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Engaging our communities with the Negro Ensemble Company

Posted March 22, 2023

February’s world premiere of Mecca is Burning, our commissioned play co-produced by our 22/23 season artist-in-residence, the Negro Ensemble Company (NEC), was a resounding success. Through our residency activities, over 150 students at Penn and in Philadelphia schools received special insight into the development of new theatre. NEC Artistic Director Karen Brown visited theatre arts instructor Margit Edwards’ Movement for the Actor class with NEC actor Steven Peacock Jacoby. Speaking to a room of Penn students studying everything from engineering to economics, Brown and Peacock Jacoby emphasized the meaningful place theatre could occupy in students’ lives, regardless of their career paths. Read more...

Thoughts on Martin Bresnick’s Self-Portraits 1964, Unfinished

Posted March 13, 2023

If the fundamental demand of the self-portraiture artist is “Look at me,” then I ask if the same may be said of the self-portraiture composer. In a way, every piece of art is a self-portrait: a way of saying, “this is how I see the world.” But when the artist places themselves in the picture, the direction of the view has changed and the eyes of the artist are not looking, with us, at something, but are instead looking at us, the viewer. “This is how I see the world” is quite different than “This is how I want you to see me in the world.” Read more...

Bringing Beowulf into the present day with Benjamin Bagby

Posted March 7, 2023

Photo credit: Eric Sucar for Penn Today
When we contacted a group of early modernist faculty in the Penn music and English departments about a possible engagement event featuring Benjamin Bagby, whose performance of Beowulf took place on January 27, the response was immediate and enthusiastic. These faculty, including Assistant Professor of Music Mary Channen Caldwell, Assistant Professor of English Caroline Batten, and Professor of English David Wallace, were more than scholarly appreciators of Bagby’s painstaking historical investigation into the type of harp most likely to have accompanied the epic poem, or his years of touring the globe enlivening the Old English text for contemporary audiences: they were fans. Read more...

Spotlight on Terence Nance

Posted February 27, 2023

Terence Nance, 2018. Photo by Ken McFarlane.
“His work is an Afrofuturist’s dream that holds a mirror up to present-day reality and forces it to confront itself in an abstract, yet fitting, manner. It serves hard truths you can’t look away from, and it does so in the Blackest way ever.”
–Taryn Finley, Huffington Post

Terence Nance is one of the most extraordinary filmmakers of his generation. While his work is bolstered by its artistic excellence and technical complexity, it resonates because of its social relevance. Nance’s practice is collaborative in scope and serves as an inspiration to many other contemporary artists and filmmakers. Read more...

5 Questions with Lisa McCree

Posted February 7, 2023

We’re thrilled to welcome the Negro Ensemble Company, our 22/23 season artist-in-residence, back this month for the world premiere of Mecca is Burning. Ahead of this exciting production, we connected with one of the collaborative playwrights, Lisa McCree, to learn a little more about her and her work. Enjoy! Read more...

The legendary Martha Graham Dance Company brings two Philadelphia premieres and the timeless masterpiece, Appalachian Spring

Posted January 31, 2023

Archival photo of Martha Graham Dance Company in Appalachian Spring, Photo by Arnold Eagle
“Dancer of the Century,” (TIME) genius, revolutionary, brilliant and superstar. These are just a few of the terms used to describe the mother of modern dance in America, Martha Graham.

In 1926, the Martha Graham Dance Company (MGDC) exploded onto the world stage, stunning audiences with its unique approaches, stimulating subject matters, angular movement vocabulary and powerful theatrics. Graham’s prolific repertoire of 181 dances, her own spectacular performances and her company’s commanding appearances are forever embedded in the memories of devoted fans. Graham’s famous mantra is at the heart and soul of the company’s work, “Dance is the hidden language of the soul of the body. The body says what words cannot. Movement never lies:” Read more...

A renaissance for Penn Live Arts

Posted January 26, 2023

Part of the cover from Penn's Fall/Winter 2022 Inspiring Impact Magazine.
From the construction of the new Weitzman Theatre, to increased support of student performers across campus, to expanded residencies with groundbreaking artists, Penn Live Arts is putting innovative performing arts center stage at Penn and in Philadelphia. Read more...

Our fall education and engagement activities

Posted January 17, 2023

NEC Artistic Director Karen Brown and longtime company member Kene Holliday visit an Intro to Directing class.
“It’s like watching people paint with their life, with their bodies,” longtime Negro Ensemble Company actor Kene Holliday told a roomful of Penn students about the art of acting this past November. Holliday would know; the historic company’s Brownstein Residency for Artistic Innovation with Penn Live Arts this year marks more than 50 years of the stage, film and TV actor’s career. He and NEC Artistic Director Karen Brown made Penn Professor McKenna Kerrigan’s Intro to Directing class one stop in a busy series of outreach engagements to students and the West Philadelphia community, kicking off our education and engagement activities for the season. Read more...

Thoughts on Dance Theatre of Harlem

Posted January 10, 2023


Dance Theatre of Harlem artists in Change, photo by Rachel Neville
Black ballet dancers were virtually non-existent on the stage in the late nineteen sixties. There wasn’t even a discussion about this exclusion. Mainstream classical ballet was white. The racist norm was that black dancers could not physically perform classical dance and they would “break the look” of dancers in a line.

Philadelphia’s own Joan Myers Brown, PHILADANCO’s founder, was turned away from our hometown ballet company because of race. There was the occasional artist that broke through the color barrier and was by default essentially a token. It was not a very encouraging situation for dancers of color. Read more...

Happy holidays

Posted December 20, 2022

Happy holidays from all of us at Penn Live Arts!