Meeting with the Penn State Performing Arts Council
I like to think that the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts has a unique relationship with our co-host (and co-founder) Penn State. While other college host arts festivals—the University of Michigan comes famously to mind—our relationship goes beyond a mere host/guest relationship. Our bylaws state that half of the men and women who serve on the Board of Directors of the Festival are required to have a Penn State affiliation.
In addition, for the past ten years we’ve had Penn State students as interns; you couldn’t ask for a brighter or harder working group of kids. I can’t tell you how many times students have interviewed me for some sort of term paper, and with some frequency I’m asked to speak at English classes. Oh, and in one of my finer moments, I served as the Honorary Grand Marshall of the Penn State Homecoming Parade. (It snowed on my parade. In October. No joke.)
Even by the standards of this relationship, Saturday, April 11 was a special day, since I was invited, along with George Trudeau, Director of Penn State’s Center for the Performing Arts, and Associate Vice-President for Student Affairs Philip Burlingame, to speak to the presidents and officers of the student performing arts groups on campus.
Some ambitious undergraduate students, led by John Connolly (on the left) and Brian Gutierrez, are in the process of bringing student performing arts groups together into the Penn State Performing Arts Council for the groups’ mutual benefit. Festival staff got to know John and Brian and when we served together on the steering committee for February’s THAW Festival. By day, they’re studying chemical engineering and math (seriously!) and in their spare time they’re members of the Penn State Thespians.
The purpose of Saturday’s meeting was to update officers from different performing arts organizations on the status of the council, and to offer some networking opportunities, e.g. free pizza. According to Penn State’s Student Affairs web site there are 82 student music and performing arts groups at the University Park Campus, starting with a dance group, Ambitions, and ending twenty-two letters of the alphabet later with the Writers Organizing to Present Diverse Stories, a spoken word slash poetry group.
In my five minute speech, I spoke about the Festival’s desire to book more Penn State student groups at both the Festival and at First Night State College. One of the reasons people come to our events is to connect to Penn State, and what better way is there to do that than to see some of its best and brightest singing their hearts out as they sell it to the cheap seats from center stage?
Unfortunately both of our events take place when the majority of students are not in State College. In fact, Penn State is actually closed during First Night. So, booking a student group requires more advanced planning than usual.
The audience seemed receptive to my message and—if all goes according to plan—you’ll see more student performers this summer at the Festival and perhaps at First Night State College as well.