Signature Programs: PDS Arts Reimagined for 2020-2021

The Princeton Day School Performing/Visual & Design Arts program is renowned for its diverse offerings, deeply experienced faculty and a community passion for innovating and embracing artistic creativity. The Arts curriculum is designed to facilitate each student's exploration of their creative voice and foster myriad forms of artistic expression. This year, given the combination of remote and in-person learners and the need to maintain a nimble approach at all times, the PDS Arts faculty has worked tirelessly to reimagine their curriculum from PreK through Grade 12.

Our Flickr album featuring student artwork appears at the end of this post highlighting PDS Arts happenings across all divisions.


US Architecture teacher David Burkett's introductory classes are working on the theme of "the evolution of an idea," learning how to build on a premise and ultimately bring it to life. The US advanced architecture class is studying rituals in architecture and building a "pavilion for remembrance." Each class day provides a collective critique of each project so that each student can continue to refine their work. In the Middle School, Architecture teacher (and School Trustee) Christopher Bobbitt's 8th Grade classes are designing and building Victorian barn houses.

Architecture class model


MS/US Ceramics teacher Eric Rempe's advanced US class is working on developing their own style and voice, incorporating into their work aspects from their own life, favorite artists and nature. For this project, each on-campus and remote student presented their idea to the class for critique before creating a sculptural piece to demonstrate their voice. All students built their pieces by hand and remote students were able to arrange for pieces to be fired by Mr. Rempe so that all could be presented for a second class critique. The MS ceramics class is currently learning how to use the wheel to work with clay. An earlier unit focused on developing handmade stamps to create designs on plates.

Advanced Ceramics collage


Upper School Dance instructor Ann Robideaux's classes are focused around the theme of musicality, which leads to a variety of possibilities from jazz to blues, old time musical theater, classical, more contemporary selections and found sounds. Normally working towards a large, live dance concert, this year dance classes have honed in on more collaborative dance videos such as a spoof on Busby Berkeley movies, scenes from Romeo and Juliet and a Janice Joplin-inspired dance for a filmed stage. Dance classes also continue work on technical training, as per usual, so that they can still perform to the best of their abilities when the time comes to be in front of a live audience again.

Advanced Dance class


MS/US Design teacher Christopher Maher has the saws humming in the wood design studio. The main themes for all design courses are creative problem-solving and designing your own piece. 8th Grade design classes are working on designing a footstool that is built to withstand an adult's weight (Mr. Maher's, to be exact). Emphasis was placed on the design process and feedback-enhanced development, as students qualified to receive wood only when the design was successfully planned. Further, students only receive one supply of wood to complete their project, and focusing on successful execution of their design is key. 

Upper School introductory design classes are working on designing a piece of furniture with three legs. To add an interesting twist, each student had to pull an element of design from a "grab bag" that would then need to become a focal point of the design. Remote students are making 3-D renderings and scale models from home while on-campus students are building their pieces in the shop. Advanced classes are designing and building a mallet that they will use for the rest of the year. In addition, advanced students are learning to work with non-power tools, such as Japanese pull saws and chisels, to build a piece of furniture based on a specific hand-cut joint.

Design Class collage


MS/US Engineering teacher and STEAM Coordinator Matt Tramontana's Engineering classes are studying wearable camera obscura that are intended for users with limited dexterity. Students designed and constructed their own camera obscura using cardboard boxes, including remote students, who built theirs at home. Classes will move forward to a new unit on reverse engineering, in which they will redesign a flashlight intended for a child to use.

Engineering class testing wearable obscuras


MS/US Strings and Orchestra maestro Dr. Tomasz Rzeczycki's ensembles have conducted rehearsals incorporating on-campus and remote students via Zoom on the DTEN platforms. The beautiful music has provided a delightful backing soundtrack in the School halls this fall! In addition, the PDS Madrigals, under the direction of MS/US Music teacher Edgar Mariano, have conducted outdoor rehearsals and have created their own Instagram page to highlight student voices in lieu of their usual performance. See the brief video below of Mr. Rzeczycki performing with the 8th Grade strings during a Zoom rehearsal:


MS/US Photography teacher Thatcher Cook has taken advantage of the many rich opportunities around the PDS campus for photography, taking students to the School's renowned organic garden and our bamboo forest during classes this fall. Mr. Cook has designed projects and also provided lighting and bookmaking kits, hard-drives and other materials to ensure equity for remote students as well.

US introductory classes are working on an assignment based on shadows and understanding the history of shadows in photography. The lighting and printing class assignment is to photograph four objects that students can find at home: an egg, a hand, a leaf and a piece of tin foil. The advanced photography class is working on bookmaking. Students are creating a series of five photo books, including learning how to fold and stitch together their own sketchbooks. The current photo book project is to create a biography, with topics ranging from the point of view inside of a photo booth to the biography of a praying mantis.

MS class projects focus on experimentation and establishing a feeling of freedom for 8th graders to roam uninhibited with their cameras to capture what is raw and intuitive. One exercise focused on lighting and the class experimented with dramatic lighting in the McAneny Theater, also incorporating spooky scenarios revolving around Halloween.

photography class collage

Theater/Performing Arts

In lieu of actual performances, the performing arts at PDS is sharing a series of zooms, videos and streams to celebrate the work that the students and faculty are doing, despite the challenging circumstances for live performance. One recently completed video is a joint production of Dance and Theater classes (video below), where, along with movement, students have been studying stage and film combat techniques.

This year's Fall Theater Production will be the top five plays selected from entries in a creative student playwright competition, which will be staged and produced not by the authors, but by PDS student directors using student actors. The parameters included creating short, two-character plays that incorporate six-foot social distancing, masks, face shields, coverings, etc., with a creative justification for their use that is a situation other than a pandemic. Over twenty plays were submitted for consideration. All were creative and inventive, using masks and social distancing in imaginative ways to create truly unique stories. The first round was judged by Professor Trent Blanton from Rider University, who chose the top five plays based on their creative use of the parameters. The final winner will be decided by Elizabeth Cuthrell, Producer/Writer at Evenstar Films in NYC/Los Angeles. Elizabeth has produced and written many full-length features and plays.

The five finalist plays (in no particular order):

  • The Mirror by Veronica Vogelman '22
  • Eight at the Cost of One by Madeline Chia '21
  • The Duel by Avery Eiseman '22
  • Scarred by Yael Tuckman '22
  • Imagination, Incorporated by Hope Jerris '21
  • Honorable mention: To Grow a Rose by Linda Qu '22, Guthrie by Jackson Cook '22

These five short plays will be directed by members of the PDS Directing class: Harrison Fehn '22, Sophia Glasgold '22, Tyanna Miller '22, Yael Tuckman and Veronica Vogelman. The plays will be live-streamed later in November when the winner is announced.

The Middle School fall play Do You Read Me? is based on a unique play by Kathryn Funkhauser that was specifically written to be performed remotely on Zoom. MS theater students are filming and producing the play and it will be released to the school in early December. MS Theater teacher and 7th Grade Dean Jonathan Martin chose this particular play because it provided students with an opportunity to work together to film and produce a play while maintaining social distance and ensuring safety. "Rather than focus on negatives and what we are not able to do, this play allows us to embrace the circumstances and realities of this fall and turn them into a positive experience for students while also providing a fun production to the School community," Martin shared.

Visual Arts

US Visual Arts teacher Jerry Hirniak's Advanced Fine Arts class is working on a portrait identity portfolio. The primary task is to create a portrait based off of either a photo or a collage that is then reproduced as a drawing or painting. Mr. Hirniak emphasized paying extra attention to the process and reflecting on identity while completing this project.

MS Art teacher Deva Watson's classes are working on a variety of projects with distinct cultural emphases. The 8th Grade is working on a still-life self-portrait, inspired by the work and Zoom lecture from renowned artist Laolu Senbanjo (see our previous news story on Senbanjo's visit here). 7th Grade classes are learning about and producing African textile weaving, 6th graders are studying the works of the great Japanese artist Kuniyoshi and 5th graders are creating papier maché masks.

In the Lower School, LS Visual Arts and Design Coordinator Jennifer Gallagher is working with 4th Grade classes to create their own graffiti art murals, inspired by their recent guest Zoom lecture from graffiti artist Mike Baca, aka "2ESAE" (see our previous news story on Baca's visit here). Third graders created Rangoli art to celebrate Diwali, 2nd graders studied the Lenape and made feathers based on the Lenape tale of the rainbow crow, 1st graders created leaf collages based on woodland animals and Pre-K and Kindergarten classes focused on "Turkey Time" ahead of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

Visual Arts Class collage

See our Flickr Album for photos from Princeton Day School Arts offerings this fall.

Photos: Orchestra rehearsal led by Tomasz Rzeczycki; a student archirctural design model; an Advanced Dance student practicing technique; an Engineering student testing out a wearable obscuracollages from Advanced Ceramics, US/MS Design, Photography and Visual Arts classes

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