Penn Live Arts Blog / By / Christopher A. Gruits

Toll the Bell: A Cry for Peace on June 7

Posted May 29, 2024

Programs at the Annenberg Center have always addressed the pressing issues of the day, whether through August Wilson’s plays, campus and community-centered artist residencies, or commissions of new work such as the 2017 world premiere of A Period of Animate Existence. As one of Philadelphia's performing arts curators, my aim each year is to provide audiences with a range of performances that entertain, delight, challenge and inspire. Read more...

Toll the Bell

Posted October 12, 2023

When we curate each annual season, we balance a range of ideas, objectives, and program goals, including our ongoing commitment to artists that address topical issues of our time. Programs at the Annenberg Center have always dealt with pressing issues of the day, whether it be through August Wilson’s plays, campus-wide artist residencies, or commissions of new work such as the 2017 world premiere of A Period of Animate Existence. Our aim each year is to provide audiences with a range of performances that delight, entertain, challenge, and inspire, and we know that so many of our artists are telling important stories that help us, as the audience, reflect and consider our world differently. Read more...

Two big announcements

Posted June 29, 2021

We welcome you back to our theatres to share in the tremendous joy of live performances in our 21/22 season. It is a redefining moment for us as we begin a multi-year celebration of our 50th anniversary, announcing not only a new season but a new identity that proudly encompasses all that we offer to the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia region. This exciting new chapter honors our legacy, strengthens our connection to Penn and begins a transformative future.

Welcome back for live performance.

If there is anything the past year has reinforced, it is our passion for live performance. Simply put, it is core to our mission. We are grateful and proud to have kept artists performing live on the virtual stage, bringing you numerous world premieres and debuts as one of the few arts organizations in the city to offer real-time, digital performances. While we now have proof that we don’t need to be confined to a physical space to connect with each other and our artists, our 21/22 season is a first step on our ambitious path, as we present a wider variety of programming for a wider variety of audiences. The best artists, from iconic legends to rising stars, grace our stage with many U.S. and Philadelphia premieres. We feature beloved dance companies, jazz greats, a brand-new, family-friendly cirque series and even an innovative, site-specific work outside. Subscriptions are available now, offering up to 35% off regular pricing and great subscriber benefits, including free ticket exchanges, discounted parking, deals at local restaurants and much more. Read more...

Celebrating our 50th anniversary

Posted April 8, 2021

Today, we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the Annenberg Center. The gala event, held on April 8, 1971, was a proud milestone in the history of the University of Pennsylvania, and a momentous occasion for the entire Philadelphia region. As the first multi-disciplinary theatre in the city, we have, since our founding, served as a cultural destination that has connected audiences and the University through a range of innovative programs across music, dance, theatre and film.

Addressing the audience on what The New York Times called a “huge ochre-carpeted lobby” of the brand new $5.7 million theatre, Nancy Hanks, head of the National Endowment for the Arts said, “The Center is designed to benefit the community, the campus and especially the students and faculty by surrounding dramatic experience with the intellectual, research and scientific resources of the University.” George Gerbner, Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication, added, “It will be a place where students, professionals, artists and scholars join campus and community in the exploration of the living and electronic arts as they participate in the conduct of inquiry into its forms and nature, and into its role in our lives." More memories of the ceremony can be found on page six of the Penn Almanac’s archival issue. Read more...

One Year On

Posted March 18, 2021

Special Features Virtual Stage

Pictured: Angélique Kidjo in one of our final performances before closing our doors, February 2020
It’s hard to believe that we are now one year on from the total shutdown of our economy and the world as we knew it. Saying that sounds dramatic, but it's true. Recently, we have begun to regain some of our regular economic activity, and with the coming of spring and the advent of the vaccine rollout there is hope on the horizon. Yet, for the performing arts industry globally, this year has meant a total reevaluation of our business model while at the same time presenting an urgent need to maintain our venues, staff and programs, not to mention supporting the artists that grace our stages. It is hardly hyperbolic to state that our industry has never faced a greater challenge. Even during the Spanish flu pandemic, theatres, including Broadway, stayed open. During the Great Depression, the government invested in the Federal Theatre Project (1935-39) and during WWII, theatre and movie-going was a revered national pastime, an important source of information and a welcome distraction from the realities of rationing and war.

One year into our own generation’s challenge, we can begin to reflect on this tumultuous time and consider the many struggles but also the opportunities that have been realized because of this unprecedented situation. In a year when our nation grappled with the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systematic racism, we were given an opportunity to ponder our role as arts providers and respond to national circumstances by delivering these programs in innovative and truly inclusive ways. Read more...

A virtual trip to Paris with Paul Taylor Dance Company

Posted June 22, 2020


In January of this year, we welcomed back a longtime Annenberg Center and NextMove Dance favorite, Paul Taylor Dance Company, to the Zellerbach stage. It seems like so long ago now! They are among our many friends in New York City who have been in our thoughts these past few months, and looking back on their remarkable artistic accomplishments is providing us some solace as we navigate the road ahead. We were excited to stumble on this wonderful film from 2012, which marks the 50th anniversary of the company’s first-ever performance in Paris. The remarkable program, recorded at the Théâtre National de Chaillot for the Les Étés de la Danse festival, features Brandenburgs, set to Bach’s Brandenburg concertos #3 and #6, and Beloved Renegade, set to music from Francis Poulenc’s Gloria.

Brandenburgs is a magnificent interpretation of one of Bach’s most beloved musical masterpieces. Paul Taylor was the ultimate renaissance man of choreography, tackling music from medieval to rock, and in this case, he does a superb job of communicating through Bach’s sublime music. In a review of the work, the Manchester [UK] Guardian notes, “Beauty is the only word for Brandenburgs…[which] celebrates the good things in life. Such a radiant, seamless flow of invention that the choreography seems an entirely natural way of moving to this music.” Read more...

An update from our Executive & Artistic Director

Posted June 16, 2020

The Annenberg Center believes that Black lives matter, and we stand in solidarity with the nationwide movement to eliminate the racism, violence, oppression and systemic injustice that is endemic across our country. As part of an institution of higher education and as an arts organization, we recognize that we are often at the forefront of addressing issues that confront our society. We must be leaders of change and part of the solution.

This statement is the beginning of a process, not the end. We recognize that we have much work ahead of us and we pledge to work toward creating an environment that is inclusive and free from discrimination for artists of color on our stages, for our patrons of diverse cultural backgrounds, and for staff, board, faculty, students and all persons of color across the Penn campus.

While we have a long history of supporting artists of color and offering diverse programming on our stages, and that will not change, this is not enough. We must examine our own institution and dig deep to challenge our assumptions and examine the ways our organization has operated out of privilege. We must work not only to ensure inclusivity on our stages and in our operations, but we must also pledge to actively fight against racism and injustice. Read more...

A message from our Executive & Artistic Director

Posted June 4, 2020

I write to you this week knowing that we are filled with emotion over the events of recent days. It has been difficult to watch and experience as communities across our country react to the tragic killing of George Floyd and to the sight of thousands of people coming together in peaceful protest, even as we continue to struggle with the public health crisis of COVID-19.

As a center for the arts, we reaffirm our continued commitment to presenting artists of color on our stages, supporting artistic work that addresses the important issues of our time, and we join President Gutmann in pledging to work toward creating an environment that is inclusive and free from discrimination, for our patrons and supporters of diverse cultural backgrounds, our staff, board and all persons of color across the Penn campus.

While we grapple daily with anger, pain and sorrow, I hope it gives you solace to remember that the performing arts are a powerful influence in helping us work through the large issues that may be hard to process individually. The performing arts regularly bring us together in all of our diversities, in a shared experience of fellowship. During such troubled times, they play a greater role in our lives. Even experienced in the digital realm, the arts help us make sense of tragedy and challenge, bringing us meaning, comfort and spiritual affirmation, all of which are essential in our lives right now. Read more...

Welcome to Annenberg Center @ Home

Posted April 7, 2020

Welcome to Annenberg Center @ Home, our newly-launched blog. During this time of great change and uncertainty, shared across the world, we’re hoping to stay connected with you in spirit. We take our mission seriously: to connect our audiences with visionary artists and innovative ideas, resulting in transformative artistic experiences. If we can’t do this together in person, then we’ll join together here in the digital realm for virtual experiences, still bringing you the best of the performing arts.

The Annenberg Center team has been working hard to gather and curate a collection of rich content to share with you: masterclasses, performances, videos, music, and conversations by many of the artists who have graced our stages, as well as fun activities for children and families and Penn-centric initiatives. We hope these opportunities provide you with some solace, contemplative moments, humor, and joy. In other words, food for the soul.

I look forward to going down this path together, as we work toward seeing you again in person very soon. Stay well!