There’s more that University City can claim than being home to—well, universities. Located right on 36th and Walnut at the heart of Penn’s campus is the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, the second largest performing arts venue in Philadelphia after the Kimmel Center. Here, the world of theater, music, and dance from across the globe gather—whether that’s at a world premiere of a play or at a show put on by a performing arts group on campus. So what exactly is it?
While the Annenberg Center is easily distinguished from the Annenberg School in function, the two are not all that disparate. In 1971, the Center was born in association with the School, serving as a venue to showcase the performing arts and media. In the span of that decade, the Center established its name, welcoming Philadelphia–based playwrights and avant–garde contemporary musicians. Since then, it’s also seen big names, such as Harold Prince, an American theatrical producer credited with “West Side Story,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” among others including Todd Haimes, the Executive Director of Roundabout Theatre Company, and of course, John Legend.
While the Center emerged as a hotspot for theater, it grew to expand to dance in the '80s. Later on, all sorts of styles were incorporated, serving as a hub for all the performance arts. With over 60,000 people from all over Philly (and the country) attending, the Annenberg Center brings in performers from across the country to showcase their talent. “It’s a great asset for Penn and the community to go from one night looking at contemporary work from Australia to a student performance the next day,” said Christopher Gruits, Executive and Artistic Director of the Center.
So that’s what the Center is. Now, here are some of the highlights coming up this month:
Spectrum Dance Theater: A Rap on Race
Friday, October 12, 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, October 13, 8:00 p.m.
In a 90 minute performance, choreographer Donald Byrd and playwright Anna Deavere Smith reimagine the seven–and–a–half hour conversation shared between author James Baldwin and anthropologist Margaret Mead. Through dance and theater, the performance showcases their discussion on race in a whole other form (arguably, also more digestible form). It’s a conversation on race, on the immigrant experience, on the idea of destiny, and on a new conception of democracy in a post–consumerism culture–but in performance form.
Portland Cello Project
Saturday, October 20, 8:00 p.m.
An ambitious crossover, the Portland Cello Project is an alt–classical group, combining the rich sonorous tone of cellos with nontraditional cello music. Nontraditional as in Taylor Swift, Kanye West, and Elliott Smith. At Annenberg, they will be debuting their take on the '80s band and staple of any English–rock fan, Radiohead, performing music from the album OK Computer. The crossover is ambitious, but it’s a crossover that works—so don’t miss out.
Soul Songs: Inspiring Women of Klezmer
Sunday, October 28, 4:00 p.m.
"Soul Songs" is a show of 12 women turning centuries–old Eastern European Jewish folk music to a contemporary performance. Written by three generations of women, the piece is a world–premiere, one–night–only special event, featuring big names from world–renowned fiddler Alicia Sviglas, the founding member of Grammy–winning Klezmatics, to pianist Marilyn Lerner to flutist Adrianne Greenbaum. Crossing the old and the new, "Soul Songs" is a must-attend this October.