No. 3 • 2020-05-20

Click to subscribe to newsletter


Despite the current crisis, there’s never been more cultural content available online. We are fortunate to have in our city one of the most innovative opera companies in the world, who have added a unique offering this month.

In 2017, Opera Philadelphia launched the O Festival, exploring the present & future of opera with a focus on producing and premiering new works relevant for our times. The festival has explored a range of venues throughout the city, from the traditional opera house (Academy of Music) to in-place performances at the Philadelphia Museum of Art & the Barnes Foundation. Now the list includes your home.

Digital Festival O offers free streams of five productions, including four world premieres:

  • The groundbreaking Denis & Katya, a “social media opera” and one of the most innovative and thought-provoking works I’ve seen in recent years.
  • We Shall Not Be Moved, a profound work examining Philadelphia’s troubled history of community relations and education.
  • Sky on Swings, by composer (and friend of ExCITe) Lembit Beecher, premieres this week. It’s a poignant and moving view of those afflicted with Alzheimer’s, featuring the legendary Frederica von Stade.
  • The award-winning and highly provocative Breaking the Waves by composer Missy Mazzoli (based on the Lars von Trier film) premieres on May 29.

Most will remain available for streaming through August. I encourage you to experience these productions, while you can!

(Socially) Distant Creations

  • Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership Virtual Showcase [Springside Chestnut Hill Academy] Check out more than 40 amazing proto ventures by high school students (seriously, it will make you feel better about our future). Then vote for your favorite by Fri at 5pm!
  • Bridging the Distance [World Cafe Live] Online music education resources, particularly for young people, from their Bridge Sessions program. Also check out the online Free at 1pm weekly live streams from guitarist and vocalist David Falcone every Friday!
  • Julius [Princeton Footnotes] Just an awesome a cappella rendition of this song, originally by Phish, put together by some college students up the road.
  • Artists Didn’t Wait… [Knight Foundation] A nice collection of digital projects and initiatives from arts and culture organizations around the country.
  • Remote recording music for Star Trek [] A story and interview about how post-production of Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 is being done remotely, including recording the musical score.

What I’m creating

Can’t let another Hamilton reference pass… especially this week, when it was announced that the 2016 performance of the OG Broadway cast will be available for streaming on Disney+ in July!

So, here’s a couple of Hamilton-themed videos I made in the early days of social distancing to share with friends. Mark your calendars for an online watch party on July 3!

  You’ll Be Back       Dear Theodosia  

No. 2 • 2020-05-13

Click to subscribe to newsletter

Rebuilding together in Minecraft

With schools, colleges, and universities closed around the world, enterprising students are re-creating their physical institutions and campuses in the virtual environment of Minecraft with astonishing detail.

For those unfamiliar with Minecraft, it is much more than a game… you can build entire worlds with a variety of materials (brick, stone, wood, etc.). The low-resolution “blockiness” is intentional, designed for rapid building and flexibility. Construction is performed meticulously block-by-block, with little or no automation (hence the “craft”). As you can see in the linked video, some are extraordinarily creative in their use of materials to evoke structures in the real world.

Locally, students at U. Penn started PennCraft, which quickly became the most detailed and extensive build of any campus. They also invited Drexel students, who have built a large percentage of our adjacent campus in Minecraft. Those familiar with Drexel will recognize some of the iconic structures on our campus, including the Dragon statue and even the Wawa!

One of the most noteworthy aspects is that these collaborations formed virtually. The students only know others by username in Minecraft and Discord (a chat platform)… they don’t know each other’s real names (which made it interesting for me in reaching out to them). It’s a highly detailed recreation built and organized entirely online by individuals who don’t know one another in the “real” world. Very interesting implications for our current time of isolation and perhaps our long-term future.

My son (12) made the Drexel flyover video.

(Socially) Distant Creations

  • BlockByBlockwest [more Minecraft… :-] A music festival & fundraiser in Minecraft, organized by local band Courier Club. Their first attempt was overloaded by demand within 30 minutes and rescheduled for Sat. May 16 at 3pm.
  • Philadelphia Heroes and New Normal Forum [virtual conference, May 13-14] A forum to share stories, forge connections, and envision the post-crisis reality for our city. I’m particularly interested in the sessions on creative placemaking and equity.
  • #MemorialForUsAll [Jazz at Lincoln Center] A moving New Orleans style tribute, honoring those we’ve lost, led by Wynton Marsalis.
  • Into the House [musical parody… for Broadway nerds like me] I was the Baker in a production of Sondheim’s Into the Woods in 1998. The Narrator & Baker’s Wife from that show, my friends Jake & Cara Yara, created this brilliant reflection on COVID isolation with their enormously talented family. Miss you guys!

What I’m creating

For my spring class, Intro to Entertainment Engineering, I assigned a project to create a photomosaic, a photo composed of a mosaic of photos. I’ve published a demonstration and tutorial with my code online for all to try (no coding experience required). With a little effort, you upload photos and create your own photomosaic.

Try the demo

No. 1 • 2020-05-06

Click to subscribe to newsletter

Conversations with civic innovators in Philadelphia

Parallax is a podcast dedicated to understanding and growing a culture of civic innovation in Philly. They speak with leaders across various sectors, disciplines, and communities in Philadelphia, taking on some of the city’s most pressing economic, social, and environmental challenges. These conversations seek to increase knowledge exchange & empower residents to become actively involved in a community-driven approach to innovation.

Hosted by the incomparable Liz Brown, they continue to drop new episodes, including topics addressing the COVID-19 crisis. Recent guests:

  • Brian Murray, Principal of SHIFT Capital
  • Marri Porter, Mayor’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy & Strategic Initiatives
  • Bruce Katz, Author of The New Localism and The Metropolitan Revolution.

Click the button below or search for “Parallax Collab” in your podcast player.

Listen and Subscribe Here

* Parallax is supported in part by an ExCITe 2019 Seed Award for Civic Engagement.

(Socially) Distant Creations

What I’m creating

Donald Kennedy, eighth President of Stanford, recently passed away from COVID-19. In remembrance of him and his support of Stanford and Fleet Street (the a cappella group I sang with), I created this tribute performance of the Stanford Hymn (with virtual contributions from 60+ former and current members).