Center for Creativity adds the Understory to its repertoire

Performance space in Cathedral basement


The Center for Creativity’s new space in the basement of the Cathedral of Learning — dubbed the Understory — began as an idea in 2018 from the Student Government Association for a collaboration space where creative minds could connect, but it’s taken until now for all the pieces to come together.

The idea took root during the 2019-20 Year of Creativity at Pitt, but the project has had some ups and downs — like that little pandemic thing — before finally becoming a reality. Even now, as it prepares to open, the Understory is missing some crucial sound-resistant doors for its four practice rooms and one podcast studio.

This new space will be centered on, but not restricted to, performance arts. And as the old saying goes, the show must go on.

The Understory debuted July 27 during the 2022 Pitt Diversity Forum’s only in-person event, “Sparking Change: An Evening with Friends.” Spoken word performers, musicians, writers and hip-hop artists entertained a small group of people from the Pitt community gathered in the Cathedral space, as well as those watching online.

Kit Ayars, director of the Center for Creativity, said the Understory — in room B-50 of the Cathedral — will be open this semester. But for now, only one group at a time can reserve the space until those (#$@&) doors, which were ordered 10 months ago, arrive.

“You can’t have other people in there, because all you’re going to hear is the group that’s on the rehearsal stage,” Ayars said.

The centerpiece of the room is a roughly 31-foot-by-40-foot rehearsal/performance space with a sprung floor that absorbs shocks, making it better and safer for dancers. This space can be used for music, dance, theater, spoken word or other performances. Four-person tables dot the area in front of the stage and can be reconfigured as needed.

Erik Schuckers, the center’s manager of communications and programming, is already planning to move the monthly open mic nights from Nordy’s in the William Pitt Union to the Understory. The first one will be Sept. 29. He also envisions using the space during the 1-Minute Film Festival in September and October.

Couches and bean bag chairs in Understory space

A colorful seating area to the right as you enter the room will provide the collaboration space that SGB requested. Another corner holds the project room, which will have a long table, sewing machines, a wipe-board wall, tools for creating sets or other props, paints and a sink for clean up.

Ayars envisions people using the table to piece together large costumes or the walls to storyboard a podcast.

Drum set in practice roomShannon Fink, operations manager at the Center for Creativity, said the room also will have a professional lighting grid and sound system, a green screen for creating videos, and white and black backdrops for photo shoots. A real drum kit, pianos, guitars, electric violin and ukulele will be available to use.

Representatives from the theatre arts and music departments advised the center on specific equipment. The English department also had input on the podcast studio.

The Understory joins two other Center for Creativity venues — the original in the basement of the University Store on Fifth and the Text & conText Lab in Hillman Library, which opened in the summer of 2021.

Staffing all three areas is a bit of a puzzle, Fink said. They will be using student workers in addition to the four permanent staff. Hours for the Understory are still being worked out, but Fink said they expect to have some evening and weekend hours.

The Center for Creativity spaces are open to Pitt staff, students and faculty in all schools and departments.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 724-244-4042.


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