Platt House is proud of all Penn alumni who consider the student performing arts community their home! Alumni are engaged in various fields, from arts and entertainment to medicine and engineering. Below are a few profiles and musings of alums. If you have a story you would like to share, e-mail Associate Director Megan Edelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get to know our featured alumna Joan Harrison'81, the founder of Penn's female comedy group Bloomers and also its alumnae association.
Hailing from a family of six children in Westbury, New York, as a freshman Harrison felt a bit at sea. But in her first semester she was blown away by a Mask & Wig show. She knew it was open only to men and had the idea of creating Penn's first performing arts group for women. She stayed on campus that summer to lay the groundwork. That September, with the help of her roommates Amy Albert and Barbara Finklestein, Harrison founded a group she called Bloomers, named for the journalist and suffragette Amelia Bloomer. The group was the first all-female musical sketch comedy troupe in the nation.
At the time, Penn was less than 30% female, and Bloomers was the only creative environment on campus where women could take charge in writing comedy and showcase their comedy talents. The crew and band were also female, and remain so. Harrison directed the first show, "Fruit of the Bloomers," which debuted in March 1979, and fell in love with the creative process. So she shelved the idea of going to law school, and started interning at television networks in Philadelphia. After graduation, she went on to build a long career in television mostly as a network programmer in Los Angeles.
Founding Bloomers greatly influenced Harrison's career, and in 2015 she wanted to give back in a meaningful way. She founded the Bloomers Alumnae Association hoping to solidify the Bloomers community--there are more than 500 former Bloomers--and give the the troupe financial support. She and a handful of her Bloomers classmates have come together as if they never stopped being friends. They vacation together and talk constantly.
And the relationship between the alumnae association and the current troupe is also blooming. There is an annual Alumnae Retreat during which alums draw upon their professional expertise and life experience to help younger alumnae learn practical skills to ease into life after Penn. Harrison says that the younger Bloomers give the alumnae "hope for the future in these trying times." The alumnae especially admire the "fierceness of our students." She thinks that there is "something to be said about learning to manage fear and instilling confidence when you do comedy on stage…when you write it, when you perform it, when you contribute to producing it."
As for advice for budding artists, Harrison says "practice, practice, practice" meaning: keep writing, keep performing and keep refining your talents, especially in a competitive field like comedy. Harrison has complete confidence in Penn grads trying to make it in Entertainment. She said that pretty much everyone finds their footing, and praises the LA alumni network in Entertainment for how it supports young grads.
KRISTIN MARRA, E'14 Leveraging your Performing Arts Activities in your Career
"Oh, you play the flute in the Penn Band! How is that? I would imagine it's a lot of fun." I heard some variation of this statement in just about every job interview I had my senior year. I am a Mechanical Design Engineer at an Aerospace company on Long Island, NY; a job that has absolutely nothing to do with music or flute-playing. However, it's no surprise that I was asked this in my engineering interviews. Music, as is the case for arts in general, is a cross-major, cross-career discussion point. To an interviewer, it reveals an applicant who is well-rounded and interested in more than his or her exact field of study. I am grateful that I was able to continue pursuing the arts at Penn, regardless of my Engineering major. Music truly is a combination of creativity and structure, a balance that is vital is any job setting. Through being involved in PAC, I gained communication and leadership skills that are directly applicable to working in a corporate environment. Playing in bands and taking music classes helped me understand the importance of details in the scope of a large project, whether that be a song, performance, or an engineering design. Most importantly, the wonderful, quirky, smart, sometimes insane, passionate friends I made through the arts at Penn showed me what it means to put 100% into any task. While I may not be in an arts-related career, the skills I gained through involvement in the arts are used in my work every day.
STEPHANIE R. MCNEAL, W'91 Looking Back and Moving Forward
They say that everyone has a soundtrack to their lives, and I am very grateful that. If I am ever challenged to put my official playlist together, "there will be lots of references to my Penn years in that collection.
Although I've been an artsy chick for my entire life, it is at Penn where I officially discovered that my talents were more than a fluke or a hobby. After struggling socially and academically first semester freshman year, it was my involvement in arts groups: Penn Gospel Choir, Penn Black Arts League and, eventually, The Inspiration that gave me the support, the confidence and the belief in my talents to know that any challenge was surmountable. They provided a platform for me to shine, when I felt dim and unsure. And whether acting, arranging, directing or singing, I discovered that I could lead. I could shine, in my own special way. I didn't have to be the only star in the sky, but I could be among them, confidently.
Since graduating from Penn, I have used those creative gifts and talents honed as an undergraduate in every professional position I have accepted throughout my career. From the corporate world of marketing and advertising, to classrooms where I have encouraged other teens to write, act, sing, create a space for themselves. In my job on talk radio, where daily I get to debate, educate and explore what's going on in the world and the role we all play in building solutions. And yes, on stage…where I have been blessed to act in some amazing productions, or record my own music and travel internationally to share it with fans. Every one of my successes can be attributed to talents that were passed down to me from birth, but were fine-tuned through my experiences as a student at Penn and my active involvement in the arts groups that flourish on campus.
As a Platt House Advisory Board Member, it is my distinct hope that I can continue to create opportunities for other youth to blossom at Penn as I did. To stand in that spotlight, shine and find their uniquely special voice.
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