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January 23, 2023

Penn Live Arts presents the world premiere of 'Mecca is Burning' with the Negro Ensemble Company

Running Feb 15-18, the play examines our current social climate through the perspective of four Harlem families

Entertainment Performances

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Limited - Penn Live Arts  - Mecca is Burning Jonathan Slaff/Penn Live Arts

An ensemble from a past production by the Negro Ensemble Company.

"Arguably the most successful Black theatre group in the world,” (American Theatre) the Negro Ensemble Company (NEC), Penn Live Arts’ 2022-23 season artist in residence, performs Mecca is Burning, a world premiere play that examines the current social climate through the perspective of four Harlem families. Performances are February 15-18. Each family is confronted with personal and universal realities of fear, anger, hope and love, providing a glimpse into the harsh truths of the present-day divisive political atmosphere. Ultimately, each family must choose to deal with the circumstances they face in order to survive. Penn Live Arts co-commissioned and is co-producing this exploration of social and racial themes, elevating the authentic, underrepresented stories of the Black experience.

Collaboratively written by playwrights and poets Cris Eli Blak, Karen Brown, Lisa McCree, Levy Lee Simon and Mona R. Washington, Mecca is Burning is directed by Karen Brown, artistic director and executive producer of the Negro Ensemble Company and designed by Patrice Andrew Davidson. The cast includes Yohanna Florentino, Benjamin Rowe, Alton Ray, Kenya Wilson, Imana Breaux, Ashlee Danielle, Steven Peacock Jacoby and Alyssa Carter.

Limited - Penn Live Arts - In Article - Mecca is Burning CastCourtesy/Negro Ensemble Company

The cast of “Mecca is Burning.” Top row, left to right: Steven Peacock Jacoby, Kenya Wilson, Imana Breaux, Benjamin Rowe; Bottom row, left to right: Ashlee Danielle, Alyssa Carter, Alton Ray, Yohanna Florentino

Leading up to the performances, on February 8, Penn Live Arts is hosting a thought-provoking discussion of artistic expression that defined the turbulent 1960s in America and the monumental role of Black artists in shaping art and culture in our country, then and now. Penn Live Arts’ Executive & Artistic Director, Christopher Gruits, will join Herman Beavers, Penn Professor of English and Africana Studies, in this conversation with Karen Brown, Artistic Director of the Negro Ensemble Company, and Mecca is Burning playwright Cris Eli Blak. This free event will be held virtually but registration is required.

The Negro Ensemble Company residency is a major program within Penn Live Arts’ 50th anniversary celebration in the 2022-23 season, one of two residencies that elevate Black storytelling tradition. This milestone anniversary is being commemorated in a year of world and Philadelphia premieres, local debuts, commissioned works and some of the most celebrated artists from around the globe. Penn Live Arts is known for its renowned dance series, and the 2022-23 season stays true to tradition with 10 of the world’s greatest companies and most talented choreographers. Other major initiatives in the season include a new series, entitled ListenHear, which profiles important contemporary musical voices, and the Philadelphia Children’s Festival, which returns in May 2023.

Single tickets for Mecca is Burning, beginning at $29, are available now. Visit for details.