Recently, more than 60 members of the Pingry community, from all three divisions, gathered on Zoom for the school's first-ever HBCU alumni panel. Six Pingry graduates shared their experiences—here's what they had to say.
We must aim for “character” in the moral and ethical sense of the word, compounded of the virtues of mutual respect, courtesy, kindness, generosity, trust, attention to the others, seriousness, loyalty, as well as those necessary attributes of diligence and dedication.—Respect for Acting, by Uta Hagen
To some, theatre is simply a form of entertainment. But at Pingry, we pride ourselves on using theatre as a way to connect our students to the world around them, helping them to become better people and better citizens. Drama at Pingry encourages genuine personal interactions and truthful moments, allowing actors to open their eyes to the lives of others, to walk in their shoes, and to listen to and respect their voices. As we like to say, the character that a Pingry student portrays onstage ultimately helps to develop their character offstage.
Pingry drama students are expected not only to use their brains, but to engage their bodies and emotional sensibilities as well. By participating in drama, students develop important academic and “soft skills,” such as public speaking, cognitive recall, literary analysis, language proficiency, communication, teamwork, and problem solving. Our coursework and on-stage activities also encourage and promote an invaluable set of life skills, including physical and emotional confidence, self-awareness, creative expression, risk taking, imagination, empathy, and compassion.
During these four years, our rich electives—from Creative Dramatics to Drama IV, the highest-level course offered only to seniors—encourage students to dig deep and find their own voices to express themselves creatively.
At the same time, our courses require students to cultivate a variety of personal resources and academic skills: listening, concentration, physical flexibility, emotional self-awareness, openness to others, critical reading skills and analysis, problem solving, and more. At the core of the work is the development of the dramatic imagination, learning that is unique to the dramatic arts.
Pingry Upper Schoolers with a desire to perform onstage have several opportunities throughout the year for enriching theatrical experiences.
The Upper School’s drama season starts with the Fall Play, which allows students to transfer their classroom skills to the stage by creating a character, working through scenes, genuinely reacting to the other, listening, and being present. The season continues with the Winter Musical, held in late February. In partnership with the Music Department, the musical allows students with passions for music, dance, and acting to integrate these disciplines into the quintessential American art form, the Broadway musical. Our season culminates with the Drama IV Spring Play, held in April, a class production which gives seniors an opportunity to put to the test all the skills they have been working to master over the previous three years.
Course descriptions can be found here: Curriculum Guide.
In this three-year period, individual development is key. Each year’s courses—both requires courses and electives—provide students with opportunities for growth in concentration, sensory awareness, imagination, physical awareness, speech, emotion and genuine presence. Courses mirror students’ natural development in the passage from childhood into adolescence—helping them discover their own resources, explore their environment, and display a sensitivity to others who share it—thus making this program is an essential Middle School art experience.
Course descriptions can be found here: Curriculum Guide
Middle School Musical
"Who are you?" said the Caterpillar. “I, I hardly know, sir, just at present—at least I know who I was when I got up …” —Alice in Wonderland
The Middle School Musical, held each May, features Princeton University’s theater composer-in-residence Vince DiMura as musical director. Here, students integrate the skills they have learned throughout the year in drama classes, and begin the important work of all theater—the telling of someone else’s story.
This annual performance encapsulates the quick learning curve of this age group and celebrates the abundant energy, lessons in self-discovery, and friendship inherent in the Middle School years. Previous productions include student adaptations of Grimm’s Fairytales; David Henry Hwang’s Tibet through the Red Box, with an original score; Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella; and Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The production, which takes place in Macrae Theater with an all-Middle School tech crew, consists of a four-day run with one community performance and three evening shows. In addition, the cast devises and performs an original pre-show that opens each production.
Even Pingry’s youngest students—budding thespians and stage shy alike—can explore their inner actor. In these formative years, coursework is designed to introduce students to drama’s much larger life lessons: teamwork, collaboration, and problem solving. With a newly modernized drama studio and two performances a year (one in the fall and one in the spring), our Lower School is one of the few schools in the area to offer such a sophisticated drama program for young children, and is on the cutting edge of weaving drama into the curriculum in a comprehensive way. As students advance from basic focus, circle games, and physical awareness games in Kindergarten to the interpretation of a script for performance in Grade 5, they grow in their confidence and understanding of the art of theater.
In addition to the two after-school musical enrichments staged each year—the Fall and Spring Musicals—the Lower School drama curriculum focuses on strengthening students collaboration, storytelling, and conflict resolution through improvisation exercises, puppetry, and character and scene study in order to introduce them to the practical applications of drama in everyday life. With an eye towards multidisciplinary learning, students will often visit the drama studio to connect their work in other classes, making their classroom experiences richer and more experiential.
Course descriptions can be found here: Curriculum Guide
Whether it’s a salsa beat or a Hip-Hop rhythm, dance engages the body and the mind. Led by a dedicated faculty member and former professional dancer, Pingry’s dance curriculum allows students to use their energy creatively, engaging imaginations and eliminating inhibitions. And Pingry’s dance studio, with its expansive windows and floor-to-ceiling mirrors, invites such joyful expression. Here, students, faculty, and staff alike come to move, dance, stretch, and practice yoga and mindful awareness.
Learn some fancy footwork and get fit with dance! Upper School students may take dance as a trimester course that fulfills Pingry’s physical fitness requirement, or delve into a full year elective course. Our exciting, interdisciplinary curriculum covers a wide range of movement skills, from social dance to individual dance rhythms (salsa, Afro-Cuban) to Vinyasa yoga and Movement for Actors, where budding thespians use movement to free mind and spirit, fine-tuning their ability to express emotion through the body and readying themselves for the Pingry stage!Prefer dancing on a stage to the studio? Involvement in the Upper School winter musical offers students a chance to delve more deeply into dance and movement as a soloist and/or a member of a small or large group ensemble.
As part of their drama unit, Grade 6 students enjoy traditional circle dance, contra dance, dance rhythms, and creative dance as a way to develop both self-awareness and awareness of others. For Form I students who take Drama 7, a short introduction to dance explores the fun of simple partnering, leading and following, as well as moving with a group and choreographing movements to music.
Prefer the dance studio to the playing field? During a daily athletic and activity block, students may take Dance Rhythms as an alternative to interscholastic sports. Also offered at different times throughout the year are a musical movement class that employs creative movement games, Afro-Cuban dance and salsa, Vinyasa yoga, relaxation, and mindful awareness.
Dream of seeing your name in lights? Why not explore dance in musical theater by auditioning for the Middle School musical, an annual spring production.
The Pingry theater experience is a collaborative one. The contributions of scenic artists, together with the costume, lighting, and sound designers, help to create the worlds that the actors inhabit. In technical theater, both Middle and Upper School students work with our professional scenic artist to construct and paint a set and receive training in lighting and sound. Wonder who’s in the control booth during a performance? Likely a familiar face—each production involves students’ technical contributions!
In addition to the technical aspects of the productions themselves, Pingry also offers a dedicated, semester-long course that explores this art form, called Technical Theater.
Opportunities for behind-the-scenes work as stage managers exist for both Middle and Upper School students. Upper Schoolers serves as stage managers for Middle School productions.
On the Basking Ridge Campus, Macrae Theater is home to Upper School drama classes and Pingry’s mainstage productions, including the Fall Play, Winter Musical, and Middle School Musical. This proscenium theater is equipped with a lighting booth, professional sound system, and catwalk, allowing students the opportunity to learn about and participate in the technical aspects of our productions. Next to Macrae Theater is our scene shop, where students are taught stagecraft and scenic art from our in-house professional set designer, who designs and builds original sets for each of our productions.
The Attic Theater, Pingry’s black box theater, hosts drama classes, student-driven performances, and the annual Drama IV Spring Play. The Attic Theater recently received a completely new, state-of-the-art LED lighting system, which served as the pilot program for future lighting renovations at Pingry.
In addition to these performance spaces, Pingry drama has one of the most beautiful classrooms on the Basking Ridge Campus—a light-filled dance studio with large windows overlooking the Pingry sculpture garden and natural landscape. This serene sanctuary provides a space for dance and movement classes, rehearsals, yoga, and mindfulness meditation.
On the Short Hills Campus, young actors enjoy a newly modernized drama studio—complete with dimmable track lighting (think shadow puppetry plays!), a cushioned floor, automated window shades, floor-to-ceiling mirrors, and an ample storage closet hidden by sliding doors—with productions occurring in the Lower School’s gymnasium.