Montclair Kimberley Academy’s Jake Pryor and Brodie Snyder enjoy life as actors and athletes

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BLOOMFIELD/SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Long before either Jake Pryor of Bloomfield or Brodie Snyder South Orange roamed the halls of Montclair Kimberley Academy, and also excelled as co-captains in both their scholastic sports, there have been many noted former athletes who became renowned actors.

Johnny Weissmuller, who was one of the outstanding swimmers of his time (1920s,’30s and ‘40s) was a U.S. Olympic phenom who went on to star in a dozen of the original ‘Tarzan’ films.

In more modern times, Arnold Schwarzenegger (bodybuilder-turned-actor in films such as ‘Conan The Barbarian’ and ‘The Terminator’), Burt Reynolds (Florida State football, then films including ‘Deliverance’ and ‘The Longest Yard’), Tommy Lee Jones (Harvard football, then acting in films including ‘The Fugitive’ and ‘Men In Black’) and Mark Harmon (UCLA quarterback before starring in TV’s “NCIS’) are just a few of the athletes turned famous thespians.

Major names like the aforementioned quintet remind one that it is important not to limit any youngster trying their hand at all they can pursue in high school by labeling them as ‘just an athlete’ or ‘only an actor.’

At MKA, the dual appreciation of students participating in both athletics and theater has been ever-present in this year’s senior class. One of last winter’s top Cougar sports stars, basketball 1,000-point career scorer Brennan Columbia-Walsh, has acted in and also written plays during a memorable multi-faceted scholastic career as a Cougar.

Football-lacrosse standouts Pryor and Snyder are busy with their sports in the fall and spring, respectively, but that has not prevented them from four years of participating in theater at school, including musicals such as this year’s production of ‘Cinderella’ where both young men had leading roles with Pryor portraying Jean-Michel and Snyder as Prince Charming.

“Having Jake and Brodie as leads in Cinderella was fantastic and they always do a great job of balancing their academics and athletics with their strong interest in the theater arts,” said Nicole Hoppe, who is in her 14th year of teaching drama and organizing and directing the school theater productions. “I don’t know if it is something you are likely to see at a large number of schools, but MKA is unique in always encouraging students to participate in all sorts of different activities during their time here.

“I think it’s a really cool thing that you don’t have to pigeonhole any of our students as being part of just one area of the total experience one can have at MKA, and athletes like Brennan, Jake and Brodie have exemplified that while participating in theater in all four years they have been here.”

Theater and athletics have worked hand-in-hand in promoting the total student approach in ‘Cougarville.’

“(Athletic Director) Todd Smith (who is Pryor’s step-dad) has been extremely supportive of the idea of our students being both athletes and part of the theater experience if they want to,” added Hoppe. “I grew up myself always appreciating athletics and theater and the arts so the approach to promoting participation in both areas of performance here at MKA is just wonderful to see.”         

The athletic thespians fully appreciate the opportunities that they have had in the all-around experience that is possible in a scholastic setting at the Montclair private school.

“I found my start in acting in middle school when I was thrust into a big production of ‘Macbeth,’” said Pryor, who is one of the top lacrosse goalies in the state and also quarterbacked the MKA football team. “I figured I would give it a try and ended up having a great time portraying the role of Lenox and I’ve never looked back, keeping up with plays and musicals whenever my sports seasons have permitted.

“Recently I’ve started to take the arts a lot more seriously – as seriously as my athletics- and it’s been such a gift. Being a student-athlete-artist has been my favorite experience in high school and I’ve been so blessed to have gone to a school that supports everything that I want to do; a school where the quarterback of the football team can be a lead in the musical, and also the student body vice president.

“MKA is really unique in that way!”

Snyder, a wide receiver and defensive back in football and a leading scorer for the lacrosse team this spring, is a prime example of a young man who has learned how to balance a busy schedule with so many different interests.

“I manage my time a lot like most multi-sport athletes would,” he said. “I have had specific focuses during the different sports seasons. In the fall I played football, in the winter I had the musical, and I played lacrosse in the spring. This allowed me to really delve into one specific focus at a time, while still preparing for the other season in the off-season.

“For example, during the fall I was taking vocal lessons to prepare for the musical, and during the musical I was routinely exercising and doing on-field workouts in preparation for the lacrosse season.

“My schedule has certainly been pretty loaded, but I have no complaints as I am passionate about the activities that I do participate in.”

Pryor has also learned to combine his interests while making sure he manages his busy schedule.

“Throughout high school, I’ve certainly had a lot of commitments – and I’ve often found myself overbooked,” he noted. “It was hard to juggle and really give my all to each of my commitments, but – luckily – I’ve had a great support system of teachers, coaches, and directors who have always been so supportive of my varied interests.

“For example, in the fall I’d have football from 4-6, and then follow it up with Remix A Capella rehearsal from 6-8. It was a lot of racing around, and a lot of late nights, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!” 

Snyder had the benefit of being around theater people while growing up.

“I was exposed to a lot of theater growing up,” he said “My grandmother is an actress and I went to a lot of musical theater productions growing up.

“I love a lot of Broadway musicals like ‘West Side Story,’ ‘Chicago,’ and ‘Wicked.’ I also am a huge fan of classic western films like ‘The Good the Bad and the Ugly,’ ‘Fistful of Dollars,’ and ‘Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,’ and some of my favorite actors are Leonardo DiCaprio, Clint Eastwood, and Al Pacino.”

Pryor’s role models in theater over the years include Jonathan Groff, Ben Platt and Andrew Garfield.

In being part of the cast for MKA’s production of ‘Cinderella,’ he enjoyed sharing the stage with his good friend and football and lacrosse teammate.

“Being able to play Jean-Michel in Cinderella alongside Brodie as Prince Charming was nothing short of a dream come true – I mean, me and him have done everything here together on the fields and in the classroom,” Pryor said. “It meant so much to be able to share the stage with him. It was certainly a surreal experience, and although our characters didn’t interact a whole lot, whenever they did it made for a great moment.”

His wide receiver on the football field and lacrosse teammate at the moment echoes the thoughts of his favorite high school quarterback.

“Cinderella was an amazing experience,” said Snyder, who was MKA’s representative as an Essex–Hudson scholar-athlete honored at a recent dinner hosted by the Essex County Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. “Jake and I have been doing the musicals at MKA all throughout high school, and it was a lot of fun for the two of us to be able to step into the lead roles that we held this year.

“During our four years we have played both football and lacrosse together, and it has been very rewarding for the two of us to be able to earn captain roles for these two sports, as well as stepping into leadership roles for the musical.” 

The coaches who reap the benefits of having both Pryor and Snyder on their respective teams on the field at MKA during the fall and spring certainly appreciate the unique quality of the athlete-actors who are true young Renaissance men.

“Brodie and Jake are important members of your lacrosse team, but are also multi-talented off the field as well,” said MKA lacrosse coach Dave Giarrusso. “These two multi-talented student-athletes are great examples of being able to handle the schedule of playing two intense preparation sports like football and lacrosse, which ask the athletes to watch hours of film and study scouts of their opponents.  But, they then found time to be two of the leads for the winter musical, putting in countless hours of preparation and rehearsals.

“They truly have mastered time management and their communications skills with all of the adults involved, enabling us to work around each other’s schedules to allow these kids to showcase what they are about. It is great to see many of our underclassmen lacrosse players performing in the chorus as well. They have watched these upperclassmen on the stage, watched the support the rest of the community has given them and it shows you truly can be what you see at MKA.

“With so many 2- and 3-sport coaches at MKA we always have an appreciation for the time management of the student-athletes. With today’s age of single-sport specialization, which often leads to physical overuse injuries and the unfortunate incidents of mental health burnout, it is great to be around talented kids who are allowed to showcase their many talents.”

MKA’s veteran football coach Anthony Rea is equally appreciative of having had his two veteran virtuoso actor-athletes perform for him on the field the past four years.

“One of the wonderful things about MKA are the various interests and abilities that our players have,” he said. “As I’ve said to many other coaches, we are probably one of the few schools that affords our players these opportunities and has players who take advantage of them.

“We have always had some players who go on after football season to participate in the winter musical and it’s great to have athletes who have such exceptional ability in different extracurricular activities. 

“Jake and Brodie have amazing all-around talents and MKA has been lucky to have them as leaders in the Class of 2022.”

Pryor, who will attend the Kent School in Connecticut for a post-graduate year in 2022-2023, and Snyder, who is headed to Tufts University to study engineering, both hope to continue fostering their respective interests in theater arts.

“I plan on joining a new A Capella group and remain involved in plays and musicals however I can,” said Pryor. “I just love being on stage – there’s a kind of magic about it you don’t get anywhere else, and it’s become a part of me.”

“There are a lot of opportunities for me to continue theater at Tufts,” added Snyder, who may try to be a walk-on in lacrosse. “And, I would love to continue pursuing those opportunities.”

As both young men near the finish of their scholastic careers as athletes and actors with the lacrosse season now entering its stretch run, perhaps one of the better offerings from one teenager to another one on the rise comes from MKA’s football QB and lacrosse goalie.

“My biggest piece of advice to any kid starting high school, or even in high school now is to always try everything,” said Pryor. “You really never know what you might fall in love with.

“For me, I’ve found my niches in arts and athletics, in really just being me. For others it may be different, but you really never know until you try it – so give it a shot!

Photos Courtesy of Gene Nann and Montclair Kimberley Academy

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