Michael Rose

Rose in the Annenberg Center's Zellerbach Theatre with the cast of "The King Stag.".

Photo by Candace diCarlo


The stage was dark at the Annenberg Center far too often when Michael Rose arrived at Penn three years ago. Since then, he’s lit up the stage not only at Annenberg, but in Irvine Auditorium and other places on campus.

As managing director of the Annenberg Center, Rose has filled the void left by the collapse of the facility’s onetime resident companies, the Philadelphia Drama Guild and the Philadelphia Festival Theater for New Plays. And as managing director of Penn Presents, he has expanded professional performing arts at Penn beyond the physical confines of the Annenberg. He has also stretched the performing arts beyond the traditional boundaries of theater and dance.

Rose and his staff now stage events in eight different venues across campus, and are on the lookout for more places to present — like the outdoor ampitheater in Wynn Commons. This year’s ticket revenues are twice what they were last year, and the Penn Presents subscriber base continues to grow, thanks to what Rose calls “an outstanding marketing department — visionary [Marketing Director] Roy Wilbur and an outstanding PR person in Stephanie Grant.” And thanks to this turn in fortunes, Penn’s overall performing arts scene is stronger than ever. We talked about that scene and the state of Penn Presents in an interview late last fall.

Q. Where were you working before you came to Penn?
I ran two performing-arts centers in South Jersey. I ran Glassboro Center for the Arts, at what’s now Rowan University, for 10 years, and for 11 years before that I ran the Stockton Performing Arts Center at Stockton State College in Pomona, just outside Atlantic City.

Q. Are there any real difference between running those facilities and this one?
This is a much larger operation. Penn Presents presents programming in six to seven different venues a year right now. And we’re looking to grow that over time. ...Stockton was a single theater, Glassboro we presented in three theaters. They were smaller, but the big difference is that this is an urban environment. We’re presenting multiple performances of companies, whereas at Glassboro [we did] one-night stands essentially, except that when we would open a musical, we would have several performances. So there’s a huge difference in the overall audience base and the audience we serve.

Q. Has there been any thought given to re-establishing a resident theater company here?
No, really not. One of the great disadvantages of having a resident company is that the company really begins to gobble up space which is really necessary to the University, to outside groups and most importantly to student groups. So I don’t see us having a resident company.

[We could be like] McCarter Theater at Princeton. It’s a separate [non-profit]. It was spun off by the university, I would guess 20 years ago. And it is primarily a theater and secondarily a presenting house. But it’s also a space which is not used by the university for all sorts of university meetings, for all the student performing arts groups. It’s basically a venue which students don’t attend very often.

In terms of the large number of students, the Annenberg Center is pretty different in that regard. Or I want it to be different in that regard.

Q. In other words, student performing arts are a central part of the Annenberg’s reason for being?
We don’t present student performing arts. But we provide a lot of support. We provide venues, we provide technical support, we provide a lot of professional advice. And we view it as a very important element of what occurs at the Annenberg Center.

Our tech staff work very closely with the students, provide them a lot of advice, provide them a lot of professional assistance, and don’t meddle in production but help make it better. So I think that helps to encourage the huge student performing arts scene on campus. But the energy for all that comes from the students.

Q. If there were any things you might improve about the current offerings of Penn Presents, what would they be?
Well, I think there’s some areas that we want developed more. I think the areas of great growth and real potential are in jazz, are in world music, world dance, world theater, world programming, international programming.

My sense is that as a university of such extreme diversity as Penn is, with so many different cultures represented and so many different nationalities, so many different ethnic groups and the rest, that we had a responsibility to be addressing a lot of the interests and representing a lot of the cultures. I think that represents the University very well, and it’s kind of emblematic in a way of what Penn Presents stands for.

Q. What’s the most fun part of this job?
I would say the daily challenges. On the one hand, it’s the sense of the opportunity that faces us every day in terms of building a program, being able to look and see what we’ve done well, what has succeeded, and to cultivate or curate a program which serves the broad needs.

Over the past two years, we’ve built, I think, a really first-rate staff at Penn Presents across the board. And it’s a very participatory, very supportive, very collaborative kind of working situation which provides a lot of input at many different levels. And I think that’s very energizing. It’s also being part of a major national university [where] there is an understanding and support and an appreciation for the types of programming we’re trying to do. So we’re seeing University audiences growing substantially each season, and that’s great.

Q.How are we faring compared to when you took the helm?
I’d say we’re doing very, very well. I think we built a solid program. We’ve strengthened the programs we had before...the Dance Celebration/Next Move program and the Philadelphia International Children’s Festival. We took a one-year hiatus when I got here in terms of presenting theater, and we began to bring theater back last year. This year, we’re presenting quite a bit of theater. We presented two weeks of “The Vagina Monologues,” we presented “The King Stag” for four performances, we’re bringing the Flying Karamazov Brothers in and The Acting Company.

In addition, what we’ve done over the past two years is we’ve added a whole range of programming and music that hadn’t been presented here before. A large program in jazz, a modest but I would say strong program in classical music, and this year, I think a very solid and very well-received program in world music.

To that we’ve also expanded a program of children’s matinees which we call the Children’s Discovery Series, which happens weekdays during school hours.

Q. What’s led us into the business of presenting productions directly as opposed to getting productions arranged by outside organizations?
I think Penn has always done some presenting. When Steve Goff was here, he presented some of the nation’s and the world’s finest theater companies. The Annenberg Center did partner with some organizations. We partnered with Dance Affiliates in the presentation of Dance Celebration, which is now in its 18th year. [And we] partnered with a new-music group called Relâche — we had worked with them the past three years. But as far as presenting went, the Annenberg Center was always a strong
theater presenter.

Originally published on February 15, 2001