August 17, 2016
Students practice dance as part of the High School Musical Theatre Institute.

On a sunny July morning a group of dancers practiced choreography in a mirrored studio in Ward Hall. Led by musical theatre faculty member Maurice Johnson, the students were rehearsing a series of pliés, leaps, and spins, all set to the tune of upbeat funk music.

Students train during the High School Drama Institute.

“We’re just gonna keep playing with this,” Johnson said. “It’s great training for your brains and your bodies.”

For the dancers in the room, this was just one of many hours of training they would complete this week. The students, who are rising juniors and seniors in high school, were participating in the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music’s High School Musical Theatre Institute. They were at The Catholic University of America for two weeks to fully immerse themselves in the world of musical theatre and performance.

According to Tom Pedersen, director of the institute, the purpose of the program was to show high school students “an academic experience similar to what they would receive as Catholic University students.”

That experience came complete with three hours of dance training every day, as well as an hour and a half of music theory, and another hour and a half of acting or voice training.

“It’s going really well,” Pedersen said. “The kids are working so hard.”

Earlier in the month, high school students interested in drama had a similar immersive experience as part of the Department of Drama’s High School Drama Institute. During that program, students had daily training  in acting, voice, and movement, as well as special subjects like stage makeup, lighting, and stage combat.

Rosalind Flynn, director of the high school drama institute, said both programs aimed to help high school students build confidence in their dramatic or musical theatre skills, and to help them learn about what University life is like.

“I want them to have a great time while they’re here and for them to enjoy that camaraderie from being with like-minded students,” Flynn said. “I also want them to feel like they improved in their acting skills and for them to feel positively about Catholic University and the drama department or the School of Music.”

As part of both programs, students participated in master classes with local professionals and took excursions off campus to explore Washington, D.C., and enjoy performances at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

During the drama institute, students sat in on a rehearsal for a local production of Hamlet, while the musical theatre institute students attended a production at the Montgomery College Summer Dinner Theatre in Rockville, Md., that included current Catholic University students as cast members.

Both institutes were staffed completely by members of the Catholic University faculty, alumni, and current students.

“They get to see us in action with our faculty and we’re here to help them,” Pedersen said. “Even if they don’t come to Catholic, we’re here to help them prep for auditions in college.”


Flynn said she hoped that, after spending two weeks learning about theatre and meeting working professionals, the students would be more inspired to pursue their own dreams.

“The implicit message behind this is that you can make a living by being in theatre and that you don’t have to go to New York to do it,” she said. “I want these students to feel capable and to see that you can major in drama and musical theatre and have a career in the arts from which you can support yourself.”

“There is so much theatre going on here in D.C.,” said Pedersen. “This is a great opportunity for them to see both sides of theatre — on a huge scale at the Kennedy Center and then, in the academic theatre setting.”

Flynn said she is also looking forward to next year’s program, which will combine musical theatre and drama into one three-week-long institute, from July 10-28, 2017.