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Performing Arts Exchange connects Pittsburgh performers with national opportunities

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Plenty of specialty conferences come to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, but local musicians are probably better informed about the Anthrocon furries than about a three-day event they could actually benefit from: The Performing Arts Exchange.

PAE, held the first weekend of October, included networking, panels and performance. The bustling convention hall contained hundreds of exhibitor booths, while workshops included "Where Are the Jazz Fans?" and "Alternate Venues: Gardens, Museums and Science Centers." Official juried showcases highlighted 18 groups (out of over 170 applicants), but there were also independent showcases, initiated by agents, managers and arts organizations.

"Everyone has one thing on their minds," said Rebecca Himberger, staffing the booth for Pittsburgh-based performance group Attack Theatre. "Either they need to find acts for their theater, or they are the act that needs to be booked."

While Attack Theatre enjoys a strong regional profile, Himberger says, they participated in PAE because "nationally we want to have more presence. We're also on the host committee -- [Attack co-director] Michele [de la Reza] and I organized a lot of the details, from what's in the goodie bags to where the reception was held."

Booking agencies represented at PAE included Eye for Talent, passing out Venezuelan "world music chocolates" to highlight their globalist roster which includes Tuareg desert-rockers Tinariwen and Tuvan throat singers Huun Huur Tu. The juggernaut Agency Group, meanwhile, touted mainstream acts like Celtic Thunder alongside alternative acts Dengue Fever and Gogol Bordello.

A few enterprising locals mixed with the bigwigs. Erika May, of the fledgling Tarsier Music Network, took meetings and handed out sampler CDs, repping locals Phat Man Dee, Machete and AppalAsia.

"I didn't know whether to come as artist, booking agent or promoter, so I signed up as 'supporter,'" May said. "I get to be in a room with hundreds of people who all work in the performing arts. I'm not sure about my career direction, but I've come to learn what there is to do, and I've met at least a couple dozen people I never would have met otherwise."

PAE previously touched down in Pittsburgh in 2004. "The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts is strong, so we return regularly," noted conference director Sage Crump. "Another reason was the opening of the August Wilson Center which provided an opportunity for juried showcases."

Next year, PAE will land in Baton Rouge, La., but when it cycles back around to Pittsburgh in six or so years, you can't say you weren't ready.

For more info, visit pae.southarts.org.

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