After curating a season of events, The Center for Performing Arts realized the commonalities between the artists and used the opportunity to utilize these performances to highlight the sometimes lesser-told stories of African Americans. “The American Experience: Through an African American Lens” will run throughout the 2019-20 school year.
“We have always placed an emphasis on perspectives and views that perhaps, but this isn’t universally true of course, some Penn State students might not have ever had any exposure to or known about,” Amy Dupain Vashaw , the director of audience and program development for CPA, said.
Vashaw also said the theme is essential to building empathy and creating representation at Penn State. Throughout the year, eight different performances will highlight different artists and their perspectives on the theme of the African American experience.
“Each of the stories are very powerful and slightly different, just like the African American experience is in this country,” Vashaw said.
The series will open with Imani Winds and Catalyst Quartet on Sept. 18, which will feature a new piece of work titled “(im)migration: music of change.” On Sept. 26, Maceo Parker and the Maceo Parker Big Band will bring funk to State College.
“[Maceo Parker] played with James Brown, the P-Funk Allstars, and George Clinton. He’s kind of been all over and is super funky. Hearing the history of funk through his lens is important,” Vashaw said.
The 100th anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance, which brought African-American art and poetry into the spotlight, will be celebrated through choreography to Langston Hughes poetry. Mwenso and the Shakes with Brianna Thomas, Michela Marino Lerman and Vuyo Sotashe will take the stage on Oct. 22 for an event titled “Harlem 100: Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance.”
This spring, Step Afrika!, a highly ranked and the first professional step dancing company, is premiering the show “Drumfolk,” which is based on an 18th century conflict between slave owners and slaves .
“The slave owners felt the slaves gained too much power. They knew how to read and write and they had drums through which they had developed a method of communication. So, there was an uprising and a new act was put into place where all of the slaves’ writing and drums were taken away,” Vashaw said.
The act led the slaves to adopt a body language for communication, and “Drumfolk,” will explore this story.
The series will also present the Dance Theater of Harlem’s 50th Anniversary Tour, Lizz Wright, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis in “Masters of Form: From Mingus to Monk,” and “The Color Purple.”
“[The Color Purple] is my favorite musical of all time. It’s very devastating, but also uplifting. What a way to end this series, because it really is a quintessential story of African American life in this country,” Vashaw said.
George Trudeau , the director of the Center for Performing Arts, said he hopes the series helps students and members of the community to reach a more complete understanding of the lives’ of others. Artists will also be available to engage with audiences to continue the conversations started through the performances.
“I think in general we believe at the [CPA] that it is part of our mission to provide opportunities to learn and understand each other through the work of artists,” Trudeau said.
Moreover, he said he would like students to attend as many events as possible to see a diverse version of the African American Experience.
“I would like students to know that a quarter to a third of our audiences are Penn State students. I think sometimes they imagine there might not be many students there. We are very welcoming to students,” Trudeau said.
Students active in the Penn State performing arts scene like, Dylan Winick , are eager to see what the series brings to campus.
“Anything that can help educate people about other people’s perspectives makes Penn State a better place for everyone,” Winick (junior-security and risk analysis) said.