PITTSBURGH — Marya Sea Kaminski loved her first date with Pittsburgh.
“I came in from the airport and I came through that Fort Pitt Tunnel and the city opened up and I was like, ‘Oh my God, where am I?” Kaminski said.
It turns out she was home. Kaminski, 40, accepted a job as the new artistic director of The Public and she has big plans for the downtown cultural institution that involve learning a lot about the city, its history, demographics, and the thriving tech industry taking root.
“I’m trying to learn, the past goes really deep and I think there’s some really bright horizons in terms of Pittsburgh’s future, and one of those is the tech community,” Kaminski said, adding that she’s planning an “innovation series” of productions at the theater. “Once a year I’m hoping to program a play that explores technological themes or creates an opportunity for a collaboration with the technical community. The play next year has to do with artificial intelligence.”
Coming from Seattle and paying attention to current playwrights who are using tech in their stories has intrigued Kaminski lately. In Pittsburgh she has already connected with interesting players in the tech arena.
“I struck up this amazing conversation with this gentleman named John Choi, of Choitek,” Kaminski said. “We scheduled a Skype call and he set up our Skype so that I was embodying one of his life-size robots. In our Skype conversation I could literally, using keyboard commands, follow him around his office. And we could have a moving conversation. That was my first introduction to Pittsburgh’s tech scene — it was wild!”
Like many of us who have found Pittsburghers to be friendly and generous, Kaminski is looking forward — after 17 years in Seattle — to discovering more about the people of her new city.
“When I start peeling back … the things people are working on here are truly mind blowing,” she said. “So I feel like my job is to get curious about that stuff. Learn as much as I can and see where those intersections are between the innovation happening there and the imagination happening in the theater.”
GeekWire caught up with Kaminski in Pittsburgh. Continue reading her answers to our questions, and read more of our Pittsburgh coverage here.
What do you love about Pittsburgh? “The tribalism of the neighborhoods here and how people feel about their neighborhood. I find that really contagious. I think that is wonderful. I’m interested now, especially looking at the tech stuff and thinking in terms of the ecosystem of the arts community, this really industrious nature of Pittsburgh, this deep past of really being the center of the country for a time, and how that manifests in the DNA of a place is interesting to me, too.”
What would you change? “This is a cheeky question for a newcomer. I do wish that Alaska [Airlines] would hurry up and get that direct flight going because it is a long commute between Seattle. It’s an all-day commute there and back.”
Favorite Pittsburgh spot? “I did have a great discovery on my last trip. I try to walk to the theater every morning through a different way and I happened through Market Square. It’s a big opening [downtown] and it’s surrounded by shops and restaurants. Sweet little bakery down there. The last time I was here the ice rink was open. In the middle of Market Square, in the pavement, there’s a Big Dipper that’s lit. And the Big Dipper is sort of a good omen for me, I follow it through the summer so I noted that. Later that night I was having dinner there with a friend and I just mentioned it, and they said, ‘Well you know why that’s there? There used to be several houses around Market Square that were stops on the Underground Railroad.’ Of course they used to navigate the Underground Railroad via the stars, so [the architect] put the Big Dipper in the center of the Square.’ That moved me.”
Favorite Pittsburgh celebrity? “Annie Dillard. She wrote ‘Pilgrim at Tinker Creek’ and ‘A Writer’s Life’ and ‘An American Childhood.'”
Best food in Pittsburgh? “I’ve been to some great restaurants, not all of them I can remember the names of. But I did have pancakes at Pamela’s this morning on the recommendation of many people and those were pretty off the hook.”
Favorite Pittsburgh word or phrase? “I mean, ‘yinz’ is pretty amazing. I’m also interested in the idea of a parking chair. That’s a pretty cool idea.”
Pittsburgh’s most important innovation or invention: “The [NFL football] running game? Maybe smash-mouth offense? But I looked it up and Pittsburgh didn’t invent that. But you might think they did.”
What will stick with you about Seattle? “It’s funny, when I moved to Seattle from New York City, wanting a career in the theater, I never thought I would stay. Where I thought the work was happening was New York and L.A. and that that was where I was going to build my career. One of the things that I loved about Seattle and that I feel here, too, is it still feels like a pioneer town. It feels like there’s a place for new ideas, there’s a place for innovation, that it’s a place were you are what you say you are. That entrepreneurial spirit, I loved about Seattle. I also think it’s a very unique place and a hard place to leave as an artist, because there are not a lot of places where there’s that vibrant of an arts ecosystem, but also that kind of balance in living. I feel like in Seattle you can be an artist and a human being. I think that having a connection to a community that’s not all artists makes for better art.”
What do you think are the chances of Amazon HQ2 ending up in Pittsburgh? “I wouldn’t be surprised. I don’t know what the chances are — I think that’s out of my realm of expertise. But I know that when I have set boots on the ground here I’ve been pretty charmed and I think there’s probably incredible guidelines that will inform what the next set of finalists are and the ultimate choice. As someone who has lived next door to Amazon for a while now … sometimes they surprise us. Even if Pittsburgh doesn’t fit all that criteria, and I don’t think it does exactly as I sort of read all the articles, it’s still a pretty enchanted place and when I come here it feels really possible.
“I do think the level of resources, innovation, the great minds Amazon has attracted to Seattle is unbelievable. From the inside it can be hard to see all the huge benefits of having that much industry and having that in Seattle. Some of the people I’ve been talking to in the tech industry have been talking about ethical technologies. The whole world has a lot of information about how Seattle developed so quickly and I think if Pittsburgh was chosen and that information could be wielded in a really mindful way by both Amazon and the developers and government here I think it’d be a huge opportunity to see how that growth can happen really in partnership with the community. We tried to do that a little bit in Seattle but everything moved so quickly that it was really hard for us to wrap our arms around that, and I think we could … in the next place.”
LinkedIn: Marya Sea Kaminski
Website: Pittsburgh Public Theater