On Monday we looked back at some of the big musical events that have happened at Schenley Plaza over the last four years. Today we’re focusing on some other large-scale events that drew big crowds and turned Schenley Plaza into a destination to see and be seen.
At the Parks Conservancy, we’d always felt that the Plaza would make a great place to have a large-scale special event. Instead of just waiting for people to realize it was there, we decided in 2008 to move our Halloween fundraiser, Madcap Masquerade, to the Plaza. The chill in the air was no match for the heated, clear-sided tents that made the party feel like it was outside without the worries about the weather. The Plaza tent suddenly transformed into a place for fortune tellers and tarot card readers–a little different from the balloon animals at Kids Days!
The area around the tents was beautifully decorated, with special rotating colored light illuminating the Mary Schenley Fountain, which had just been restored. The fashion show had a Carousel Couture theme, with feathers, animal prints, and other inspired styles lighting up the runway. And the PNC Carousel itself was a popular attraction for the costumed revelers. It was cool to see such a different crowd getting a kick out of the carousel, although I think it experienced its scariest moment to date when our own Phil Gruszka, dressed as the lumberjack from hell, hopped on and went for a ride on the rabbit. Not something you see on the carousel every day…
There was no such scariness at the Children’s Carousel Teas we held in May 2008 and 2009 (unless you count my having to show up wearing formal gloves to mask some poison ivy I picked up on a volunteer day). Several hundred kids, some of them channeling the Hat Lunch with their stylish outfits, descended on the Plaza for lunch, games, entertainment, and of course as many carousel rides as they could handle. At 2009′s event, the Zany Umbrella Circus debuted its new big top tent, and along with it a great aerial show that wowed the kids.
Squonk Opera’s Astro-rama
Happily, it’s not just the Parks Conservancy that puts on great events at Schenley Plaza. We were all thrilled when Squonk Opera, who we had worked with on a previous Madcap Masquerade, asked if they could host the world premiere of their latest production, “Astro-rama,” on the Plaza lawn. The October 2008 premiere coincided perfectly with Pittsburgh’s Festival of Lights, which after lighting up downtown for a year was expanding to Oakland. Astro-rama’s eerie songs and communications with outer space were cool and entertaining, but nothing to me was more memorable than the Squonk folks using the lighting of the Cathedral of Learning as their grand finale. There’s just something so cool about being immersed in a great show and then turning around to discover there’s something awesome left to discover after it’s over.
Visionary Arts Festival
Continuing with the avant-garde art theme, last year’s Visionary Arts Festival brought some unusual and fascinating displays to Schenley Plaza. Much more an experience than a typical art sale, the VAF brought in artists who presented cohesive bodies of work. The fiber figures embedded in the lawn were a great attention-getter and an introduction to a wide variety of work including sculpture, found objects, paintings, and even giant models of futuristic cities.
We can guarantee you this was the most extreme event that’s ever graced the Plaza, and it was absolutely awesome to watch. The annual gathering of extreme pogo athletes came to Pittsburgh last summer and had their main showcase event on the street between the great lawn and the library. Not only did we see amazing jumps, tricks, and landings, but the organizers arranged a great way to get the crowd involved. Anyone who was willing to don a helmet and hop on a stick got the chance to compete against each other for who could keep jumping the longest. Eventually this involved one-handed and one-legged jumping. I think the winner was about 7 years old. It was fantastic. The day ended with the “pro” pogo athletes competing to see who could jump the highest, including a guy in a full-body costume that made him look like a human tennis ball. I don’t think he won, but to be fair his vision was a bit compromised.
Every October 13, the Game 7 Gang flocks to Forbes Field to relive Bill Mazeroski’s game-winning home run in the 1960 World Series. Schenley Plaza becomes a black and gold haven for Pirates fans and amazing memorabilia. Because this year is the 50th anniversary, we’re expecting a huge turnout, so make your plans now to be there with your Pirates gear in tow.
What’s the best event you’ve attended at Schenley Plaza? Share your memories and check out lots more photos from these events at the Plaza Facebook page!
For up-to-the-minute information on the One Millionth Visitor celebration on July 11, watch this page.