‘Writing Out Loud’ at Penn Explores History Through Conversations

An academically-based community service course at the University of Pennsylvania hosted an end-of-the-semester performance, “The Ground on Which We Stand,” Sunday, Dec. 14 at 2 p.m. at the Platt Performing Arts House, 3702 Spruce St.

The performance was free and open to the public.

Designed by Penn professor Herman Beavers, along with alumna, theater director and lecturer at Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences Suzana Berger, the course, “Writing Out Loud” gave Penn students a better understanding of West Philadelphia, its residents and their perspectives.

“Writing Out Loud,” encouraged students from Penn Arts & Sciences to explore topics like race and class through conversations with members of the West Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and through the works of August Wilson, a playwright who focused on the African-American experiences of the 1900s.

As part of the class, current and former residents of West Philadelphia shared their histories with undergraduate students from Penn through a community gathering and personal interviews. Their stories, along with Wilson’s plays, served as the inspiration for the class’ monologues, which were performed during “The Ground on Which We Stand.”

“With August Wilson’s plays as the bridge that connects them, Penn students and community students have stepped out of their comfort zones, challenging themselves and one another as thinkers, artists and citizens,” Berger said. “The performance shared captivating stories and a spirited exchange of ideas between people across generations.”

The course is important to strengthening a true sense of community, Berger added.

“Not only does this course help students really learn about the community, but there is an opportunity for rich inter-generational dialogue and relationship-building that can be beneficial to all parties,” Berger said.

“In addition, by having elements of their stories told through original monologues, West Philadelphia Cultural Alliance members feel that their voices are heard and valued,” Berger said. “Moreover, students and WPCA members are really able to delve into the issues brought up by these plays in a much deeper way by talking about the reality on which they are based with the people who lived it, as well as how those experiences are perceived by and affect the current generation.”

“Writing Out Loud" received additional support from the Penn Provost’s Art & Culture Initiative, as well as the Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships.

"Arts and culture provide a wonderful basis for building university-community partnerships,” Ira Harkavy, the associate vice president and founding director of the Netter Center, said. “This ABCS course is an example of a genuinely mutually-beneficial partnership that promotes dialogue, increases understanding and advances learning for both the Penn students and members of the community."

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