What The Duck


When a 40-foot-tall rubber duck takes a dip in the Allegheny River, it will be a first among firsts, in a festival of firsts. OnSeptember 27, “The Rubber Duck” is going to swim in our rivers during Pittsburgh’s International Festival of Firsts, a city-wide event sponsored by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. The big bird floating down the river is just the beginning. The duck launch coincides with the Cultural Trust’s Gallery Crawl; kicking off a Fall full of theater, dance, music, performance and visual arts all over the various Cultural District venues. The events will take place in the Byham, the New Hazlett and Bricolage, but “Measure Back” an interactive theater piece about war and its repercussions, will be performed on the unexpected fifth floor of the Baum Building.

Each Festival of Firsts brings international artists to Pittsburgh for a U.S. based premiere of their work. This year’s festival will feature artists and companies from the Netherlands, Belgium, Australia and more.

President and CEO of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Kevin McMahon said, “Pittsburgh has a confluence of international activities taking place during the fall of 2013. The city has been re-imagined and remade and is now hosting major international events to provide for an intriguing cultural climate.”

McMahon added, “The return of the Cultural Trust’s festival could not have taken place during a more fitting year, and we are glad to be part of the economic, cultural and quality-of-life transformation that is part of the region’s 30-year investment in the arts.” And it all begins with a bang, or, rather, a quack.

The mighty duck, which is 40 feet tall, 35 feet long and 30 feet wide, will launch at the West End Bridge. It will get to the Point, and pass under the Fort Duquesne Bridge.

This isn’t the first Festival of Firsts, but the third one held in the Golden Triangle, but it might be the biggest.

Paul Organisak, Vice President, Programming, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust said, “We had our first Festival of Firsts in 2004 and our second in 2008.”

It’s a randomly held event, but this year’s festival is likely to garner worldwide attention. “The Rubber Duck” is an international superstar. While it seems like the enormous inflatable has traversed the globe, but it’s not the same duck that swam in Hong Kong, Amsterdam, Belgium, Brazil, Japan, and Australia. Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, an artist known for plunking down whimsical concepts in urban environments, created the floating inflatable sculpture. Each duck is fabricated locally to the artist’s specifications.

His fake fowl will be making his American debut right here in Pittsburgh. Organisak got a chance to visit Hofman in his studio in the Netherlands.

The Cultural Trust VP said, “I got to enter the duck. You enter from…um…the duck’s rear.”

Just like a real duck, it looks like it is floating on the water, but it’s paddling furiously underneath. Under the inflatable is a pontoon boat with a generator. The generator keeps the duck inflated, much like those inflatable yard displays of Santa Claus, Mickey Mouse and Jack Skellington. A tug boat will pull the massive rubber toy around the river, and another boat will stay on his tail, guiding the big bird from behind.

Spectators can watch from the Sixth Street Bridge, which will be shut down for a party celebrating the beginning of the Festival of Firsts on September 27. DJ Scottro (Scott Ehrenberger) will spin from 5:30 till 10 p.m. on the bridge. There will be food and fun. Organisak said, “It will be like our Night Market at the Gallery Crawl, but it will be on the bridge.”

The Programming VP and his peeps have been organizing the event for some time. “For the duck to swim around in the waters of Pittsburgh, the Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers, City, County, Point State Park and other organizations all had to be involved. Our waterways are highly trafficked zones.”

You can take a gander at the duck for three weeks after the launch date, and then our featherless friend flies off to parts unknown. Organisak laughed, “How can you not smile seeing a
40-foot duck floating around the river?”

For an up to date schedule of the duck, follow it on Twitter @PittsburghDuck.

Michael Buzzelli is a stand-up comedian and sit-down author. As a comedian, he has performed all around the country, most notably, the Ice House, the Comedy Store and the Improv in Los Angeles. As a writer, Michael Buzzelli has been published in a variety of websites, magazines and newspapers. He is a theater and arts critic for 'Burgh Vivant,’ Pittsburgh's online cultural talk magazine. He is also a Moth Grand Slam storyteller and actor. His books, "Below Average Genius," a collection of essays culled from his weekly humor column in the Observer-Reporter, and his romantic comedy,  “All I Want for Christmas," are on sale at Amazon.com. He is working on a LGBTQ romantic comedy called, “Why I Hate My Friends.” You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter. (He / Him / His)