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10 things to do at Pittsburgh’s First Night countdown to 2020

Highmark First Night
Emily Stimmel
December11/ 2019

Forget Times Square. Highmark First Night Pittsburgh, now celebrating its 17th year as a production of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, offers a family-friendly, arts-focused experience spanning the 14-block radius of the Cultural District. Outdoor activities are free, but there’s no need to brave the cold if you don’t want to. Many events are held indoors at Downtown galleries, theaters and event spaces. Admission buttons are $10 each (kids ages 5 and younger attend for free) and grant access to all indoor First Night attractions.

Clocking in at six hours, First Night features activities for all ages, from live music to installation art, caricatures and tarot card readings. Here are our recommendations for 10 can’t-miss events for the whole family.

1. Start the new year with a bang. 

Zambelli fireworks have been a Pittsburgh institution for generations. This year’s First Night festivities are bookended by two fireworks shows from the famed pyrotechnics producer. Families with tiny tots (and firm bedtimes) can kick off their evening at the Dollar Bank Stage, where the Dollar Bank Children’s Fireworks show runs from 6-6:15 p.m. Planning to stick around till midnight? Don’t miss The Future of Pittsburgh Grand Finale on the Highmark Stage at Penn Avenue and Stanwix Street, beginning at 11:55 p.m.

Prismatica

2. See a rainbow — at night.

Fireworks aren’t the only thing lighting up First Night. Prismatica is an interactive installation of pivoting prisms that reflect the colors of the rainbow with 25 six-foot-tall panels mounted on projectors and covered in a transparent film that shimmers with a spectrum of colors. Designed by Raw Studio of Toronto, the installation has appeared in Europe. Kids will love exploring the colorful shapes and patterns projected by the life-size kaleidoscopes at 133 7th St. from 6-11 p.m.

Ice Creations

3. Watch a fiery and frigid spectacle at Fire & Ice Plaza.

A perennial favorite at First Night, Steel Town Fire will perform alongside Ice Creations in the Fire & Ice Plaza at Penn Avenue and 9th Street. The performance companies will present four shows featuring snow-spraying chainsaws, power tool-carved ice sculptures, LED lighting effects, fire juggling, fire breathing and music. Steel Town Fire showtimes are 6:30-7, 7:30-8 and 9-9:30 p.m. Ice Creations will perform from 6-6:30, 7-7:30 and 9:30-10 p.m. Both troupes will take the stage for a final performance at 10 p.m.

New Year's Eve Parade

4. “Take Flight” with the New Year’s Eve Parade.

The New Year’s Eve parade kicks off at 8 p.m. at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Under the direction of Studio Capezzuti, “Take Flight” will be packed with artistic performances, art cars and Cheryl Capezzuti’s signature giant puppets, which have marched down the First Night parade route since 1998. Viewable from either side of Penn Avenue, the parade will wind through the entire Cultural District, turning right on Stanwix Street toward the Allegheny River.

Zuzu Acrobats

5. Enjoy African acrobatics.

Originating in Mombassa, Kenya, the Zuzu African Acrobats blend traditional circus acrobatics with dance moves set to live and recorded African music at the August Wilson Center. The troupe of five acrobats will tumble, balance on chairs and contort their bodies into impossible shapes to a high-energy dance soundtrack. Reserved seating is required for the three 45-minute shows: 6:30-7:15, 8:30-9:15 and 10-10:45 p.m.

Puppet Karaoke

6. Sing along with puppets.

Calling all shower singers and car crooners: If traditional karaoke makes you break out in a cold sweat, a sock puppet may be just the thing to calm your nerves. D.S. Kinsel, co-founder of BOOM Concepts, will co-host Puppet Karaoke with Dave English, president of the Puppetry Guild of Pittsburgh, in the Trust Arts Education Center (805 Liberty Ave.). Audience members can bring their own socks or make a puppet from provided materials. The organizers hope the event prompts adventurous kids to make the silliest puppets and to sing really loud. Three performances run from 7:30-8:15, 8:45-9:30 and 10-11 p.m.

Penny Arcade

7. Improvise a comedy act.

An offshoot of Pittsburgh’s Arcade Comedy Theater (943 Liberty Ave.), Penny Arcade will have your kids saying “Yes, and” instead of “But why?” Before the show, kids gather at Collaboration Stations to draw, write and craft. The Penny Players bring their ideas to life on stage in an interactive improv comedy show for kids ages 4-11. With a focus on participant-generated creativity, every performance is a unique experience. Shows are scheduled for 6:30-7 and 7:30-8 p.m. Reservations required.

8. Celebrate a “scrappy new year.”

Now that your creative juices are flowing, why not make a traditional craft using some not-so-traditional materials? Sew or embroider a winter accessory or create a festive garland with reclaimed materials, including pompoms, ribbon and fleece. Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse teaching artists will be on hand at Heinz Hall to help kids thread a needle, perfect their embroidery stitch or construct their projects. Scrappy New Year runs throughout First Night, but make sure to snag a place in line before 10:30 pm.

Robert Ramirez

9. Marvel at a musical magic show.

Robert Ramirez is a modern-day Renaissance man, a tap-dancing, piano-playing, ukulele-strumming magician who has performed with the likes of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Penn and Teller. His original magic routines have captivated audiences around the country — and they’ve inspired a few laughs, too. Ramirez brings his mash-up of magic and musical theater to O’Reilly Theater for three First Night performances. Make sure to reserve your seats for one of the following time slots: 6:30-7:15, 8:30-9:15 or 10:30-11:15 p.m.

Children's Theater Series and EQT Bridge Theater Series

10. Get hands-on with local cultural groups.

The members of Steel City LUG know that building with LEGO bricks isn’t just for kids. Participants of all ages are invited to stop by the Family Tent, sponsored by Highmark and Allegheny Health Network, at 7th Street and Penn Avenue, to peruse the group’s latest creations and build their own. Under the tent, families can also explore animal specimens and natural items with Allegheny County park rangers, take a hands-on approach to 18th-century history with Fort Pitt Museum and celebrate holiday traditions with the Children’s Theater Series and EQT Bridge Theater Series.

There’s lots more in the lineup! To plan your family’s personal First Night, view the complete schedule here.

Emily Stimmel

Emily fell in love with the written word as a teenager, when she published zines and wrote for her school paper. Today, she is a freelance writer with a decade and a half of experience in non-profit communications. She enjoys cooking, reading, crafting and exploring Pittsburgh with her husband and two sons.

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