5 Boarding Schools with Terrific Drama Programs
Most boarding schools pride themselves on offering a variety of activities programs designed to help nurture and cultivate well rounded students who carry the foundations of the liberal arts to college. From sports, to music, to the arts, schools offer programs designed to allow, and encourage students to to try on different hats and develop new skills and talents.
For students interested in trying their hand in theater- either on the stage or technical side, many schools offer programs that that provide robust and solid drama experiences that fit with a student's other pursuits and activities. These are schools and programs where students can explore and grow their interests in drama but where participation in the theater doesn't require that one set aside other pursuits (Note: if you're deeply committed to your art and looking to pursue it in a pre-professional high school setting, then you'll want to read our article on pre-professional arts boarding schools).
This group of schools encourages students to discover, grow and pursue their drama interests all while a student can participate in other activities and develop other interests.
To be or not to be – that is the question. And for many prospective high school students, looking for schools with programs in the dramatic arts, they are asking a similar question. Most of these schools put on a minimum of two productions a year minimum, usually a drama and a musical. While at others, the program may be less formal and purely extra-curricular in nature.
At Mercersburg Academy, a co-educational boarding school founded in 1893 in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania offers a dynamic academic program to a diverse and close-knit community of learners. When it comes to the performing arts, Mercersburg's resources are as vast as its academic and athletic opportunities. Whether it's the Stony Batter drama club, Mercersburg's oldest student group, that packs the 600-seat main-stage theater with several stellar performances a year; or the School's two major theatrical productions, two studio productions, a festival of student-directed one-act plays, and an afternoon of scenes from Shakespeare and other classical works, students can find remarkable opportunities to express their theatrical talents—onstage as well as behind the scenes. Students can also enroll in classes in stagecraft, the physics of theatre, acting and speech.
Mercersburg also features the Burgin Center for the Arts, which is home of classes in fine arts. These studio classrooms provide unique spaces for the study of drawing and painting, digital arts, ceramics and sculpture, dance, theatre, and chorale and instrumental music. Additionally, students perform on stage in the 600-seat Simon Theatre or in the experimental Hale Studio Theatre.
At Miss Hall's School, an all-girls' school founded in 1898, students are encouraged to develop a relationship with the arts, are challenged to find her own confident artistic voice and to gain a respect for artistic tradition. As a result, there are many opportunities for students at Miss Hall's to express themselves artistically. From taking classes as a part of their expressive arts curriculum, in which girls can enroll in drama and performance and theatre ensemble; to participating in the School's two productions each year; to becoming a member of the drama club, a student-run organization designed to provide fundraising and other theatrical-related events for and outside of the two MHS annual productions, girls can experience in the art and craft of acting on the stage and further their knowledge and understanding of theater. No prior experience is necessary and auditions are open to all students for both the winter play and spring musical. Additionally, girls interested in set design, construction, lighting, and backstage work can join technical theater, where participants learn skills, techniques and construct sets in the workshop.
To aide the inspiration for young artists and foster their confidence in the fine arts, Miss Hall's Elizabeth Gatchell Klein Arts Center houses the School's ceramics, photography, studio art, and theatrical programs and hosts theatrical performances, campus gatherings, and student art exhibits throughout the school year. The complex is also home to the Woods Theater, a large, theater space with a balcony, sound and lighting booth, lighting grid, and flexible seating and floor plans that can accommodate 200 people for staged performances. The center also includes the Laura H. Harris '74 Drama Wing, which features dressing rooms and storage space for costumes, props, and scenery and a workshop for building theatrical props and creating three-dimensional art.
Founded in 1923, Brentwood College School is a co-educational university preparatory school for students in grades 9 through 12 on Vancouver Island in Mill Bay, BC, Canada. Brentwood nurtures, challenges and inspires scholars, athletes and artists as global citizens, stewards and leaders of integrity, as well as promotes creativity, self-expression, and teamwork. All Brentonians are involved in the creative process, both as participants and as members of the audience and opportunities abound for beginners through to experienced performing and visual artists who wish to specialize. Brentwood's T. Gil Bunch Centre, a 20,000 sq.ft. facility includes a 431 seat theatre, a dance studio, a media arts room, a green room, four dressing rooms and other production related spaces, as well as a music suite.
Arts courses run for the full year and most students choose two arts each year. Students can participate in musical theater, taking classes in acting, drama, or debate and public speaking. Students interested in technical theater can enroll in classes about theater production, architectural design and building technology and other creative sciences.
The Masters School provides a challenging academic environment that encourages critical, creative, and independent habits of thought and a lifelong passion for learning. Students with a passion for the arts can acquire and develop skills and understanding for theater by participating in a variety of academic and extracurricular offerings, including acting, directing, stage craft, design, feature-length videography and public speaking. Actors, musicians, singers, and dancers perform in the spectacular 450-seat theatre, which is also the School's gathering place where the entire Upper School assembles most mornings to begin the academic day.
The drama department stages three productions each year -- a dramatic play in the fall, a musical in the winter, and student-directed one-act plays in the spring. Additionally, members of Phoenix, the School's honorary drama society, stage their own productions throughout the year, regularly showcasing their original student performances on campus. On Friday evenings, students can also participate in Phoenix Coffee House's "open mic" night for performers, poets, and musicians.
During each of the three seasons of the school year (fall, winter, and spring) all students are required to play on an interscholastic athletic team or take part in and after school co-curricular offering, such as a theatrical production, community service project, fitness class, or school publication. For those interested in the performing arts, offerings have included the winter musical, one-act plays, theater tech, cabaret troupe, and studio composition.
Students at Solebury School, a coeducational day and boarding school in New Hope, Pennsylvania, have many different ways to participate in the theatrical arts. Students can experience the theater as an actor on the stage, or behind the scenes as a part of their extensive theater tech program, in which students design, using CAD, and build the sets for each of our plays, and design the lighting. Students can also assist with costumes, make-up, and ticket sales. Solebury offers classes in acting, directing, theater history, lighting design, stage construction, sound, comedy improvisation and puppetry, among others. For those looking for after school activities, Solebury's afterschool program has a wide array of options. Students can choose from theater, theater tech, newspaper, and yearbook.
The Solebury School Theater is a black box theater located in an 18th Century stone barn, at which three main stage plays each year are performed. During the fall students perform a straight play (comedy or drama), in the winter, a musical, and in the spring production, a student-directed by a Solebury senior is presented. During the winter trimester, the eighth grade writes plays in their English class and then the seventh grade rehearses and performs their works in the spring.
This group of schools provides phenomenal opportunities for the aspiring high school thespian while creating a balance with other pursuits. With options to study theatrical arts academically, participate in after-school activities or join student clubs and historic theater troupes, thes schools encourage students to express themselves creatively on stage and behind the curtain.