PICT celebrates its relationship with the University of Pittsburgh in this important piece about higher education.
Pittsburgh, PA, August 13, 2015– Oakland will be bustling this September when the students return to their dormitories to begin a new year of study. During this time, from September 3 through 19, PICT Classic Theatre will present Educating Rita by Willy Russell, which was selected, in part, so that PICT can bid the University of Pittsburgh a fond farewell before leaving the Stephen Foster Memorial in 2016.
“The University of Pittsburgh is such an old and venerated institution and I thought it would be a good idea to celebrate the principle of education within our final full season there,” says Alan Stanford, PICT’s Artistic & Executive Director and the director of Educating Rita. “This is a play that, apart from being incredibly amusing and delightful, reminds us of why we went to college— that it just wasn’t to learn facts— it was to learn about life and humanity.”
Educating Rita tells the story of two very different people from Liverpool, brought together through the power of education, who are both seeking fulfillment in their lives. Rita is an energetic twenty-six-year-old hairdresser who is studying literature through Britain’s Open University program in the hope that it will help her to find meaning beyond her monotonous working-class life. Frank is a failed-poet-turned-university-professor, who is also searching for meaning beyond his too-regular trips to the pub.
This classic, Pygmalion-inspired tale was made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Julie Walters and Michael Caine in 1983, and though Stanford has never directed this particular play, he has a personal connection to the film. “If you blink, you’ll miss me, but the movie was made in Dublin, so I did have a very small part in it. But at least that small part was with Michael Caine.”
The Educating Rita film was based on Willy Russell’s incredibly successful play of the same name, which he wrote using his own experiences as inspiration. “I didn’t set out to write an autobiographical play, but the parallels between Rita and me seem glaring now,” Russell disclosed in an article from The Guardian. “I was a ladies’ hairdresser. I left school with one O-level and went back to get the education I’d not had… So many people, particularly women, have told me down the years that it was seeing this play that made them set about achieving their own education. I always say to them: ‘You would have done it anyway’.”
It is for this reason that Stanford was adamant that PICT present this particular piece, “Everybody is entitled to and should have the opportunity for education,” expressed Stanford. “I believe in education. And I don’t just mean knowledge— I mean understanding— the understanding of the world through literature, through philosophy, through science and through mathematics. That is the most important gift we can give, and as a theatre company, we have a responsibility to bring ideas and concepts to life, offering audiences a greater understanding of the world around them.”
ABOUT EDUCATING RITA:
A current and past PICT Featured Artist return to play a hairdresser and university professor who embark upon an unlikely friendship made possible through the power of education.
“Marty is one of the most intelligent actors that I have worked with,” says Director Alan Stanford. “He has a wonderful capacity for characterization and in this he is a character that is built on what back in Ireland I would describe as dry wit.
Rita will be played by Karen who was our featured artist last year and one of the most versatile actresses in the city and one of the funniest.”
Martin Giles who recently appeared in critically-acclaimed Sharon’s Grave, is returning to PICT for his fourteenth season with PICT and is a 2015 Featured Artist. He will be playing Frank, a disillusioned alcoholic University professor, who must tutor a young working class girl who wants to better herself by studying literature at University. Their relationship has an impact on Frank and his sense of self that can be seen throughout the play. Martin Giles most recently appeared in Sharon’s Grave as the colorful traveling medicine man Pats Bo Bwee, he also directed How the Other Half Loves, by Alan Ayckbourn and appeared in PICT’s 2014 Season in Great Expectations, Macbeth, Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme and Waiting for Godot.
A twenty-six-year-old hairdresser, Rita, who is eager to learn at University, forges a tentative relationship with middle-aged English tutor Frank. Karen Baum who was a 2014 Featured Artist, will return to play Rita. She was last seen as the Trassie Conlee in Sharon’s Grave, as Mrs. Detweiler in How the Other Half Loves and Clarinda in For the Tree to Drop. Rita is a working class girl from Liverpool who desires to find personal fulfillment and renewed purpose by studying at University against the wishes of her husband.
Alan Stanford will direct and act as scenic designer for Educating Rita, and he is in his eighth season at PICT. He was for more than thirty years a principal and leading actor with the renowned Gate Theatre, Dublin, where he recently directed his adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, which was taken to the Hong Kong Arts Festival in February 2015. He recently directed For the Tree to Drop, Great Expectations, and Macbeth for PICT.
The artistic team for this production includes lighting design by Andrew Ostrowski, costume design by Michael Montgomery, sound design by Elizabeth Atkinson and props by James Thome.
ABOUT PLAYWRIGHT WILLY RUSSELL:
Willy Russell was born in 1947 and grew up in Liverpool, England. He quit school at the age of fifteen and became a women’s hairdresser. He decided to go back to school at the age of twenty one because of the influence of his wife, who was a teacher. He is best known for his plays Shirley Valentine, Blood Brothers, and the semi-biographical play Educating Rita. Educating Rita was made into a film starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters, who was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Rita. This year is the thirty-fifth anniversary of Educating Rita, and major productions have been scheduled around the world to celebrate the anniversary.
Willy Russell’s Website:
About the Open University:
Julie Walters and Willy Russell: how we made Educating Rita