Teaching Staff

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Freddy-May AbiSamra (They/Them/Theirs) is a theatre maker, storyteller, and teaching artist originally from New Orleans. They received their BA in Comedy Writing & Performance from Columbia College Chicago in 2017. They are passionate about working with young people and helping them to develop and share their stories, collaborate with each other, and grow. You can see them around town telling stories at places like The Moth StorySLAM and Potluck.

Timothy Avant is an award-winning director, actor, singer and dancer. Born in Cleveland, Ohio raised in Flatbush Brooklyn. His credits include Paul in Kiss Me Kate off Broadway, Curtis in Dreamgirls, Pirelli in Sweeney Todd, Phil Darmato in The Wild Party, Booker T. Washington in Ragtime, Robbins in Porgy & Bess, Agwe in Once of This Island, Miss Bible Belt in Pagent: The Musical, and many more.

Josh Bernaski (He/Him/His) is ecstatic to be working with Emerald City Theater!  As an actor and educator, Josh has worked across the country at theaters including Nashville Children’s Theatre and Playhouse on the Square.  For 4 years, Josh toured South America, Asia and the Middle East with Artspot Educational Theatre, performing musicals for students learning English.  Since moving to Chicago, Josh has had the pleasure of working with Lifeline Theatre, First Folio, Drury Lane and Theater at the Center.

Chazie Bly (He/Him/His) graduated with a dual degree in theatre and women’s studies from Penn State. He is an ensemble member with Hell in a Handbag productions and is a certified special education teacher with his LBS1 endorsement and professional educator license through NLU and Teach for America. He spent four years teaching special education and theatre in the Englewood, Rogers Park, and Gage Park communities.

Katherine Bourne (She/Her/Hers) moved to Chicago after falling in love with the city while studying with The School at Steppenwolf. She holds a BFA in Acting from Southern Methodist University. She has worked with Raven Theatre and The House Theatre of Chicago, and favorite spots in Dallas include The Dallas Theater Center, Undermain Theatre, and Stage West. Among others, she has taught with Dallas Children’s Theatre, and worked as a drama teacher to children with autism for the past two years. 

Gemma Clarke (She/Her/Hers) holds a BFA in Acting from the DePaul Theatre School in Chicago, IL. She has studied dance at both Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle and Lou Conte in Chicago and improv at the Second City Chicago. She is originally from Seattle where she’s taught children’s theater for 9 years. She was last seen in The Jeff Award Winning production of All Our Tragic with The Hypocrites Theatre Company in Chicago, IL.

Casey Coppess is an actor/musician in Chicago.  Casey graduated from Simpson College where they received their bachelor’s degree in Piano and Voice.  They have also worked as a teacher with the Laughing Academy and is an ensemble member of Royal Princess Parties LLC.  In their free time Casey is an amateur songwriter and a professional actor in Chicago.

Agnotti Cowie is a Chicago native that is passionate about the intersection of social justice, community dialogue, and performing arts. She received a bachelor’s degree in Theatre and Sociology from Beloit College and spent a year abroad in Ireland and Hungary doing cross-cultural research and performance. Currently, she is working to facilitate workshops in drama, puppetry, storytelling, and movement. She has taken her work around the globe, facilitating workshops in Australia, Chile, Vietnam, India, and Germany. 

Elliot Cruz (He/Him/His) had a lot of fun getting to play Jack in Emerald City’s production of “Mother Goose’s Garden,” so he’s overjoyed to be working as a teacher! Elliot hails from Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Theatre Performance. In Chicago he has worked with companies such as the Griffin Theatre, Muse of Fire Theatre, Steep Theatre and Northlight.

Charlotte Drover is a director, choreographer, and teaching artist (Lookingglass, Northlight Theatre, Writers Theatre, iDream Lab [Indonesia]), working in Chicago since 2013 after graduating from Drew University (NJ) with a BA in Theatre Arts. Directing credits include: Little Shop of Horrors (Windy City Performs), The Crystal Spider (Haven Theatre), Deathscribe X (WildClaw Theatre), Venus In Fur (Circle Theatre), Van Gogh: After Dark (Art Institute Chicago), Associate Director on Octagon (Jackalope Theatre), and choreography for Bobby Pin Girls (Nothing Without A Company), The After (Collaboraction), Jerusalem (Profiles Theatre), and the Chicago Home Theatre Festival – Garfield Park.

Shelby Edwards (She/Her/Hers) is a graduate of Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Professional Leadership Program.  Shelby received her B.A. in Theatre with a minor in General Business from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA and in Spring 2019, Shelby will graduate from the University of Chicago with a Master of Arts in Humanities featuring a concentration in Theatre and Performance Studies.

Alice Gehrke (She/Her/Hers) is a theatre artist and educator from Madison, Wisconsin where she taught at Children’s Theatre Madison.  She has a BA in Theatre Performance and Psychology from Beloit College.  She specifically enjoys physical theatre and devising and has had the pleasure of studying at Accademia dell’arte in Tuscany and Dah Teatar in Belgrade, Serbia.  Alice is passionate about the intersections between theatre and mental health and is currently working towards her Master of Social Work at UIC.

Sara Geist (She/Her/Hers)is a Naperville, IL native and a Western Michigan University Musical Theatre grad. She was most recently seen in  ECT’s production of Magic Treehouse: Showtime with Shakespeare. She has also worked in TV, film, and voiceover, and has a passion for writing and directing. Sara got her start in camps like the ones here at ECT and is thrilled to help bring that experience to the kids of Chicago.

Amanda Giles (She/Her/Hers) is a graduate from the BFA Musical theatre program at the Chicago College of Performing Arts of Roosevelt University. Amanda has worked as a Director and Teaching Artist for many years, inspiring and mentoring kids in the arts along the way. She is very excited to continue her work with kids this summer with Emerald City Theatre.

Sarah Gise (She/Her/Hers) graduated with a BFA in Acting from USC. She is a company member with Interrobang Theatre Project and New American Folk Theatre and has been seen in several shows with them throughout the years. Her performance in Interrobang’s production of The Amish Project was nominated for Best Solo Performance at the 2017 Joseph Jefferson Awards. She is so excited to be a part of Emerald City and looks forward to all the learning and playing to come!

Allison Grischow (She/Her/Hers) is an actor, musician, aerialist, and teaching artist with Bachelor of Arts degrees in Music and Theatre from Valparaiso University and continued training with the Moscow Art Theatre School. As a music improviser, Allison loves making up songs on the spot, and plays clarinet, piano, guitar, and ukulele. She is a graduate of Second City’s Music Improv Conservatory.  

Samantha Grimes is excited to teach with Emerald City camps! Originally from Tennessee, she recently graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a BFA in Musical Theatre Performance. Her love of teaching began with an internship at Nashville Children’s Theater. Since then she has been a teaching artist with The Rose Theatre in Omaha, Nebraska and here in Chicago with Dream Big’s summer production camps. 

Jordan Harris (They/Them/Theirs) is thrilled to be a part of the Emerald City team! A native of Evanston, Jordan holds a degree in Voice Performance from the University of Michigan. They’ve worked on many projects throughout Chicago, portraying Tom Collins in RENT and playing in the band for We’re Gonna Die at Steppenwolf.

Caleigh Havansek (She/Her/Hers) is a born and raised Chicagoan who is excited to be teaching in the city she loves. She recently graduated from Viterbo University with her B.S. in Theatre Education, where she led the Viterbo Improv Team and worked on a variety of productions as a stage manager and designer. In addition to working with Emerald City Theatre, Caleigh also works with Chicago Children’s Theatre and Improv Playhouse. She is grateful to be able to combine her love of education and theater, working to give children a platform to find and use their voices.

Caleigh Havansek (She/Her/Hers) is a born and raised Chicagoan who is excited to be teaching in the city she loves. She graduated from Viterbo University with her B.S. in Theatre Education, where she led the Viterbo Improv Team and worked on a variety of productions as a stage manager and designer. She is grateful to be able to combine her love of education and theatre, working to give children a platform to find and use their voices.

Risha Hill (She/Her/Hers) graduated from the Alabama School of Fine Arts, attended Miami University B.A. theater program and graduated from California Institute of the Arts M.F.A. theater program where she focused on performance. Theatre credits include: Blues for an Alabama Sky (Angel), King Lear (Cornwall), 24 Hours the Musical (Shawnna), In the Blood (Welfare/Bully), Three Sisters (Irena), The Music Man (Alma), King Henry V (Kate), The Colored Museum (Woman #3).

Brittany Hines (She/Her/Hers) graduated from The Hartt School in 2016 with a BFA in Musical Theatre and has been working professionally ever since. She has performed in various productions at The Ivoryton Playhouse, The Palace Theatre, and has been out on tour with Bright Star Children’s Theatre.

Thomson Jaffe (She/Her/Hers) earned her B.A. in Theatre and teaching certification in Secondary English and Communications from DeSales University. Thomson previously spent 17 months with the Missoula Children’s Theatre, traveling the US and Canada as a tour actor/director. Since moving to Chicago in Aug. 2016, Thomson has had the pleasure of working with Poetry Pals, Adventure Stage Chicago, Windy City Performs, American Theater Company, and Lookingglass Theatre.

Becky Keeshin (She/Her/Hers) is a graduate from The Theatre School at DePaul with her BFA in Acting. Acting credits include work with Writers Theatre, The Music Theatre Company, First Folio, Lifeline, Citadel, GreatWorks, Nashville Children’s Theatre, American Theater Company, Red Orchid, and right here at Emerald City in Mother Goose’s Garden. She is represented by Grossman and Jack Talent and is thrilled and honored to have the opportunity to work with so many wonderful children and fellow artists at ECT!   

Heather Keith (She/Her/Hers) received her MM in vocal performance from Ohio University and her BFA in Musical Theatre from Marietta College. Heather works as a teaching artist with Lyric Opera of Chicago and is on the ChiME vocal and early childhood faculty. Past performances include; Susanna in Marriage of Figaro, Despina in Così fan tutte, Gretel in Hansel and Gretel and the role of La Ciesca in Gianni Schicci.

Kathleen Kinlin (They/Them/Theirs) is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago with a BA in Comedy Writing and Performance. Before teaching with Emerald City, Kathleen had the privilege of teaching children Kindermusik and Dance classes. In addition to teaching, Kathleen produces Resilient: a monthly variety show benefiting survivors of sexual violence and improvises with their teams Gideon, Rooster Tank, and Sauce. They also freelance in copywriting and social media management. 

Mary Kirwan (She/Her/Hers) is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio and is a graduate from The Theatre School at DePaul University with her BFA in Theatre Arts concentrating in Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA). She is currently a special education classroom assistant at Ogden International Jenner campus. She is thrilled and honored to collaborate with the many talented children and artists associated with Emerald City Theatre! 

Becca Levy (She/Her/Hers) is a Chicago based Teaching Artist, Production Manager, and Stage Manager who has worked with various fantastic theatre companies all over town. She began working with ECT as a Summer Camp Coordinator and joined the teaching team. She is a proud ensemble member at Strawdog Theatre Company and holds a BFA in Stage Management from Western Michigan University.

Derry MacDermott (He/Him/His) is a Chicago teacher, director, and comedian with a passion for giving children spaces to feel creative. An east coast native, he graduated from West Chester University of Pennsylvania in 2016 with a degree in Elementary Education and Theatre. He currently works with Bennett Day School helping to bring the arts into their progressive education outlook on learning. Along with teaching, he performs sketch and improv around Chicago in a variety of theaters.

Laura Matthews (She/Her/Hers) is thrilled to be working with Emerald City Theatre. Laura is a graduate of Elmhurst College, where she studied Musical Theatre and Communications Studies. Since moving to Chicago, Laura has worked at American Theater Company as the Education Fellow where she worked with their Youth Ensemble. She has also performed with Red Tape Theatre, Robert Bills Productions, and The Island Theatre Co. Laura is a certified Alexander Technique Teacher.

Mark Maxwell (He/Him/His) is an actor and writer. He has appeared in productions by The Jades, Kinematics, and Cold Basement Dramatics in Chicago, and on tour in Moon Shot (Theater Unspeakable) and Taming of the Shrew (Stone Soup Shakespeare). Mark has contributed as a deviser to new works by Rough House, Mercy Street Theatre, and The Electric Brain, which he co-founded. He holds a BA in theatre arts from the University of Northern Colorado.

Melanie McNulty is a film and theatre actor, writer, and teaching artist born and based in Chicago. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre-Acting from Indiana University-Bloomington and a Certificate in Acting from Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin, Ireland. Recent credits include the world premiere of Amicable (SHANNON) with Theatre Above the Law and feature film Rendezvous In Chicago (HONEY). In her free time she loves being by the lake, practicing yoga, and finding the best vegan food in the city! 

A teaching artist and director, Hannah Miller is celebrating her first year in Chicago. She is a former teaching artist for the Coterie Theatre in Kansas City, and currently can be seen teaching theatre across Chicago. She also has notable directing and assistant directing credits including, The Prince of Egypt workshop in New York City and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre. She graduated with her BA in theatre from Kansas-State University.

Courtney Dane Mize (She/Her/Hers) is a proud Mississippi native. She graduated in 2014 from Ole Miss (Hotty Toddy!!) where she received a BA in Theatre Arts with an emphasis in Musical Theatre and a minor in Psychology. She’s worked in the past with Kokandy Productions (Flight), Benevolent Theatre (Kiss of the Spiderwoman), Oxford Shakespeare Festival (Hello Dolly! and Macbeth), and Oklahoma Shakespearean Festival (Legally Blonde, Boeing-Boeing, and As You Like It).

AJ Oetman (He/Him/His) produced educational curriculum and directed youth plays at summer camps across the country for over seven years. He directed the feature film, The Wolf’s Robe, the pilot sitcom Community Watch, and many other narrative shorts, music videos, and short docs. In theater, he directed the fan favorite YouMurder: Kill the Queen. He’s been published in Insight Magazine, written two feature film scripts, many short stories, and poems.  

Flavia Pallozzi (She/Her/Hers) is thrilled to be with Emerald City Theatre! She graduated from the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University with a BFA in Acting. Since then, she has had the privilege of working with Teatro Vista, Victory Gardens, Spartan Theatre Group, the Chicago Shakespeare Project, and Lifeline Theatre. When not teaching or performing, you’ll find her reading or watching Golden Girls reruns.

Tia Pinson is a Flint, Mi native who continues to pursue her need to create, inspire and encourage through teaching, playing, and sharing. Tia hopes to provide an outlet of creative expression and development to community youth while exploring the multitudes of storytelling devices. Tia graduated from Western Michigan University with a BFA in Music Theatre Performance. Within her two years in Chicago, she has worked with several companies including Emerald City Theatre, Filament Theatre and The House Theatre of Chicago.

Alexis Randolph (She/Her/Hers) has a passion for theater that took her to Ithaca College where she graduated with a BA in Drama. She has worked with companies throughout the city, including Redmoon, Walkabout Theater Company, Strawdog Theatre, The State, New Leaf, Chicago Fringe Festival, and Element. She is also very lucky to be teaching 4th-8th grade Drama at St. Clement School as well as being the acting coach for the North Park University Opera Program.

Kristen Rau (She/Her/Hers) teaches drama and creative writing in Chicago public schools with Barrel of Monkeys and in the community/outreach program Funny Bones Improv, for young inpatient audiences in Chicago area hospitals.  Kristen is dedicated to using theatre to foster self-esteem and independence in young children. She currently makes her home in Edgewater, the heart of Chicago’s Laundromat and Payday Loan District.

Emily Mercedes Rich (She/Her/Hers) is a playwright and teaching artist. Originally from Orlando, Florida, Emily’s work is primarily about memory and place. Her work has been produced in Chicago at The Prop Theatre and with Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble. She’s taught at Camp Merrie-Woode in Sapphire, North Carolina and is thrilled to be teaching with Emerald City! She’s currently finishing her MFA at School of the Art Institute of Chicago. 

Maggie Robinson (She/Her/Hers) is thrilled to be a Teaching Artist with Emerald City Theatre. Hailing from Tennessee, she holds a BFA in Musical Theatre from the University of Memphis. She is a company member of Chicago DanzTheatre Ensemble. Recent credits include In the Soundless Awe (Saltbox Theatre Collective), Peter and the Starcatcher, Pinkalicious, American Idiot, (Playhouse on the Square). Recent choreography credits include Carrie 2: The Rage (Underscore Theatre), West Side Story, Oklahoma! (College Light Opera Company).  

Denise Savas (She/Her/Hers) holds a BFA in Theatre Education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG. Denise performed in Jim Wren’s adaptation of Alice and toured with North Carolina Theatre for Young People’s rendition of Hansel and Gretel. She has taught various theater lessons ranging from Advanced Drama to Technical Theatre at the elementary, middle and high school levels. 

Britta Schlicht (She/Her/Hers) earned her degrees in Secondary Theatre and English Education with a enthusiasm towards leadership in dance and musical theater. Other theater education credentials include Education Director/Youth Director and Choreographer – Improv Playhouse Theatre (Libertyville, IL), Director of Theatre – Carmel High School (Carmel, IN), Youth Theatre Director – Children’s Theatre of Madison (Madison, WI), and Drama Teaching Artist – Bloomington High School North (Bloomington, IN).

Shaina Schrooten (She/Her/Hers) has been a part of the Chicago theatre community for four years now. She is a company member with (re)discover theatre and The Shakespeare All-Stars. She came to Chicago via St. Louis where she received her BFA with The Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University. She loves the Chicago theatre community and all the incredible, versatile, generous artists it encompasses. Teaching with Emerald City has been a true joy! 

Tom Simmermaker (He/Him/His) graduated from Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee with a BA in English. He currently performs comedy around the city with his Harold team at iO Chicago and his independent improv team at The Second City. Tom has a passion for photography, poetry, and education. He volunteers weekly with the tutoring organization Chicago LIGHTS, and he is thrilled to be working with Emerald City Theatre as a teaching artist!

Rebeccah Singer (She/Her/Hers) is beyond excited to work with Emerald City Theatre as Education Manager! Originally from St. Louis, she holds a BFA in Acting from Syracuse University. In Chicago you can catch her at iO Theater with the team Gideon or at Second City where she’s on a house company. When she’s not performing, she can be found writing and eating cereal.

Colie Smigliani (She/Her/Hers) has always loved teaching and working with young people. Colie is a Musical Theatre graduate from the Chicago College of Performing Arts where she played Lil Becky Two Shoes in Urinetown the Musical and Featured Soloist in Godspell. Colie can also be seen in her most recent movie No Where to Run, coming to Netflix in 2019. She is so incredibly excited to begin working with Emerald City and the bright and passionate students they always bring in.

Rachel Smith (She/Her/Hers) is a writer and performer originally from Houston, Texas. After graduating from Baylor University, she moved to Chicago and can be seen at iO Theater with the teams Devil’s Daughter and Dreamboat, CiC with the team The Dark Web or at The Second City where she’s part of a house company. She has loved her time with Emerald City and is thankful to be a part of such a wonderful group of people!

Jessica Smoot (She/Her/Hers) is and actor and teaching artist from Dallas, TX. She graduated from Oklahoma State University with her BA in Theatre in 2016. When not teaching, she enjoys solo and devised performance work, and has been seen in various showcases and venues across the city, including Potluck and The Museum of Contemporary Art. Jess is excited to also work on the Admin team as the Education Coordinator!

Michele Stine (She/Her/Hers) is a graduate of Illinois State University with a BS in Political Science and Acting, and she has performed throughout Chicago with various companies, including Collaboraction, First Floor Theatre, and Trip. Michele apprenticed at American Theater Company with their Mosaic program, teaching ninth and twelfth graders. She is thrilled to be working with your children as we play, learn, and grow.

Lindsay Stock (she/her/hers) is so excited to teach with Emerald City Theatre! As an actor, she’s had the privilege to work with the Goodman, Northlight, and Raven here in Chicago. As a teaching artist, Lindsay also works with the actors in A.B.L.E. ensemble, a program committed to providing performance opportunities to young adults with Down Syndrome and other developmental differences. She is delighted to get to learn from and collaborate with the incredible kids and artists associated with Emerald City Theatre!

Danny Taylor (He/Him/His) holds a double BA from Hope College in Dance and Theatre. Danny’s Chicago credits include: Company (Griffin Theatre) and The Good Soul of Szechuan and Old Town (Strawdog Theatre). Danny is a proud New Colony company member where creating story and character through a collaborative team effort is a daily effort. He hopes to bring this creativity into the classroom!

Michelle Renee Thompson received her BFA in Theatre Performance from Otterbein University in Ohio. She also trained at The Second City’s Conservatory. As a founding and former member of Corn Productions, she performed and produced much original works for the stage. Michelle’s recent acting credits include: “Waist Watchers-The Musical” at The Royal George Theatre, “Real Housewives of Oak Park” at Open Door Repertory and “Corduroy” here at Emerald City Theatre Company.

Sara Vazquez (She/Her/Hers) is delighted to teach the Emerald City Theatre!. Sara has worked as a director, actor, stage manager, and/or teaching artist for companies like Lexington Children’s Theatre (Lexington, KY), American Shakespeare Center (Staunton, VA) and New American Folk Theatre (Chicago, IL). She has toured through nearly 20 states with various productions and loves meeting new people and seeing new places. In her limited free time, Sara enjoys karaoke, board games, and binge watching The Office.

Carley Walker (She/Her/Hers) is a native Texan who has found a home here is Chicago. Carley graduated from The University of Oklahoma in 2014 with a BFA in Drama and is a working actor, designer, and teacher. As a theatre teacher she loves getting to help children learn something new. Encouraging a student to learn more and fall deeper in love with something they’re passionate about is her favorite part of my job! 

Lucy Walker (She/Her/Hers) is an actress and comedian who hails from Portland, Oregon, where she taught and performed with Oregon Children’s Theatre. She attended Seattle University where she earned a degree in political science and theatre. Since moving to Chicago, she has worked with The Second City, iO Theatre, CIC theatre, and the Neo-Futurists. When not teaching, you can find her performing at many different theatres around the city, drinking lots of coffee, and reading good books. 

Anthony Whitaker (He/Him/His) is the Co-Artistic Director of the New American Folk Theatre. He directed the Jeff Award nominated “The Summer of Daisy Fay” and wrote their most recent show, “Scraps”. With Emerald City Theatre, Anthony has appeared in “Hercules Saves the World” and “Twas The Night Before Christmas”, as well as costuming “Hercules” and “Rapunzel”.

Lana Whittington is thrilled to be working with Emerald City Theatre! She is a graduate of Oklahoma City University and has been teaching children dance and theatre since she was 16 years old. She is an advanced actors combatant with Fight Directors of Canada and is looking forward to getting her teaching certification with them in the next few years. She is also a fight director in Chicago and a teacher at Sarah Hall Theatre Company in Deerfield and Glencoe. 

Kat Wilson (She/Her/Hers) graduated from Baylor University with a BFA in Theatre Performance. She has worked with youth most of her undergraduate career and as a teaching artist in the Dallas area. She claims theater as a medium to embolden students to take ownership of their own creativity and an outlet that allows them to develop confidence within themselves. She is ready to create with the students of Emerald City and delighted to work with the youth of Chicago.

Kayla Zaniboni (She/Her/Hers) attended Adelphi University in New York where she received a BFA in Theater Performance.  Upon graduating from Adelphi, Kayla toured the country with Missoula Children’s Theater.  Kayla went on to the University of Central Florida for her MFA in Theater Performance. Kayla has performed throughout the city, some of her favorite roles include Joy in Cinderella, Fran in Musical of the Living Dead, and Mrs. Mayor/Bird Girl in Seussical.