When Devi Bass (C ‘23) decided to retire from middle school acting, she was eager to find another way to get involved in theater. She began by helping out with sound for her high school’s Cabaret and immediately fell in love with this behind–the–scenes role. Excited to continue pursuing theater, Devi found a home in Penn’s theater program when she joined Penn Players for their production of Urine Town. Now, as chair of the Theatre Arts Council, she oversees all seven theater groups at Penn. As a political science major, Devi realized that her interests in political science and theater are not mutually exclusive. Rather, she hopes to combine them and produce shows that make an impact. When Devi’s not spending her time at the Platt Student Performing Arts House, she’s volunteering at Cosmic Writers, a creative writing nonprofit organization that fosters creativity and boosts confidence in kids from grades K through 12.
Name: Devi Bass
Hometown: Haddonfield, N.J.
Major: Political Science
What prompted you to get involved in the arts at Penn and shift your path from politics to art?
I came to Penn knowing that I wanted to do theater. I did it in high school, so when I was touring colleges and thinking about what I wanted to do, the political science major was on the back burner for me of what I was thinking about. I was really going on these tours and asking all the tour guides: What's the student theater scene here? When I came to Penn, they said there's a building for theater and many ways that you can get involved. I felt very much like I'd have a home here, and so I was very excited to get to Penn.
I wanted to study political science because I'm interested in education, education policy, and advocacy. What I've found is that this field doesn't need to be like a separate thing from theater. They intersect in a lot more ways than I thought they could. In high school, I thought that political science would have been my major and that theater would be the fun thing that I would do in college and then leave. But, I'm realizing that's not the case for me.
How have you worked to combine your interest in both politics and theater?
We just wrapped up doing Cabaret, which is a musical about pre–war Germany during the Nazi rise to power. The people who left the theater felt very moved by it and also felt like they had learned something. Throughout that process, there was a moment where I was like “I learned about this in class and now I'm putting it on stage!” I feel like history can be kind of dry when you just learn about it in a classroom, but if you're putting it on stage and you're tying emotions to it, it’s really interesting, and that’s what theater should do.
As we're trying to figure out what we should do in the spring, I think what's really been at the front of my mind is politics and history and seeing how we can tie those things together and do something that matters.
Which of your theater involvements have particularly shaped your Penn experience?
My first semester at Penn, I was the assistant stage manager for Urine Town, a musical that Penn Players was putting on. It was not the show or group I thought I was going to get involved with. It was a musical I'd never heard of about pee. But, I really remember as a freshman, all of the people who were involved in Penn Players just seemed really warm and welcoming—excited to have me, teach me, and mentor me. I think starting with Penn Players was a really positive experience for me.
At Penn, there are seven theater groups, and they all fall under the umbrella organization of the Theatre Arts Council. Going into my junior year, I ran for chair of the Theatre Arts Council, which means I'm overseeing not only Penn Players, but all theater groups at Penn. This has been really fulfilling because it means that you get to zoom out and get a better look at what it takes to put a show on—not just boots on the ground, but also logistically. You don't get so in the weeds of a specific show or the drama of a specific tech week. Instead, you’re looking at everything in the big picture, which I've really found to be super valuable.
Have you always played a behind the scenes role in theater or have you been on stage?
I acted when I was in elementary school and middle school. I'm five foot nine, and I've been five foot nine since I was 13. So, I kind of killed it in the old lady roles and the mom roles where I needed to be bigger than everyone else on stage. But, when everyone's heights balanced out in high school, I began thinking about other ways I could get involved in theater.
I started by helping out with sound for my high school’s Cabaret. When I was helping with that, I was like, “Oh my gosh, I'm having way more fun than I’ve ever had on stage.” Then, I became the student director of the drama club. That got my logistic brain turning and I think I found a niche in theater that I really enjoy and think I'm pretty good at.
Why is art important to you, and how do you believe it can make a difference?
I’m involved in Cosmic Writers, which is a nonprofit that does creative writing workshops for K through 12 kids. I think when they're allowed to be creative, you can see that it boosts their confidence and they are able to exercise a muscle that they don't always get to exercise in school. It's a really important part of development and expression. Whether you're a kid or an adult, I think everybody needs a creative outlet.
What are some of your favorite things to do in your free time?
I really like making clothes. I'm not so good at it but I'm working on getting better.
Since you’re a senior now, when you look back at your time at Penn, does any particular moment stand out?
Hey Day. My roommates and I spent the whole morning running around campus doing photo shoots at our favorite locations. We ended up taking pictures at the loading dock of the Annenberg Center where the trucks back into because we spent so much time there loading out sets. We also took pictures at our favorite sushi restaurant. It was a really happy day of recapping everything.
What’s next for you after Penn?
I don't totally know. Art and nonprofits are both really important to me, and Philadelphia is really important to me. So I think whatever I do, I'm going to be here and ideally, do something in the theater and art world.
Lightning Round Questions:
Favorite musical? Bandstand
Dream musical to play a role in? Gypsy
Early bird or night owl? Neither, I’m a 3 p.m. person.
Where do you feel most at home at Penn? Platt Student Performing Arts House
Favorite spot for food near campus? Ochatto
There are two types of people at Penn … The people who know where the PAC shop is and the people who don’t know what that is.
And you are? I know where the PAC shop is.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.