Gerard Ahlgren, Instrumental Music Teacher
Trumpeter Gerard Ahlgren is based in the Minneapolis, Minnesota. He currently holds a Master’s Degree in Music Performance from McNally Smith College of Music with emphasis on Jazz Studies. Gerard plays locally with Blue Water Kings, Soultight Committee, Northstar, Jaedyn James and the Hunger, and Moonlight Serenaders. Gerard also has extensive experience playing professionally with the History Theatre and for Old Log Theater as well as Breck Middle School. Because of his diverse training from various trumpet players such as, Dave Jensen, Charles Lazarus, Marshall Scott, Michael Davison, and Adam Meckler, Gerard is fluent in several styles of music including jazz, blues, latin, fusion, and classical.
Gabriel Anderson, Dance Department Chair
Gabriel Anderson, MFA, MPH, CYT, is a choreographer, performer, and dance educator. He has performed with many talented artists and companies, including: Melinda Myers, Mathew Janczewski’s ARENA Dances, Chris Yon, Jennifer Kayle, Maria Gillespie, Mad King Thomas, Time Track Productions, Live Action Set, Maggie Bergeron & Co., among many others. He currently serves as the Department Chair at the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists. Prior to this position, Gabriel held affiliate faculty positions and visiting professorships within the dance departments of Minnesota State University, Mankato, and St. Olaf College where he taught a broad portfolio of dance technique and dance theory/history-based courses. Mr. Anderson received his M.F.A from the University of Iowa department of dance with an emphasis in choreography/composition where he was an Iowa Arts Fellow and taught extensively both lecture-based and dance technique courses within the department.
Leila Awadallah, Dance Teacher
Leila Awadallah is a Palestinian-American artist in the Twin Cities and has been dancing with Ananya Dance Theatre since 2013. She has a BFA in Dance from the University of Minnesota and a minor in Asian Language and Literature with a focus on Arabic Studies. She is a SAGE Award recipient (2016), and her work has been presented by ACDA at the Kennedy Center (2016) and in the BIPOD Festival in Beirut, Lebanon (2017). Working with this company of artists continues to unravel and deeply breathe into her sense of self in relation to the beautiful community that manifests from the many aspects of this work.
Genevieve Bennett, Theatre Department Chair
Genevieve is a free-lance director and teacher based in Minneapolis. Credits include Hedda Gabler, The Bear (The Southern Theater); Beyond the Owing (Red Eye); Bee Eater (Bryant Lake Bowl); The Good Doctor (Jon Hassler Theater); Anna Bella Eema, Goodnight Desdemona Good Morning Juliet (Theatre Unbound); The Seagull (Twin Cities Chekhov Festival); Camille (Old Arizona). She is the chair of the Theatre program at Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists and has guest directed for the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater Actor Training Program. She received an MFA in Directing from Columbia University and a BFA with Honors in Theatre from the Experimental Theatre Wing/Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.
Maggie Bergeron, Dance Teacher
Maggie Bergeron is an organizer choreographer, dancer and teacher. She currently choreographs and directs Maggie Bergeron & Company, is a Senior Teaching Specialist at the U of MN Dance Program and teaches in the Dance Department at the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists (SPCPA). Maggie spent nine years dancing with Shapiro and Smith Dance and has also performed in works by Chris Yon and Angharad Davies. Maggie is committed to exploring the process of collaboration in her work, and is often more interested in the edge of where the ‘choreography’ begins or ends. She and her husband Nicholas Gaudette curate, produce and create Hear Here! a live music and movement festival. Her work has been seen locally at the Southern Theater, Red Eye Theater, Walker Art Center, Cedar Cultural Center and Bryant Lake Bowl. Maggie graduated from Interlochen Arts Academy and holds a BFA in Dance from the University of Minnesota. She is a Licensed K-12 Dance Instructor and holds a Masters of Arts in Teaching.
Lisa Berman, Dance Teacher
A Minnesota native, has been breaking since 2004. She has danced as a member of Collective Hip Hop Dance Company, received the Jerome Travel and Study Grant for Choreography in 2008 to study under Bgirl Aruna in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and is the founder of In New Company (INC), an explorative dance theater company rooted in Hip Hop, whose members collaborate in order to represent various pockets of the Minnesota dance community. She has had the privilege of performing nationally at venues including NJPAC, Paradise Theater, Lincoln Center, “Performa” Biennial in NYC, Art Basel Miami and the National History Museum in Washington DC. She has also performed internationally in the Netherlands at “Street Science,” the Gallery Tribute to Women in Hip Hop, and The National History Museum of Amsterdam. Within the last year, MonaLisa has had the opportunity to work as a Hip Hop instructor for the St. Paul Conservatory of Performing Arts, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Intermedia Arts, and The Cowles Center. She has most recently performed at the Joint Project, Elements in Translation, alongside Desdemona and Carnage for the Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges Inaugural Ball, at The Cowles Center for Bboy J-sun’s show “Hip Hop,” Hip Hop Choreographer’s Evening, “Rooted” at Intermedia Arts, and Choreographer’s Evening at the Walker Art Center with INC.
Matt Blair, Vocal Arts and Dance Accompanist
Matt Blair is a pianist, composer, improviser, and educator currently based in Minneapolis, MN. His latest projects include performing with Good Trouble, a jazz septet dedicated to playing all original music; Slipstream, a chamber quartet that focuses on the commissioning and performing of new music; and with Vacant Paradise, a solo piano project that is a personal quest to find a deeper connection to the instrument he has devoted his work to. Matt has performed across the United States in a variety of venues and festivals including The Bay View Jazz Fest, Chicago’s Park West Theatre, Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Milwaukee’s Jazz Estate and historic Pfister Hotel, the Museum of Wisconsin Art, The Trout Museum of Art, The Fox Valley Performing Arts Center, and Lawrence University’s improvised music festival Improvisationalu. He has had the honor of performing with many great improvisers including John Christensen, Devin Drobka, José Encarnación, Jonathan Greenstein, Christopher Porterfield, Hal Rammel, Dane Richeson, and Chris Weller. As a part of Slipstream, Matt has also premiered new compositions by Patrick Marschke, John Mayrose, JP Merz, Chris Misch-Bloxdorf, and David Werfelmann. As an educator, Matt has taught both classical and jazz piano lessons to beginners and advanced students of all ages. He has given workshops or performances at Drake University, Interlochen Center for the Arts, University Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Middleton High School in Middleton, WI, Appleton Public Montessori, Clovis Grove Elementary School in Menasha, WI, Nicolet Elementary School in Menasha, WI, and Wilson Elementary School in Neenah, WI. He has also had the opportunity to intern at the New York Jazz Academy in New York City helping teach jazz piano lessons, jazz theory courses, and coach small ensembles. Matt received a Bachelor of Music degree with a self-designed major in contemporary improvisation at Lawrence University in Appleton, WI. His mentors include Tim Albright, Bill Carrothers, Patty Darling, José Encarnación, Michael Mizrahi, Anthony Padilla, and Matt Turner.
Blake Brauer, Musical Theatre Accompanist
Blake Brauer has been growing through music his whole life; from piano lessons and school musicals when he was younger, to carving his own career in the world of music and theatre, much of his time and effort has gone toward development of his skills and abilities as a musician, which affected his life in areas beyond just performance and technical skill. His passion for music and theatre arts has afforded him a deeper perspective on the human experience, allowing for nuanced observation skills, an appreciation for diversity, and a desire for collaboration and creativity. Having logged thousands of hours to date, he considers the piano his main instrument, and his voice a close second. He also plays cello, and dabbles on the guitar and ukulele. During his attendance at Illinois Wesleyan University, Blake discovered a somewhat natural gift for movement and dance, which underscored his connection to music, and furthered his delight in theatrical pursuits. After graduating in April of 2012, he spent the next three summers in Alaska, working as a Music Director/Performer for Princess Cruises at a dinner theatre located near Denali National Park. During the off-seasons, he found work in the Twin Cities and Chicago, striving to continue personal and professional growth while seeking stability. After his third season with Princess, Blake moved back to the Twin Cities in the autumn of 2014, and decided to focus on creating a name for himself in his home state. He has found success as Performer (Dancer in Philly the Musical), Music Director (The Last Five Years at The Sabes JCC, Fiddler on the Roof at 4 Community Theatre), Accompanist (Flanagan’s Wake and Bye, Bye Liver at Camp, SPCPA, CTC), and Educator (SPCPA, CTC Theatre Arts Training). Blake looks forward to making new connections and discovering new talents as he continues to grow with the inspiring community that thrives in the greater Twin Cities area and beyond.
Aimee K. Bryant, Musical Theatre Teacher
Aimee K. Bryant has appeared on many stages throughout the Twin Cities and across the nation since graduating from Howard University. She most recently portrayed Aunt Sarah in Park Square Theatre’s production of Nina Simone: Four Women; Gail in Children’s Theatre Company’s production of Akeelah and the Bee which toured to Washington, D.C.; various characters in Pillsbury House Theatre’s production of The Gospel of Lovingkindess; Mother Nature in Theatre Forever’s production of The Nature Crown; and Celie in Park Square Theatre’s production of The Color Purple. Aimee is also a teaching artist and songwriter. Her original music can be heard on her debut album “Becoming,” available through iTunes, CDBaby and most other online music retailers.
Joey Clark, Musical Theatre Department Chair
Joey teaches theater and music to help his students discover sides of themselves they never knew existed and open their eyes to the endless possibilities of collaboration and imagination. In addition to chairing the Musical Theatre program at SPCPA, Joey teaches youth at the Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) and works with older adults through MacPhail School of Music’s “Music for Life” and “Sing for Life” programs. Joey serves as a master teaching artist/mentor with Artsage MN, a training ground for artists interested in teaching the aging population. Working with students ages three to 101, he continues to learn from his amazing students every day. Outside of the classroom, Joey is an active performer, director and musical director in the Twin Cities. His recent performance credits include Park Square Theatre and Theatre Mu’s A Little Night Music, Bloomington Civic Theatre’s Sunday in the Park with George (George) and Cabaret (Emcee); and Let’s Keep Dancing (an original cabaret produced by MacPhail Center for Music and Nautilus Music Theatre). Past credits include Theatre Latte Da’s The Full Monty, Frank Theater’s Cabaret, and a multitude of cabaret performances at Bryant Lake Bowl. At SPCPA, Joey has directed Caroline, or Change; Vaudeville!; Illyria; Three Penny Opera; A Little Night Music; and Once on this Island; and musical directed Ragtime; Violet; and The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Paul R. Coate, Musical Theatre Teacher
Paul R. Coate is a Twin Cities-based professional actor, vocalist, director, educator, and songwriter. Theatre credits include Children’s Theatre Company, History Theatre, Park Square Theatre, Theater Latte Da, Skylark Opera, Nebraska Repertory Theatre, Nebraska Shakespeare, Paul Bunyan Playhouse, Pioneer Place on 5th, The Strange Capers, Classical Actors Ensemble, and many more. Opera and concert credits include Opera Omaha, Omaha Symphony, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and Minnesota Orchestra, where he most recently appeared as “Enoch Snow” in a concert version of CAROUSEL in March 2015. Paul has been fortunate to share the stage with such acclaimed talent as Grammy Award-winning soprano Sylvia McNair and award-winning actress Kathleen Chalfant, and he has been conducted by maestros Sarah Hicks, Osmo Vanska, Andrew Litton, Neil Gittleman, and Hal France. Paul has also appeared in a variety of film and television projects, including APRIL SHOWERS (2009) with Tom Arnold and Daryl Sabara. When not performing, Paul is an independently contracted theatre educator who has worked with such organizations as Hennepin Theatre Trust, Bloomington Theatre and Art Center, Nebraska Shakespeare, and more. Paul is also experienced as an arts administrator having served as Operations Manager at KVNO Radio in Omaha, as Education Director at Bloomington Theatre and Art Center, and as Executive Director of West Bank School of Music. Paul received his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees in Theatre from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Paul is a proud member of Actors Equity Association.
Adam Conrad, Instrumental Music Teacher
Adam Conrad is from Los Angeles where his family has worked professionally in the music industry for four generations. Since moving to the Twin Cities in 2009 Adam has accomplished a thriving career in composition, conducting and musical direction: he has written, directed and produced an original musical called “Coffee Pot” about the Rondo neighborhood; written countless film scores, concert works, and arrangements in many styles; conducted difficult concert works for other composers; led choirs and chamber ensembles of numerous sizes for various performances. He has gotten to write for and work with Adam Levy, Adi Yeshaya, Jay Fuchs, Mischa Santora, The Laurels String Quartet, Kennth Stringfellow, Devon Gray, Charlie Parr, John Mark Nelson, Ta-coumba Aiken, Jeremy Messersmith as well as countless others. Adam has also created some original concepts revolving around artist and community development that have been quite successful. “Potted Meet Mondays” is a monthly social with a different live visual and musical artist featured every month. This event brings in 200 people every month and has been a success for just under 3 years. Adam runs this event by hiring a small team of people and hosting himself. The 3,000+ people “Potted Meet” has reached is surely an indicator to its success in adding to the Twin Cities already high artistic merit. The second of these original concepts is IMPROVESTRA, a locally bred and internationally recognized improvising orchestra. Led by Adam as conductor, IMPROVESTRA focuses primarily on groove oriented styles of music with slight variation into the classical and cinematic worlds. Pooling from a list of 150 players in the Twin Cities, IMPROVESTRA usually plays with somewhere between 10 and 25 musicians at a time playing horns, strings, rhythm section and some unique instruments for flavor. Recently IMPROVESTRA and Adam have done a TEDx talk and taken place in the conference for “International Society of Improvising Musicians” in Toronto, Canada as well as toured to Michigan and Wisconsin. As a winner of the 2016 Artist Initiative Grant by the Minnesota State Arts Board, he is in the process of completing an Electric Bassoon Concerto for Orchestra. He lives in North Minneapolis.
Jay Eisenberg, Theatre Teacher
Jay Owen Eisenberg is an actor, writer, director and arts educator based in Minneapolis by way of New York City and Los Angeles. He is a teaching artist with the Guthrie Theater and Children’s Theatre Company, and a frequent collaborator with Pillsbury House + Theatre (≈[almost equal to], Breaking Ice, Chicago Avenue Project) and Mixed Blood Theatre (On Our Own Terms, Charm, HIR), where he also serves as the Transgender Community Organizer. Jay has recently worked with Open Eye Figure Theatre on Constance in the Darkness, as well as his solo show, BIG OLD ROCK. He is the recipient of a 2018 A.R.T. Residency, a 2017 MSAB Artist Initiative Grant, and a 2016 SPACE on Ryder Farm Residency. Jay received his BFA in Drama from NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Experimental Theatre Wing, and he is a proud member of both AEA/SAG-AFTRA. As a writer, he is represented by Alloy Entertainment, where he has a children’s book and a YA novel in the works.
Paul Fonfara, Instrumental Music Teacher
Paul Fonfara is an accomplished professional musician and teacher with over 20 years of experience. He received his Bachelors of Arts in Music from the University of Colorado Boulder.
Penelope Freeh, Dance Teacher
Penelope Freeh is a St. Paul-based dancer, choreographer, teacher and writer. In 2010 she won a McKnight Artist Fellowship for Choreographers and a SAGE Award for Outstanding Performer. Previous awards include a McKnight Artist Fellowship for Dancers (1998), a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship (1998), two Career Opportunity Grants (1999, 2001) and an Artist Initiative Grant (2012) and a Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant (2001). Penelope danced for James Sewell Ballet for seventeen years, serving as Artistic Associate from 2007–2011. She has set the company’s repertory on Portland Opera, Alaska Dance Theatre, Houston’s Earthen Vessels and California’s Company C among others. Her choreography has been commissioned by: James Sewell Ballet, Minnesota Orchestra, 3-Legged Race, the Walker Art Center/Southern Theater’s Momentum, the Weisman Art Museum, Minnesota Ballet, Skylark Opera and Russia’s Link Vostok Dance Festival among others. She has twice been presented by New York City’s Ballet Builders. Residencies include: Minnesota Dance Lab (Regional Dance Development Initiative) at the College of St. Benedict, St. Catherine University, Carleton College, the University of MN, MN State University, the Reif Center in Grand Rapids, MN, St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists and the Perpich Center for Arts Education. Penelope is affiliate faculty at the University of Minnesota and Zenon Dance School. She is summer faculty at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in MI. She is a Walker Art Center blogger for Dance. Her next project, Test Pilot, a dance opera in collaboration with composer Jocelyn Hagen, will premiere in September 2014 as part of The O’Shaughnessy Women of Substance Series.
Carmelita Guse, Vocal Arts Teacher
Carmelita Guse has performed with The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company Summer Concert (Minneapolis, MN) as Peep Bo in The Mikado, as Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance, and as Josephine in HMS Pinafore. She also sang the role of Antonia in Minneapolis-based Mixed Precipitation Theatre’s production of The Tales of Hoffmann. She was a soprano soloist in the premiere of Missa Aurea in New Hope, MN, and she is a frequent soloist at Faith Temple Church in Sioux Falls, SD. She has also sung with the Minnesota Opera Chorus, CORO! (an ensemble of soloists), Minnesota Chorale, Skylark Opera, the Minnesota Concert Opera Chorus, and the Bravo Singers. As part of the Bravo Singers, Carmelita performed in an opera education program for elementary school students. The program was based on the Three Little Pigs story. Carmelita wrote the show and also sang the role of Pig 1. She has performed solo recitals in Waterloo, IA, Minneapolis, MN, Springfield, MO, and Sioux Falls, SD and has been a featured soloist in several concerts in Minneapolis and Sioux Falls. She has a Bachelor of Music Education from Evangel University, Master of Music in Vocal Performance from the University of Northern Iowa, and she taught voice for 5 years at North Central University in Minneapolis.
Timothy Herian, Dance Teacher
Timothy Herian began his dance training at age 15 at a small dance studio in his home town of Port Washington, Wisconsin. Timothy went on to graduate from the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities with a BFA in dance. While at the U of M, Timothy performed works by Donald Byrd, Nora Chipaumire, Carl Flink, Penny Freeh, Uri Sands, Marciano Silva Dos Santos, and Arnie Zane. As a student, Timothy was a founding member of Contempo Physical Dance, and also performed with Threads Dance Project. Timothy is a two-time University Research Opportunity Program grant recipient for his dance research with Linda Talcott Lee, and Ananya Chatterjea. After graduating, Timothy spent time in New York Performing with Forces of Nature Dance Theatre, and Project 44. After returning to the Twin Cities in 2014, Timothy has performed with Ananya Dance Theatre, Arena Dances, Black Label Movement, Contempo, Eclectic Edge Ensemble, and Threads. Timothy was honored to be among the performers to receive the Sage Award for best performance in 2015, for their work on the Lost Voices in Jazz project.
Judith James Ries, Dance Teacher
Judith spent eleven years performing and touring nationally with JAZZDANCE! by Danny Buraczeski as soloist, principal dancer and company member. Most recently she has performed with Joanne Spencer and Dana Kassel at Choreographer’s Evening 2013 and Rhythmically Speaking 2014. She currently teaches jazz dance at Hamline University, Concordia University and Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists. Additionally, she has been a guest instructor at the University of Minnesota, Macalester College and Gustavus Adolphus College. As a choreographer, James Ries’s work has been produced by Zenon Dance Company, Hamline University Dance Ensemble, Eclectic Edge Ensemble and Park Square Theater. James Reis’s J-Term project investigates the Beatnik era through dance, poetry and live music.
Sam Johnson, Dance Teacher
Sam is a Minneapolis-based performance maker and doer. He received a B. S. in Dance from Skidmore College and is currently pursuing an MFA in Performing Arts in Dance at University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. He has worked with a number of choreographers including Daniel Linehand, Mariah Maloney, Justin Jones, Judith Howard, BodyCartography Project and Angharad Davies. Mr. Johnson is a cofounder of the performance collective SuperGroup.
Jessica Johnston, Vocal Arts Accompanist
Jessica Johnston recently received her M.M. in Collaborative Piano and Coaching from the University of Minnesota. Based in the Twin Cities, she enjoys working with singers and instrumentalists as a coach and collaborator. Recent performance highlights include Ned Rorem’s Evidence of Things Not Seen, a solo harpsichord recital, and Mozart’s Kegelstatt Trio. As a teacher, Johnston helps students become independent learners by grounding her teaching in practice principles, music theory, and technique.
Debi Kilde, Musical Theatre Teacher
Debi is a graduate of Bethel University in St. Paul where she earned a degree in Musical Theater. She has been singing professionally since college and most recently appeared in “Ring of Fire: the Life and Music of Johnny Cash” with Troupe America and “The Doyle and Debbie Show” with Actors Theater of Minnesota. Other Twin Cities and Minnesota credits include: Old Log Theater, History Theater, Nautlius Music Theater, Illusion Theater, Jon Hassler Theater, Hennepin Stages, Theater Mu, Jungle Theater, Paul Bunyan Playhouse and Skylark Opera. In addition to performing, Debi works as a makeup artist for MAC cosmetics and as a group fitness instructor for the YMCA.
Eric Kilpela, Instrumental Music Teacher
Eric was born and raised in the Twin Cities and has been part of its music scene his whole life. After starting his musical studies in elementary school, Eric graduated with his BA in music performance from the University of St. Thomas. Although his primary instrument is the guitar, he enjoys playing drums, bass, mandolin, and piano. Eric has enjoyed work as a studio musician, pit musician for musicals/plays, composer, accompanist, performer, and rock star.
Sarah Leitzke, Vocal Arts Accompanist
Music has always been important in the life of Sarah Leitzke. At the age of 6, she began taking piano lessons and fell in love with making music. When she got a little older, she took up the alto saxophone, and excelled! She was awarded the Woody Herman Jazz Award and the Semper Fidelis Award from the Marine Corp for her excellence in music and music leadership. Sarah’s music life took a lull when she first attended the University of Minnesota in pursuit of a degree in Political Science and Communication Studies. However, she was invited to sing at her church’s services, and was asked to take over all responsibility in leading the bands after only a year! Since then, Sarah has become a student at North Central University pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in General Music. Sarah is a soprano, and loves singing genres as disparate as opera, musical theater, and contemporary. She also excels at piano accompaniment, and received a certificate in Vocal Pedagogy studying the techniques of Richard Miller and Kirsten Flagstad.
Joel Liestman, Musical Theatre Teacher
Joel has been called “one of the Twin Cities’ most talented singer/actors” and “consistently excellent.” His 20 year career has taken him all over the United States and Japan. He has performed with nautilus Music-Theater in the one-man musical The View from Here, as well as Joan of Arc, Carousel, The Apple Tree, Man of La Mancha, the Ivey Award-winning I am Anne Frank, and in dozens of ROUGH CUTS programs. At the Guthrie Theater, he’s been in A View from the Bridge, the world premiere of The Master Butcher Singing Club, My Fair Lady, and understudied 1776. He’s appeared at the Ordway Center in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Cinderella, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Sound of Music, and seven installments of the very popular Broadway Songbook series. Other Twin Cities credits include This Side of Paradise (History Theatre), My Antonia (Illusion Theater), Mr. McGee & the Biting Flea (Children’s Theatre), King of Hearts (Theater Latte Da), Skiing on Broken Glass (Still Standing Prod./MN Fringe), Gangster No. 1 and The Grand National (The E.S.C.), and A Servants’ Christmas (History Theatre). His film credits include “How to Live Better” (ETS Productions), “Look Busy” (Greedy Falcon Films), and “Still Life” (Red Ant Productions). On TV, he has appeared on Comedy Central’s “Trigger Happy TV” and “Upright Citizens Brigade” and in numerous commercials.
Jill Lile, Dance Teacher
Jill has been educating dancers since the age of 15. She has a lifelong interest in dance and dance education which she has pursued by teaching at all levels. After receiving her early training in Omaha and with the Royal Academy of Dancing in London, England, as well as scholarships with San Francisco Ballet School, and Banff Center for the Performing Arts, she went on to dance with the Madison Ballet. She then studied dance at Texas Christian University, getting her Bachelors of Fine Arts followed by her Masters of Fine Arts in dance. She has danced with Omaha Ballet, Ft. Worth Ballet, Illinois Dance Theatre ( where she worked with Anna Sokolow), and Beverly Blossom and Dancers. At Ballet Arts MN she performed Antony Tudor’s Judgement of Paris under the direction of Sallie Wilson. Jill Lile has twice been a recipient of the Craft of Choreography Conference Award with the National Association for Regional Ballet. She served as Assistant Professor of Dance at Creighton University for 5 years, and taught dance at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. She has participated in the dance teacher training program with Irene Dowd at the National Ballet of Canada School since 2002. In Minnesota she has taught ballet at Ballet Arts MN, Minnesota Dance Theatre, St. Paul Conservatory for the Performing Arts, and DanceWorks. Besides her career in dance, she is a chiropractor and acupuncturist specializing in the prevention and treatment of dance injuries.
Whitney McClusky, Dance Teacher
Whitney began studying African dance twelve years ago at The Djoniba Dance and Drum Center in New York where she studied with Master dancers from West Africa, including members of Les Mervielles de Guinea and Les Ballets Africains. Since then, she has had the opportunity to travel to Senegal and Guinea to deepen her knowledge of West African Dance. In 2009, she established Duniya Drum & Dance, a local performance group and organization in support of African drum and dance in the Twin Cities. Currently she serves as Director of Duniya and teaches within in the Minnesota school systems, as well as weekly classes at Patrick’s Cabaret.
Patricia McPherson, Vocal Arts Accompanist
Patricia McPherson is an active soloist and chamber musician in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Her solo performances have included appearances with the Minnetonka Symphony Orchestra, the Eastern Music Festival Young Artist Orchestras, the Raleigh Symphony, and the University of North Carolina Symphony. She has appeared at the Oregon Piano Festival and was a regional winner and national finalist in the Music Teacher’s National Association Young Artist Competition. In the summer of 2010 and 2011, Ms. McPherson was the festival accompanist at the Somerset International Children’s Choral Festival in Sherborne, England. McPherson holds a M.M. degree from UNC-Chapel Hill and a B.M. from Boston University where she was a student of Bela Nagy. She also was a faculty member of the Eastern Music Festival in Greensboro, North Carolina, where she supervised the festival’s accompanying program. Currently on the faculty of the Saint Paul Conservatory of Music, as well as maintaining a private studio at home and at Visitation School in Mendota Heights, McPherson collaborates with several Twin Cities choirs, including Partners in Praise Girls Choir and the Music Association of Minnetonka Youth Choir Program.
Suzy Messerole, Theatre Teacher
Suzy is a freelance director that has been working in the Twin Cities for the past 15 years, as well as the co-Artistic Director of Exposed Brick Theatre. Her artistic passion is directing new work. At the History Theatre, she has directed the world premieres of Jeany Park’s 100 Men’s Wife, Kevin Kling’s A Tale of Twin Cities and Aamera Siddiqui’s American as Curry Pie, which she co-directed with Meena Natarajan. Other favorite projects include Stacey Parshall’s Shipside for Exposed Brick and Allison Moore’s Split for the University of MN/Guthrie Theatre BFA program. Suzy is a recipient of a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative grant, through which she wrote Venus Nefanda, and a Jerome Foundation Naked Stages Performing Arts fellowship, through which she co-created Draw Two Circles with frequent collaborator Aamera Siddiqui. She has performed at the 2006 Women Playwrights International Conference in Indonesia, the 2008 Asian American Theatre Conference Showcase in Minneapolis, and the 2009 WPI Conference in India. She directed the 2011 production of Four Destinies for Mu Performing Arts.
Kaleena Miller, Dance Teacher
Kaleena Miller is co-director of the Twin Cities Tap Festival and director of Kaleena Miller Dance. She is a founding member of Rhythmic Circus, and toured extensively with the group from 2009-2017. Kaleena is a 2015 McKnight Dance Fellow and was named one of DANCE Magazine’s “25 to Watch” in 2016. She has received funding from the Jerome Foundation and Minnesota State Arts Board, and has been commissioned to create work for the Walker Art Center, Southern Theater, Wayzata Symphony Orchestra, Hear Here! Festival, and SPCPA. Kaleena recently worked with Derick Grant on a solo, commissioned by the McKnight Fellowship. In 2016, she spent a month in solo residency at Air Le Parc in Pampelonne, France. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a BFA in Dance, and credits Char Weiss and Karla Grotting for her tap training, with additional training from Roxane Butterly, Heather Cornell, Derick Grant and Sam Weber.
Shon Parker, Vocal Arts Teacher
Shon Parker is a diverse vocalist, arranger and educator with a variety of experience in styles including pop, rock, opera, classical, and jazz. He earned his M.M. in Performance from Western Michigan University and his B.A. in Music from Washington State University where he also had a minor in Jazz studies. Shon has performed in venues across the country including the Isaac Stern Auditorium in Carnegie Hall, The Appel Room at the Frederick P. Rose Hall at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the International Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, OH. He has created, directed, adjudicated, and presented at multiple Jazz festivals across the country and has a love for all genres in singing. Shon currently serves as adjunct faculty at the University of St. Thomas and Augsburg University. He is a member of ACDA.
Aaron Preusse, Theatre Teacher
Aaron received honors of Advanced Gold with Recommendation from the British Academy of Dramatic Combat and is also an Advanced Actor Combatant with the Society of American Fight Directors. In addition to performing locally and regionally, Aaron has created fights for The Mammals Theater Company, UW Marathon County, Eat Street Players, Lyric Arts Company of Anoka, Concordia University of St Paul and Visitation School/VISTA Productions. He has worked on the film Profile of Killer where he was both Stunt Coordinator and Stunt Double. Aaron was also a precision stunt driver for the movie Thin Ice. Aaron is a graduate of the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
Kory Pullam, Theatre Teacher
Kory LaQuess Pullam was born and raised on the west side of Corpus Christi, Texas. He earned his BFA at Stephen F. Austin State University in 2013. Since moving to the Twin Cities that year, Kory has worked with the Guthrie Theater, Children’s Theatre Company, Penumbra Theatre Company, Ten Thousand Things Theatre, Park Square Theatre, Pillsbury House Theatre, History Theatre, Brave New Workshop, Walking Shadow Theatre Company, Theatre Pro Rata, Girl Friday Productions, and much more. Kory is the founding artistic director of Underdog Theatre. He is also a founding member of Blackout Improv, the premiere Black comedy troupe of the Twin Cities. Most recently, Kory is the new Education Manager at Penumbra Theatre Company where he oversees Summer Institute and RACE Workshop programming.
Sara Schwabe Robinson, Theatre Teacher
Sara is an actor, singer, and vocal coach recently relocated to the Twin Cities following a faculty appointment at Arizona State University. With a belief in uniting the performer’s voice, body, and mind, Ms. Schwabe teaches from a variety of disciplines. She has trained with SITI Company, Peter Sellars, David Barker, Rachel Bowditch, Bonnie Eckard, Micha Espinosa, and Joan Melton. As an actor, Ms. Schwabe has worked throughout the Southeast and Arizona. She was a resident artist with the Actors Co-op (Knoxville, TN) from 1998 – 2008. She is also the co-founder of the Global Cabaret interactive performance events, and is the leader of Sara Schwabe & Her Yankee Jass Band. Ms. Schwabe was a featured speaker at the VASTA voice conference in Mexico City 2010 and the recipient of the Meritorious Achievement in Acting award from the Kennedy Center in 2011. Ms. Schwabe is a member of VASTA, NATS, and Phi Kappa Phi. She received an MFA in Performance (Acting) from Arizona State University and holds a BA in Vocal Performance from the College of St. Benedict.
Stephen Schroeder, Dance Teacher
Stephen Schroeder has been performing professionally since 1996. During that time he’s danced with numerous companies including Zenon Dance Company, Minnesota Dance Theater, TU Dance, Penelope Freeh, Shapiro and Smith Dance, ARENA Dances, Sean Curran Company, The Minnesota Opera, and Interweave Dance Theater. Encompassing Modern, Jazz, Ballet and many more styles along the way, he’s shared his experiences locally, nationally, and internationally. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Colorado-Boulder and currently resides in Nowthen, MN with his wife, daughter, twin sons, and menagerie of animals. Constantly seeking presence and clarity.
Laura Selle Virtucio, Dance Teacher
Laura holds a BFA from the University of Minnesota. Among her greatest accomplishments she counts her long partnership as a company member and choreographers’ assistant with Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theatre and Shapiro & Smith Dance. With these companies, Laura has danced as a featured performer on stages nationwide, including the Joyce Theater (NY), Annenberg Center (PA), the Guthrie (MN) and The Southern Theater (MN) and has set numerous repertory works across the country. Laura is also a member of Carl Flink’s Black Label Movement and has performed as a dancer in productions with the Minnesota Opera. She has served as affiliate faculty in dance programs at the University of Minnesota and Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota. Laura is a recipient of the 2007 McKnight Fellowship for Dancers, a 2007 Sage Award for Best Performer, and was named Best Dancer in 2001 by City Pages of Minneapolis.
Aamera Siddiqui, Theatre Teacher
Aamera was born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to South Asian – Muslim parents. By age thirteen, she had resided in Tanzania, Zambia, the United States and Yemen. Her experiences with and exposure to numerous cultures, languages, religions and political conflicts have culminated in a life as a playwright residing in Saint Paul, MN. Siddiqui has had the pleasure of working with theater companies including Illusion Theater, Mixed Blood, Pillsbury House Theater, Pangea World Theater and more. In 2005, she co-founded Exposed Brick Theatre which is dedicated to telling the untold story and giving voice to marginalized and silenced communities. She’s written over 60 customized educational plays for K-12 schools which address school climate issues including xenophobia, racism, ableism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and bullying. From 2006 to 2008, she was a two-time recipient of the Many Voices Fellowship during which time she wrote my first full-length play titled CHUP. In 2008, Siddiqui was selected as a featured playwright at The National Asian-American Theater Conference. Two years later, she wrote her one-woman show, “American as Curry Pie,” which premiered at the History Theater in 2011. In 2014, Siddiqui received a prestigious Artist Initiative grant and created “Freedom Daze” which was produced at Intermedia Arts in 2015. In 2016, she received a Cultural Community Partnership grant to create “CLOTH,” a play that explores a womens relationships to cloth covering and choice and the many factors influencing that choice. In 2016, she wrote another full-length play titled “Please Dont Feed the Children” which was commissioned by Pangea World Theater. As a South-Asian-American-Muslim woman raised everywhere but home, Siddiqui’s entire existence has been in the discomfort zone. Therefore, her plays exist in the hyphens in the intersections where racial, cultural, religious and gender identities meet with politics and patriarchy. Her own experiences and identities inform her work and as a side effect, her plays challenge single narratives that have been prescribed by popular and dominant cultures.
Ashley Sievers, Vocal Arts Department Chair
Iowa native Ashley Sievers is a free-lance singer and teacher in the Minneapolis area. She received a Bachelor of Music in Music Education from Iowa State University. At Iowa State, she sang under the direction of Dr. James Rodde and studied voice with Janet Alcorn, a member of the McClosky Institute of Voice. Prior to relocating to the Twin Cities, Ashley directed a high school choral program, where she conducted concert choir, show choir, musical theater ensembles, and taught voice lessons to middle and high school students. Ashley recently completed her Master’s degree in Voice Performance at the University of Minnesota, where she was a student of Jean del Santo. Recent performance credits include The Bartered Bride, The Cunning Little Vixen, and Le Nozze di Figaro (University of Minnesota), The Merry Widow, and Carmen (Northern Lights Opera). Ashley has also performed with the Minnesota Opera Chorus for their productions of The Magic Flute, Dead Man Walking, and Thais.
Justin Spooner, Theatre Teacher
Justin comes to us via the world-renowned Open Eye Figure Theatre, where he is an artistic associate. Open Eye is one of the leading authentic and legitimate theaters for professional puppeteers in the country. Justin is teacher, director, designer, and performer. He is an alumnus of the Abandoned Practices Institute, through the School of the Art Institute Chicago. Justin holds a BA in Theatre Arts from the University of Minnesota.
Elly Stahlke, Musical Theatre Teacher
Elly grew up dancing both competitively and non-competitively at various Twin Cities dance studios. She graduated from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, studying Theatre Arts and Dance, finishing with a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Performance. Elly is currently a performer and teaching artist in various capacities throughout the Twin Cities. She teaches and choreographs for several studios in the area, as well as teaching theatre and dance for several companies like Chanhassen Dinner Theatres and Hennepin Theatre Trust.
Joe Strahan, Dance Accompanist
Joe Strachan is a pianist in the Twin Cities area. Joe performs with the Courageous, Endeavors, Twin Cities Latin Jazz Orchestra, Charanga Tropical, Adam Meckler Orchestra, The Graydon Peterson Quartet, Mina Moore, and many other groups. As a session player he has added keyboards to records by Big Cats! and Moon and Pollution. In 2009 Joe won the prestigious Schubert Club Jazz Piano Competition. Also that year he was also a member of the Minnesota Youth Jazz Ensemble which toured Europe performing at the Montreux Jazz Festival as well as venues in France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. Joe went to the University of Minneosta graduating in 2013. In 2015 Joe traveled to Cuba with Charanga tropical and recorded a cd in Havana. In the Twin Cities Joe has performed at virtually every venue of note including First Avenue, The Dakota Jazz Club, Artists Quarter, Studio Z, Icehouse, MacPhail Center for Music, and the Twin Cities Jazz Festival.
Darrius Strong, Dance Teacher
Darrius Strong is a Dancer/Choreographer. Darrius received his BFA in dance from the University of Minnesota. Darrius found his love for teaching and choreography at a small dance studio called Rhythm and Shoes located in West St. Paul. At Rhythm and Shoes, Darrius had the privilege of teaching choreography to kids at the age of 5-12, teens, as well as adults. Darrius began his training in other styles of dance in 2012. Since, he has performed in works created by Uri Sands, Carl Flink, Penny Freeh, Kenna Cottman, Larry Keigwin, Scott Rink, Joanna Rosenthal, Gregory Dolbshain, Maurya Kerr and even the legendary Martha Graham Dance Company. In 2013, Darrius choreographed “Restless Conscious” which was selected as part of the 2013 production of Rhythmically Speaking at the Southern Theater. “Restless Conscious” was Darrius’s first contemporary work. Although hip hop was still present in this work, other styles such as Modern and Ballet were also incorporated. Inspiration for this piece came after the first year in the dance program at the University of Minnesota; learning about new styles and new ways of expressing himself through choreography. In 2014, he created a duet called “Is There Only One Way.” The same year, this duet was chosen to represent the University of Minnesota at the American College Dance Festival (ACDA) in Milwaukee, WI. “Is There Only Way” was also performed at the U of M Dance Theater’s Spring Concert. In fall of 2014, Darrius was one of the choreographer’s chosen to show his most recent work “Piece by Piece” at the Walker Arts Production Choreographers Evening.
Amber Swenson, Vocal Arts Teacher
Amber Swenson has enjoyed an international singing and acting career that has taken her to many interesting and thriving arts communities– including London, New York, the Republic of Congo, Washington DC, and Kenya. She has been teaching voice for over 15 years. She can be heard on her world music album, Sans Frontières, which was produced and recorded in Brazzaville, Congo with her band Muningu. Amber has sung cabaret in New York and Boston, jazz in London and the Congo, and world music at National and International Festivals. Amber has performed with numerous theater companies regionally and locally including The Jungle, The History Theatre, The Playwrights Center, Actors Theatre of MN, the Paul Bunyan Playhouse, Riverside Theater, Creede Repertory and many other small-mid size companies. Amber holds a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education and Theater from Cornell College (2005), a Master’s degree in Musical Theater from The Boston Conservatory (2008), where she studied with Monique Phinney. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Theatre Arts from Kenyatta University (Nairobi, Kenya) where she acted as adjunct faculty for the Theatre department. While living in New York city, Amber studied with Metropolitan Opera singer Claudia Catania and renown vocal coach, and arranger and composer Michael Dansicker (16-Bar Theatre Audition Series). Amber Swenson has enjoyed an international singing and acting career that has taken her to many interesting and thriving arts communities– including London, New York, the Republic of Congo, Washington DC, and Kenya. She has been teaching voice for over 15 years. She can be heard on her world music album, Sans Frontières, which was produced and recorded in Brazzaville, Congo with her band Muningu. Amber has sung cabaret in New York and Boston, jazz in London and the Congo, and world music at National and International Festivals. Amber has performed with numerous theater companies regionally and locally including The Jungle, The History Theatre, The Playwrights Center, Actors Theatre of MN, the Paul Bunyan Playhouse, Riverside Theater, Creede Repertory and many other small-mid size companies. Amber holds a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education and Theater from Cornell College (2005), a Master’s degree in Musical Theater from The Boston Conservatory (2008), where she studied with Monique Phinney. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Theatre Arts from Kenyatta University (Nairobi, Kenya) where she acted as adjunct faculty for the Theatre department. While living in New York city, Amber studied with Metropolitan Opera singer Claudia Catania and renown vocal coach, and arranger and composer Michael Dansicker (16-Bar Theatre Audition Series).
Joseph Tran, Dance Teacher
Joseph “MN Joe” Tran is a professional breaker of 14 years. He is known for his unique dynamic power moves which have helped him secure 1st place titles in Italy, France, the Netherlands, California, Washington and Minnesota. A recent graduate at The Meta Institute and a certified NLP Practitioner and Therapeutic Coach©, MN Joe hopes to use his experience as a dancer and coach to assist others in achieving their excellence.
Michael Vasich, Instrumental Music Department Chair
Originally from Chicagoland, Mike transplanted to Minnesota to study at Macalester College, where he graduated from with a B.A. in Music in 2005. While at Macalester, Mike studied classical piano with Donald Betts and Mark Mazullo, jazz piano with Ellen Lease and Benny Weinbeck, and composition and theory with Marjorie Merryman. As a performer, Mike has played locally and nationally with his group Orange Mighty Trio (OMT), and continues to play locally with OMT, the jazz quartet Toni Wolff’s Dream Wedding, and the video game cover outlet Nerd Enhanced Sound. As a composer, Mike has written many works in both the traditional and electronic realms, and has had his pieces featured in movies by filmmakers Joe and Kris Swanberg, Jeff Lipsky, and David Lowery. As a teacher, Mike specializes in jazz pedagogy and music theory, and completed his music licensure and M.A. in Teaching at The University of St. Thomas in 2015. Other than his work at SPCPA, Mike is Studio Faculty at Macalester College in Jazz Piano, and Music Director of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in St. Paul.
Keely Wolter, Theatre Teacher
Keely Wolter holds an MA in Voice Studies from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London where she was influenced heavily by the work of Cicely Berry, Barbara Houseman, and Kristen Linklater. There she completed her dissertation on the Original Elizabethan Pronunciation and its uses in contemporary Shakespeare productions. She has served as a voice and accent coach with the University of Minnesota/Guthrie BFA Actor Training Program, Theater Latte Da, Childrens Theater Company, Walking Shadow Theater Company, Torch Theater, Classical Actors Ensemble, Gremlin Theatre, 20% Theatre Company, St. Olaf College, Lyric Arts Main Street Stage, North Hennepin Community College, Mounds Park Academy, Minnetonka Theater, Minnehaha Academy, and many others. Keely is also a voice and stage actor, member of VASTA (the Voice and Speech Trainers Association).
Ian Zahren, Musical Theatre Teacher
Ian Zahren is a Minneapolis based teaching artist. He is ecstatic to be back at SPCPA after a 3-year hiatus. Ian is an accomplished composer, director and vocal artist, but his main passion is arts education. Ian is also a teaching artist at Children’s Theatre Company, Youth Performance Company and Stages Theatre Company. Ian is also the artistic director of the Iowa Youth Performance Company, an Iowa-based nonprofit whose mission is to bring arts education and youth-centered performance work to Iowa communities.