Annenberg Center changes name, changes focus

The Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts announced they are changing their name to Penn Live Arts as they announced their 2021-2022 season on June 29, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts announced they are changing their name to Penn Live Arts as they announced their 2021-2022 season on June 29, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts turns 50 years old this year. Today it changes its name to Penn Live Arts.

The name change reflects a new vision for the organization.

Since it opened in April of 1971, the Annenberg Center has always focused on presenting work inside its building at the University of Pennsylvania campus, housing its three theaters.

The Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts announced they are changing their name to Penn Live Arts as they announced their 2021-2022 season on June 29, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

But in recent years the organization has begun presenting and partnering with other places; for example, two weeks ago it co-presented an outdoor performance by The Crossing choir in the nearby Woodland Cemetery. As the Annenberg Center, it branched out to downtown Philadelphia and out to Bucks County.

Due to the pandemic shutdown, the Annenberg Center was forced to move into digital and outdoor spaces. Executive and artistic director Christopher Gruits said that accelerated his vision of operating outside the building.

“It was further demonstration of the fact that our programs are really much bigger and broader than one building,” said Gruits. “Whether we’re talking about doing things digitally during the pandemic or post-pandemic, I think having that flexibility has really become a key part of who we are as an institution.”

Penn Live Arts will still be primarily based on traditional stages in its building, which will still be called the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. “Of course, a proscenium theater is a huge part of the types of presentations that we do,” said Gruits.

This name change is not the only one announced this summer. The Pennsylvania Ballet has just changed its name to the Philadelphia Ballet. The dance company has been based in Philadelphia for all of its 58 years.

The name change highlights the company’s hometown, and comes after a pandemic year of “deep hardship,” according to executive director Shelly Power.

“It is more important than ever that our name reflect the communities we serve and embody the true spirit of our company,” said Power. “Philadelphia is at the core of all that we do. It is not only our home, but also our inspiration.”

Both Penn Live Arts and the Philadelphia Ballet used the announcement of their name changes to release their 2021-2022 season programs. Each has delayed shows with full, indoor audiences until later in the season.

The Philadelphia Ballet’s 2021-2022 season begins in October, with the premiere of a new work by artistic director Ángel Corella López, performed for limited audiences in the Performance Garage, an “intimate” venue for a limited audience.

The Ballet will host larger audiences during the holidays for its annual production of The Nutcracker, canceled last year due to the pandemic.

The next season of Penn Live Arts will start in September with an outdoor performance of John Luther Adams’ composition “Ten Thousand Birds,” a Philadelphia premiere, performed by the ensemble Alarm Will Sound in Chestnut Hill’s Morris Arboretum. Penn Live Arts’ first indoor performance at the Annenberg Center, with jazz musician Maceo Parker, is scheduled for November in the hope that the threat of infection will be significantly reduced by then.

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal