn looks forward to welcoming Ms. McCormick to this important leadership position. "She brings with her a wealth of experience and a deep knowledge of our community, which will help us to thrive as we move beyond our banner 75th Anniversary season. John Federico has served this company with great distinction and we all owe him a debt of gratitude for his hard work and fruitful fundraising efforts. We all wish him the very best in his new position in Philadelphia."

Ms. McCormick began her career in Washington, D.C. as the Legislative Assistant and Press Secretary to three members of Congress, then, as Staff Consultant to Allegheny County Commissioner Barbara Hafer, managed relations with all government bodies on matters related to the Allegheny County Jail. She also served as Director of Government Relations for the national Oncology Nursing Society, and was responsible for all lobbying activities, as well as building a government relations program. Ms. McCormick also spent six years at Port Authority of Allegheny County in various roles, including marketing, community partnerships, and government affairs, before joining the Carnegie museums.

In 2006, Ms. McCormick was appointed by Governor Rendell to the Pennsylvania Board of Judicial Conduct. In addition, she has served as the City of Pittsburgh Civil Service Commissioner for 16 years. She has been affiliated with the boards of Gilda's Club of Western Pennsylvania, WQED Community Advisory Board, YWCA Greater Pittsburgh, and the Drug and Alcohol Council of Allegheny County, among others.

Mr. Federico has been the Director of Development for Pittsburgh Opera since 1999, not including a stint as Development Director at City Theatre from 2004-2010. He first joined Pittsburgh Opera in 1997 as Associate Director of Development. During his tenure, Mr. Federico coordinated and executed campaigns that raised more than $45 million for Pittsburgh Opera from individuals, corporations, foundations, government agencies, planned giving, sponsorships, and special campaigns such as the Renaissance Campaign, the Artistic Excellence Program and the 75th anniversary campaign, for which the first-year goal has already been exceeded. Mr. Federico also participated in the fundraising and planning for the first-ever National Performing Arts Convention, held in Pittsburgh in June 2004, and saw the company expand its programming into such venues as the Byham Theatre, the School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA), and into Pittsburgh Opera Headquarters.

Ms. McCormick and Mr. Federico will work together for about two weeks in May 2014 to ensure a smooth transition.

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Umberger 'not just happy to be here' - 04-22-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .


Every NHL team's media guide has a section towards the back labeled simply, "Playoffs." Some teams such as the "Original" Six franchises have to cram in upwards of a century of data into this section.

Prior to this season, the Blue Jackets had all of four games to chronicle.

In 2009, the Blue Jackets, under head coach Ken Hitchcock reached the playoffs as a member of the Western Conference for the first time in the franchise's history. They were promptly knocked out by a the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings in a tidy four-game sweep.

In the four ensuing season which followed the Blue Jackets were rarely a serious threat to reach the postseason. Instead, they dealt with three coaching changes, a lockout, a messy divorce with long-time captain Rick Nash and a botched courtship with Jeff Carter. And losses. A lot of losses.

Things changed this season as realignment moved the franchise to the Eastern Conference and the team reached the postseason for the first time in franchise history. Pitted against the Penguins in the first round, the Blue Jackets have accomplished a few firsts in the franchise's brief postseason history including the first lead and most importantly, win.

Only three players from that 2009 playoff squad are still part of this roster: Forwards R.J. Umberger, Jared Boll and defenseman Fedor Tyutin.

Withe exception of Nash, Umberger might be the closest thing to the face of the franchise considering his history as a star with Ohio State. Umberger was a part of the community before even joining the club.

Earlier today, the Plum native talked about the franchise's rise after a five year absence from the postseason:

What was it like with Game 3 at home?

"It was nice. It was very energetic. A very passionate, electric crowd. It definitely gave us energy. I think the beginning of the game was the best script you could make. The building was incredibly loud."

What have the past five years been like leading up to last night?

"It’s been a lot of ups and downs. It’s been disappointing that it has taken us this long to get back. The first series against Detroit was incredible but the town was buzzing. Obviously we didn’t do as good as we wanted too. It’s taken us too long to get back."

Is there pride with you, Boll and Tyutin that you've ridden out these five years to get here?

"We’re just glad that we’re a part of this. We’ve put a lot of work in here. Three guys that have definitely cared a lot and wanted to make a difference. It’s good to be a part of this."

What were the low points over those five years?

"Not making the playoffs all those years a row, that’s pretty tough. Seeing a couple of coaches getting fired. The one year, I think we were probably one the worst team in the league. That was probably the lowest market."

What does this success mean to this city as a hockey market?

"This city I consider a really good hockey market. I think people don’t realize that. These playoffs will open peoples’ eyes. I don’t think there’s too many markets where you don’t make the playoffs that many years and they stick with you. They’re so loyal. I can’t say enough about the fans."

How much did the move to the Eastern Conference this season aid the franchise?

"I think it’s good for our organization as a whole. It’s good for our fans to watch us more in the Eastern Time Zone. It’s going to help build rivalries with the Penguins, the Rangers. Things like that will go a long ways towards making some tradition here and adding some fans."

Is there a different feel to this team compared to the 2009 team?

"Yeah, I think so. Maybe then, it was the first playoffs. Maybe we were just happy to be there. I think this team expects to win. We want to win the Stanley Cup. That’s our main goal. It’s not just happy to be here. We expect to give this team everything we got."

(Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)


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Predicting the fall depth chart: Offense

Written by Sam Werner on .

Pitt wrapped up its 2014 spring practices last week, which means it's time to start looking ahead to fall camp, which will kick off at the beginning of August. While that's still a few months away, it's never too early to start taking a look at what the two-deep will likely look like when the Panthers do get going in preparation for the 2014 season.

Before we get started, a few caveats: First, this projection is assuming everyone is healthy. There are a couple of guys (notably along the offensive line) that missed most or all of spring ball with injuries and, while indications are that everyone will be ready to go in August, you just never know. For that reason, this depth chart will look a little bit different to the one that Pitt ended spring practice with. Secondly, there won't be any freshmen in the two-deep below, for a couple of reasons. It's impossible to tell how the rookies will do once they hit the field (remember last year when Titus Howard and Terrish Webb seemed destined for redshirts?), but I also honestly think the Panthers are at a place right now where they don't need any freshmen to step in and contribute. Last year, there were holes to fill along the offensive line (by Dorian Johnson) and at receiver (by Tyler Boyd). As offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said last week, sure, it would be great if a freshmen steps up to the point where he's one of the best guys on the field, but none of the incoming recruits can immediately be slotted into a key position. That said, if there are any notable freshmen at a given position, I'll mention them in my comments on that group.

With that, away we go...

Note: All heights and weights are from Pitt's official 2014 spring roster

1) Chad Voytik (RS So., 6-1, 210 lbs)
2) Trey Anderson (RS Jr., 6-0, 195 lbs)

We'll start with probably the easiest position group to project. This is Chad Voytik's job and there's really no question about it. Voytik didn't blow anyone away this spring, and he even admitted that one of his biggest takeaways from spring practices was how much he still has to learn in the offense. That said, it's still a long way to go until August. This summer will be critically important to him (just as it was to Tom Savage last year), in that he'll need to show up in August completely up to speed and ready to assert himself as the starting quarterback in fall camp. The traditional knock on Voytik has been his size and arm strength, but the biggest issue he appeared to have this spring was his accuracy, which fluctuated from practice to practice. He can throw the ball, but needs to make the easier throws with more consistency than he did in camp.
The bigger question at this position will be what happens if Voytik gets hurt. I was actually impressed with what I saw from Anderson this spring. For a guy who has pretty much been an afterthought for most of his Pitt career, he looked like he's definitely able to lead the offense if need be. Freshman Adam Bertke will join the mix this summer. The obvious ideal situation for him is a redshirt, and, barring complete calamity at the quarterback position, I think that'll be what ends up happening.

Running back
1) James Conner (So., 6-2, 230 lbs)
2) Isaac Bennett (Sr., 5-11, 205)
3) Rachid Ibrahim (So., 6-1, 185 lbs)

The Panthers ended spring practices with only one of these guys (Ibrahim) able to participate fully in practice. Conner suffered a knee sprain, but is expected to be back for summer conditioning. Bennett, meanwhile, needed surgery to correct a shoulder injury, but should be back in August. Conner will be the lead back in this group, assuming he stays healthy, but Paul Chryst likes to mix guys in, so there will be other carries to go around, too. The question is who gets those carries, and a lot of that depends on how ready freshman Chris James is to play when he steps on campus this summer. If the four-star prospect is ready to step into some sort of role, that will likely have a ripple effect throughout the depth chart. Despite Chryst's propensity to spread carries around, there really isn't enough playing time for more than three running backs (last year it was two main guys, Bennett and Conner, with Ibrahim as a third-down guy). If James is one of those top three guys, then that opens the possibility that Ibrahim could take a redshirt next year.

Wide receiver
1) Tyler Boyd (So., 6-2, 185 lbs)
2) Ronald Jones (RS Jr., 5-8, 170 lbs)
3) Kevin Weatherspoon (RS Sr., 5-10, 175 lbs)

Wide receiver
1) Manasseh Garner (RS Sr. 6-2, 230 lbs)
2) Dontez Ford (RS So., 6-2, 200)
3) Zach Challingsworth (RS Fr., 6-2, 185)

I took a stab at listing two wide receiver positions, like Pitt does in its official two-deep, but the reality is a bit more complex than this. It's pretty obvious that Boyd and Garner are the top two guys, and will likely line up opposite each other on most plays. Beyond those two, Jones and Weatherspoon are probably the top two slot options. The coaches have been pretty effusive in their praise for Jones coming back from suspension this spring, and Weatherspoon (though limited by injury this spring) came on pretty nicely before he got hurt late in the year.
The question here is who the options are on the outside beyond Boyd and Garner. Ford looked more and more impressive as spring went on, and physically looks even better than he did in Detroit last year. Challingsworth has drawn a lot of praise from coaches and teammates dating back to last year's bowl preparation, so I wouldn't be surprised to see a role for him, too. Jester Weah started to show some flashes at the end of spring practices, but he's still probably a little too raw to contribute significantly on offense this year.
These outside depth guys could play a bigger role than last year, too, because Boyd said he has been working in the slot a lot more this spring than he did last year. The goal there is to get better matchups for him, but you also need to capitalize on that with guys on the outside who can beat their man (we'll see if Ford or Challingsworth fill that role). A big answer to this could be incoming freshman Adonis Jennings. As his name would suggest, Jennings is impressive physically, at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds. If he's ready to play right away, he gives a nice immediate injection of depth at the receiver position.

Tight end
1) JP Holtz (Jr., 6-4, 245 lbs)
2) Scott Orndoff (So., 6-5, 255 lbs)

Tight end/H-back
1) Jaymar Parrish (So., 6-2, 230 lbs)
2) Tony Harper (RS Fr., 6-4, 200 lbs)

This sort of delineation came about last year, when the Panthers moved away from using a true fullback, and more towards an H-back/hybrid type (basically a second tight end). Let's start at the traditional tight end spot, though, occupied by Holtz and Orndoff. One of the problems with Pitt's offense last year was that the pass protection was so bad that Holtz had to stay in and block, which removed him as a weapon in the passing game. He'll still probably do a lot of that this year (which, frankly, might be a better role for him anyways), but he did catch some red zone passes during scrimmage drills this spring. Orndoff, meanwhile, seems to have a real connection with Voytik. Both practiced with the second team a good deal last year, which may explain that rapport. If I had to make a "bold" prediction for 2014, it would probably be that Orndoff will be Pitt's leading tight end receiver.
As for the other position, it's really similar to what a fullback does, but Parrish will flex out wide a bit more often. Sometimes he'll motion it to block inside, but he can also work in space. Fellow redshirt freshman Devon Edwards could also see some time at this spot.

Left tackle
1) Adam Bisnowaty (RS So., 6-6, 300 lbs)
2) Jaryd Jones-Smith (RS Fr., 6-7, 295 lbs)

This might be one of the biggest concerns on offense heading into the summer. Bisnowaty missed all of spring with the same lingering back injury that cost him the end of last season. The coaches say he'll be back for the summer, but back injuries (especially since this is something Bisnowaty has dealt with since high school, can be tricky). In his absence, Jones-Smith spent the entire spring working with the first team. He certainly looks the part, with a giant frame and almost impossibly long arms, but might not be quite ready for primetime yet. I asked Matt Rotheram at the end of spring if Jones-Smith would be ready to step in a game right now if need be. Rotheram hesitated and basically said that we'll see where Jones-Smith is at next fall.

Left guard
1) Dorian Johnson (So., 6-5, 290 lbs)
2) Gabe Roberts (RS So., 6-5, 305 lbs)

Roberts is another guy who has had his Pitt career plagued by injuries. If he can stay healthy this summer into fall camp, he could (though it's probably unlikely) push Johnson for the starting job here. Remember, a lot of people sort of assumed Roberts would be the starting center heading into last year before he was unseated late in training camp by Artie Rowell. Johnson practiced with the first team for all of spring camp, and he'll probably be the guy on opening day next year. That said, while he has the talent to be a good offensive lineman, he still needs to bulk up a little bit. That's probably the area where not redshirting last year hurt him the most. It helps that he seems to finally have found a home at guard after bouncing around during his first year, but this summer will be critical to Johnson as he tries to fulfill his five-star potential as a starter next year.

1) Artie Rowell (RS Jr., 6-2, 305 lbs)
2) Alex Officer (RS Fr., 6-4, 290 lbs)

As I mentioned earlier, Rowell sort of came out of nowhere to win the job last fall, but has done a good job and really grown into the role through a full season as starter (in addition to being one of the best interviews on the team). He'll be the guy directing the line and, even if Rowell got hurt, I think it's more likely that Roberts would slide over to take the job ahead of Officer. Officer practiced with the second team all spring, but still seems to be probably a year away from being ready to contribute. He still has some conditioning issues, and is working on getting his weight down to a manageable playing weight. If Officer can get that under control, offensive line coach Jim Hueber said he certainly thinks Officer can be a valuable offensive lineman for Pitt.

Right guard
1) Matt Rotheram (RS Sr., 6-6, 330 lbs)
2) Carson Baker (RS Fr., 6-5, 280 lbs)

Rotheram is probably the most sure thing along the offensive line. He's the most experienced guy, and the leader of the unit. Seeing No. 74 lined up at right guard against Delaware is, barring injury, one of the safest bets you can make regarding the 2014 Pitt football team. I know the coaching staff is high on Baker, but, ideally, he won't have to contribute this year.

Right tackle
1) T.J. Clemmings (RS Sr., 6-6, 305 lbs)
2) Aaron Reese (RS Fr., 6-5, 300 lbs)

Clemmings drew rave reviews from the coaches and fellow offensive linemen this spring, his second since moving from defensive end at the tail end of the 2012 season. At the end of the spring, he was rewarded with the 2014 Ed Conway Award for the Panthers' most improved offensive player. Clemmings seems to have made really remarkable progress since making the position change, and, ideally, he'll look even more comfortable in the role next season.

Keep in mind that Pitt will bring in two high-level offensive line prospects this summer in Mike Grimm and Alex Bookser. As I mentioned earlier, for the first time in Chryst's tenure, Pitt's depth is at a point where neither guy will have to come in and contribute. In fact, I'd say it's highly unlikely that either guy will see the field this year. It would probably take a catastrophic injury situation, plus an incredible training camp from one of them. Both are certainly talented, but, even with the best offensive linemen, a redshirt year is almost always the best course of action. Grimm and Bookser will both likely be good players for Pitt along the offensive line, and could compete for a starting job as early as 2015, both I wouldn't expect to see either this year.

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Praying mantis egg case found on Earth Day

Written by Doug Oster on .

Praying mantis on Earth dayThis praying mantis egg case was found during Earth Day planting at the Fort Pitt Blockhouse in Point State Park. Post-Gazette photo by Bob Donaldson

Interim Penn State Master Gardener Coordinator Philip Bauerle found this Praying Mantis egg case among the branches of a foethergilla shrub along the fence of the Fort Pitt Blockhouse during the Earth Day planting of native shrubs and flowers.

The foethergilla were being relocated because they were about to grow higher than the ornamental fence around the Blockhouse. They were replaced with plants native to the era of Fort Pitt including 'Red Sprite' and 'Jim Dandy' winterberries, wild geraniums, clethera and blueberries.
Post-Gazette photographer Bob Donaldson counted almost 50 people doing the work in Tuesday morning's rain.

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Party on August Wilson's birthday

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

Wade AugustWilson 

August Wilson would have been 69 on Sunday, which would be young enough for him to still be, a realization that makes his age at death a hard fact to swallow considering how much writing there remains in a gifted 60 year old. He died in 2005 in Seattle, the home he had adopted after a childhood and young manhood in Pittsburgh.
His niece, Kimberly Ellis, had been planning a birthday party for her mother, Mr. Wilson’s sister, Freda, when Gab Cody, the Pittsburgh regional rep for the Dramatists Guild, asked her if they could throw a party celebrating Mr. Wilson's birthday.
“My mother’s birthday is April 17 and his is April 27; I remembered that ever since I was a little girl,” Ms. Ellis said. “With all the talk about the August Wilson Center, Gab approached me thinking about doing something to celebrate his birthday. We decided on a party to remind people about the person and why he is celebrated and respected, not the center debacle.”
The August Wilson Center is currently in the hands of a bankruptcy judge who recently had been parsing offers from suitors to buy it when it became apparent she had a favorite; the foundation group that had made an offer to buy it, restructure it and retain the mission of the center, bowed out. Read that story here.
The memorial birthday party for August Wilson is from 3-6p Sunday, April 27 at the Kaufmann Auditorium, 1835 Centre Ave.
The event is free but you need to register so the organizers can know how much cake they will need. You can also donate at that link to help them with the expenses of producing this party.
Besides cake, there will be live music, dramatic readings, birthday card readings and presentations of Wilson's monologues.
Ms. Cody said she presented the idea to the Dramatists Guild, "an idea of people from all over sending cards and celebrating August Wilson and they loved it. The guild works to promote in any way they can writers and playwrights by offering them opportunities to work on their craft or to learn more about what the guild offers, including rights writers have when they enter into contracts with theaters."
The guild also has fellowship and scholarship funds and emergency funds sometimes made available to writers in need.
"This event is a celebration of an author whose legacy has had a big impact on the region and the purpose is to bring a large group of people across the theater community and to strengthen and build rapport." But you don't have to be in theater to attend.
“I’ve never taken on the role of maintaining August Wilson’s legacy,” Ms. Ellis said. “But Pittsburgh is experiencing change, and I thought let’s do something that is unifying and fun, celebrates a great legacy and brings the figurative family together. The Dramatists Guild supports the idea and wants to see more inclusive projects.” 
In an email, Ms. Cody wrote of the opportunity “to bring folks of varied backgrounds together through this event, which we see as a community-building celebration.”
Pittsburgh was a disquieting hometown for the playwright. He told an interviewer once during a visit back:
“Like most people, I have this sort of love-hate relationship with Pittsburgh. This is my home and at times I miss it and find it tremendously exciting, and other times I want to catch the first thing out that has wheels.” 
Pittsburgh gave him deliciously and delightfully rich fodder for the 10 plays he wrote that cemented his legacy in American letters. Each play presented scenes of each decade of the 20th century, mostly portraying the life and characters of the Hill District. One of them, "Fences," won Pulitzer and Tony awards and "The Piano Lesson" also garnered a Pulitzer Prize.
Post Gazette photo by Bill Wade


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