Women in Penn State Performing Arts Groups Inspire and Empower Others | Way of life


The influence of women in the arts at Penn State is seen in a variety of artistic fields where they constitute the majority. From a cappella to theatre, these women-led organizations have continued to combine art with female empowerment.

None of the Above is Penn State’s first mixed a cappella group founded in 1999 and is now led by Colleen Flickinger.

Flickinger (senior public relations) joined the club in his freshman year and called it his favorite part of his Penn State experience.

With female and male members, None of the Above is known for its history of having female tenors – a popular voice among men.

“We’ve had two different female tenors since I’ve been in the band for four years, so it’s a unique thing that most mixed bands usually only have male tenors,” Flickinger said.

Flickinger described the community in None of the Above as a family, where friendship and a love of music are shared by the whole group.

“It kind of gave me something to look forward to every week,” Flickinger said. “It was the highlight of my college experience.”

For the band’s audition process, Flickinger said typically more than 80 people audition in two days, and nearly 70 percent are women.

“So right now we have 16 members, and just over 50% are women, so we’re getting there,” Flickinger said. “We always strive to have a balance of about 50-50, but in terms of interest in a cappella and the arts in general…it definitely leans towards women.”

To entice more people to join None of the Above, Flickinger said the group has focused on social media and worked with different social media managers over the past two years.

“Right now our social media manager will start doing takeovers where some members take over Instagram for a day and talk about what it’s like to be a member of None of the Above,” Flickinger said.

None of the board positions above represent its members, with four leadership positions and an all-female board from fall 2019 to 2020.

“NOTA is very girl boss,” Flickinger said. “We love our guys, but the girls know how to get things done.”

Another group celebrating female voices is Savoir Faire, Penn State’s first and only all-female a cappella group led by President Elizabeth Iserson and Music Director Emily Afflerbach.

“I found it was so beautiful and so nice to be in a girl group, first of all, because it’s a little bit more for me,” said Afflerbach (senior veterinary medicine and biomedical sciences ).

Afflerbach has been the musical director for over two years and is in charge of managing all musical aspects of the band.

As an all-female a cappella group, it’s hard to have a wide variety of ranges, but according to Afflerbach, there are girls with soprano voices as well as low registers.

When choosing a song sung by a man, musical director Afflebach said she always tries to adapt it to female voices.

“You’d be surprised how many things we’re able to achieve with just a women’s line, especially with some technical aspects as well,” Afflerbach said.

Iserson (senior telecommunications and media industries) said she shared a special bond with the rest of the band members and described it as integral to her experience at Penn State.

“I’ve made some of my best friends through the band, and we always say above all else, we value friendship and creating a safe environment for everyone,” Iserson said.

Savoir Faire has performed at THON and currently holds annual winter and spring concerts in the Thomas Building with no attendance fee.

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In addition to its all-female a cappella members, the board is all-female.

“It’s cool to just figure it all out with women all the time,” Iserson said.

Currently, the group is focused on preparing for their senior show on April 15 where six members are graduating.

“I feel like people are coming in with this expectation for the all-female group, and they’re expecting us to sound one way,” Iserson said. “It’s just a completely different thing from what you expected.”

As a senior, Afflebach said she’s excited to see what Savoir Faire does in the future with current and future members.

“It was great to see them fall into the squad because they fit in so naturally and they’re all so talented,” Afflebach said.

The Penn State Thespian Society is another predominantly female arts group. Led by President Julie Byrne, this student-run drama club has produced a diversity of shows, the latter two being stories with mostly female characters.

With ‘Little Women’ and ‘9 to 5’ as the organization’s most recent performances, Byrne said they were both chosen to uplift the women in the club, as in previous years the shows were mostly about on men.

“We’ve been doing a lot of male-focused shows recently, and we wanted to kind of flip that narrative and make sure we were elevating and empowering female voices,” Byrne (higher education) said.

A member of Thespian Society since freshman year, Lauren Bauer has mentioned the importance of understanding characters and where they come from – a tactic she followed when preparing to play Kathy in “9 to 5 “.

“I think in that process, coming from playing a woman, you learn a lot about her, especially in the time period of the show that we’re covering,” said Bauer (science and communication disorders junior).

Byrne described her days before a show as busy but exciting.

“But the thing is, time flies,” Byrne said. “It’s so much fun because you’re just in a rehearsal room with all your closest friends.”

Bryne, who played Violet Newstead in the final performance of “9 to 5,” described a positive shift in inclusivity since joining Penn State.

She said the attention the Thespian Society has received from female students has resulted in a more competitive audition process.

“I feel like there are a lot more women coming out, especially on this show,” Bauer said. “Because it’s so female-centric, we got a lot of attention from women on campus, so there were a lot of women auditioning.”

According to Bauer, everyone in the club shares the kindness by constantly uplifting and supporting each other. She described it as a “super-club”.

Both Bauer and Byrne credited much of “9 to 5″‘s latest hit to director Emma Cagle, president of No Refund Theatre.

“She’s been such an incredible strength and power,” Byrne said.

Both Bauer and Byrne described the production and people involved in “9 to 5” as a highlight of female empowerment.

“It’s kind of what we’re built around, and there have been little changes over the years,” Bauer said. “But the dynamic of supporting each other has always remained the same and it’s such a powerful and impactful environment.”

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