Late one Friday evening in the basement of Harnwell House, members of the New Spirit of Penn Gospel Choir (NSP) warm up their voices with the stirring traditional "Wade in the Water." They fill the Rathskeller basement with sound, but this is no ordinary rehearsal. Nick Gonedes, an accounting professor, and engineering student Matt Russak preside over an array of recording equipment, preparing to record NSP, the last group to lay down a track for the first compilation CD of Up On Stage, the bimonthly campus open mic night. Up on Stage, part of the Penn Collective performing arts umbrella organization, was founded by Russak and Gonedes in the Fall of 2001 as a place for Penn musicians to share their work and ultimately, to find each other. "A lot of times at Penn, the musicians are there, but you don't know where they are," says Gonedes. Up On Stage was formed, along with Penn Collective's searchable online musician database, as a way for Penn musicians and performing artists of every type and caliber to connect and perform at a reliable, but relatively informal, outlet. Over the past year, Up On Stage has developed a loyal following, attracting crowds ranging from 75 to 150 to the open mic events on the first and third Saturday of every month at Harnwell's Rathskeller performing space. The opening event of the semester was the first of February. Artists can reserve 30 minute spaces in advance, though Gonedes says that many of the regulars appear week after week, waiting to perform in the late-night 'true' open mic slots that don't require a commitment in advance.
Gonedes singled out the performance by the ASCAB Penn Capoeira Club, a choreographed Brazilian martial arts dance form, as one of the most memorable during the existence of Up On Stage. Over 200 students flocked to the event the night of ASCAB's performance. Gonedes says the interactive performance "went way over the 30 minutes allotted, but there was no way we were going to stop them because people were just going nuts." Limitations on the performances are hard to find, with past performers as diverse as South Asia Studies Professor Allyn Miner playing the sitar, spoken word artists and more traditional acoustic vocal acts. The variety and flexibility of each week's performance make Up On Stage an encouraging atmosphere for the artists that take part. Rashaan Edwards-White, trumpet player and piano accompanist for NSP, says, "It's always laid back. I really appreciate that kind of atmosphere. A lot of times I get nervous but in that type of atmosphere I wasn't nervous at all playing the trumpet."
Over the harmonies of NSP, Gonedes describes the importance of the upcoming release of the as-yet-untitled CD, and its accompanying release party event Friday in Harrison House's rooftop lounge. The distribution of a free CD, free food and a free concert is consistent with the spirit in which Gonedes and Raskell founded Up On Stage. "We want to get more acts, more people to come out to the shows," Gonedes says. Just before Gonedes returns to his work on recording NSP, several students filter in, attracted by the voices of the gospel choir. "That's another good thing," Gonedes adds, watching the students pause to listen. "We leave our doors open"