2017-09-01 / Features

Arts Ahead

Fall means cooler weather, back to school and gorgeous foliage. But in this town, it also means the arts scene heats up. Here’s a look at what’s coming to area stages this season.
Maggie Anderson

Lila Downs will take the stage Oct. 17. Photo by Marcela TaboadaLila Downs will take the stage Oct. 17. Photo by Marcela Taboada


Every year, some of the best music in the world comes to State College via Eisenhower and Schwab Auditoriums, and this year is no different. Director George Trudeau is excited about the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State’s jazz programming, which includes Cécile McLorin Salvant — “one of the hottest jazz singers in the world right now,” he says — kicking off the season on Sept. 14. Later in the year, Eisenhower will rock with the Spanish Harlem Orchestra and the Birdland All-Stars featuring Tommy Igoe.

Trudeau is perhaps most excited, though, for Lila Downs, a Mexican-American artist who will take the stage on Oct. 17. “She’s a rock star,” he says. “I’ve been trying to get her to come here for years. This tour she’s playing Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Penn State. So that is big!”

Another huge superstar’s work will come to Penn State via a piece that was co-commissioned by the CPA. Dawn Upshaw, Gilbert Kalish and Sö Percussion will perform a program that includes a new work by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw. “I’m really excited about that performance because it will be a world premiere of the work we co-commissioned,” says Trudeau.

Probably the biggest performer of the CPA’s season needs no introduction: Yo-Yo Ma will return to Eisenhower for the third time on Nov. 3.

Yo-Yo Ma and longtime accompanist Kathryn Stott. Photo by Todd Rosenberg PhotographyYo-Yo Ma and longtime accompanist Kathryn Stott. Photo by Todd Rosenberg Photography

The fall semester will wrap up with Christmas on Sugarloaf Mountain: An Appalachian Celebration, a show by CPA favorite Apollo’s Fire playing folk and Appalachian Christmas songs. Also playing folk music in addition to classical works will be the Danish String Quartet on April 6. “That should be really interesting,” says Trudeau. “We’ve been trying to get them here for a couple of years and we’re finally making it happen.”

Of course, State College is home to not one but two classical music performance groups. The Nittany Valley Symphony’s season begins with a program of French masterworks from the late 19th century on Sept. 24. Their annual family show in January will feature Helen Manfull narrating The Story of Babar as well as the Ann Keller Young Soloist Competition winner. In the spring, Music Without Borders will include pieces by Copland, Prokofiev and Borodin, and the final show, The End of Romanticism, will feature Penn State Opera Theatre’s Ted Christopher as the vocalist in a program about love, death and transcendence at the end of the Romantic era.

This season will bring two new changes for the Pennsylvania Chamber Orchestra — the first being that new name. Their season will kick off with a Housewarming Party on Sept. 8 at The State Theatre, where many of their concerts will be held this season. The PCO will perform Handel’s Messiah for a matinee and evening show on Dec. 10. To start the new year, seven married couples in the orchestra will perform Dynamic Duos on Jan. 21. The final spring show will feature French composers and soloist Kim Cook on cello.

The State Theatre, as usual, will offer a wide variety of musical acts in addition to the new PCO season. The Native Sons & Daughters Attic Series features local musicians in an intimate setting, with performances from Miss Melanie and the Valley Rats, Raven and the Wren and Eric Ian Farmer planned for this fall. The Jazz in the Attic Series will bring Jim Yanda and Regional Cooking as well as Nancy and Spencer Reed to the stage before the fall series finale of Charlie Brown Christmas Jazz with the Rick Hirsch 3.

National acts not to be missed include St. Paul & the Broken Bones, a contemporary soul band, on Sept. 19; An Acoustic Evening with folk singer-songwriter Al Stewart on Sept. 23; and Nancy Wilson, formerly of Heart, with her new project, Roadcase Royale on Sept. 26.

St. Paul & the Broken Bones. Photo courtesy The State TheatreSt. Paul & the Broken Bones. Photo courtesy The State Theatre

“The band is most of her band from Heart,” says Karen Gregg, the new executive director at The State Theatre, “and the lead guitarist from Prince’s band. That’ll be fun.”

Some big names in contemporary folk will be coming through State College, including Rhiannon Giddens on Oct. 3, Shovels & Rope on Oct. 15 and The Wailin’ Jennys on Feb. 15.

Gregg isn’t ready to announce the theme of the annual January benefit show in which local artists perform a few songs of one artist to raise money for Strawberry Fields, Inc., but she promises it’ll be big.

“We’ve sort of raised the bar with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones,” she says, “so what’s next will be just as great.”



As FUSE Productions gets ready to begin its fourth season, producing artistic director Richard Biever can pinpoint the moment the local theater company’s mission solidified.

“When we did Parade, which is about a Jewish man who is accused of murdering one of his employees — and there’s no happy ending — we sold out and people raved about it,” he says. “There was no, ‘What the heck was that?’ The response to that marked the kind of things we can do.”

So shows with a social message, whether it’s explicit in the script or something the company imbues their performances with, became the hallmark of the theater company’s productions. This year, the three mainstage shows are different from each other and will offer a lot to local audiences.

FUSE opens its season Sept. 21-23 with Fun Home, the Tony-winning adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel by the same name. Biever says they secured the licensing ahead of the curve and are excited to put on a show that takes place in the next valley over and centers on a family that still has connections in the area.

“There’s a lot of people here in State College who knew them,” Biever says of the Bechdels. “Helen Bechdel lived in Bellefonte after Bruce died. She was a teacher in the Bellefonte School District, wrote a column for the CDT and performed at the Boal Barn. People say, ‘Oh, Bruce was my high school English teacher.’ But really it’s a tough task when you’re playing real people who people here know. It feels like a special burden to get it right.”

In the spring, FUSE will put on Merrily We Roll Along (Feb. 22-24), a Sondheim musical in which time moves backward to show the result of the choices made in a lifetime; and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (June 21-23), a musical written after the Disney movie that will be both familiar and challenging to audiences.

“I can’t think of another animated movie that went quite as far as Hunchback does in terms of the darkness of the subject matter,” says Biever. “And the stage version goes even further, closer to the book.”

Though the shows are different, they have one thing in common — the three shows each will be performed in Schwab Auditorium, allowing FUSE to sell tickets for an exciting season. “Fun Home and Hunchback have never been done in State College,” says Biever, “so that’s thrilling — to be able to bring something new.”

Of course, some shows State College audiences will go see again and again, which is why the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State is bringing The Sound of Music (Nov. 14-15), Cinderella (Feb. 20-21), Dirty Dancing (March 21-22) and Jersey Boys (April 17-18) for two performances each. And on Oct. 19, one of CPA director George Trudeau’s recent Broadway favorites will be performed in Eisenhower.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder is a totally original show, original book, original music,” says Trudeau. “The lead plays a number of different heirs to a fortune that the co-lead has to knock off because he’s ninth in line. It’s a tour de force for the one actor who plays eight people.”

For Penn State’s Centre Stage, the whole season is a tour de force for the students who get to work on a wide range of shows. New director William Doan is looking forward to bringing both classic musicals and entirely new shows to the stage this year.

“We didn’t design the season to have a theme,” says Doan, “but it seems to me that we are at least engaging the notion of a journey that is transformative to the self.”

In Sweet Charity (Oct. 3-8), a Times Square taxi dancer searches for love. Kiss of the Spider Woman (April 3-7) explores relationships in the context of social issues via a fantasy framework. And Argonautika (Oct. 24-Nov. 3) follows the classic Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts but with Mary Zimmerman’s unique take. “She has developed this really wonderful way of taking the mythologies and looking at them through a very contemporary lens,” says Doan. “People are really going to enjoy it when they encounter it.”

While those shows each deal with a journey, another show this season has taken its own journey to the Penn State stage. Love in Hate Nation (Feb. 13-24) is a new musical commissioned by Penn State for its theater students.

Dirty DancingDirty Dancing“It’s the first project out of the gate of the commissioning process,” says Doan. “The artists that we commission come in and work with the students and use the interaction with our students to inspire the musical. As the work leaves Penn State and makes its way out into the professional world, it has Penn State’s name attached to it forever.”

Though Doan can’t speak much about the content of the still-in-development musical — only that it takes place in a girls’ reformatory school — he can’t wait for local audiences to see it.

“It’s wonderful for us to bring established musicals to our audience and to share that work with them,” he says. “But I hope people also will embrace the value of seeing something brand new and being part of it.

When that thing makes it in New York, to be a local Penn State supporter of the arts who can say, ‘I saw that show at Penn State before it made it to off-Broadway!’ It’s not just about us — this is another way in which the identity of Penn State and Happy Valley and State College makes its way out into the larger world.”

Philadanco! Photo by Lois GreenfieldPhiladanco! Photo by Lois Greenfield


Theater isn’t the only art gracing our local stages. CPA also brings some of the most innovative and creative dance companies to town. Two famous Philadelphia companies will join together for one performance on Oct. 27. Straight Outta Philly will feature both Philadanco! and Rennie Harris Puremovement, and the performance will culminate with the troupes dancing together.

ETM: Double Down on Feb. 27 brings Michelle Dorrance to the stage in Eisenhower. “She is probably one of not only the most high-profile dance artists from the United States right now but certainly in the tap dance world right up on the top,” says Trudeau. “This work is kind of hard to describe but she came up with this idea of sort of like a beat box for feet. So there are squares on the stage that the tap dancers use to make different sounds depending on where they hit it with their feet.”

Locally, the tap dance scene is growing as well, with Lady Grey’s Lovelies. This dance ensemble Dorrance Dance. Photo by Hayim HeronDorrance Dance. Photo by Hayim Heronperforms vintage entertainment, from variety shows to burlesque, in The Attic at The State Theatre. Their season opens Sept. 23 with a “Speakeasy Opening Night Party.”

Also at The State Theatre in September will be longtime choreographer Andre Koslowski with his Tanz Theater performing For the hills cannot hold back our sorrow forever… The piece, which will be performed Sept. 7 and 8, is a fusion of movement, spoken word and music that explores human relationships at their deepest level.

‘Open Water 1’ by Joseph Smolinski (SEEP)‘Open Water 1’ by Joseph Smolinski (SEEP)


When it opened in 1972, The Museum of Art, as the Palmer was known then, had only three galleries to display the newly formed permanent collection. Today, the Palmer’s collections boast more than 8,000 works, many of which are important pieces of the American art scene. And when the museum reopens on Sept. 5, those will be on full display.

“The first thing you see when you walk in the first floor galleries will now be American art,” says curator Joyce Robinson. “There will be new and exciting things to see!”

Of course, that also includes the fall exhibits, like Asher B. Durand: To Begin Again, curated by Adam Thomas. The show centers around the artist’s first commissioned landscape, a painting that was procured by the Palmer two years ago.

“The exhibition pivots around Durand having transitioned in the early ’30s to landscape painting, which coincides with the rise of landscape as a category of art-making in the United States,” says Thomas.

“And the re-installation of the American collection downstairs will speak to and segue into this exhibition.”

Upstairs, works of art will speak to visitors on an even larger scale. The exhibit BIG Deal features 18 canvases from the permanent collection that measure at least five feet in one dimension. The largest, by Robert Goodnough, is more than 16 feet long.

“This show is essentially broken up into four different themes,” says Keri Mongelluzzo, Art History Ph.D. candidate. “We have post-war experiments with abstraction, experiments with the nude, sociopolitical commentary and monumental lies in the everyday.”

The other fall exhibit at the Palmer is New Acquisitions: Minna Citron After Atelier 17, featuring the artist’s foray into printmaking, modernism and surrealism.

“There’s two works included from her time during that workshop and then you get to see how she continued to experiment for the rest of her life all the way up until the ’80s. The abstract expressionists are often thought of as an exclusively male-dominated mode of expression, but Minna Citron was a very powerful lady who worked in abstract expressionism for a long time.”

This fall, art lovers will get the chance to see a lot of abstract work, with October abstract shows at both the Art Alliance Gallery Downtown and the Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County.

“We did an abstract show last year,” says Patricia House, executive director of the Bellefonte Art Museum. “This year, we’re doing an exhibition inviting local artists as well as from other parts of the country. We’re trying to increase people’s awareness of abstract art.”

House has done a lot of work to increase people’s awareness of art in general. In the 10 years since she started the museum, she’s been amazed by the community’s response.

“I came here to retire and it’s been 10 years!” she says. “In many ways, I’m never satisfied, but I’m so pleased that it lasted. People have proven that they want art.”

In January, the museum will celebrate its first decade with a self-portraiture show, for which House has asked each of the artists on the museum’s registry to contribute something.

In March and April, the Windows Gallery will continue to bring the world to Centre County with a show of kangas, East African garments that function as wearable art.

‘Untitled’ by John Mandel will be on display as part of Big Deal.‘Untitled’ by John Mandel will be on display as part of Big Deal.“Early on, they decided if they were going to wear this fabric, they were going to make statements,” says House. “This was long before it was fashionable for women to make statements, especially women of color.”

The Bellefonte Museum’s season will culminate in their ever-popular summer project, which in 2018 will circle around a theme of “An Imagination Celebration: Celebrating Creativity.”

“We’re going to have 10 places in the area, outdoor spaces and underused buildings, where we’re going to install art for people to create themselves,” says House. “It’s all about co-creating. Our motto for our anniversary year is ‘Don’t just view it, do it!’”

While the Bellefonte Art Museum has been around for a decade, a new gallery will be celebrating its first anniversary. Since it opened last October, the Art Alliance Gallery Downtown has been bringing local art to downtown State College.

“People are excited and passionate about having an outlet, especially in downtown State College, for artists who live and work in the community,” says Kelsey Rieger, gallery manager. “It’s important for both the artists and collectors in the area to have this as a platform.”

In September, Fabricated will showcase felting, quilting and other fiber artist‘Boonton Falls, New Jersey’ by Asher B. Durand‘Boonton Falls, New Jersey’ by Asher B. Durands, and October’s show will feature abstract art. In November, an exhibit on identity and feminism is tentatively planned, and December will again bring giftable works of art to the gallery with the annual In the Palm of Your Hand show.

And that’s not the only facet of the downtown art scene. The Woskob Family Gallery in the Penn State Downtown Theatre lobby is focused on bringing contemporary art to local audiences. This fall season features shows like SEEP, with work from artists who use water as medium subject, matter or both; Skinnydipping, a show about what it means to be a young American today; and Homecoming, a solo exhibition of work from Clearfield-based Rebecca Morgan. Plus, the yearlong installation on the tall, curving wall above the gallery space will change to a site-specific work by Keith Lemley, which will debut with a reception on Oct. 26. •SCM

For More Information

Art Alliance of Central Pennsylvania

Art Alliance Gallery Downtown

Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County

Bryce Jordan Center

Center for the Performing Arts

FUSE Productions

Green Drake Gallery & Arts Center

Love and Light Productions

Nittany Valley Symphony

The Next Stage Theatre Company

The Palmer Museum of Art

Penn State Centre Stage

Pennsylvania Chamber Orchestra

State College Community Theatre

The State Theatre

Woskob Family Gallery

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