On Thursday, Feb. 25, alumni from around the country and across the decades tuned in for an evening of virtual networking based on a shared passion for the arts.
The event, coordinated by theater teacher Eva Kay Noone and Penn Charter’s Alumni Office, sought to build professional connections among OPCs and explore possibilities for collaboration between alumni and current students. More than 35
graduates turned out for what Performing Arts Department Chair Brad Ford called a “win-win for the program and alums.”
Head of School Darryl J. Ford Hon. 1689 welcomed the group and spoke of the importance of the arts to individuals and communities. “The arts are a harbinger of health in a community,” Ford said. “The arts will heal us.”
Attendees split into four virtual “rooms” based on areas of specialization: TV, film and writing; instrumental music; songwriting; and theater, dance and design. Conversations covered OPCs’ experiences at Penn Charter, their paths toward a career in the arts, current projects, and strategies that different industries and organizations have used to adapt to covid restrictions.
Members of the performing arts faculty co-facilitated breakout rooms along with an OPC working in each field. Artist and technical director James Bartolozzi OPC ’11, symphony violist Michael Casimir OPC ’09, dancer and choreographer Alex Crozier OPC ’07, and singer-songwriter Emily Drinker OPC ’08 all brought their professional expertise and personal reflections to the discussion groups.
Noone started contemplating the idea of an arts-based alumni event early in the 2020-21 school year, inspired by ongoing conversations within the Performing Arts Department about how to better engage OPCs. In her personal conversations with students and alumni, Noone had also begun identifying opportunities for connection and collaboration.
Earlier in the year, for instance, Noone was able to connect one of her current students, bound for Syracuse University’s media and journalism school in the fall, to a young OPC who had passed through the same program. While speaking with a different graduate in search of collaborators for a multimedia project, Noone found herself suggesting OPCs she thought would be qualified for the work.
Those experiences confirmed that Noone and her colleagues were onto something. “This is where what I’m trying to do would come in handy,” she remembered thinking at the time. “It didn’t seem right that I should have all this information in my head and yet so many alumni don’t even know these connections exist.”
Noone brought her idea to Director of Alumni Relations Chris Rahill OPC ’99, who thought it would coincide nicely with his office’s rollout of a new social networking platform, Alumnifire, designed to foster the very kinds of connections Noone was also seeking to make. Ultimately, about a dozen attendees signed up for Alumnifire following the OPCs in the Arts event, “already enough to form some kind of affinity group” on the platform, Noone said. She hopes it will serve as another valuable channel for communication.
While February’s event was primarily intended to gauge interest and serve as a starting point for future partnership, the evening’s conversations also sparked new connections and relationships right off the bat, according to Noone, who reported that several OPCs had exchanged contact info with plans to follow up. “Already, without too much work, the idea is paying dividends,” she said.
Brad Ford, who co-facilitated the instrumental music room, called the event "a wonderful opportunity to share the universal language of art” at a time when performers are more isolated from one another than usual. The conversation in the instrumental music room had him laughing and smiling, he said, and also gave him a “deeper view into the lives of musicians … outside the walls of Penn Charter.”
Noone and her Performing Arts colleagues are already discussing how to keep the momentum going with in-person events. She also recognizes the value of virtual gatherings in bringing together a geographically diverse group of attendees, and she suspects there may be more events that follow this format in the future, too.
As for connecting OPCs with current students, Noone and Ford see potential in bringing more alumni into the Senior Comprehensive Project as evaluators and advisors, and in creating opportunities for one-on-one mentorship and workshops.
“When it comes to creative work,” Noone said, “it’s all about making those connections. Just talking to the right person can be really helpful. And think about it—who would you feel more comfortable with, a complete stranger or someone who went to Penn Charter?”