University of Pennsylvania

04/04/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 04/04/2024 17:07

Curtains up on spring student shows

The student performing arts scene at Penn takes center stage during this year's busy spring show season which began last weekend and runs through April 14. With more than 70 student performing arts groups on campus, more than half of them organized into the Performing Arts Council (PAC), it is curtains up and cue the lights for dozens of dancers, actors, singers, comedians, and other student performers.

Throughout the year, PAC and the Platt Student Performing Arts House work with groups on campus individually and as a community to offer support and encouragement. The club performances involve hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students working in front and behind the scenes. The weeks and months of preparation, including staging, mapping choreographing, memorizing lines, and visualizing technical rehearsals, all in the lead up to the big show.

Penn Today visited Platt Performing Arts House and Irvine to catch a glimpse of just a few of the groups at work ahead of this weekend and the following performances. The practice spaces are buzzing from early evening late into the night to accommodate the students' busy academic schedules. The halls are animated by sounds-a musician tuning a violin, a singer warming up, a technician testing microphones-all precursors to polished performances.

Preparing for opening night

In Platt 175, members of Penn Sargam gather, unpacking and tuning instruments. The club describes itself as "bringing together music ranging from Hindustani, Carnatic, and Western Classical to Bollywood, Pop and Rock." The small rehearsal room begins to fill with students carrying cases from which they unpack electric guitars, a synthesizer, a bass, and a viola. Ajay Thatte a third-year Ph.D. student in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, directs the group which incorporates the variety of instruments with vocals for an eclectic sound.

"We currently have 34 members in Sargam with an approximately 50/50 split between undergraduate and graduate students," Thatte says. "Among the graduate students, we have members pursuing master's degrees, doctorates, and even dental degrees. Our members span pretty much every school on campus-SEAS, SAS, Wharton, [the Weitzman] School of Design-with each member bringing unique instrumental and/or vocal expertise."

Across the hall in a large studio 10 dancers from Strictly Funk stretch and warm up. Kate Fitzsimmons a third-year student in Penn Nursing is one of the earliest to arrive. "I love having a super-fun and supportive community to dance with," she says. The troupe has 35 members, also a mix of undergraduate and graduate students, who, according to their club page, "explore hip-hop, jazz, contemporary, free-styling, lyrical, breaking, locking, popping, and funk, while still recognizing the personal styles of individual dancers."

"Dance was a huge part of my life growing up, so it was really important to me to find a place where I can relieve some stress and do something I'm so passionate about in college," says Fitzimmons who is from Denville, New Jersey. "I'm now three years into dancing with the most amazing group of people, and I couldn't be more grateful."

First-year student Sauman Das of Penn Masala rehearses a solo part. Members of the troupe Strictly Funk warm up and stretch ahead of dance rehearsal. Penn Sargam director Ajay Thatte leads a rehearsal. Penn Sargam musicians Engineering third-year student Akshita Panigrahi on bass and College second-year student Rayan Jawa on viola watch for direction from Ajay Thatte, a third- year Ph.D. student in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Left to right) Second-year student Cristina Diaz, the music director for the Quadramics Theatre's spring production, works on a piece with third- year student Logan Fleming and first-year student Patrick Miller Quadramics Theatre members third-year student Logan Fleming (left) and first-year student Patrick Miller rehearse a piece from "Heathers the Musical." Performing a soundcheck for Penn Masala's spring show, are (left to right) Rafael Casiano, a technician with Visual Sound, and Penn Masala members third-year student Prateek Adurty and fourth-year student Riju Datta. Members of Penn Masala rehearse on stage at Irvine Auditorium. Kate Fitzsimmons (center) a third-year student in the Nursing School warms up practicing with the dancers of Strictly Funk, a student club who perform hip-hop, jazz, contemporary, and free-style

In another rehearsal space in Platt, Quadramics Theatre is scheduled to do a run-through of their spring production of "Heathers the Musical." Cristina Diaz, a second-year student in the College of Arts and Sciences from Staten Island, New York, is the music director. She sits at the piano joined by first-year student Patrick Miller of Coco, Florida, and third-year student Logan Fleming of Orlando, both also in the College. The trio go over musical notes ahead of the others joining for a long night of rehearsing.

Diaz says she has been performing since she was a child, and at Penn she was glad to find the theater community. "It's a community like nothing I've ever experienced," Diaz says. "No one is getting paid or receiving academic credit; everyone is there purely out of dedication to the art. It is a labor of love, and I think that is clear from seeing our productions. Quadramics Theatre Company in particular is where I've made my closest friends and fondest memories."

Diaz is also in the cast of the Penn Singers Light Opera Company's upcoming spring production. She says performing arts has given her "a community outside my classes and the ability to express myself artistically. I don't know of anywhere else where I would be able to music direct one show and perform in another as a student. It is thanks to the support of the team working on Heathers, the Performing Arts Council Executive Board, and the staff at Platt House that these incredible opportunities are available."

Across campus in Irvine Auditorium, members of Penn Masala a cappella gather for a technical rehearsal. Third-year student Prateek Adurty who is from Pittsburg and is in the College and Wharton School, works on the sound board with Rafael Casiano a technician with Visual Sound, who support audio visual services for events. Members of Penn Masala start to do vocal warmups on stage, and harmonic sounds and beats begin to echo through the hall. Other members sit on stage at their laptops going through video and images to build a hype reel to promote the upcoming show.

Founded in 1996, Penn Masala is one of dozens of a cappella groups on campus and promotes itself as "the world's first and premier South Asian a cappella group." Adurty participates on the performance side and production side. "Checking mike seven, check, check" he calls from the stage before going into practicing a solo. Penn Masala's business manager, Gaurish Gaur, a second-year student in the Wharton School from San Diego, California, says, "It's a lot of work to set up the show and fill the seats at Irvine Auditorium, but it's an immense honor to be able to perform in front of friends, family, and alumni, especially at such a majestic and historical venue."

The show must go on

Hours before last weekend's spring shows a partial roof collapse in the Iron Gate Theatre (IGT) space at 37th and Chestnut streets set several groups scrambling. PAC was able to work quickly to secure alternate performance venues, says Platt House Director Laurie McCall.

"Luckily the Zellerbach was free for two days, which allowed us to take care of the groups immediately affected. Penn Dance and K-Beats could move to the Zellerbach, and PennYo was able to share space with Penn Sori," McCall says. "With the demand for performance space so great the situation was stressful, not knowing how long IGT would be offline."

McCall says that the collaboration and support from the Penn community was uplifting. "Everyone was so helpful including our students, colleagues in Space and Events, Visual Sound, and PLA, and even alumni were trying helping to find other venues in Philadelphia for the rest of the shows," she says. Fortunately, says McCall, "a structural engineer found that the damage was not as bad as it seemed and repairable, and the shows are back in IGT this weekend."