It was the fall of 1996, and eleven-year-old Shannon Ludlum ’03 had just been cast in her first GSB performance. Paul Canada, director of the upper school musical Meet Me in St. Louis, needed middle school students to fill in for the younger roles. Shannon received the part of Agnes, the lead’s little sister, and took her first step on stage. By the end of the run, she was hooked.
“That step started my whole journey,” Shannon said. “I loved being part of that theater magic.”
Shannon continued to perform in shows throughout her Gill career, singing and dancing her way through comedic productions like Lucky Stiff and Something’s Afoot. Soon enough, the theater bug spread to the rest of the family, and her younger brother, Jimmy ’05 joined her on stage. Her mother, Laura, volunteered her skillsets as a visual artist and became heavily involved in painting giant scrims, sets, and backdrop murals.
“My mom was so much more than your typical theater mom,” Shannon recalled. “She went above and beyond, staying late to finish whatever needed to be done. Countless times, she hand-painted marble or stone floors. They were all so incredible. She started the amazing set painting that Gill is known for.”
When Shannon graduated from Gill, she left the life in lights behind—or so she thought. She enrolled at Gettysburg College and decided to pursue her second passion, science, as a biology major. She had grown weary of the professional acting strains: the constant auditions, the constant rejections, the uncertainty about where and when your next job would come; and she knew the inconsistency wouldn’t be for her.
Like her older brother, Jeffrey ’01, who pursued a Bachelor of Science at Muhlenberg College in 2005 followed by a Master of Science from Rutgers University in 2008, Shannon believed science was the better path. Her decision lasted one year.
“I missed it,” Shannon confessed. “I like biology, but I like the theater more.”
The seed that had been planted with Meet Me in St. Louis was beginning to sprout, and Shannon couldn’t ignore the pull of the stage any longer. With her parents’ blessing, she switched her major to theater with a minor in studio arts and never looked back.
No one who knew Shannon well was surprised by the turn of events, including Paul Canada. “I always knew Shannon would end up in the arts in some fashion,” he said. “She just has this spark and love of everything to do with theater.”
“Paul had a high sense of integrity,” Shannon said. “He pushed us to be better and to try harder. He encouraged us to keep exploring. These were incredible life skills to learn so young, and one of the great benefits of live theater. Being on stage teaches you to try new things and to not be afraid of looking silly.”
After her college graduation, Shannon secured an internship at a New York City casting agency and returned to New Jersey. In her spare time, she volunteered with the Gill theater department, building and paintings sets, managing props—whatever might be needed. As the Gill theater program grew, so did her list of responsibilities. Eventually, the volunteer hours turned into a formalized position, and Shannon became the Performing Arts Department’s first Assistant Director and then ultimately, a Producer.
“It was so special to be part of the program who made me who I am today,” she reminisced. “I loved working with the kids. Theater is a safe space for them to explore who they are, and it forces them out of their comfort zone. I so appreciated my time on stage, and it’s amazing to see these kids having a similar experience to what I had.”
Since she was often on campus, Shannon stepped into other openings when they arose. Depending on the day, you could find her substituting for the Upper School, working in the Development Office as the Interim Director of Alumni Relations, or involved in archive preservation.
As the school enters the fiftieth anniversary of its merger, its body of historical documents has increased. “When I was working in the Alumni Office, I had access to all of these amazing artifacts,” Shannon said. “There were boxes of old pictures, yearbooks, and even an old St. Bernard’s bible. It’s our history, and it’s precious. I wanted to help organize everything and preserve it so that it will last another fifty years.”
Ten years after she graduated college, Shannon decided to take the next step and pursue her master’s degree. Her younger brother had recently completed his master’s at the Manhattan School of Music, receiving a Master of Music in Vocal Performance with a concentration in Classical Voice, and Shannon was ready to do the same. In 2019, she earned a Master of Science in Arts Administration from Drexel University and translated her credentials into an exciting job in a new arena – film.
“I am an Associate Producer for two PBS shows: Drive by History and Drive by History Eats,” Shannon shared. “I have been doing it for the past two years. I love performing, but I’ve come to realize that I love being behind the scenes even more.”
“We see this pattern time and again with GSB alum,” commented Performing Arts Teacher Margery Schiesswohl, who has been choreographing the musicals at Gill since 1992. “They don’t realize it when they are here, but the classes they take, the clubs they are involved in, or even the Spring Unit they elect end up inspiring their path.”
Shannon’s path has taken her through every aspect of the production process. While the majority of her time is now spent behind the camera, she still stays connected to live performances, volunteering at local organizations like the Cranford Dramatic Club or the Chester Theater Group.
She also auditions from time-to-time, and as of the writing of this article, was headed out for a community theater audition. “I still perform, but not in situations where I get paid. It’s not as stressful that way or as much of a commitment. It’s just a lot of fun.”
“Seeing Shannon grow from a young student on stage into a person who has pursued a life in the dramatic arts has been a joy,” says Mrs. Schiesswohl. “She realized that theater was her calling because of the opportunities she had at Gill. That passion has guided her life’s journey.”
“I’m so thankful for the theater program, for Paul and Margery, and for how supportive they’ve been of me for my whole life. My siblings and I were all lifers at Gill, but our lives with Gill didn’t end when we graduated. The term lifer really means so much more to me. Gill has given me my life.”