When Speakeasy was founded in 1997, it didn’t seem to have a promising future.
Then College sophomores Emily Cohen, Courtney Zoffness and Adam Kaufman planned the first ever Penn Speakeasy, an open mic night open to Penn students and the local community. It was held beneath 1920 Commons in a small windowless room and didn’t attract many students.
But 15 years later, Speakeasy lives on. Now hosted at the Kelly Writers House, Speakeasy continues to create a sense of community for the students who drop by every month. People are encouraged to read their work, sing songs and — as the event’s tag line “poetry, prose, anything goes” suggests — perform whatever they like.
Speakeasy attracts a diverse group of people. Some are current Penn students, others alumni and Philadelphia locals.
Last night, co-hosts College sophomore Rosa Escandon and junior Isa Oliveres — a “34st Street” staff member — began with the first guest, 1969 Wharton graduate Jeffrey Jubelirer.
He quipped about accounting and poetry and laughter erupted. Then it began: 23 acts that addressed love, life, death and everything in between.
Escandon said she loves the great sense of community at Speakeasy. The welcoming, intimate environment was apparent as College senior Daniel Wertman headed to the front with his guitar and a song he wrote about saying “I love you” for the first time.
Speakeasy also provides a forum for comedians, poets and singers to try new material.
College freshman Jonathan Calles came to practice his bit for a “Simply Chaos” audition. However, he loved the event so much he promised to come back every month.
College sophomore Isaac Garcia admitted just as much. “I came for a selfish reason,” he said. He also was practicing a bit.
While some wanted their chance in the limelight others preferred to listen.
“I eat cookies, I heckle, I watch everyone else,” said College sophomore and Speakeasy regular Anna Irizarri. Many audience members regularly attend Speakeasy without performing.
“I’m not really a poet,” admitted College sophomore Dawn Androphy, who came to support her friends. She noted that in a mostly professional environment like Penn, she loves the “bastion of creativity” Speakeasy creates on campus.
Then there are those that made the transition from listener to performer. College sophomore Brennan Cusack came to every Speakeasy event last semester and never read. She made a pact with her friend and finally performed last night.
Cusack played a conversation between herself and a less-than-perfect boyfriend named Ricky. “I don’t know anyone named Ricky. You can take that as you want,” she said with a smile.
Escandon and Oliveres, peppered raffle giveaways in between performances, giving away several non-traditional prizes like old t-shirts, and books titled “Suits: A Woman on Wall Street” and “Redneck Way of Knowledge.”
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