From a–capella groups once home to John Legend to Irish dance troupes to spoken–word poetry, the diversity of arts groups at Penn is among the few things on the school's brochures that's actually true. Whether you're at the center of the stage, behind the scenes or in the audience, here's your guide to the thriving arts culture at Penn.
First up is the Penn Glee Club, the oldest performing arts group at Penn. Catch them in their blazers at convocation, in Singapore on their annual tours or at various campus receptions singing their rendition of “The Red and Blue. For the typical collegiate a–capella experience, look out for Counterparts, the jazz and pop group with alumni John Legend founded as a co–ed alternative to the single–sex groups at the time of its inception; Dischord and Keynotes, both of which add a modern spin across a variety of genres from pop to rock; Penny Loafers, a group that also spans the musical genre with a focus on more indie and eclectic choices and Off the Beat, a modern rock take on music.
Pennchants is an all–male a–capella group recognized by their funky attire during performances and emphasis on bands from the late 90s. They are distinct from Penn Six–5000, an all–male comedy a–capella group dressed sometimes as hot dogs, sometimes as Scooby–Doo, as they offer their original parodies and interpretations of the Top 40 hits.
For more female voices, check out Penn Sirens and Quaker Notes, both all–female a capella voices. Penn Sirens performs repertoire ranging from classical choral to Broadway and Quaker Notes does pop to R&B.
And of course, Disney A Capella embodies the Disney message in their shows and performances at local hospitals and elementary schools.
To satisfy the international tastes in music, there is Atma, an all–female a–capella group that fuses western rock and soul with South Asian music; Penn Masala, the a–capella group that starred in Pitch Perfect 2 and performed for President Obama, and Penn Sargam, a group focusing on Indian classical music.
For more eastern Asian tastes are PennYo, a contemporary Chinese pop a–capella group; PennEnchord, a western–Chinese fusion group; PennSori for k–Pop music; KLASS, a Korean hip-hop and rap group and PennDure, a traditional Korean percussion group.
On top of all of this is The Inspiration, an a–capella group focusing on music surrounding the African diaspora.
Full Measure is the campus’s Christian a–capella group, the New Spirit of Penn Gospel Choir sings both medleys and original songs about the Gospel. The Shabbatones debuted just a decade after Full Measure as the campus Jewish a–capella group.
For more instrumental styles of music, look out for Penn Orchestra, Penn Band and Penn Jazz Ensemble.
As to those whose dance moves extend beyond moving your head up and down to the Chainsmokers, the choices are also endless.
The Quaker Girls Dance Team performs at halftimes for Penn Basketball—a sure way to express your school spirit.
Between the Arts House Dance Company and Sparks Dance Company, dancers train in all styles ranging from ballet to tap to jazz to hip–hop. To specialize in certain styles, Penn Dance Company, the first performing dance company at Penn, prides itself in its modern dance whether in a collaboration with the Penn Glee Club, performing for various campus events, or in its own shows. Aside from this, there is Penn Ballet for ballet, Soundworks Tap Factory for tap dance, West Philly Swingers for swing dancing, Hype for hip–hop fusion and Strictly Funk for a mix of contemporary and hip-hop. City-Step allows its members to act as mentors for all these styles to elementary and middle school students in the local Philadelphia community.
To explore the dance culture across the globe, there is Pan–Asian Dance Troupe, a group fusing both traditional and modern dance in the Pan–Asian culture; the Chinese Dance Club, a more traditional take on Chinese dance as in their “fan dances” and “long sleeve dances,” and Penn Lions, a specialized lion dance troupe. For the dance counterpart to k–Pop, k–Beats and PennMMDC both specialize in Korean hip hop and pop choreography. In addition to all of these, there’s Penn Thillana, a classical Indian dance troupe; Penn Dhamaka, an all–male South Asian fusion dance troupe; PENNaach, an all–female South Asian fusion dance troupe and Penn Masti, a co–ed South Asian fusion dance troupe.
Other cultural dance groups include Onda Latina which performs dance originating from the Caribbean and Latino culture, West African Vibe contemporary African dance and Tir na nÓg Irish dance. To combine dance and music, the African Rhythms Dance and Drum Troupe and Yalla Middle Eastern Dance and Drum Troupe connect the performing arts to their respective cultures.
THEATER, FILM, & PHOTOGRAPHY
For the actors and actresses, Quadramics is the on–campus theater company for either comedy or drama; the Front Row Theater Company performs theater showcasing socially relevant issues and the Penn Underground Shakespeare Company presents several plays from the famous poet. And of course, there is the Stimulus Children’s Theater, which is a children–oriented theater group that performs for elementary schools, daycare centers and hospitals, among other facilities. Outside of these is iNtuitions, which offers an experimental take on theater.
Fusing music and acting are Penn Players, the only professionally–directed student theater group on campus in its musicals and plays, and the Penn Singers Light Opera Company, which focuses primarily on musicals.
The African American Arts Alliance serves to promote an awareness of black culture through the arts, though particularly through theater. The same goes for Penn Chinese Theater for its respective culture. PenNaatak Theater spotlights South Asian culture and society through stage performances, as does J*Stage Theater Company for the Jewish community and values.
For those on the other side of the camera, Opia Films and Bent Button Productions focus on film production from its conception to final presentation. The Penn Cinema Initiative provides a community for film fans with weekly movie screenings. Penn Animation Club, as the name suggests, centers on the development of animation. For a more still–life approach, Penn Lens serves to engage those interested in photography.
Whether you’re funny (or just think you are), you're sure to come across Mask & Wig, an all–male comedy troupe, in your four years (or more) here, as you will Bloomers, an all–female musical and sketch comedy troupe that hosts two annual shows and an annual festival honoring the women in comedy.
Without A Net is the only comedy improv group on campus and Simply Chaos is your outlet for your burning passion for stand–up comedy.
If the canvas is your preferred medium of art, be sure to check out Penn Create, an environment for artists to meet and discuss various inspirations for their artistic endeavors. Art Club and Penn Origami are also other art groups designed to target students with their respective areas of interest.
The Women in Art Initiative is the primary organization to address the gender imbalance in the arts as well as bring recognition to contemporary female artists.
The Body Electric os the community of poets to run workshops and peer–editing sessions to churn out the next Edgar Allan Poe. To bring that poetry to life, The Excelano Project is the university’s only spoken poetry club.
Aside from poetry, The Penn Review is a literary magazine that also publishes original fiction, creative nonfiction and visual artwork. Other publications center on topics ranging from fashion to coffee culture to social impact causes.
OTHER ARTS RESOURCES
Whether you’re a performer or not, these are the places to know by name in terms of accessibility to the Arts. Both the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts and the Platt Student Performing Arts House are the stages of the numerous performing arts group. The Annenberg Center also hosts a number of performances from groups in Philadelphia, and the Platt Students House offers advice and training for performing arts students. As a separate discussion forum, the Penn Humanities Forum provides culture conversation between the students, faculty, academics and the public. The Kelly Writers House, located right across from 1920 Commons and home to many of the publications on campus, is the writer’s haven for readings, guest authors and manuscript exchanges among many more other literary activities.
Museums at Penn are also by no means scarce. Located right in the Fisher Fine Arts Library, the Arthur Ross Gallery showcases art from different media, periods and culture. Its current exhibit is "A View of One’s Own: Three Women Photographers in Rome." Just a five–minute walk away, across the street from King’s Court is the Institute of Contemporary Art, which is a free museum to bring under–recognized artists to the public eye. Its past exhibitions include artists by the likes of Andy Warhol, Damian Ortega, and Richard Artschwager. Not far from here is the Penn Museum, familiar to many during the Toga Party during New Student Orientation. However, unbeknownst to many is that it's among the top archaeology and anthropology research museums, housing artifacts from a Sphinx of Ramesses II from 1200 B.C. to two reliefs of Emperor Tang Taizong’s six horses during the Tang Dynasty.
Further away from campus is the WXPN 88.5 FM Radio and the Morris Arboretum. The radio station, on 3025 Walnut, focuses on new and upcoming artists in rock, blues, roots and folk, and the Morris Arboretum is a historic public garden that encourages the relationship between us and nature.
To see all these performing arts group in action, check out the Freshman Performing Arts Night on September 9th, where a number of performing arts group will give you a glimpse of what they have in store for you.