Academy Teachers & Staff

Full-time Academy Faculty & Staff

Katie Cummings (Academy Director) started at First Stage in 2011 where she directs, teaches and holds the position of Academy Director.  She found a love for theater at an early age and graduated with a B.A. in Theater and Business from Cardinal Stritch University. A Wisconsin native, Katie spent her professional career working at various theaters in the area holding the position of Resident Director at St. Joseph High School in Kenosha for eight years. She’s worked with Bunny Gumbo, UWM College for Kids, Chamber Theater and other nonprofits. Katie believes that theatre is a place to create character, hone communication skills, enhance team work and most importantly build confidence. Contact Katie at (414) 267-2979 or 

John Maclay (Associate Artistic Director/Director of the Young Company) is an actor, director, teacher and now playwright who has spent the past 15 years working professionally in Milwaukee and Chicago. At First Stage, he proudly serves as Associate Artistic Director and Director of the Young Company. Mr. Maclay has been working with First Stage in one form or other since 2000 and has directed or appeared in more than 25 First Stage productions as well as having produced more than 50 productions for the First Stage high school programs. Mr. Maclay is also an adaptor of literature for the stage. In the 2013-14 season, John's adaptations of ANATOLE (co-written with Lee Becker and James Valcq) and NANCY DREW AND HER BIGGEST CASE EVER (co-written with First Stage Artistic Director Jeff Frank) will receive their professional world premieres. His work has also been seen at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Defiant Theatre, Bunny Gumbo, Bialystock and Bloom, Skylight Music Theatre and more. Mr. Maclay is a proud member of Actor's Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Theatre at Carthage College in Kenosha, WI. Contact John at (414) 267-2974 or

Brenna Kempf (Associate Academy Director/Director of Next Steps) has been teaching with First Stage since Summer 2012, and joined the Academy office full time in 2015. Brenna has always loved working with young people, and is delighted to work with a company that encourages creativity, compassion, and change in our community. Previously, she taught as an adjunct teaching artist with First Stage's Education Department and The Milwaukee Rep. She has also assistant directed with First Stage and Milwaukee Youth Theatre. Performance credits: Riverside Theatre in the Park (Iowa City, IA), Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, First Stage, Splinter Group, and more. Brenna is a proud 2013 graduate of UW-Parkside's Theatre Arts program. Contact Brenna at (414) 267-2969 or

Shaqita Crockett (Family Partnership Coordinator) is thrilled to join the First Stage Theater Academy team as the Family Partnership Coordinator. Her transition from Front Desk Receptionist for the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center and First Stage Box Office Representative has been an easy one to make. She is a fellow First Stage parent, and has a lot of experience working with non-profit organizations and families. She is excited to get to know all of our new and returning families. Stop by the Academy office and say hello! Contact Shaqita at (414) 267-2973 or

Samantha Montgomery (Resident Teaching Artistis a performance artist who is committed to the process of learning. Teaching is her passion. She has taught in both traditional and non-traditional settings. She is a licensed educator and an acting coach. She has worked for Milwaukee Public Schools and parochial/private schools in the Milwaukee County area. She is grateful for the opportunity to work with First Stage Academy.  She believes that theater is a powerful instrument that can be used to educate and change the hearts and minds of people around the world. Samantha has earned a M.S. from the University of Wisconsin and a M.A. from Alverno College in Education. Contact Samantha at

Mitch Bultman (Resident Teaching Artist Administrator) has been a part of the First Stage family for many years and is delighted to be joining First Stage full time as a Resident Teaching Artist Administrator! He's been involved with the academy for many years and in many different capacities, including student, Young Company member, main stage and first steps performer, intern, teaching assistant, Assistant Headmaster, Headmaster, teacher, and now as a Resident Teaching Artist. Beyond his passion for teaching theater for young people, Mitch is a professional actor and holds a BFA in acting from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. In addition Mitch studied and performed at Shakespeare's Globe Theater in London. Contact Mitch at

Giana Blazquez (Teaching Artist Fellow) is excited to continue her love of Theater for Young Audiences this year with First Stage! She grew up in Orlando, FL and recently graduated from Rollins College with a B.A. in Theater & Dance. In Orlando she worked as a teaching artist and assistant director/choreographer with the Orlando Repertory Theatre. Performance credits include but are not limited to: Ensemble/Dance Captain (HELLO, DOLLY!), Mayzie LaBird (SEUSSICAL), Hot Box Girl (GUYS & DOLLS), and Candy Cottingham (WORKING). Giana can’t wait to see the creativity that the First Stage students bring to the table.

Summer 2016 Seasonal Faculty & Staff

Marvette Andrews (Lead Teacher) is a local professional actress and choreographer. She is a founding member and Company Manager for Bronzeville Arts Ensemble and a proud member of Actors Equity Association and SAG/AFTRA unions. She is a graduate of San Diego State University with a B.A. in Acting. First Stage Theatre appearances include: GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS, THE THREE LITTLE PIGS, A MIDNIGHT CRY, and TO THE PROMISE LAND. Other recent appearances include: THE MOJO and THE SAYSO-Bronzeville Arts Ensemble/Theatre Lila; THE BALLAD OF EMMETT TILL- Renaissance Theatreworks; and SUITCASE DREAMS- Theatre Lila. She is a recipient of a Theatre Circle Kudos Award and a Katherine Dunham Award for choreography. Film credits include: JINGLE ALL THE WAY, CROSSING THE BRIDGE, LAUREL AVENUE, CHURCH AND STATE, and HERMAN, USA. She is a wife, mom to five and could eat her way out of room filled with popcorn.

Allie Babich (Lead Teacher) A longtime (and proud!) “First Stage Kid,” Allie graduated summa cum laude from the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program. Since then, she has performed Shakespeare in parking lots, bars, and at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. She also recently toured the Southwest as the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s first female Hamlet. Other credits include Northern Sky Theatre, Optimist Theatre, the Minnesota Centennial Showboat, and her own company: BARd Shakes. Allie will make her Skylight debut this fall as the title character in VIOLET, and is thrilled to return to the Todd Wehr for First Stage’s ROBIN HOOD! More info at

J.T. Backes (Lead Teacher) could not be more excited to be returning to First Stage’s amazing Summer Academy to teach Improvisation! He has been teaching both long and short form improv for five years. He first started teaching at Viterbo University where he created three improv teams. Currently, he is working for First Stage’s Education department as a lead teacher. When he is not teaching he enjoys directing/acting in shows. Recent credits include: All In Productions: ORDINARY DAYS (Directed), THE SHAPE OF THINGS (Adam) and DOGFIGHT (Bernstein); First Stage: JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, BIG FISH, RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER™: THE MUSICAL and SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS; Milwaukee Repertory Theatre: A CHRISTMAS CAROL and RICHARD III. Films: DREAMERS, directed, composed, and co-wrote (Best Script, Milwaukee Short Film Festival). He can’t wait to get this summer started! 

Liza Basso (Lead Teacher) is thrilled to be a part of another season of First Stage Academy! Liza has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Saint Louis University, with a double major in Theatre and Education.  She founded her own youth dance and theater camps, Backyard Players, which have been ongoing for nine summers. Liza directed a TYA production entitled THE BULLY PLAYS, which toured to middle schools around the Saint Louis/ Illinois area.  This past year she taught Musical Theater in Academy at First Stage, was the Program Facilitator of Theater and Recreation at Kluge Elementary’s Community Learning Center Program, and taught at Danceworks, Inc. with its MadHot Ballroom program.  She looks forward to continuing her mission to help build characters on and off the stage!

Maggie Bridges (Lead Teacher) is a Milwaukee native and has been involved with First Stage since the early 2000s as a student, performer, and now teacher. She holds a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University's John Wells Directing Program where she focused on theater for young audiences. She spent two and a half years teaching theater and art in southwestern Morocco with the United States Peace Corps and is currently pursuing her master's degree from the University of Texas at Austin in community-based art education. She's excited this summer has found her back in Milwaukee and working with First Stage!

Cassidy Buenz (Teaching Apprentice) is so excited to be coming back to First Stage as a Teaching Apprentice after previously participating in First Stage as a student, intern, and performer. She just finished her first year as an acting major at Columbia College in Chicago, IL. Some of her favorite First Stage roles have been The Misfit Doll in RUDOLFPH and Maria in TWELFTH NIGHT.


Mitch Bultman (Headmaster) is thrilled to be back at First Stage this summer! He has been involved with the academy for many years and in many different capacities, including student, Young Company member, main stage and first steps performer, intern, teaching assistant, Assistant Headmaster, teacher, and now Headmaster. Mitch holds a BFA in acting from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University and has studied at Shakespeare's Globe Theater in London. Contact Mitch at

Joey Chelius (Teaching Apprentice) could not be more thrilled to be part of the First Stage Summer Academy team! An actor, singer, guitarist, poet, and songwriter, Joey is a junior in the BFA-Acting program at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. Some of his stage credits include Nicky in AVENUE Q, Leo Bloom in THE PRODUCERS, Peter Quince in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, and Medvedenko in a new translation of Chekhov’s THE SEAGULL. He was also given the guitarist’s seat in the pit orchestra for UWSP’s production of DOGFIGHT. Joey is very excited for this summer and he is more than ready to make some pretty awesome theatre with some really creative and talented young minds!

Niffer Clarke (Company Class Musical Director) is delighted to be a part of First Stage, as a teacher, actor (including ELLA ENCHANTED, BIG FISH, PINKALICIOUS, BIG: THE MUSICAL, THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER, HONK! and NANCY DREW) and, next season, as director of GOOSEBUMPS: THE PHANTOM OF THE AUDITORIUM. As a professional actor, she has appeared Off-Broadway and in regional theatres across the country. In Milwaukee, Niffer has been seen in numerous productions with Splinter Group, Skylight Music Theatre, Off The Wall, Milwaukee Opera Theatre, and Renaissance Theaterworks. Her directing and teaching career is just as extensive and wide-ranging. She co-founded the Conservatory of Performing Arts in Florida, where she taught Acting, Musical Theatre, Music Theory and maintained a private voice and coaching studio. In New York, Niffer directed and choreographed productions in both the public and private school arenas. She has taught and directed numerous summer theatre programs in Florida as well as here in Milwaukee. In Milwaukee, she's directed COMPANY and IVY AND BEAN at Marquette University and SHIPWRECKED: AN ENTERTAINMENT… and STAR EYES AND LIFEGUARD at Splinter Group. Next year, in addition to directing at First Stage, she is directing JACK AND THE BEANSTALK at Cardinal Stritch University.

Maggie Condon (Lead Teacher) A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Maggie is the current Vocal Music and Assistant Drama Director at DeForest Area High School. As a lifelong theater lover, Maggie has been on the stage since she was a child and became involved in behind the scenes work at seventeen when she directed her first production.  Maggie loves to perform, but has found an even deeper love in directing and teaching children to express themselves through music and theater. Maggie's goal is to nurture students' curiosity for theater with understanding, compassion, and enthusiasm by providing them with a place they can explore theater and all the benefits it has to offer. Contact Maggie at (262) 439-5683 or

Hayley Cotton (Lead Teacher)
holds a BA in Theatre Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. This is her third summer teaching with First Stage Summer Academy. Hayley also works for the First Stage Education Department and the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre. Recent acting credits include: Romeo in ROMEO AND JULIET (Bard & Bourbon), Don Pedro in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (Bard & Bourbon), Young Seyward and Witch in MACBETH (Soulstice Theatre), and Ophelia and others in HAMLET (Bard & Bourbon). Hayley will be pursuing her MA in Theatre Education at the University of Northern Colorado this fall. She's ecstatic to spend a few weeks of her last summer in Milwaukee working with this amazing company. 

Brittany Curran (Teaching Apprentice) is so excited to be back at First Stage again this summer!  Brittany holds a BFA degree in Acting and a minor in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  Outside of First Stage, Brittany works as the Educational Outreach Coordinator at Milwaukee Youth Theatre where she also directed STUART LITTLE, STILL LIFE WITH IRIS, SHAKESPEARE’S COMEDIES, and assistant directed SCHOOL HOUSE ROCK.  In addition to her work as a teaching artist, Brittany has acted with several local theatre companies including Pink Banana, The World’s Stage, Renaissance Theaterworks, Milwaukee Metropolitan Voices, Bard and Bourbon, and is a company member at Kohl’s Wild Theater.

Dean Drews (Lead Teacher) has been active in the Milwaukee dance and musical theater community for over thirty years. He holds a BS in Education and an MFA in Dance from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. He has choreographed and/or directed numerous musicals in the Milwaukee community, at Concordia University and has also taught at UW-Milwaukee. He has performed with the Fireside Theatre, Dancecircus, Bauer Contemporary Ballet, Six Flags, Music Under the Stars, the Florentine Opera, the Milwaukee Opera and several Milwaukee community theaters. Dean is the Dance Department chair at the Milwaukee High School of the Arts where he has taught for twenty-five years and also enjoys teaching at Danceworks during the summer. He is delighted to be teaching at First Stage for the first time.

Morgan Dobersek (Teaching Apprentice) is thrilled to be returning to First Stage, this summer!  She was a member of Young Company for three years, where she was apart of the competition team that traveled to the Utah Shakespeare Festival. She was blessed to be a performer in RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER (Snowken) at First Stage in 2014.  This fall, she will be a rising sophomore at Creighton University in Omaha, NE where she is pursuing a double major with a B.F.A. in Musical Theatre and Sociology.  Her favorite performance credits include SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (Nurse), ANTIGONE (Eurydice), THE NUTCRACKER (Party Parent), and various solo concert opportunities at Creighton University.  She is so exited to share everything she learned at First Stage with her students!  

Elyse Edelman (Lead Teacher and Company Class Director) Elyse is thrilled to back this summer teaching Scene Study and directing the Contemporary Company Class! She is incredibly grateful for a relationship with First Stage that has given her opportunities such a Lead Teacher, Summer Headmaster, and Actor. Most recently at First Stage she took a turn as “Mom” and “Grammy” in last season’s LILLY'S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE. As an actor in Wisconsin Elyse has worked with Forward Theater Company, American Players Theatre, Door Shakespeare, and the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Other regional theatre credits include: The Guthrie, Park Square Theatre, People’s Centre Theatre, Minnesota Shakespeare Co. (Minneapolis), the Utah Shakespeare Festival (Cedar City), Chicago Children’s Theatre, The Accidents (Chicago), and Riverside Theatre in the Park (Iowa City). Training: The University of Minnesota/ Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program and the Globe Theatre in London.

Allen Edge (Lead Teacher) has performed his special brand of humor at Zanies in Chicago, Barrel of Laughs, All Jokes Aside, Jokes & Notes in Chicago, U Got Jokes Chicago, Comedy Central’s “Comic Justice,” The Comedy Café in Milwaukee, The Apollo Theatre in New York, and as the opening act for Pattie La Belle, Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, and The O’Jays. Allen D. Edge is a talented actor, director, producer and comedian with over forty years in the performing arts. He’s worked with The Goodman Theatre, E.T.A. Theatre, Victory Gardens Theatre, The Black Ensemble Theatre Company, Portland Stage Company, First Stage, Court Theatre, The Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Geva Theatre Center, Lincoln Amphitheatre, Renaissance Theater Works, and Acacia Theatre Company. He was also featured in a number of commercials and films including BARBER SHOP 2 and Tyler Perry’s “MEET THE BROWNS.” Mr. Edge is also a member of Toastmasters International. Allen is Toastmasters’ District 35 Humorous Speech Champion for 2011 and 2013. Allen has a Bachelors of Arts degree in Theatre from Columbia College Chicago.

Will Esty (Teaching Apprentice) has a long history with First Stage, growing up with the academy and performing in Main Stage productions. He is currently studying at the University of Evansville for a BS in theatre performance, and is very excited to be back to one of the greatest places in the world to help pass on the First Stage tradition to another generation.


Liz Faraglia (Lead Teacher) is so excited to be returning to First Stage for her 2nd summer and 3rd year as a Teaching Artist. In her time with First Stage she has taught a large range of classes from Story Drama and Dance to Audition Prep with ages 5-8. Liz holds two BFA degrees in Acting and Dance from UW-Milwaukee. While living in Milwaukee, she has been privileged to perform with the Skylight Music Theatre, Optimist Theatre, Children's Theatre of Madison, All In Productions, Theatre RED, Soulstice and Milwaukee Entertainment Group. Liz is also pursuing commercial and film work around the Milwaukee/Madison area. She has been honored to have been in commercials for Summerfest, Kohl’s, and the Weather Channel, as well as featured in a few short films and a book trailer.

James Fletcher (Lead Teacher and Company Class Director) has been with First Stage as both an actor and teacher for a dozen years.  Since moving back to Milwaukee in 1998, he’s made his way as an actor, director, playwright, producer, and fight choreographer. Besides First Stage, Fletcher has also taught theatre at Messmer High School, The Waukesha Civic Theatre, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Whitewater and most recently at Marquette where he also directed IF YOU TAKE A MOUSE TO SCHOOL. Fletcher is also the founder and Artistic Director of The Bunny Gumbo Theatre Company.

Reva Fox (Company Class Director) is a director and actor in Milwaukee after working in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Her directing credits include LION KING KIDS at Summit View School, THE TRIAL OF FDR for the Holocaust Education Center, TOP SECRET, for Soul Food at Madison’s Forward Theatre, THE SMELL OF THE KILL at Renaissance Theatreworks and COMBAT THEATRE with The Bunny Gumbo Theatre. Recent acting credits include, Lady Capulet in ROMEO AND JULIET, Beatrice in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Polonius/Horation in HAMLET with all for Bard and Bourbon, Linda in DEATH OF A SALESMAN for Imagination Theatre, Banquo in MACBETH at Soulstice, Risa in ANY GIVEN MONDAY for Pink Banana, Gladys in PARTS OF SPEECH for RTW’s Brink Series, Penelope in THE PENELOPIAD for Luminous Theatre and Lane in BULLET PROOF HEART at the Walker’s Point Center for the Arts.

Ricardo Galaviz (Teaching Apprentice) is a proud Milwaukee native and graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a degree in Spanish. He is currently pursuing his Masters degree in Special Education. As an artist he has been involved in directing, acting and dancing throughout the Milwaukee area. He has been on stage/film since the age of 9 and recently founded a youth theatre company at Journey House Community Center where he directs two stage shows every season. While the preforming arts are a passion of his, Ricardo is also an accomplished make-up artist and dabbles in stand-up comedy. He hopes to inspire a love for the arts within the youth of Milwaukee and is very excited to return to First Stage Summer Academy. 

Christopher Gilbert (Teaching Apprentice) grew up in Milwaukee, and was inspired by the work ethic of his mother Shirley, the showmanship of Michael Jackson and the timeless talent of James Brown. As a dancer, Christopher’s performed with ensembles including Rhema Dance, a liturgical and African dance company, and taught hip hop at Pat Keller's Dance Studio in Wauwatosa and at Fred Astaire’s Dance Studio in Milwaukee. He also auditioned for “So You Think You Can Dance” and was featured on the show, representing Wisconsin as a contestant in the Las Vegas round. Since then, Christopher has performed in Los Angeles on the Nickelodeon television show “Yo Gabba Gabba” since 2010, as well as has been choreographing for the Milwaukee-based artistic company, Visual Artsz.

Kami Graham (Teaching Apprentice) has been teaching in the First Stage Academy for four years both during the summer and spring break sessions. She was inspired by her son, a current First Stage student, to become a theater teacher. Currently she works for Milwaukee Public Schools as a paraprofessional, interacting with children in both special education and kindergarten classrooms. She is excited for another summer of teaching in the Story Drama classes! 

Megan Gray (Teaching Apprentice) is absolutely thrilled to be returning to First Stage for her second year as a teaching apprentice! A recent graduate of Indiana University, Megan majored in Theatre & Drama with concentrations in directing and stage management and also received her theatre teaching license from the School of Education. Favorite credits include: FUGITIVE SONGS(Director) CAPTAIN LOUIE (Director) PRODIGY (Director) MISS NELSON IS MISSING! (Director); HATTER (Director); ALEXANDER AND THE…VERY BAD DAY (Director) THE LAST FIVE YEARS (Director); M. BUTTERFLY (Stage Manager); ISLAND SONG (Stage Manager); CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (Asst. Stage Manager). Other credits available at Megan is honored to announce that she has been accepted as an Artistic Direction Apprentice at Magic Theatre in San Francisco for their 2016-2017 season. Megan is a native of Mequon, Wisconsin.

Audra Handschke (Teaching Apprentice) is thrilled to join her First Stage family for Summer Academy 2016! This summer she will help teach Improvisation and Scene Study. Audra graduated from Stephens College in 2012 with a BFA in Theatre Arts. She lived in Chicago where she completed the iO Training Program and absolutely fell in love with improv. Audra performs improv in Milwaukee with Mojo Dojo Comedy and in Chicago with her group, LoveChild.


Lori Hartman-Keiser (Lead Teacher) holds an M.A. in Theater and has taught in the lower elementary grades at First Stage since 2003. She teaches Playmakers and Story Drama classes at First Stage as well as leads school workshops, and especially enjoys teaching history and language arts through theater. Lori is also the acting teacher and director at Poplar Creek Elementary School in New Berlin. She lives in Wauwatosa with her husband and three terrific children.

Kiaran Hartnett (Company Class Assistant Director) is overjoyed to be returning to First Stage Summer Academy. She is an alum of First Stage Academy and Young Company. Previous productions include Young Company's ROMEO AND JULIET, GODSPELL, INTO THE WOODS and more with First Stage’s Mainstage season. She is now studying Theatre Arts and Psychology at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities where she continues to perform while also taking courses aimed towards a career in drama therapy.

Angela Iannone (Lead Teacher)
will be teaching Scene Study and Shakespeare at SLW this summer and is very excited to be joining the SLW faculty. She is an award winning educator and actor and a familiar face to local theatre patrons. Awards- Off-Off Broadway Kudos Award (Lady Bracknell, Titan Theatre Company), a Broadway World Award (Maria Callas, Master Class) Joseph Jefferson Award (Adelaide, GUYS & DOLLS) and a three time "Best of Milwaukee" award winner. She is a two time Lunt/Fontanne Fellow and an Associate Artist for Milwaukee Rep. She received a Creative Achievement award from UW Whitewater for her work as a playwright in her cycle of plays “THE EDWIN BOOTH PLAYS.” Roles- Maria Callas in MASTER CLASS, Medea in MEDEA, Marie Lombardi in LOMBARDI, Kate Hepburn in TEA AT FIVE, Diana Vreeland in FULL GALLOP, Roxie in CHICAGO, Lady Macbeth in MACBETH, Kate in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, Ensemble in TWILIGHT; Los Angeles 1992, Lady Bracknell in THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST and EARNEST IN LOVE. She will be playing Brutus in JULIUS CEASAR for Optimist Shakespeare in the Park. 

Karl Iglesias (Lead Teacher) is an actor director, writer, musician, and teaching artist from Milwaukee, WI. He has recently joined the First Stage family after earning his degree in Theatre and Drama (Acting Specialist) at The University of Wisconsin- Madison. He has taught, performed, and has had his writing featured across the U.S., as well as internationally as a part of the First Wave Hip Hop Theatre Ensemble. Most recently in education, he was the Artist in Residence for the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives at UW-Madison for the Spring 2013 semester. 

Julie Johnson (Lead Teacher) is honored to be able to work with First Stage this summer. She is a very active musician, working with up to fifty piano students each week.  In addition she teaches musical theater classes and serves as an accompanist for concerts and auditions at several area schools and theaters.  She could recently be heard playing the piano in the music pits for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Tosa East High School), COMICALITY (Hartford Players), A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC (Waukesha Civic Theater), and SHREK (Hartford Players).  She most recently had the opportunity to music direct MY FAIR LADY (Falls Patio Players).

Ashley Jordan (Teaching Apprentice) is honored and grateful to be a Teaching Artist Fellow in the First Stage Fellowship Program! She believes the opportunities are endless and enjoys seeing young creative students work together at First Stage to create stories. Ashley believes our best stories lie right here in our community. Throughout the community, Ashley has had the joy of working with several theatres. Credits include, but are not limited to; Dynamite (HAIRSPRAY), Miss Pat/Topsy Washington (THE COLORED MUSEUM), Rosalind (FREEDOM HIGH), Ensemble (RAGTIME), FIVE WOMEN (Theatre Unchained), A SISTER'S BOND (Milwaukee Chamber Theatre), and many more. Her training includes Alverno College, UW-Milwaukee, and of course First Stage. Ashley looks forward to changing theatre by bringing diversity, purpose, and many characters to life. Special thanks to Aunt B&N, and Di'Monte. Love will change the world. 

Marcella Kearns (Lead Teacher) is a Milwaukee-based actor and teaching artist. She serves as Education & Literary Manager with Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, adjunct instructor of theatre with Carthage College, and instructor with both Education department and the Academy at First Stage. She has appeared onstage at First Stage in WITNESS, A WRINKLE IN TIME, and SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS and, in the 2015-2016 season, directed ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL and LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE. She holds an MFA in Acting from the University of South Carolina and is a former Fulbright Fellow (Austria). She hails from Colorado and the U.S. Air Force.

Joshua Krause (Teaching Apprentice) first joined First Stage as a TA in 2009-2011 before going to Indiana University where he received his MFA in Acting. After graduation, Josh returned to First Stage as an Adjunct Teaching Artist with the Education department in 2015. He has experience teaching all ages and many different classes including Creative Drama and Acting. Josh believes that the best way to learn how to act is by doing it. When he is not teaching, Josh is acting in productions in the Milwaukee, Madison, and Chicago areas.

Clare Kuhnen (Office Assistant) is excited to be joining the Academy staff for the summer as an Office Assistant.  Clare graduated from UW-Milwaukee in 2003 with a BA in English.  She has worked for First Stage for 12 years as the Assistant Patron Services Manager in the Box Office dealing primarily with school group sales.  She is an Academy parent herself and has enjoyed watching her daughters blossom in their Academy classes since they were three years old.  She loves interacting with people, so if you are in the office, please stop in and say hello!

Gina Laurenzi (Lead Teacher) graduated from the University of Milwaukee with a BFA in Dance. Entering her fourth season as a member of Danceworks Performance Company (DPC), Gina also serves as the Artistic Director for Danceworks Youth Performance Company (DYPC), is a Guest Choreographer at the Makaroff Youth Ballet  (Appleton, WI) and an Associate Lecturer at UWM. Ms Laurenzi previously trained as a Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago scholarship student, under Elements Contemporary Ballet’s Artistic Director Michael Gosney, and had performed with Giordano II, Elements Contemporary Ballet and Inaside Chicago Dance.  Gina loves sharing her passion for dance with young artists, helping them to further discover and develop their craft.

Beth Lewinski (Lead Teacher) A Wisconsin native, Beth holds a degree in Film, Television, and Theatre from the University of Notre Dame and writes, directs, and acts at numerous theatres in the Milwaukee area.  She has been a player, referee, and instructor at ComedySportz Milwaukee, has performed and taught as part of the Milwaukee Comedy Festival, and has been a member or guest of multiple Milwaukee improvisation and sketch groups.  Beth is pleased to return for her fifth summer with First Stage Theater Academy. 

Raeleen McMillion (Lead Teacher) earned a Masters of Fine Arts degree from Ohio University’s Professional Actor Training Program then found her way to Milwaukee where she has worked with professional, community, and educational theatre groups as an actor, director, producer, teacher, and dialect coach. Some of her favorite Milwaukee theatre projects include GREAT EXPECTATIONS with Next Generation Theatre, RED PEPPER JELLY &SKIN TIGHT with Renaissance Theaterworks, THE DIVINERS with Eclipse Ensemble, MY FAIR LADY with Skylight Opera Theatre, BING! THE CHERRY MUSICAL with American Folklore Theatre, and OCTOBER BEFORE I WAS BORN with Milwaukee Chamber Theatre. She has had the great pleasure of performing with First Stage in BAMBI: A LIFE IN THE WOODS, THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER, CADDIE WOODLAWN, and TO THE PROMISED LAND. Raeleen taught with First Stage Theatre Academy for the first three years of its creation, contributing to the original curriculum, and is very happy to be part of the First Stage family as often as possible! She teaches Acting and Voice & Speech at UW-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts, and is a proud co-founder of Renaissance Theaterworks. 

Logan Milway (Teaching Apprentice) 
is a senior at Carthage College with a double major in Theater (Directing) and Communications. He is thrilled to be returning to the First Stage Summer Academy for his second year in a row. He has performed in four original works and premiered NO NAME at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival during his time at Carthage College. Logan is working to become a teacher of Theater and Speech. 


Abbi Minessale (Teaching Apprentice) has finished with her second year towards earning her BFA in acting with a minor in Technical Design at Ball State University. She has been part of the First Stage family since she was 8 years old. She was part of the First Stage Young Company for four years and attended the Utah Shakespeare Festival with them for two of those years. She has also been an intern at Summer Academy for two years and is excited to be returning to Milwaukee this summer as a Teaching Apprentice.

Patricia Monroe (Lead Teacher)  is making her First Stage debut this summer teaching third and fourth grade Musical Theater.  She holds a music degree from the University of Wisconsin and is pleased to say she spent almost thirty years teaching music in the Milwaukee Public Schools. She has been active in theater and choral music throughout Milwaukee. She currently performs as a resident pianist at General Mitchell International Airport and as part of the Wilson-Monroe Piano Duo.

Andrew Oppman (Teaching Apprentice) Andrew is thrilled to return to First Stage as a Teaching Apprentice! As both a student of the academy and a member of Young Company he was seen in LITTLE WOMEN: THE MUSICAL (John), ROMEO AND JULIET (Romeo), INTO THE WOODS (Jack), AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE (Hovstad), PETER AND THE WOLF (Tree), GODSPELL (Judas), GATHERING BLUE (Chief Guardian/Singer), and competed at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. He has also performed with First Stage in HOW I BECAME A PIRATE and BIG: THE MUSICAL. He is currently pursuing his BFA at the Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University where he was recently seen in THE PAJAMA GAME.

Ashley Pavlak (Teaching Apprentice) is a senior at Carthage College with a major in Technical Theatre (Stage Management emphasis) and a minor in Educational Studies. She is excited for her first summer at the First Stage Summer Academy! Ashley has worked on three new works through Carthage College, and will be traveling to Italy this summer to bring THE BREATH OF STARS to the CrisisART Theatre Festival.


Josh Pohja (Lead Teacher)
is an actor, educator, director and playwright and is thrilled to be back at First Stage Summer Academy teaching Shakespeare. As an actor he has worked with The Acting Company: RICHARD III (National Tour/Off-Broadway), Guthrie Theater: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (North American Tour), Alley Theatre: A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Old Globe: THE FULL MONTY (Broadway Workshop), NY Fringe Festival: DR. FAUSTUS LIGHTS THE LIGHTS.  His primary concentration is on actor training at First Stage’s Theater Academy and Young Company where he teaches Acting, Voice, Movement and Shakespeare and, most recently, directed the Young Company production of ANTIGONE. Previously, he has taught Acting, Movement for the Actor and Acting Shakespeare at the Guthrie Theater, The Acting Company, Milwaukee Rep and Milwaukee Chamber Theatre. Training: Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama (B.F.A. Acting), Saratoga International Theatre Institute (SITI) under the guidance of Anne Bogart and the SITI Company.

Nate Press (Lead Teacher) Nate Press (Lead Teacher) is an actor, director, and educator in and around the Milwaukee area. He is a graduate of the Milwaukee Public Schools system and Boston University's College of Fine Arts. He has been performing on various Milwaukee stages since 2003.

Kris Puddicombe (Lead Teacher) is excited to return to First Stage for another summer as a DM Improvisation teacher. Kris has taught for several years at First Stage both in the Summer Academy and the School Year Academy. He has performed scripted and improvised work in various Milwaukee venues including Comedy Sportz, and The Alchemist Theatre. In addition to his work at First Stage, Kris teaches English Literature at Racine Horlick High School, coordinates the arts program at Lake Valley Camp, and facilitates corporate improv workshops. 

Katy Radiske (Teaching Apprentice) is an alumnus of First Stage Summer Academy and is so excited to return as a Teaching Apprentice! This fall she will be a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point where she will continue to study General and Choral Music Education. She found her love of theater and music through various school productions and First Stage, and continues to expand her experience by performing in operas and other productions. She can't wait to be in the classroom to learn from the teachers and to interact with students!

Matt Roth (Lead Teacher, Teaching Apprentice) is incredibly excited to be back at First Stage for his second summer academy! After being a Teaching Apprentice for the Classical Company class last summer, Matt is more than ready to tackle his first lead gig at the Schauer Center this summer. He will also be a Teaching Assistant once again with Voice, Movement and Shakespeare at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center during the latter half of the academy. It is going to be a great summer!


Ellen Sansone (Teaching Apprentice) is delighted to be joining First Stage for her second summer as a Teaching Apprentice. Ellen recently completed her sophomore year at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, and is working towards completing a B.A. in Theater Arts with a minor in Spanish Studies. This past year, she worked extensively with physical acting and collaborative theatre methods. She is passionate about Shakespeare and credits include A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, MACBETH, ROMEO AND JULIET, and TWELFTH NIGHT as well as training with First Stage’s Young Company. Ellen looks forward to sharing the life skills through stage skills that she learned when she was a student at First Stage as well as learning from the current students and teachers! 

Amanda Satchell (Lead Teacher) is a graduate of the University of Michigan's Musical Theatre program. She lived and worked in New York City after graduation where she performed in regional theaters like Paper Mill Playhouse and concert venues like Cooper Union, Joe's Pub, and Carnegie Hall. Her favorite jobs involved doing voice over work for MTV, ABC, and Sega Games. Amanda taught Elementary Music and music directed in South Florida until recently moving to Southeastern Wisconsin. She currently teaches music at the Indian Community School and is very excited to be a part of First Stage!

Elsa Scardino (Teaching Apprentice) is very excited to be working with the First Stage Academy! She is a proud graduate of the Acting BFA program at UW-Milwaukee and has always wanted to pursue a career teaching theatre to children. Elsa recently began teaching after-school theater classes part-time with Afterschool Enrichment Solutions. 



Jeff Schaetzke (Company Class Musical Director) is pleased to return to Summer Academy, having taught five summers in past years. He has acted and directed music for shows including BIG: THE MUSICL, MY SON PINOCCHIO, THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER, MISS NELSON IS MISSING!, ROMEO AND JULIET, and many others. He has directed music at Skylight, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, and Marquette University. He has also served as the Theatre Director at Dominican High School for sixteen years. 

Amy Shu (Lead Teacher) has had an amazing year as a First Stage Teaching Artist Fellow! She has grown so much as a teaching artist and actress, but more importantly she has felt the love of this community. Amy grew up and resided in Southern California before moving to Milwaukee to be part of the First Stage family. During college she studied to become an elementary school teacher, but also had her first experiences in acting. Amy has a desire to bridge the two passions of teaching and performing. She is grateful that First Stage is a place where she will get to do jut that. She has performed in First Stage’s SPOOKLEY THE SQUARE PUMPKIN, several East West Players’ Studio Lab Projects, TeAda’s DELICIOUS REALITY, Hereandnow Theater Company’s COLOR CREATION, Long Beach Shakespeares Company’s THE PLOT TO OVERTHROW CHRISTMAS, Torrance Cultural Arts Foundations IMPORTED BRIDE, and in other Los Angeles based productions. She also has written and performed her own one-woman short piece, MEI LI DE AI (Beautiful Seedling) in Vancouver, Canada and recently here in Milwaukee with Bronzeville Arts Ensemble. 

Shannon Sloan-Spice (Lead Teacher, SLW Headmaster) has received classical acting training at The British American Drama Academy in Oxford, England where she was directed in scene work by Sir Ben Kingsley and had master classes with Alan Rickman, Kevin Spacey, Sir Derek Jacobi, David Leveaux and Fiona Shaw. She has been an arts educator for over 20 years and has taught for First Stage since 1997! She holds a doctorate in Mythological Studies with an emphasis in Depth Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute, CA. Pacifica’s Mythological Studies program, a unique interdisciplinary humanities program, is the only doctoral program in the country that investigates mythologies and cultural traditions through the lenses of religious studies, literature, and depth psychology. Shannon teaches World Mythologies at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, IL. She directs, acts, and is the props master at Next Act Theatre. Last summer, Shannon designed, taught, and directed In Tandem Theatre's inaugural summer conservatory program and production of INTO THE WOODS. She is delighted to teach Improvisation and headmaster for First Stage this summer.

Ro Spice-Kopischke (Company Class Assistant Director) is thrilled to be serving as a TA at First Stage for the first time, having previously been a young performer, an academy student, and a delighted audience member. Ro is a Milwaukee native, currently pursuing a combined BA/MA in English at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where they are a Dean’s Scholar in Shakespeare and an English Honors student. Past favorite theatre credits include Speed in TWO GENTLEMAN OF VERONA, self in THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED), Lawrence in ROMEO AND JULIET, Puck in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, and Tracy Turnblad in HAIRSPRAY. Ro has also directed THE TEMPEST with GW Shakespeare Company and their original short play, PURGATORY, produced by Carte Blanche’s North American New Play Festival. Other passions include film, LGBT+ studies, and playing ukulele.

Jeremy Tardy (Lead Teacher) is an actor/writer/director born and raised in Milwaukee, WI. Recent theater credits include a New York premiere of DARK NIGHT BRIGHT STARS with La MaMa ETC, which he also toured in Ukraine; FETCH CLAY, MAKE MAN with New York Theatre Workshop; KING HENRY V with Classical Theatre of Harlem; THE KING STAG with Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts Center and various shows with First Stage including OTHELLO, HOLES, and THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM-1963. Film/TV credits include: TRACES; WAR DOGS; BONE TOMAHAWK; GUYS READING POEMS; BOONE: THE BOUNTY HUNTER; THE MINDY PROJECT and CASTLE. Jeremy started his training as an actor at First Stage Theater Academy. He has also studied in Oxford, England at the British American Dramatic Academy and he received his BFA in Drama at The Juilliard School.

Emilie Thomas (Assistant Headmaster)
just finished her junior year at Marymount Manhattan College where she is working towards a BA in Theatre Arts with a concentration in Theatre Performance and a double minor in Musical Theatre and Business.  This is her third year on staff and seventh summer in the Academy.  Along with being a Teaching Apprentice, intern, and student in the Academy, Emilie has performed in multiple First Stage shows as well as many throughout the Milwaukee and Madison area. In New York City she has performed in ONCE UPON A MATTRESS and WONDERLAND at The York, an Off-Broadway theatre. This school year, she had the opportunity to work with Disney Theatricals, helping to develop choreography and staging for the company's Disney Jr. musicals. She is excited to once again spend the summer with the talented and passionate students and staff, hoping to learn from them as well as share the lessons and inspiration she gained from her past experiences at First Stage.

Patrick Thompson (Lead Teacher) Patrick Thompson is a music director and composer currently residing in Milwaukee, WI. He is thrilled to be teaching Musical Theatre at the Academy this summer. Patrick has a Bachelor’s Degree (Magna Cum Laude) in Instrumental Composition and Songwriting from McNally Smith College of Music. Patrick has spent the last two years working with various theatre companies and high schools as a music director in Milwaukee. Last summer he took a team of Milwaukee actors and musicians to perform in the Chicago and New York Musical Theatre Festivals with his original musical, PASSING BY. In the fall, he will begin working towards his Master’s Degree in Musical Theatre Writing at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University

Paula Foley Tillen (Lead Teacher) is a 1980 graduate of Carroll College, and has been a professional musician in the Milwaukee area for the past thirty-six years. She has acted as music director for many metropolitan area theatre companies from the middle school to professional levels, and is active at Milwaukee ComedySportz, where she performs and leads workshops in musical improvisation.  Paula is director of music at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Waukesha, and director of the Carroll University Women’s Choir and Handbell Choir. Paula has co-written and composed for two original theatre pieces that have been produced by Milwaukee’s Windfall Theatre. Her arrangements and compositions are found in the catalogues of Treble Clef Music Press, Santa Barbara Music Publishing, Alliance Music Publications, and Hal Leonard Publishing, and have been performed by many community, high school, university, and all-state choirs around the country and Canada. Paula’s handcrafted jewelry can be seen and purchased at several shops and boutiques in the Milwaukee area, and on Etsy. She is also a certified yoga instructor, teaching at Reaching Treetops Yoga and Southminster Church in Waukesha, and is the mother of three beautiful cats.  

Kayla Tillisch (Teaching Apprentice) is beyond excited to be a part of First Stage Summer Academy this year! A previous Academy student herself, she is now a junior studying theater at Indiana University-Bloomington. Some of her roles as a part of First Stage include GODSPELL and GATHERING BLUE. Besides theater, Kayla enjoys painting, travel and a good cup of coffee.  


Emily Vitrano (Lead Teacher) is so thrilled to be back at First Stage! She was most recently seen as Ms. Framer in LETTICE AND LOVAGE at Renaissance Theaterworks. Other local credits include TRAILER PARK PROPHECIES, MR. MARMELADE and DOG SEES GOD with Splinter Group. Regional Theatre: NY Fringe Festival, Allentown Shakespeare in the Park, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Next Act Theatre.  Commercial: Mills Fleet Farm, Sanford Brown University, Walgreens. Television:  WTMJ-4 News. Print: Bruno Independent Aids, Master Lock, Nabco Enterprises.  Industrial: Kohl’s, MillerCoors, Master Lock, Culver’s, Speedway. Voice Over: Baby Ecos, UPAF, Kohl’s, Master Lock. Emily holds a BFA in Acting from University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Michael Warren (SLW Headmaster) co-founded the First Stage Theater Academy with his wife, Tyne Turner, in 1992. An accomplished arts administrator, Michael is the House Manager for First Stage and a Theater Manager for the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. Other than selecting the perfect tie to go with a particular sweater vest, Michael enjoys mentoring the staff and students who are part of the Academy each summer. Contact Michael at (262) 439-5683 or

Teddy Warren (Lead Teacher) is a Theatre Studies graduate of Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts.  He just finished playing Florizel in WINTER’S TALE and Lysander in MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM with Trinity Shakespeare in Fort Worth, Texas.  Previously, Teddy taught with First Stage at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center and the Oconomowoc Arts Center.  Before becoming a lead teacher, Teddy was an assistant teacher, intern, and student of the academy.  It’s good to be home.

Michelle White (Lead Teacher) is thrilled to be joining the First Stage team this summer! Michelle has been acting in Milwaukee for the past 8 years performing on stages all across Milwaukee. She is a graduate of UW- Milwaukee with degrees in both Theatre and Education. By day, Michelle teaches Kindergarten and First Grade at Brown Street Academy, an MPS school. She has spent summers running theatre programs in various places, including an international program in Croatia. This summer Michelle will be teaching Pinkalicious and Story Drama as well as Acting for grades 4-8. She's excited to put her education background and theatre skills together once again for a wonderful summer at First Stage.

Emily Zaffiro (Office Assistant) is a second year student at Grinnell College. In the past, Emily participated in Summer Academy for six years and was apart of the theater circle in Milwaukee, WI. She is looking forward to working in the First Stage community for the summer. You can contact Emily at







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