Penn performance groups have been producing videos and photos to promote their work since the dawn of time, and have thankfully come a long way since the first low–quality, wavy videos produced by Penn Masala in 2007. A cappella, theater and dance groups at Penn now produce numerous flashy, tight, well–choreographed and well–produced videos multiple times a year to promote upcoming shows and events.
It's clear student groups put a lot of work into their performances, and they receive the recognition they deserve via views and attendance at the events they promote. We rarely ever talk, however, about the videographers and photographers who spend a lot of time working with student performing arts groups on these widely viewed videos and photos.
Araba Ankuma (C '17) is a photographer who has worked with Penn Masti, Penn Masala, Arts House, African Rhythms, Onda Latina and Pan Asian.
“I’m all about people and portraiture,” said Araba. She loves to work with Arts House in particular because of their artistic expression and how it translates to photography.
“Not to say that any of these other groups are not doing the same,” she said, “but [Arts House’s] meticulous nature in terms of the lines they make, pointed toes and leaps and jumps, they’re very visual. I’m able to capture and edit them in a way that looks very ethereal, very fantastical way of doing things. With Arts House, I go the full nine yards because their style of dance calls for a more magical feel.”
Although some groups choose to work with freelancers like Araba, other groups on campus look to other groups to help them produce their videos. Mask & Wig originally built an in–house video platform by purchasing professional–grade cameras, lighting equipment and sound equipment in order to film their two annual shows and original content produced by the group. As news of their access to equipment and capabilities spread, Mask & Wig was contracted by other groups on campus such as Strictly Funk to help film shows.
“I mean for me, it’s pretty much solely financial. As much as I love photography and video work, I don’t love it enough to do it for the artistic expression, and there actually isn’t much in terms of artistic expression,” said Ha Tran (C '19), the current media manager and photographer for Mask & Wig.
On the other hand, Milan Savani (C & W '17), the current Secretary–Treasurer and previous Digital Chair and Media Manager of Mask & Wig, loves to do it. He admitted that while there isn’t much room for artistic expression, “there is a good amount of creativity you can have in the way you set it up. It’s an interesting logistic problem, like how do you get three cameras to be filming unique parts of a show that both reproduces the faithful nature of the most important parts of the content, and also make sure you’re capturing the greater context?”
Tyler Burke (C '17), another freelance videographer on campus who has worked with Off the Beat, Quadramics, Stimulus Children’s Theatre, Atma and Penn Sirens, agrees that while filming these shows may not necessarily make room for a lot of creativity, they do pose an interesting logistical challenge.
“I’ve been very interested in documentary filmmaking for a while, and when you film a live performance, you really can’t mess up at all,” said Tyler. “A lot of it was really making sure that I was very well prepared for each of the shots, and being able to troubleshoot on the fly when things would go wrong.”
Tyler did, however, point out that although he was learning important skills such as focusing the camera and predicting where the action would take place and end up, these videos would not necessarily help him secure a job in documentary filmmaking.
“To a certain degree, I’m building a portfolio while doing this,” said Tyler. “It’s definitely something I would put on my resume. I’m not sure if that’s directly influenced any jobs I’ve gotten or will get, but it’s definitely something that I know I will continue to do as a supplementary income and building a portfolio and more connections.”
Although the photographers and videographers spoke to the lack of artistic expression allowed in capturing these performances, the financial gains and general skill development basically guarantees that we will see more and more of these fantastic videos in the future. Even though they may not feel particularly artistically challenged, we can certainly continue to appreciate the vibrant, lively and fun videos and photos made possible by the talented student groups and videographer/photographers on campus.