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The Annenberg will be live-streaming performances for the Spring 2021 season, as well as hosting virtual masterclasses and editing services for dancers to keep the student body engaged. Credit: Ezra Troy

Penn students can now watch live shows at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts from the comfort of their own homes through a video livestream.

The Annenberg Center is livestreaming events for the Spring 2021 season, allowing audience members to view shows in real time on the Annenberg website while artists perform on stage at the Annenberg Center. The Annenberg Center is also hosting events such as virtual masterclasses and editing services for dancers to keep the student body engaged.

The livestream events are an hour long, with 40 to 45 minutes of performance and 15 minutes of discussion with the artists, during which audience members can ask the performers questions directly. Tickets are free for Penn students.

Artists performing this season include HopeBoykin Dance, Zakir Hussain, and Keyon Harrold. 

College junior Erin Hayes, a member of the Annenberg Center Executive & Artistic Director’s Student Advisory Council, said one of the benefits of the livestream format is accessibility to a larger audience. Performances are now available to both a domestic and international audience, and easily accessible to alumni and the elderly, she said.

Some of the biggest successes with the livestream format are audience engagement and the ability to reach a diverse audience, Executive & Artistic Director of the Annenberg Center Christopher Gruits said. Student ticket sales have also risen.

Gruits said the Annenberg Center maintains rigorous health and safety guidelines in accordance with Penn and the city of Philadelphia’s policies. Artists coming from out of state must have proof of a negative COVID-19 test and all artists must work with limited staff who practice social distancing guidelines.

(From left to right) Performances by HopeBoykinDance, Keyon Harrold, Zakir Hussain are among several events that Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts will be livestreaming for the Spring 2021 season. (Photos from Annenbergcenter.org)

Hayes said she has already had positive interactions with performers through the new virtual format, as she attended the Paul Taylor Dance Company’s virtual masterclass for students before the company performed at the Annenberg Center on Feb. 19.

“It's more than just getting access to a dance class, it’s getting access to the mind of a great artist and learning from them," Hayes said. "Not just how [they] move, but also in how to navigate the dance world and how the dance world has changed.”

Christina Lynch Markham, dancer for the Paul Taylor Dance Company, said the company’s performance at the Annenberg on Feb. 19 was one of its first in eleven months. Markham said Zoom masterclasses allow for artists to get to know each other on a “human level,” as they can view each others’ backgrounds and where they come from.

Still, Markham maintains that having a live, in-person audience is vital to the art of performing. She said that, as artists, they feed off the energy of their audience, who reciprocate by being engrossed in the performance.

Mauro Calcagno, associate professor of Music and fellow at Rodin College House, hosted a watch party at Rodin for the Paul Taylor Dance Company performance. Calcagno said Rodin has been cultivating a relationship to the arts through The Rodin Arts Collective (TRAC), which included faculty and students attending dinner together before going to a performance at the Annenberg prior to COVID-19. 

Calcagno hopes that virtual watch parties will help reestablish the relationship between the high rises and the arts.

Gruits said the Annenberg Center will consider hosting outdoor events in the late spring. After COVID-19, he said, he foresees a mixed offering of mostly live performances with a digital livestream offered each season, analogous to a sports game. 

Markham said she is excited that dance and the arts are slowly coming back to life during the pandemic.

“It's just a thrill, and nowhere better than at the Annenberg Center to be," she said. "We love Philly — it’s our favorite place to go — so it was quite an experience.”

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