Through all the rehearsals, performances and group bonding — adding up to nearly seven semesters of 15- to 20-hour weeks dedicated to the Pan-Asian Dance Troupe — College senior and President Karen Wong can’t single out a particular favorite memory.
“But the feeling right before a show, when everyone’s spent the whole week preparing together and excitement is high,” she said in an e-mail, “that’s my favorite feeling.”
Students in the performing arts community tend to live for these feelings of fulfillment while still holding down the other aspects of the Penn balancing act — other extracurricular activities, a social life and sleep.
Wong described that dancing has not majorly affected her academic life, but has forced her to cut down on other extracurricular commitments. Yet, she said, “even though it’s required some sacrifice on my part, it’s been worth it.”
College senior and New Spirit of Penn Gospel Choir President Nifesimi Olojede agreed. “Being part of a performing arts group makes you learn to balance your time well,” she said in an e-mail. “Because you’ve made a commitment, you are forced to manage your time appropriately.”
The time commitment to a performing arts group varies for each person, according to Wong and Olojede, who both consider themselves heavily involved.
As Simply Chaos President and College senior Josh Rabinowitz pointed out, “The group can be what you want it to be.”
Each group becomes a family to its members — there for both the highs of performances and occasional lows of practices.
During show week, stand-up comedy troupe Simply Chaos members go over jokes with each other “millions of times” and revise each one until it becomes “completely unfunny” to everyone, Rabinowitz said.
“Everybody loses their confidence,” he joked.
However, Rabinowitz stressed the importance of collaboration and community, where older members help “fix up” younger members with suggestions for stronger punch lines.
“Members older than me really taught me what to do,” he said. “It’s like a support group where people come in with their problems, and they try to make them funny.”
Olojede also appreciates the encouragement of her “family away from home.” She explained that because members “are around each other so often, we have created a support system for each other, and it really helped my transitioning into college life my freshman year.”
For Front Row Theatre Company board member and College senior Dan Singer, his arts group provides an escape from normal academic routines.
“As a physics major, I spend most of my time working on problem sets,” Singer wrote in an e-mail, “and while I really enjoy them, it’s also nice to spend time talking about how a script relates to the larger struggles of humanity.”
The people he shares these discussions with have turned into important presences in his life.
“I’d say that roughly half my friends at Penn are people that I’ve met through theater,” he wrote, “and I’m sure is true with every student in a [Performing Arts Council] group, many of my closest friends are people I’ve worked with.”
For some, getting into the performing arts at Penn can start with first steps on campus.
For College senior Kaegan Sparks, the Kelly Writers House, where she is now a curator, has been “the major pulse” of her Penn experience since before day one of college. She met the director and toured the house during spring of her senior year of high school, signed up for a work-study interview that summer, and never looked back.
Others, like Wong, got involved in the arts at Penn by translating previous interests into new outlets. She focused more on martial arts before college, but decided to instead take certain taekwondo techniques and apply them to dance.
The ease of involvement was a key part of Olojede’s decision to become part of NSP. Apart from its “welcoming” atmosphere, “NSP is no auditions necessary, so that is a great motivation to join,” Olojede wrote.
And regardless of the reason they originally got involved, students say their respective groups have left profound impacts on their college careers.
Thinking about life without the arts would be “odd” for Singer. “Without any performing groups, I’m really not sure what I would have done with my time,” he said.
Looking back, Olojede realizes that being a performing arts student “has not shaped my career goals to be a doctor, but it has given me an opportunity to be a well-rounded student.”
But whether they will continue pursuing the arts after graduation is not yet clear.
Singer wrote, “Sadly, I think my theater experience will end with graduation this coming May,” adding that he would like to become more committed to science as he gets older.
“My sense is that college and theater have been tied together very closely, and that as I move on, that chapter will come to a close,” he explained.
After beginning his comedy career with open mics in New York City during his senior year of high school, English major Rabinowitz said he hopes to continue writing jokes, mentioning that some alumni have gone on to professional stand-up careers. “I’m going to sort of see where it goes and try to perform as much as possible,” he said.
After all, he noted, performance is key. “You can’t really know what works and doesn’t [from paper],” he said. “It’s a performance more than a written thing.”Comments powered by Disqus
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