Hill Raises Curtain on Two New Arts Department Appointments

Photo of Chris McGriff
Chris McGriff | Director of the CFTA and Instructor of Theater

While it will be immensely difficult to fill the shoes of Burton Merriam, The Hill’s director of the Center For The Arts for the past 29 years, upon Burt’s retirement in June The Hill will enthusiastically welcome Chris McGriff to this role.

Following an extensive national search, Chris will join Hill’s faculty effective July 9, 2018, as Director of the CFTA and Instructor of Theater. Most recently based in Chicago, Chris has been a director, assistant director, or production assistant for more than a dozen acclaimed regional theaters, as well as several Broadway and off-Broadway houses where he was involved with productions including The Color Purple, Wicked, The Wiz, and La Cage Aux Folles.

Thomas Kail, the director of the smash Broadway hit Hamilton, is among Chris’ references. In working with Chris on The Wiz, Kail observed Chris’ outstanding organizational skills, professionalism, and, perhaps most notably, the meaningful connections he makes with young people as a mentor and coach and his interest in teaching – a sentiment shared by other references, including the creative director for artist Beyoncé.

Chris has been the creative show director for Dk Production Design since 2009 and the CEO of CMM Productions since 2008. Dk Production Design works with contemporary musical performance artists to develop concepts for sets, lights, costumes, and thematic plots for concert venues across the world, in locations including Radio City Music Hall. CMM Productions provides artist development services such as private acting coaching. Chris’ clients have included The White House, the U.S. Army, the Claridge Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, and The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Chris has been a teacher and acting coach at several reputable community theaters, a school for special needs children, and a nationwide talent development company in Atlanta. He has directed fine arts ministries and productions for a number of faith-based organizations, and directed educational, touring performances highlighting African American history for the Smithsonian Institute’s Discovery Theater.

Chris earned his B.F.A. in Theater Arts Directing at Howard University.

"I am ecstatic to join The Hill School family as the Center For The Arts director and a theater teacher,” said Chris. “The Hill faculty has been warm, energetic, and welcoming -- and Pottstown already feels like home.

“I consider it a great blessing and honor to be able to share my experiences and knowledge with Hill students – who I found to be the most kind-hearted, smart, and creative students I have ever met! I am certain they will have a profound impact on my life, as well,” he added.
Headmaster Zack Lehman was quick to thank Burt Merriam “for his consummate professionalism during this search, his extraordinary service to the School, and for setting the bar so high for all of us at Hill.”

He added, “I truly believe, nonetheless, that we have found an excellent successor to Burt. Chris’ passion for theater and for inspiring young people through the performance arts, his character and high standards, and his creative energy were apparent to all participants in the search process, from colleagues to students.”

Photo of Laura CobbsLaura Cobbs | Adjunct Instructor of Dance

Also joining Hill for the 2018-19 year will be Laura Cobbs, who will serve as Adjunct Instructor of Dance.

Laura’s appointment will allow Hill to expand its in-house arts curriculum by offering introduction to dance as a performance-based class during the academic day, in addition to making open dance workshops available on Saturday mornings. Two different dance styles will be taught each term to provide skills such as coordination, choreography, and stage directions, as well as knowledge about the history of each style and influential dance pioneers.

The School will create a fully equipped dance studio space in the Sweeney Gymnasium complex, with plans for Hill’s dance program to grow in the coming years.

With 15 years of experience in all genres of dance instruction, Laura is the owner and artistic director of Visions Dance Company in Boyertown, Pa. Previously, she served as associate director at Dance One Studios’ Contemporary Ballet Theater in Douglassville, Pa., through which, as an instructor, she premiered works at venues including Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, and Disney World. Laura performs with companies including Shift Contemporary Dance Company and Opus 1 Dance Company. Her resume also includes performances at locations ranging from Louisville and Austin to Costigleoncello and Florence, Italy.

Laura earned her dance performance degree from East Carolina University and her B.F.A. from Radford University in Virginia.

I am incredibly honored to take on this new position at The Hill,” Laura said, adding, “What a thrill it will be to see the art of dance come alive in such a time-honored and respected school!

“The Hill School truly has an appreciation for all art forms, which is very rare,” she continued. “I am excited to see that dance and movement now will be integrated into the daily academic schedule as well as co-curricular programs and performances.”

Headmaster Lehman observed that, for years, “a considerable number of current and prospective students have expressed keen interest in taking dance while at The Hill,” he said. “Now we are able to supplement our arts offerings.

“Laura is highly respected in the dance community, and her enthusiasm about this opportunity and working with Hill students is palpable,” he noted.

“With Chris and Laura joining our faculty, we are looking forward to a very exciting future for the performing arts at Hill!” Lehman said.

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