Penn State closes a four-night, livestreamed, star-studded arts celebration

April 13, 2020

Penn State has wrapped up its four-day virtual event — "Penn State Presents: A Virtual Performing Arts Celebration," consisting of live, 30-minute vignettes by students and alumni from Penn State's School of Theatre and School of Music. Recordings of the event that ran April 9-12 can be viewed at PennStatePresents.psu.edu.

From spoken word to original songs to theatrical performances, Penn Staters came together to share their talents from their living rooms to audience living rooms. Renowned Penn State alumni who took part included: Patrick Fabian, Howard Hamlin in the hit show "Better Call Saul"; Joonas Suotamo, Chewbacca in the Star Wars sequel trilogy; Mike Reid, former Nittany Lion football player, songwriter and composer; Caroline Bowman, Elsa in the national tour of Disney's "Frozen"; Christian Thompson, Smokey Robinson in "Ain't Too Proud" on Broadway; Talia Suskauer, leading as Elphaba in the national tour of "WICKED"; and Jerrie Johnson, starring in the upcoming Amazon Studios series, "Untitled Tracy Oliver Project."

Night One —

"We got very excited to create this performance platform so that we can reach out to each other, connect, and try to do what the arts do so well, lift people up," said John Simpkins, head of musical theatre at Penn State and emcee for the event.

  • Susan Russell, associate professor in the Penn State School of Theatre, opened the show
  • Joonas Suotamo, Penn State alumnus and actor, provided a greeting
  • Caroline Bowman, Penn State alumna and actress, sang a song
  • Murphy Smith, Penn State musical theatre student, performed a song accompanied by two siblings
  • Lisa Rogali, Penn State alumna and American soprano, sang a song
  • Claire DeArmitt, Penn State master of music candidate, sang a song

Suotamo expressed his thoughts about the community pulling together during this time. "I'm very pleased to join you personally all the way from Finland to celebrate this great big 'We Are' moment."

"I'm so grateful to Penn State for bringing me my chosen family," said Bowman, "I just know we’re all going to come out of this stronger because that's what we do. We're Penn Staters."

The evening concluded with remarks from Penn State President Eric Barron: "We’re just proud of how resilient this community is, how resourceful this community is ... We are one community inspiring one another and making a difference where it truly counts."

Night Two —

"It's rewarding to hand it down. And by the way, it was handed down to me just like at Penn State, so why wouldn't I want to give the gift back?" said actor Patrick Fabian as he shared his gratitude for working with students before performing a Shakespearean monologue.

  • Patrick Fabian, Penn State alumnus and actor, performed a monologue
  • Lauren McKee, Penn State acting student, performed a monologue
  • Jim Hogan, Penn State alumnus and actor, sang a song accompanied by his keyboard
  • Amina Faye, Penn State musical theatre student, sang a song accompanied by her ukulele
  • Rick Lombardo, director of the School of Theatre at Penn State, gave closing remarks 

McKee shared her thanks for the support of other Penn Staters before performing a monologue from "Romeo and Juliet." "Everyone has been staying in contact and just checking in on each other. Checking in means so much more now than it ever has," she said.

Night Three —

"We feel the spirit of our Penn State family more than ever during these challenging times. We are so proud to be a part of this," said Penn State Head Football Coach James Franklin.

  • James Franklin, Penn State football head coach, opened the show
  • Dario Natarelli, Penn State musical theatre student, performed two dances
  • Christian Thompson, Penn State alumnus and actor, sang a song
  • Laura Clapper, Penn State alumna, performed on flute
  • Maria Guglielmina, Penn State master of music candidate, performed on flute
  • David Frego, director of the School of Music at Penn State, gave closing remarks

Performers echoed Franklin’s sentiments throughout the night. "Life has told everyone to pause and reflect a little bit to see what we need as human beings," said Thompson.

Night Four —

"If you've watched over the last three evenings, you've already experienced the beautiful talent from the kind of people who make saying 'We Are' mean as much as it does," said Mike Reid.

  • Mike Reid, Penn State alumnus, opened the show and performed an original song
  • Jerrie Johnson, Penn State alumna and actress, performed spoken word
  • Natasha Schlaffer, Penn State acting student, performed spoken word
  • Jasmine Forsberg, Penn State musical theatre student, sang an original song accompanied by her guitar
  • Talia Suskauer, Penn State alumna and actress, sang a song accompanied by her sister Becca
  • B. Stephen Carpenter II, dean of the College of Arts and Architecture at Penn State, gave closing remarks 

As a last performance, Reid debuted a new song, "I'm Right Here."

"When I think of these words, I think of the unbelievable courage of the health workers around the world who are risking so much to care for those in need," he said. "This is for them, this is for you, this is for me, this is for all of us perhaps."

During the livestream events, viewers around the world flooded in to congratulate the performers and show appreciation for the Penn State community: 

  • "The last 4 nights have been absolutely magical!! Thanks so much to all of the incredible artists and the folks behind the scenes who made this possible."
  • "Awesome, beautiful, inspiring." 
  • "Who knew I could ever be Penn State prouder! THANK YOU to all of you for doing this!"
  • "I'm just aghast at the breadth and depth of talent! You can't imagine how proud I am to be a Penn State alum." 
  • "Totally awesome. Thank you!!! What a wonderful way to bring us together."  
  • "Fantastic performances! Thank you for sharing your gifts with us. You are inspiring my 7-year-old daughter to be a part of the Penn State family. We Are!"
  • "As an upcoming freshman, it's exciting and amazing to hear such a talented music program!"

As President Eric Barron wrote on Digging Deeper, this truly is a "We Are" moment — and Penn State wants to hear your "We Are" stories. Visit news.psu.edu/WeAre to share how you or other Penn Staters are supporting each other to overcome the collective challenges presented by the novel coronavirus.

Last Updated April 20, 2020