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The e-newsletter of Chestnut Hill College

Alumni Connections

Alumni Connections

Mom and daughter graduate together
Kirra Penny-Erwin and daughter, Britney Wilson-Penny, earn their degrees together.
Linda Johnson

Snapshot of New Alums

It’s not every day that a mother and daughter conclude a four-year journey together. But for Kirra Penny-Erwin and her daughter Britney Wilson-Penny, that is just what Commencement was — the reaching of a goal they began four years ago.

Penny-Erwin earned her bachelor’s degree in early childhood studies, while Wilson-Penny earned hers in human services. As working moms with busy schedules, they realized that SCPS was the right route for them, and according to both women, CHC accepted most of their credits earned earlier.

Long nights spent studying and writing papers paid off for both women. Penny-Erwin recognizes her strength of character and says she thinks of herself as a role model for other parents who want to go back to school. “It’s never too late,” she says. “I’m proud of my accomplishments.”

Mom and daughter hug on stage at Commencement
Mother and daughter celebrate their special accomplishment during Commencement.
Linda Johnson

“My experience at Chestnut Hill College was one to remember,” says Wilson-Penny. “I laughed, cried and struggled with classes, but I was determined to make it.” Wilson-Penny was pregnant and delivered her son during her final year, which, instead of adding to her stress, helped her realize that she would be able to provide a better future for her children with a degree.

“Look at me now!” she says with pride. “I have my degree and I did it all for my babies. It wasn’t easy, but if you believe you can do it, then you will.”

Penny-Erwin plans to open a child care center and someday to open a center to provide guidance for young women trying to raise children on their own. And her daughter, who currently works as a supervisor at the Philadelphia Naval Base Child Development Center, is considering returning to earn a master’s degree in social work or administration of human services. She wants to continue to work with children and advocate for abused young people.

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The cast performs in a scene from last summer’s production of “Into the Woods.”
The cast performs in a scene from last summer’s production of “Into the Woods.”
Gary Johnson

Alumni-Founded Theater Company Prepares for Second Production

“Spring Awakening” opens July 30 at the Venice Island Performing Arts Center in Manayunk.

Ever since Kelly Wilson ’11, was an 18-year-old freshman at Chestnut Hill College, her dream was to own and operate her own theater company. After two years of working toward that goal, Wilson’s dream became a reality when, in the summer of 2014, Avenue Theater Company (ATC) staged its first production, “Into the Woods.”

“This whole thing started because I wanted to do ‘Into the Woods,’” says Wilson. “I started the theater company around wanting to put on that particular show.”

Wilson’s venture into the world of professional theater production began in early 2013 after an attempt at working with a friend (who had produced musicals) didn’t pan out.

“I had produced musicals at CHC so I had the experience,” says Wilson. “I thought it would be a fun hobby.”

Having decided to move forward and create her own company, Wilson sought out a partner, someone she knew she could trust with the business and someone she knew would share the same passion and goals for ATC. That person was Anna St. Hilaire ’12.

“I knew she would say yes,” Wilson says with a smile. “She did such great work with the theater program at CHC and I knew she would put her heart and soul into this thing, and she has.”

Together, the two worked tirelessly to get ATC off of the ground, quickly realizing that starting a company was a lot different than being involved in a college theater production.

“You take for granted when you are in a college or even high school environment that there is a stage, a light board, a soundboard,” says Wilson. “Then you get into the real world and you have to start everything from scratch.”

Another thing the pair soon realized is that in college, the “department wallet” had been open to them to pay for what was needed to put on a show. In the real world, both Wilson and St. Hilaire have been forced to pay for most things themselves, an experience that has had its share of both challenging and rewarding moments.

“The great thing about footing the bill is that even though it is costly to us, we have ultimate control over the final product,” says Wilson.

St. Hilaire agrees, saying that it is nice to know the money is going toward something she and Wilson are, “extremely passionate” about and something that allows them to put on “quality theater.”

In addition to the financial burden of a start-up, there were many other things to consider before the pair could put on their first production, not the least of which involved finding musicians and someone to oversee the pit orchestra.

Knowing the importance of having quality musicians, Wilson reached out to a good friend and another CHC alum, Jeremy Triplett ’11, for assistance. Triplett, who went through the music education program with Wilson, was tapped to be the music director for “Into the Woods” and again for this summer’s production of “Spring Awakening.”

“Jeremy is incredibly talented and he’s really great to work with,” says Wilson. “I knew he would be interested in continuing this CHC legacy in our own theatre company.”

Coming off of their first successful production, Wilson and St. Hilaire refuse to be complacent. In fact, building off of a “dream big” mentality that was fostered in them while at CHC, the pair have lofty, but attainable, goals for ATC.

“At CHC, we were taught we could do anything we put our mind to if we really worked hard at it,” says St. Hilaire. “Learning that has helped us believe that we can really grow this company into something amazing.”

“We don’t want to be small, we want to be big,” Wilson adds. “We want to one day be able to do a seven show main stage and be one of those theater companies in Philadelphia that people are talking about.”

The first step on the way to that long-term goal was upgrading from last year’s venue, a small black box theater that sat 80 people, to this year’s, the beautiful Venice Island Performing Arts Center, a 250-seat theater in Manayunk.

The pair’s immediate short-term goal? Making a production that is better than last year’s and selling out the house every night.

While the company still has a long way to go before becoming a premiere name in the Philadelphia theater scene, both St. Hilaire and Wilson acknowledge that the success they have had so far would not have even been possible without the support of the Chestnut Hill College community.

“It’s been great that CHC is willing to back us and support us, with various staff members offering monetary donations and just donating their time as well as in coming out and seeing the shows,” says St. Hilaire. “Every little bit helps.”

“And it’s been great to be right down the street from here and be able to maintain those connections,” Wilson adds. “The community here, everything they have done, it’s just been perfect.”

—Marilee Gallagher ’14

“Spring Awakening,” the second production of Avenue Theater Company, will perform three shows from July 30 to August 1 at the Venice Island Performing Arts Center in Manayunk. Find more information here.

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Sister Carol and the Griffin wave to CHC supporters during the 2014 CHC Night at the Phillies game.
Sister Carol and Griff wave to CHC supporters during the 2014 CHC Night at the Phillies game.
Brenda Lange

Batter up!

Remember to go online and order your tickets here for the Second Annual CHC Night at the Phillies.

More than 1,100 CHC alumni, students, faculty, staff and friends braved rain, chill and a 12-inning game to support the Phillies and CHC last summer. Participants receive a special CHC T-shirt and get to enjoy the pre-game tailgate. Don’t miss out!

Alumni Calendar

  **NOTE: The sprint football season opener has been changed to Sept. 19 (from the 20th). The Alumni Tailgate will take place just prior to kick-off. More details to come in the August issue of Connections.

8/29 CHC Night at the Phillies

9/19 Alumni Tailgate before Sprint Football Home Opener vs. Princeton

10/12 Golf Invitational

10/17 Harry Potter Festival

10/25 ISP/IDHP Honors Program Reunion

12/4 Carol Night and Holiday Cheer Reception

12/13 Breakfast with Santa