They shrieked, screamed, pounded the floors and damn-near cried when the statuesque figure in a two-piece burnt orange Athleisure ensemble entered the dance studio at the famed Baltimore School for the Arts.
The 40 juniors and seniors immediately recognized the Emmy-nominated actress who has played an orphan in Netflix’s drama “The Queen’s Gambit” and a ferocious, complicated villain in the Disney+ “Star Wars” spinoff miniseries “Obi-Wan Kenobi.” But that day, actress Moses Ingram took on another role — mentor.
The West Baltimore native, born Monique Denise Ingram, surprised the unsuspecting class for an hourlong afternoon question-and-answer session Thursday. Ingram is currently in town filming the Apple TV+ miniseries “Lady in the Lake.”
Some students did not immediately recognize the actress when she entered the room. Other diehard fans of “Star Wars” universe began to hyperventilate.
“That’s her!” one student shouted when Ingram entered the room and began to hug teachers before joining the students seated in a semicircle on the dance floor.
Others cupped their hands around their mouths to amplify her name to their classmates seated nearby.
The star-struck youth eventually settled down and listened to Ingram speak about her ascension in the acting world.
Indigo Turner, a 17-year-old senior from Northern Baltimore, immediately recognized Ingram. She said she’s in awe of the actress, who she considers a role model.
“She shows me that I can do whatever I want to do,” Turner said. “I feel like white people growing up have that feeling. But we don’t really have that feeling — sometimes it feels like nothing is going my way. She has shown me that things will turn out all right.”
Kaya Vision, a voice and movement teacher at the school, helped to orchestrate the surprise in his class, “Voice Perspectives.” Vision, who was a classmate of Ingram in the school’s theater department in 2012, has known Ingram since 2004 when both were members of a young artist developmental program at the school.
“She didn’t come to the school until someone dropped out,” Vision recalled. “She’s a girl from West Baltimore who was tracked down for her talent.”
When asked if Ingram was the most successful actress from her class, Vision immediately responded: “Right now, yes.”
Ingram, 28, bared her soul to the group — recalling frustrating anecdotes that included originally being rejected for admission to Baltimore School for the Arts, years of working odd jobs and struggling to find resources for college.
At one point Ingram started crying when recounting the story of one of her lowest points after high school, when Ingram said she didn’t have the grades or money to attend a four-year university or college. As a result, she attended Baltimore City Community College and worked up to three jobs. She watched as her classmates attended four-year institutions in other cities. Ingram remembered ordering the books that her friends bought at four-year colleges as a way to keep up with them.
“I was depressed for a really, really long time,” Ingram explained to the group. “I couldn’t afford to go to college. I remembered feeling so disrespected. I feel like there is a lot of shame attached to community college. I was sad for a long time.”
Another classmate, who also did not go directly to a four-year university, became her motivation.
“We were sitting in the same class,” she recalled. “We were all we had. We would sit in Panera Bread [near the Hippodrome Theater] and we would imagine what we would be.”
And when her friend wound up signing with a dance troupe in North Carolina, Ingram was filled with mixed emotions. She was happy for him while also wondering when her shot would come. At the time, she was in the process of applying a second time to The Juilliard School in New York.
“My God, what is going on?” she recalled thinking at the time.
After a stint at community college, she enrolled at Morgan State University, where she studied acting.
“I was miserable,” she said. “Classes in the theater department was what people were taking for free credits,” she said, adding that one Morgan teacher discouraged her from pursuing acting — and even laughed at her.
The same teacher questioned if Ingram had gotten into Yale University, knowing that she had recently applied. Ingram recalled proudly quipping back: “I got in.”
While at Yale, Ingram worked up to three odd jobs at a time — including at an Amazon shipping plant and a Boys and Girls Club — while continuing to perfect the craft of acting, even if it meant taking an early bus up to New York City on weekends so that she could audition at open calls. She watched plays at theaters like Center Stage in Baltimore and waited by the stage doors to ask actors all types of questions about acting technique.
Performing in a production at Everyman Theater led her to an acting competition, the National Society of Arts and Letters, where she met actor Jonathan Majors — star of the HBO television series “Lovecraft Country” — who was then studying at Yale. It was Majors who encouraged Ingram to apply to Yale, telling her that her talent would be enough to get her into the prestigious school. He was right. She graduated from the Ivy League school with a masters in fine arts in 2019.
Another low moment was at the start of the pandemic. Ingram said that was a point when things were “starting to happen for me.”
She recalled that she was filming a movie at that time, but it shut down because of the pandemic. She said she suffered a mental breakdown as a result and returned home to Baltimore to regroup.
“I did not know who I was,” she said. “You have to be in touch with who you are. Rest is important.”
Ingram fielded close to a dozen questions from the students, who asked her everything from how she keeps a clear head while acting to dealing with actors she doesn’t like. [For the record, she didn’t divulge any names, but she said she remains professional and doesn’t allow anything to get in the way of her getting paid.]
By the end of the hourlong talk, Ingram left students energized and with a message of hope and triumph. She even shared her personal email with the group, to their delight.
Ayana Longshore, a 17-year-old senior from the Hampden area, loves that Ingram gives young Black actresses new roles in which to aspire.
“She’s on ‘Star Wars.’ That is the biggest franchise ever!” Longshore exclaimed. “Seeing someone out there who is acting and having a fun time doing it is so inspiring.
“She was a very driven student. She knew what she wanted. I look up to her so much. I strive to be like her one day. Everything she does makes me want to be like her one day.”
Aliah Evans, a 17-year-old senior from Columbia, mentioned Ingram and another Baltimore School for the Arts alum, Jada Pinkett Smith, as personal inspirations.
“They’re so inspiring,” Evans said. “I have spent my life just looking up to these women. One day I hope to be a voice for young Black women like they are for me.”