Good Ol’ Garth

Photo by Mark Selders

Back in March, we spent a couple of very fun hours listening to Bernie Punt ’84 share his memories of 20-plus years of concerts at the Bryce Jordan Center. (Check out the cover story in the May/June issue of The Penn Stater, which Alumni Association members should be getting any day now.) And no one inspired more—or fonder—memories than country superstar Garth Brooks.

Brooks has played a record 11 shows at the BJC: a five-night stint in 1997, the arena’s second year in existence, and a six-night run in 2015. His popularity with concert-goers is hardly surprising: By at least one measure, he’s the second-best selling musical artist of all time, behind only The Beatles. But according to Punt, the BJC’s longtime sales and marketing director, Brooks’ success goes beyond the music. Despite his massive fame, Brooks might just be the most down-to-earth star in the biz.

We’ll let Punt tell it: (more…)

April 25, 2017 at 12:00 pm Leave a comment

For Stephen Nedoroscik, A Moment of Perfection

Penn State gymnastics entered Saturday afternoon with 53 individual National Championships. Thanks to Stephen Nedoroscik’s performance on the pommel horse, the program ended the day with 54.

Nedoroscik, a freshman from Massachusetts, won the NCAA title on the horse with a score of 14.900. He became the fourth freshman in program history to take home an individual title, and is the first Nittany Lion to win a title in this event since 2005.

As Nedoroscik told GoPSUSports, winning a championship is “the best feeling in the world.”

You can watch his performance at the top of this post. Pay special attention to his teammates in the stands over the final 10 seconds or so—they all start standing up because they know Nedoroscik nailed his routine.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

April 25, 2017 at 9:35 am Leave a comment

Talking Asia with the AP’s Ted Anthony

Ted Anthony ’95 grew up immersed in Thailand.

Before he was born, his parents—linguistics professors at the University of Pittsburgh—had lived and worked there. Their home was filled with Thai artifacts, so for Anthony, moving to Bangkok in 2014 as the Associated Press’s Asia-Pacific news director felt like “coming full circle”—all the more so because his parents had gone there with his recently widowed grandmother, and he with his wife and two children.

But Anthony—who was at University Park this week to receive an outstanding alumni award from the Department of History—landed in Bangkok at a tumultuous time. A mere three days after he took up his position, he told students in a history class on Tuesday, the Thai army staged a military coup against the government, suspending the constitution and imposing martial law. Naturally, the events left Anthony no time to indulge in the nostalgia of his family’s connection to Thailand.

(more…)

April 19, 2017 at 10:26 am Leave a comment

Being Benny

What You Own: (L to R) Danny Harris Kornfeld, Christian Thompson, Kaleb Wells
RENT 20th Anniversary Tour, Credit Carol Rosegg, 2016.

If Christian Thompson ’15 seems taken with his role of portraying Benny, the landlord and de facto bad guy in the musical “Rent,” that could be because he’s been preparing for it since he was a senior at Penn State. That’s where School of Musical Theatre musical director Beth Burrier encountered him and felt he fit the role perfectly.

“She said, ‘You’re the most Benny-est Benny I’ve ever seen and one day you’re going to play this so you should know the solo,’” Thompson recalled. “And so she taught it to me and who would think that two years later I’d be coming back to Penn State playing that role.”

But Thompson won’t have much time to reminisce once he gets to Dear Old State. “Rent,” the late Jonathan Larson’s groundbreaking musical that debuted 20 years ago and has been revived for a multi-city U.S. tour, comes to Eisenhower Auditorium for one night only on Thursday, April 6. Thompson and company might not even have time to tour the Creamery—“We may just have to walk by it and be like, ‘That’s it. It’s really good. If you’re not too cold, make it happen.’”—before heading out for three nights of performances in Providence, R.I., starting April 7.

“Rent” chronicles the lives of starving artists in their close-knit community in New York’s East Village bound by a collective energy they summon daily in their struggle to make ends meet, all while dealing with the hardships brought about by discrimination, AIDS and—most visibly—a demanding landlord.

Thompson plays that landlord, Benjamin Coffin III, trying to collect the rent from his one-time friends—filmmaker Mark and AIDS-stricken musician Roger—who haven’t kept up with him financially and are now living in one of Benny’s East Village buildings, facing eviction.

When we caught up with Thompson by phone, it was a few hours before the show opened a six-night run in downtown Detroit’s historic Fisher Theater last month. As he prepared to partake in one of his favorite activities—exploring a new city for some good local coffee—he reflected on what it’s like to play the bad guy, taking on the added role of being the understudy for Roger, the importance of diversity in the arts, and his near-miss at landing a role in another landmark musical, “Hamilton.”

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April 4, 2017 at 10:54 am Leave a comment

Diane Ackerman Discusses ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’

Diane Ackerman, award-winning poet, essayist, and author, draws on the many wonders of the natural world to inspire her work. The movie version of her book, The Zookeeper’s Wife, starring Golden Globe-winning actress Jessica Chastain, hits theaters today (you can watch the trailer at the top of this post).

The book recounts the story of Jan Zabinski, director of the Warsaw zoo in 1939, and his wife Antonina, who during the Nazi occupation of Poland, tirelessly worked with the Polish resistance to hide hundreds of Jewish people, and zoo animals, in their villa. The Zabinskis helped many Jews escape to safety and saved numerous animals.

We chatted with Ackerman ’70 via email. Here’s what she has to say about The Zookeeper’s Wife, about her work and about the power of nature:

(more…)

March 31, 2017 at 10:06 am Leave a comment

A Journalist’s View of Iran

Laura SecorIt is extremely difficult for western journalists, American journalists in particular, to enter The Islamic Republic of Iran. But Laura Secor, journalist and author of Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran (Riverhead Books, 2016), was fortunate enough to be able to visit the country on several occasions between 2005 and 2012, and to gain unique insight into the hearts and minds of Iranians struggling against a harsh and repressive regime in their quest for a national and cultural identity.

Secor—daughter of retired Penn State English professors Bob and Marie Secor—spoke at a Penn State Forum luncheon on Friday. She’s written widely on Iran for The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Foreign Affairs, among others. Her book encapsulates the shifting political and intellectual tumult in Iran, and the ebbs and flows of dissent that have ensued since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

She was drawn to Iran, she says, “because as a journalist I loved the idea of going into something forbidden. And when I was growing up, Iran was so off-limits, it was so demonized.”

The time Secor spent in Iran brought her close to a wide array of dissenters: Philosophers. Bloggers. Student activists. Feminists. Intrepid journalists. She also got to know key Iranian dissenters living in exile in other countries and got their stories.

“I was blown away by the level of civic engagement and civic courage I encountered in Iran,” she told me after the luncheon. “By my second visit, I was completely engulfed by people I got close to, by their stories, and I admired the bravery, grace, and dignity with which they operated.”

Needless to say, the Iranian government kept strict tabs on Secor’s comings and goings (the people she interviewed were closely followed, too), and in 2012, she was detained and questioned by the authorities, asked to prove that she was indeed a journalist and not a spy.

She was released—but since then, Secor has been denied a visa to Iran and has not been able to return to the country.

Which saddens her greatly, she says, even as she plans to move onto covering other parts of the world.

Savita Iyer, senior editor

March 27, 2017 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

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