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 email@example.com.
Alumni Spotlight: Ramita Ravi, C'17
Hailing from a small town near Pittsburgh, PA, Ramita Ravi spent her undergraduate years at Penn studying Health and Societies and dancing up a storm! She served as the Artistic Director and Chair of Arts House Dance Company and as the Chair of the Dance Arts Council (DAC). She danced with Penn Thillana and was a member of Friars, Osiris, and Oracle senior societies. Ramita was a PennArts Pre-Orientation Leader, and she will be returning to Platt House later this month to teach the Dance Masterclass to a whole new group of first year PennArts students! After performing on So You Think You Can Dance on the day of her graduation, Ramita moved to New York City, signed with Clear Talent Group, and now pursues dance as a full-time career. In addition to SYTYCD, Ramita has performed on Viceland, Good Morning America, a Fosse/Verdon commercial, and the premiere of I Am the Night, a new TNT show. But that's not all! Ramita recently performed in Aida at the Engeman Theater, and she has toured with two Bollywood shows: Mystic India and Bollywood Boulevard. Ramita teaches dance at competitions and companies across the country. She recently launched her own dance company, Project Convergence, which unites classical Indian dance and tap. The members of Project Convergence have done events at Buzzfeed, Spotify, and Lincoln Center; they hosted major dance brand Capezio's first Holi event; and they are artists-in-residence at the American Tap Dance Foundation.
Looking back on her time at Penn, Ramita says: "I don't know that I would have been a professional dancer if I hadn't gone to Penn, truly." As Penn has no academic dance program, Ramita was hesitant when she matriculated. However, her experiences with the dance, performing arts, and Platt House communities provided her the opportunities to not only dance, but also choreograph, develop themes, incorporate videos, run a show, handle administrative duties, and manage a company. She learned the business side of dance, while building her artistic craft. As she grapples with booking dance space in NYC, completing contracts, and developing a company, Ramita credits learning 100% of those skills from her time at Penn. She also treasures the collaborative experiences she gained at the University, working with singing groups, videographers, photographers, and many other dance groups with different cultural backgrounds, goals, and missions. Ramita shares warm memories of the Emily Sachs Dance Benefit, an annual event bringing together every DAC group, strengthening that community and working together for a greater cause. She also remembers working with a group of dancers after her sophomore year to create a summer workshop series, which would become the Penn Summer Dance Series. This program grew to include hundreds of people during Ramita's time at Penn and continues today. For Ramita, the fond memories live on: "I have so many'"my whole life was performing arts at Penn."
Ramita's recent work has had her traveling to Boston, Hershey, Austin, DC, and even Philly! Looking forward, she is getting ready for lots of auditions, and she is incredibly excited about her upcoming plans for Project Convergence, including the collaboration with the American Tap Dance Foundation, the hub for tap dance companies across the country, as this is the first time the Foundation has brought in classical Indian Dance. Ramita shares that the arts are important to her because they are deeply intertwined with her identity: "I grew up in Pittsburgh in a small town, and I had access to American dance from a really young age where no one looked like me. And I also had access to Indian dance where everyone looked like me. Bridging those two worlds and feeling comfortable in both spaces was something I could only do through dance because I was neither all Indian or all American. I'm just both. That's how it works. That's what my identity is." In her work moving forward, Ramita wants to create more spaces that allow people to express their stories and feel comfortable in their own shoes, their own voices, their own skin. For students who are interested in pursuing the arts beyond college, Ramita reminds them to own the multidimensional aspects of themselves: "The more you apply the multidimensional aspects of your personality and what you gained at Penn, the more successful I think you'll be in this career. I would just say continue to be awesome and well-rounded and multidimensional, and it'll take you really far."
Photo Credit 1: Mike Esperanza
Photo Credit 2: Kevin Wang
Alumni Spotlight: Interview with InVersion Theatre featuring Rebecca LeVine, C'12; Johnny Lloyd, C'11; and Will Steinberger, C'11
Photo Credit: David Slotnick
Tell us a little about yourselves, your hometowns, and your majors and graduation years.
- Johnny Lloyd: Asheville, NC; International Relations, 2011. I'm a playwright and producer based in Manhattan, NY. I am Producing Director for InVersion Theatre and currently an MFA Candidate in Playwriting at Columbia University studying under Lynn Nottage and David Henry Hwang.
- Rebecca LeVine: Longmont, CO; English, 2012. I live in Brooklyn and work in business development for an ebook startup. I also do some freelance graphic and web design work.
- Will Steinberger: Philadelphia, PA; English, 2011. I'm a theatre director, which means Johnny, Rebecca, and I have a baby together, called InVersion Theatre, that has produced seven full length plays since graduating from Penn, as well as numerous events, short plays, and assorted theatrical happenings. I also work often as an assistant director, dramaturg, and producer/arts administrator, mainly in New York, where I live.
What groups were you involved with during your time at Penn?
- ALL: INTUITONS!!!!
- JL: Counterparts and Mortar Board and a bunch of other TAC-e groups.
- RL: I dabbled in various activities, but TAC-e was my main thing, mostly acting, some directing, a bit of prop designing (prop designing is the best). I'm proud-slash-frightened to say I did at least one production every semester.
- WS: PennQuest, Friars.
How do you feel like the arts at Penn shaped or affected your career paths?
- JL: I really didn't realize I could go into the arts until I was at Penn. Being able to create relationships with my fellow classmates opened up what theater meant for me and provided connections, friendships, and collaborators that have lasted through today.
- RL: Doing theater was too magical to ever give up completely.
- WS: I met Johnny and Rebecca, and I wouldn't be making theatre the way I am today if it weren't for the relationships I have with them. Penn also has a phenomenal DIY ethos, which encourages those scrappy enough to make theatre.
What are your favorite arts-related memories from your time at Penn?
- JL: I'm not allowed to say the parties, right?
- RL: Does that mean I'm not allowed to say the parties either? In all seriousness though, quite a few of my closest friends today are people I did shows with at Penn. Over the course of six or eight weeks of rehearsals, you spend all this time together, you have all these emotional experiences, you're collaborating on this unique and beautiful thing. And you laugh endlessly, even (especially?) in rehearsal rooms for very, very dark shows.
- WS: Definitely the parties.
How did you start InVersion Theatre? What did that process look like?
- JL: The way I remember it, Will and I were living together and wanted to do a show together after graduating, and because iNtuitons had a relationship with Philly Fringe, we felt very comfortable doing a show in that festival. Rebecca came on soon after (as did another one of our college collaborators, Reni Ellis, who was our company manager for our first show). And after that, we kind of just kept on making plays together. It's been easy because we've had a working relationship for ten years, but also because we would hang out even if we weren't working together constantly.
- RL: I was a year behind Johnny and Will at Penn (a fact I remind them of often), so I was a senior when they were getting InVersion off the ground. In the spring of 2012, Will asked me if I had the time/interest to dramaturg their production of Miss Julie. Seeking any excuse to put off writing my thesis, I eagerly signed on. Following graduation, I realized just how little I wanted to give up doing theater with my friends, so at some point in there, I finagled my way into the role of Official InVersion Dramaturg. Seven years later, here we are!
- WS: It was a lot more like what we did together at Penn then unlike what we did together, which is a credit to how TAC-e and the University as a whole prepared us for art-making.
What is the key to your success as a team? Do you get on each other's nerves at all?
- JL: When we're at our best, we're honest with each other about how we feel and what we want to do. You can't not get on your collaborators' nerves, but you can be honest about how you're feeling and learn how to listen instead of trying to bury those feelings or taking feedback personally, and I think a lot of our success is because we're constantly working to be honest and open in our communications.
- RL: Weird question. Will Steinberger, Johnny Lloyd, and Rebecca LeVine have never gotten on anyone's nerves, ever.
- WS: Cry in public, not private. That's our rule.
What is InVersion Theatre up to now and do you have individual upcoming projects you're working on?
- ALL: We're gearing up for round 3 of our We Read Books series in partnership with The Tank, in which we commission 6 playwrights to create 10-minute plays inspired by a classic text we've selected (Beowulf and Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" so far). We're also at work on a new app-play about environmental catastrophe, set in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. Oh, and we're writing an original musical adaptation of Dracula, set in Silicon Valley, with music/lyrics by Andrew Underberg, who did not go to Penn.
- WS: I'm directing a play at Columbia right now and producing an off-Broadway play in the fall.
What is a piece of advice you would give to a student who is interested in pursuing the arts beyond their college career?
- JL: Penn is small. The world is big. Get ready for rejection, and learn how to welcome it.
- RL: Creating and presenting art in the real world almost always requires money--for rehearsal and performance spaces, for costumes and sets and my beloved props, for marketing and publicity, for the labor of all the people working alongside you. At Penn, we were incredibly fortunate to have spaces and budgets that appeared as if by magic and the expertise of University employees whose salaries weren't our responsibility. We got to imagine that money and art-making were unrelated--which, outside a supportive institution like Penn, is not remotely the case. You spend a lot of time fundraising. You have to ask a lot of your supporters. I'd advise someone seeking a career in the arts to be ready for that.
- WS: Remake the art market; don't let it remake you. In other words, don't lose the spark that got you jazzed about your work in the first place.
Why are the arts important to you?
- JL: When you're in the arts, you don't just get to show the human condition--you get to interpret it and take things that you think might just apply to you and find out that they actually apply to so many people. And opening up and finding common ground with others through such a vulnerable process is so inspiring and exciting.
- RL: We live in dark times. Making and experiencing and thinking about art gets us a little closer to the light.
- WS: Nothing matters more than meaningful personal encounters. Art sculpts the spaces and experiences in which these encounters happen.
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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