Performing Arts Faculty

Dr. Kevin Costa is the head of the Drama Department, and in 2009 he became Director of the Fine and Performing Arts. He earned his Ph. D. in English at SUNY-Buffalo with a concentration on drama, Shakespeare, and literature and culture in Early Modern England. He has also studied classical acting at the American Conservatory Theatre, and his involvement with the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company as Education Director and artistic associate has helped him develop a close working relationship between the Company and his students. The current focus of his studies is how to introduce audiences to practices of Elizabethan playing and how these practices could shape the teaching process. In the summer of 2010, Dr. Costa studied with the Folger Shakespeare Library at their Teaching Shakespeare Institute, thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Jon Aaron ’72 joined the middle school English faculty and inherited the drama club in 1976. He graduated from Boston University with his B.A. in English. As a McDonogh senior, he directed the Senior Follies, and he had extensive experience on-stage at acting camps, which he used to begin his work with the drama program. With enthusiasm and training from his mentor, Craig Gerhard, Mr. Aaron built the Middle School Drama program until it grew into musicals involving the entire eighth grade. He received a great deal of tutelage from John Van Meter, who was Upper School Drama director at the time. After a summer-long improv workshop at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., his focus expanded to involving all interested middle schoolers in his productions. His most recent achievement was the completion of an original musical entitled Chesapeake Dream, complete with book, lyrics, and music, and the show had its flagship performance in 2006.

Kaisha Askins Blackstone ’98 was heavily involved in the Gospel Choir during her time as a McDonogh student, so when she was asked to return after her graduation to direct the choir, she happily took the opportunity. In her youth she was involved in her community gospel choir, which gave her the chance to tour nationally and record. She graduated with her B.A. in electrical engineering from Johns Hopkins University, after which she launched a professional career as a singer/songwriter. She has recorded with artists such as Tanya Blount, Vivian Green, Joy Denalane, LaToya London, and Carol Riddick, as well as operating her own music, web, and print publishing company, Ray’s Sister Publishing, LLC. She also assists her husband, Adam Blackstone, with his musician staffing company, BASSic Black Entertainment, LLC.

Suzanne Eldridge became the Middle School Choir Director in 2005. She started her education as a voice major at the High School of Performing Arts NYC, after which she studied at Tanglewood Institute of Music and Mannes Conservatory. She received her B.A. in Music Education from University of Buffalo SUNY, then her Masters in Arts Management from Towson University. Before McDonogh, Mrs. Eldridge directed choirs at New Market Middle School and South Carroll High School. She also has a background in musical theatre, performing throughout New York and Maryland, most recently with the Glyndon Area Players, for whom she is also Musical Director and Choreographer. Since her arrival at McDonogh, her students have performed in Walt Disney World, Hershey Park, America Sings in Washington, D.C., and nursing homes. They were also finalists in a national singing competition, in which they won $1,000 for the music program at McDonogh 26, our sister school in New Orleans.

Pete Hengen has been the Director of Instrumental Music for grades 5-12 and Conductor of the Upper School Concert Band since 1993, after three years in the private music department. He earned his Bachelor’s of Music in Education and a Performance Certificate in Trumpet with minors in piano and bass viol from the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University. Along with serving as the private schools representative on the Board of Directors to the Maryland Band Directors Association, he has performed as a professional trumpet player or bass guitarist for a variety of shows, weddings, and church services. Outside of his work as a musician and teacher, Mr. Hengen is an accomplished pyrotechnician who serves as president of The Crackerjacks, a regional fireworks enthusiast club, and whose team, the Vulcan Fireworks, won the Herrenhausen International Fireworks Competition in Hannover, Germany. He has incorporated fireworks displays into pep rallies and, most recently, the Concert Band 2010 Pyro-Spectacular.

Ilona Kessell became the Head of the Dance Programs in the Middle and Upper Schools in 1989. She earned her B.S. in Biology with Honors from The College of St. Elizabeth. Her dance education spans over thirty years of tap, jazz, and ballet training, and her choreography and musical staging have been featured in theaters like Imagination Stage, Olney Theatre Center, Rep Stage, Round House Theatre, The Kennedy Center’s Family Theatre, and Toby’s Dinner Theatre, as well as on national tours. The Washington, D.C. Theatre Award Society honored her with the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Choreography in 2004 and 2002, along with eight other nominations. She has also received the Individual Artist’s Award for Choreography from the Maryland State Arts Council. She has taught tap, jazz, and musical theatre dance throughout Maryland and New York, and many of her students have gone on to professional careers in dance and choreography.

Don New came to McDonogh as Jazz Band Director in 2000 from a twenty-one year career with the Airmen of Note – The USAF Jazz Ensemble. His professional music career spans over 40 years during which time he has been featured on numerous recordings, radio broadcasts and TV shows. He has performed, toured and recorded with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. He has played all over the world for dignitaries in historic venues, and with such greats as Bob Hope, Carmen McRae, Dizzy Gillespie, and Frank Sinatra, to name a few. In addition to the Jazz Band program Mr. New developed the McDonogh Music Technology program. Mr. New attended Berklee College of Music as a saxophone performance major. He earned his B.S. in Music Education from West Chester State University, and he has received a Certificate of Completion from Berklee for Producing with ProTools.

Philip Olsen was appointed as Director of the Upper School Choirs upon his arrival in 1991. He received his Master’s in choral conducting from Florida State University, where he studied with Joseph R. Flummerfelt and Colleen J. Kirk. Prior to teaching at McDonogh, he held positions as Assistant Professor of Music and Conductor of the University Chorus at Hofstra University and as Director of the Euterpean Choral Ensemble in New York City. Under his direction, the concert choir has performed a vast repertoire in multiple languages and toured numerous countries, including the Czech Republic, Scotland, Italy, Canada, Poland, Croatia, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Iceland, and in 2010, Spain and France. Mr. Olsen is also the Music Director for the triannual musicals performed in the Upper School. In addition to his McDonogh responsibilities, he serves as the music director for the Second Presbyterian Church of Baltimore.

Kara Zimmerman joined McDonogh in 2009 as a Prefirst Associate and a teacher of the Behind the Curtain theater production class in the middle school. She earned her B.A. in theater and dance from Muhlenberg College, where she received the Dorothy & Dexter Baker Foundation Award in Dance, among numerous other dance and theater scholarships. Her choreography and direction have been displayed at a number of independent schools within the last five years, including Tower Hill School, Tatnall School, Wilmington Friends School, The Independence School and CACC Montessori School. Her professional experience ranges from dancing with Charles Anderson’s dance theater X, to acting with Philadelphia and Baltimore theater companies, to singing and playing music throughout Pennsylvania and Baltimore. Most recently, she worked as a public speaker with Monster.com’s Making It Count campaign, in which she motivated high school students to make positive choices.

Andrew Shaud has been a cello instructor with the private music department since 2000, and he became conductor of the Upper School String Orchestra in 2002, followed by the Middle School String Ensembles in 2007, making him the Director of the Strings Program. He earned his B.Mus. and M.Mus. from the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University. He has also undergone Cello Books 1-4 of Suzuki Training at Ithaca College, the Pennsylvania Suzuki Institute and Pittsburgh Suzuki Institute. In addition to McDonogh, he taught at Friends School and the Baltimore Talent Education Center. He is currently on faculty at the Baltimore String Camp, as well as giving cello lessons from his private studio. Mr. Shaud studied under Mihaly Virizlay and Lindsay Groves, and he has performed with a number of symphony orchestras, including the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra. He has also given cello recitals throughout Massachusetts, New York, and Maryland.

Susan Tanury Pugh is currently the Manager of the Ceres M. Horn Theatre, and she has been part of the theatre staff since 1999. She earned her B.A. from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, after which she gained experience as a stage manager at Trinity Repertory in Rhode Island and Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. She has also worked in Paris, London, and at various summer stock programs in Massachusetts. She began her teaching career at her high school alma mater, St. Mary Academy in Rhode Island. Here at McDonogh she has directed several productions, taught numerous drama courses, and developed the formal theatre education program as head of the Upper School Drama Department. Ms. Tanury is responsible for coordinating and directing technical theatre operations for all events in the Horn Theatre, as well as helping to direct the Upper School technical theatre independent study.

Carole Truitt became the Director of Lower School Performing Arts in 1988. She received her B.S. in Music Education from Towson University and her Master’s Equivalency in the Applications of Dalcroze, Orff, and Kodaly from Towson, Morgan University, and Peabody Conservatory. She has been a music educator since 1973, working at St. Clement School, Notre Dame Preparatory School, Peabody Preparatory Conservatory, and here at McDonogh, as well as traveling to local, regional, and national workshops as a lecturer in Music Education and Liturgical Music. She was also a Music Consultant for The Archdiocese of Baltimore from 1978 to 1984. Her articles on pastoral music and music education, as well as a few of her compositions, have appeared in a variety of publications, including Pastoral Music Magazine, Teaching Music, and Catholic Music Educator. Many community operas and choirs have benefitted from her talents as a soprano and a pianist, and from 1997-2007, she was the music director for the Glyndon Area Players productions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Sound of Music, and Annie.


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McDonogh School | 410.363.0600 |
8600 McDonogh Road | Owings Mills | Maryland | 21117