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 (Director of Artistic Developmentis 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

Matt Daniels (Director of the Young Company/Lead Teacher) is a frequent collaborator at First Stage, as an actor (EDWARD TULANE, A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, THE SNOW, ELLA ENCHANTED, SHREK, A MIDNIGHT CRY, and A WRINKLE IN TIME, among many others), director and movement director (ANIMAL FARM, TXT U L8R, JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, OUR TOWN, RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER, NANCY DREW, CYMBELINE), and Director of the Young Company and teacher for the Theater Academy. In addition to First Stage his directing work has been seen at MCT’s New Play Development series, Sunset Playhouse, goats & monkeys, and in New York with his company Tyrannosaurus rep. Matt’s acting credits include appearances at Milwaukee Rep, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Milwaukee Opera Theatre, Renaissance Theaterworks, In Tandem Theater, and the late Milwaukee Shakespeare, as well as Forward Theater, Kentucky Rep., Lake Geneva Theater Co., several regional Shakespeare Festivals, and on many independent stages in New York. He is a graduate of the Juilliard School Drama Division.

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

Caleb Smith (Academy Manager) is a transplant from Georgia who recently graduated from Piedmont College with a B.A. in Theatre Arts. Caleb has been involved with theater most of his life having performed all throughout high school and college in various roles in positions. During his time at Piedmont, Caleb started as a Marketing Assistant and quickly moved up to become Director of Marketing for the Piedmont College Theater by his senior year of college. Last summer he completed the Woodward Internship Program with the Westport Country Playhouse as a Development Intern. Caleb is very excited to be a part of the First Stage Academy family and looks forward to many years as a member of the team. Contact Caleb at (414) 267-2942 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 (Resident Teaching Artist) 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.

Eliz Rodriguez-Santiago (Wednesday Academy Intern) Eliz joins us through Carmen High School as a part of a three-year Student Internship Program. He has been working with us since October 2016 and loves everything about First Stage! Eliz participates in productions at Carmen High School and recently auditioned for First Stage’s upcoming season! In the future he hopes to become a successful Marine Biologist while also pursuing his love of musical theater.

Summer 2017 Seasonal Faculty & Staff

Amy Bahr (Lead Teacher) is delighted to be back at First Stage this summer! She has previously taught with summer and school year Academy, as well as taught workshops and residencies in Milwaukee Public Schools through the First Stage Education Department and with Arts@Large. This past year, Amy spent time in Chicago working as an Assistant Clinician at a therapeutic preschool for children with autism. She earned a BA in Theatre & Drama from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, completed a Teaching Artist Fellowship with the Omaha Theater Company, and has performed with Soulstice Theatre, The Omaha Theater Company, Music Theatre of Madison, UW-Madison University Theatre, and more. 

Sarah Best (Lead Teacher) graduated from Marquette University in 2015 with a Bachelors Degree in Theater Arts and Digital Media. For the past two years, she has been working as a teaching artist for the educational touring theater in The Twin Cities called CLIMB Theater. Sarah is so excited to be a part of First Stage this summer and can't wait to work with such an incredible group of students and staff!


Jenny Brownson (Lead Teacher) is returning to First Stage after a 10 year absence; she originally taught creative drama when First Stage was located at the Performing Arts Center in downtown Milwaukee. After being a classroom teacher and theater specialist for Milwaukee Public Schools for 15 years, she decided to pursue her PhD in Urban Education at UW-Milwaukee. While working on completing her dissertation, she can think of nothing better than filling her artistic heart teaching again at First Stage. This summer she is teaching at the Franklin satellite location. She also believes that Brenna and Katie’s energy is infectious, and will bring that with her to Franklin!

Cassidy Buenz (Teaching Apprentice) is a former academy student excited to start her second summer as a Teaching Apprentice in First Stage's Summer Academy. She is a third year student at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She is thrilled to be sharing her love of theater with kids at the MYAC and SLW.


Ryan Cappleman (Lead Teacher)
is delighted to be returning to First Stage, where he has taught Musical Theater, appeared in Big the Musical and Rudolph, and music directed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Ryan works as a performer, choreographer, music director, director, and teacher. As a performer, Ryan's favorite roles include the Scarecrow in Wizard of Oz, Woof in Hair, Clo Clo in La Cage Aux Folles, the Balladeer/Oswald in Assassins, and Fagin in Oliver. His work in area high schools has earned him eight Tommy Awards, and he is currently a finalist in the Footlights awards for choreographing Pirates of Penzance at Skylight. In addition to teaching for First Stage, Ryan has also been a teaching artist for Skylight, Danceworks, Children's Theater of Madison, Northbrook Theater for Young Audiences, The Overture Center, The Marcus Center, the Virginia State Thespian Conference, the Wisconsin Dance Council, and the Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts Summer Dance Intensive. 

Maggie Condon (Lead Teacher) is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, currently teaching choir and serving as Vocal Music Director for the Drama Department at Grafton 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 17 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.

Joey Chelius (Teaching Apprentice) is ecstatic to be serving as a Teaching Apprentice for a second year alongside some of the best teaching artists in the country. An actor, singer, guitarist, songwriter, and poet, Joey is about to enter his senior year in the BFA-Acting program at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. Some of his recent credits include Jacob in LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, Peter Quince in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, and Medvedenko in a new translation of Chekhov’s THE SEAGULL. Joey looks forward to partaking in that special First Stage magic once again, and is excited to see how his students will learn and grow as both performers and people!

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 again this summer!

Mari Duckler (Teaching Apprentice) is thrilled to be spending yet another summer at First Stage, but this time as a Teaching Apprentice! Mari is a proud alum of the Young Company, performed in 6 Mainstage Productions, and spent 4 summers in the Musical Company Class. In the fall she will begin her sophomore year at NYU Steinhardt, where she is studying to receive a BM in Vocal Performance/Musical Theatre. 


Hannah Esch (Lead Teacher) is a Milwaukee based performer and arts educator. She holds a BFA in Vocal Performance and Music Education from UW-Milwaukee and teaches at the Academy of Performing Arts. Previous credits include Only We Know Best (Milwaukee Metro Voices), Suor Angelica (UW-Milwaukee), and Madama Butterfly (La Musics Lirica). Be sure to catch her this summer in Greendale Community Theaters Production of If/Then as Anne. 

Will Esty (Teaching Apprentice) is very excited to return to First Stage to continue the tradition of transforming lives through theatre. Growing up with the program, as well as appearing in shows such as Crash and Stargirl, it's always been a dream to one day become a teacher at First Stage. He currently attends the University of Evansville and is a theatre performance major.

Tiersa Ferraro (Lead Teacher) is a married Delafield mom of 3. Before kids, she spent a lot of time at First Stage both performing and teaching. She is excited to be back after almost 15 years to teach again at First Stage Summer Academy. Her most recent acting credits include roles at In Tandem Theatre, Morning Star Productions, Summerstage, and directing at Martin Luther High School. She has taught Creative Drama for KMSD Summer Academy, Sunset Playhouse, Summerstage and created her own company, Creative Kids Consortium. She has also taught ballroom dance and tap with the Danceworks' Mad Hot Ballroom & Tap and is teaching tap with Above the Clouds at Holton Youth & Family Center and Journey House this summer.Tiersa holds an M.F.A. in Acting from the Theatre School at DePaul University (formerly The Goodman School of Drama). She also studied at the American Musical & Dramatic Academy in New York City and has a B.A. in Theatre as an Acting Specialist from UW-Madison. You can see her work in film, regional and national commercials.  She also does voiceover work for an international radio production call The Brinkman Adventures.

Jim Fletcher (Lead Teacher) This marks Fletcher's 17th year with First Stage, during which time he has taught Shakespeare, Voice and Movement, Acting for the Camera and Improv.  He has acted in many plays over those years, most recently appearing as Little John in Robin Hood, has directed plays for the Company Class, Young Company and for the Mainstage, and has designed several fights.  He received his B.A. in Theatre from UW-La Crosse, and his M.F.A. in Acting from the Professional Theatre Training Program at UWM.  He has written several plays which have been produced both here and abroad, most recently The Four Hamlets.  Fletcher is the Artistic Director of The Bunny Gumbo Theatre Company, also in it's 17th season.

Mary Francis (Lead Teacher) After spending years as a singer/songwriter for Atlantic Records and Nashville’s Dualtone label, Mary settled down in Milwaukee, WI to raise a family. She spent years touring and playing with artists like Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne and Hootie and the Blowfish. Mary remembers, “My girls were toddlers when I was still traveling. It was then I realized I didn’t want to miss them growing up, so music took a back seat to being their mom. Slowly, their interests became mine and they both loved theater, thanks to their time at First Stage!” Mary began assisting at all the school plays eventually becoming the head forensics coach at Bayside Middle School. She led a team of sixty students, with the majority competing at the Wisconsin State Finals. For the last four years, Mary has been active in the Milwaukee Improv scene, performing in two house teams for Mojo Dojo Comedy.

Megan Gray (Head Master) is thrilled to once again be spending her summer at First Stage! Working as a TA last summer and in 2013, she is excited to be serving as a Headmaster this year! Megan is a 2015 Indiana University graduate with a BA in Theatre and Drama, focusing on Directing and Stage Management with a license in Secondary Theatre Education. Some of Megan's directing credits include: Fugitive Songs, The Last Five Years, Prodigy, Hatter, Alexander and the...Very Bad Day, Captain Louie, and Miss Nelson is Missing! She has enjoyed working at theatres all over the country, including The Bloomington Playwrights Project, The Jacob's School of Music, Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre and, most recently, a year-long Artistic Direction Apprenticeship at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco. 

Sara J. Griffin (Lead Teacher) is excited to be back in her home state and at First Stage. She was a TA in 2007 on the production Mad Forest, and has since earned her MFA in acting from the University of Delaware- PTTP. She’s acted and taught at various theaters across the country. Favorite roles include Julia in the Two Gentlemen of Verona, Constance Ledbelly in Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet (American Shakespeare Center); Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie, Gloria in Boeing Boeing, Ophelia in Hamlet (Utah Shakespeare Festival); and Uta Hagen in Ten Chimneys (Northlight Theater). Her teaching experience includes assistant directing (The Furies, UW-Whitewater), monologue coaching, and leading various workshops such as Voice, Movement, and Text Analysis.

Audra Handschke (Lead Teacher) is thrilled to be back at First Stage for her third summer! She has worked with First Stage assisting and teaching a variety of classes, but this summer is all Improvisation all the time! After graduating in 2012 from Stephens College with a BFA in Theatre Arts, Audra moved to Chicago where she studied at iO (formerly the ImprovOlympic) and completed their long form improvisation Training Program. Now that she is back in Milwaukee, you can catch Audra teaching and performing with Mojo Dojo Comedy.

Natalie Richardson-Harris (Lead Teacher) is a Woman of many talents that can sing, dance, act and teach. She has displayed her talents by teaching drama in the school system in the Northern and the Southern regions. Her acting instincts have afforded her opportunities in Television, Film and Theatre. She starred in the Lena Baker Story biopic and acted in a movie starring Danny Glover in The Honeydripper. She is also a National recording artist & writer with songs that have been all over the radio across the U.S. Natalie recently released her debut Album entitled, "We Believe" as of January 1st 2017. She's shared the stage with many Gospel greats from Tasha Cobbs to Donnie McClurkin.  Natalie has done it all from founding Tree Theatre company, directed plays, to conducting voice and acting workshops. She enjoys the Arts very much and continues to share her gifts with many!

Lori Hartman-Keiser (Lead Teacher) holds an M.A. in Theater and has taught kindergarteners through fourth graders at First Stage since 2003.   She teaches Story Drama and loves to see students discover the joy of enacting stories and find their own literal and figurative voice. She also teaches middle school English and lives in Wauwatosa with her husband and three terrific children. 

Angela Iannone (Lead Teacher) is pleased to return to First Stage Summer Academy. She will be Lead Teacher for Acting for the DM's, and then out at SLW campus to Lead Teach Voice and Speech and Shakespeare! Ms. Iannone is a Joseph Jefferson Award Winner, a Broadway World Best Actress Award Winner, a Queen's Kudos Off- Broadway Best Supporting Actress Award Winner, a Lunt/Fontanne Fellow, a Lunt/Fontanne Greek Fellow, and a Folger Shakespeare Library Research Fellow.

Meghan Jarecki (Teaching Apprentice) is a first time TA and is SO EXCITED to get started! She will be a sophomore this coming year at University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point studying BFA musical theatre. Some of her favorite stage credits include: Anne Dindon in La Cage Aux Folles, Kate Keller in the Miracle Worker, Velma Kelly in Chicago, and Peter Quince in A Midsummer Night's Dream.


Jada Jefferson (Teaching Apprentice) is a rising junior at Western Kentucky University. She is currently double majoring in Theatre and Diversity and Community studies with a minor in African American studies. Her goal is to be able to connect theatre to issues presented within communities. In her first year working at First Stage, she hopes to allow this goal to grow and see her work positively reflected in society. Aside from community outreach, Jada loves performing and looks forward to playing the role of Mother Courage Fall of 2017 at her university! 

Marcella Kearns (Lead Teacher) resides in Milwaukee at present though she hails from Colorado and the U.S. Air Force. She serves as the Associate Artistic Director with Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, adjunct instructor of theatre with Carthage College, and instructor with both Education and the Academy at First Stage. At the latter, she has appeared onstage in WITNESS, A WRINKLE IN TIME, and SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS and directed MOCKINGBIRD, 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).

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!

Kamilah Lay (Teaching Apprentice) is a rising Junior BFA Music Theatre major at Illinois Wesleyan University. She's excited to return to her second home after a two-year hiatus. Kamilah’s professional debut was with First Stage at the age of seven in HONK! Of the more than half-dozen productions she's appeared in, her favorite portrayal was the title character in JUNIE B. JONES AND A LITTLE MONKEY BUSINESS. She appeared in First Steps' THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD (The Little Blue Engine) at MYAC, where she was a member of Young Company and Organized Chaos. Kamilah also was a part of several new play development workshops, her most memorable being JUST A LITTLE CRITTER MUSICAL (Little Sister). Kamilah was honored as First Stage Theater Academy Teen of the Year 2013, which resulted in numerous solo engagements that gave her the chance to share the positive impact of First Stage with corporations for UPAF. As a First Stage intern, she valued her time with Next Steps. Her Young Performer finale at the Todd Wehr was BIG FISH (Clogger). Kamilah's played violin since she was three-and-a-half and was a camp counselor at WISTA WI Chapter of American String Teacher's Association. Kamilah aspires to connect, learn, and grow as new opportunities present themselves.

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 sixth summer with First Stage Theater Academy. 

Olivia Mauseth (Teaching Apprentice) is excited to rejoin the First Stage family as a Teaching Apprentice after attending as a student since age eleven. She is currently going into her junior year at UW-Milwaukee as a BFA Acting major and minoring in American Sign Language. Her most recent stage credits include Thomasina in ARCADIA and various roles in THIS IS WASHINGTON PARK. THIS IS MILWAUKEE. She has done all kinds of theatre and from a ton of different sides—stage management, light board, sound design, costume crew—and feels extremely lucky to be able to teach young minds at a place that made such a positive impact on her own life. She hopes she can return the favor.

Kate McSorley (Lead Teacher) began her theatre career at Milwaukee High School of the Arts, and went on to complete a BFA in Theatre Design and Technology from the University of Evansville.  Working at several theatre companies around the country, she settled back in Milwaukee to earn a Master's degree in Education from Mt. Mary University and added a theatre license from UW-Milwaukee.  While teaching Language Arts and Theatre in middle school, Kate began an annual Poetry Slam, writing and performing an annual play, and created an after school program in improvisation, acting, and film.  In 2016, Kate transitioned out of the daily classroom setting to work as a theatre teacher with Arts & Large, as a stagehand with the local IATSE, and to begin her own business making and selling wood wall art at local art fairs.  Kate is very excited to continue to grow as an educator with First Stage.

Maddie Mette (Teaching Apprentice) has grown up in Chicago and was a part of Spotlight Youth Theatre for 8 years. She is currently majoring in Musical Theatre at Columbia College Chicago. Some of her stage credits include Gertrude McFuzz in SEUSSICAL, Velma VonTussle in HAIRSPRAY, Phebe in AS YOU LIKE IT, and Jeannie in LEVELING UP. She is thrilled to be spending the summer in Milwaukee working for First Stage for the very first time. Other than theatre, Maddie has a passion for photography, coffee, and traveling. She hopes to be able to travel the world performing and capturing images of all the wonderful people she meets along the way. This summer is going to be amazing!

Logan Milway (Lead Teacher) is excited to be the Lead Teacher for Voice and Movement with the 3rd and 4th graders all summer long at MYAC! A recent graduate of Carthage College with Bachelor's Degrees in Theatre (Directing) and Communication, Logan has worked as a Teaching Apprentice the past two summers in Voice and Movement, Acting Theory, Story Drama, Improv, Scene Study, and Shakespeare. Logan has appeared in performances at the Edinburgh and Milwaukee Fringe Festivals and will be performing in the upcoming production of Much Ado About Nothing with Optimist Theatre and as Bottom in the Arts@Large production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. He can't wait to work with all of your kids to help them become great performers and even greater human beings!

Abbi Minessale (Teaching Apprentice) is a senior 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 as a student and as an actor. She was a member of the First Stage Young Company for four years and competed in the Utah Shakespeare Festival with them for two of those years. She has been a Teaching Apprentice at Summer Academy for two years and is excited to be returning to Milwaukee again this summer. Abbi loves all areas of theatre and is looking forward to sharing her passion for learning with the students. Favorite credits include: TWELFTH NIGHT, I AND YOU, CAROUSEL, NANCY DREW AND HER BIGGEST CASE EVER, AS YOU LIKE IT.

Aileen O’Carroll (Teaching Apprentice) is excited for her first summer with the First Stage Academy! She recently graduated from Marquette University with a double major in Theatre Arts Performance and Public Relations. Favorite credits include: ANYTHING GOES (Reno Sweeney), COMPANY (Sarah), AS YOU LIKE IT (Audrey/Le Beau) and DOGFIGHT (Marcy). Outside of First Stage, Aileen also works with Milwaukee Chamber Theatre as their Marketing & Development assistant. Aileen has always had a passion for theatre for young audiences and is excited to work with the talented kids of First Stage!

Erin Oberdorf (Teaching Apprentice) is a senior at Carroll University and is majoring in Music Education with Choral and General Music emphases and a minor in Secondary Education. She is a voice student of Dr. Thomas Weis and performs with the Carroll University Concert Choir and Chamber Singers. Erin is a founder and former president of PIOnissimo, Carroll University’s first and only a cappella group. Erin was very active in the performing arts program at Pius XI High School in Milwaukee and was involved in many productions in her four years there. Some of her favorite shows she participated in are Hairspray, Phantom of the Opera, and Legally Blonde.

Ashley Pavlak (Lead Teacher) is a Carthage College graduate, with a degree in Stage Management and a minor in Educational Studies. While at Carthage, she worked on the stage management team for the following new works: A Seat at the Table, The Breath of Stars and Up the Hill. Other Carthage credits include: Marriage a la Mode (Stage Manager), Juxtapositions (Stage Manager), Away from the Mirror (Assistant Stage Manager) and Day After Night (Properties Design). You may have previously seen Ashley at First Stage last summer as a teaching apprentice. As a recent graduate, her future plans are still in flux, but she is ecstatic to spend another summer at First Stage!

Elizabeth Peavey (Teaching Apprentice) is native of Menomonie, Wisconsin. After a childhood of performing in community theater plays and musicals, the arts were her highest passion. She moved to Milwaukee after high school and has completed three years of the Bachelors in Fine Arts program for acting at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. First stage is extremely special to her love of children and teaching. She is more than ready to start this experience and hopes to join the team as more than a teaching apprentice, someday! 

Mary Jo Perez (Teaching Apprentice) is a senior at UWM and a graduate of the BFA Acting Program. She is thrilled to be apart of this new experience for her, here at First Stage. Her love for theatre continues to grow alongside many other skills (like teaching) that she hopes to strengthen with awesome opportunities such as this one. Mary Jo’s past theatre credits include Mil-wonky (or Sex, Drugs, & D2L), The Crucible, RMP: Project WTF?!?!, Corktown, Or, Through the Valley Of Dry Bones, This is Washington Park, This is Milwaukee, and most recently The Tragedy of Othello the Moor of Venice. Mary Jo has also assistant-directed the production of Before it Hits Home by Cherly West, at UWM. She continues to stay involved with projects and any part of the theatre community. Mary Jo is very excited and ready to finally put her learned skills to work on the new generation of theatre makers and artists. She hopes her time here at First Stage will be as memorable as it was when she first started as a student herself over a decade ago.

Josh Pohja (Lead Teacher) is thrilled to be directing First Stage’s Summer Academy Contemporary Company Class production of Blue Stockings.  He most recently assistant directed and understudied Narrator #5 in Great Expectations at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.  As a director he helmed Golden Child at Pius XI and Antigone for First Stage’s Young Company.  As a teacher, he has taught Acting, Movement and Shakespeare at First Stage, Pius XI, Milwaukee Rep, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, The Guthrie and The Acting Company.  As an actor he has toured with The Acting Company and Guthrie Theater, and has also performed at The Alley Theatre, Old Globe, NY Fringe Festival, and Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.  He is a graduate of the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama (B.F.A. Acting), Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, Saratoga International Theatre Institute (SITI) under the guidance of Anne Bogart and the SITI Company.

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 returning for a second summer as a Teaching Apprentice! This fall she will be a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point where she will continue to study General and Choral Music Education. This  past year she has performed the repertoire of Mozart and Schumann, as well as the roles of Ms. Todd in The Old Maid and the Thief, and Checklist in a new American opera Speed Dating Tonight. Katy is excited to expand her educational experience and to continue growing her love for theater with colleagues and students. 

Kelli Rediske (Lead Teacher) I am a 4th grade classroom teacher in the Milwaukee area. I love working with students of all ages. I studied theater at UW-Parkside and received a teaching degree from Wisconsin Lutheran College in 2015. Most recently, I directed Disney's The Lion King Jr. musical for elementary students. This is my first summer working for First Stage and I am thrilled to be a part of summer academy. My goals for Story Drama are for students to gain a better understanding of self, story and teamwork. Students will explore different stories using their voice, body and imagination to solve problems, study characters and immerse themselves in the specific themes each week.

Matt Roth (Lead Teacher) is excited to begin his third summer here at First Stage.  He recently completed his student teaching at Brown Deer Middle/High School, as well as his post-baccalaureate degree in theatre education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  After a busy 2016-17 school year, he is more than ready to take on his first summer as a full lead at Journey House, Franklin Academy of the Arts, the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, and the Jewish Community Center.  Matt wishes to thank the First Stage staff for all of the wonderful teaching opportunities, the staff at Brown Deer for an amazing teaching experience over the past year, UWM for a great education program, and all of his friends and family for their continued love and support.  Cheers!

Amy Shu (Lead Teacher) is a Los Angeles based actress, teaching artist, and trained elementary school teacher. She had the privilege of being one of First Stages' Teaching Artist Fellows (2015-2016) and couldn't keep away from Milwaukee for too long and is back for the summer! After college and her teaching credential program, she started acting and it slowly began to take over. First Stage is a place where her two loves, acting and teaching, can be combined. She recently performed in the Hollywood Fringe Festival and was in First Stage's first production of Spookley the Square Pumpkin Musical as "the vines." She loves traveling, coffee, and doggies

Joe Schwaller (Teaching Apprentice) is absolutely ecstatic about his first year here at First Stage. He is a Junior at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Joe is majoring in theatre with concentrations in Performance and Directing and Stage Management. Joe has been in a number of different shows at UW-Parkside including A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM.


Alec Sill (Teaching Apprentice) is a sophomore and prospective theater major at Skidmore College and a First Stage and Organized Chaos alumnus.  At Shorewood High school his roles included Doc in West Side Story, the voice of Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors, Dr. Kelekian in Wit, Ernie in Rumors, and Luther Billis in South Pacific.  With the Shakesparody Players, Alec’s credits include The Comedy of Romeo and Juliet . . . Kinda Sorta and The Comedy of Hamlet . . . Kinda Sorta.  He is very excited to be back at First Stage as a TA.

Anthony Sims (Teaching Apprentice) is a professional actor that comes from North Carolina. He has been in several productions directed by Broadway Star, Terrence Mann, Tony winner, Corey Mitchell, and taught by Shakespeare and Company Founder, Dennis Krausnick. Anthony has had very intense and rigorous training in the field of Acting, Classical Acting, and Musical Theater.  He is so thrilled to co teach the Acting and Classical Company Class! Anthony has won numerous awards when it comes to theater:  1st place National Shakespeare Competition, Outstanding Achievement in Acting from the North Carolina Theater Conference, and many more. He is in his 3rd year of earning his BFA in Musical Theater at Western Carolina University.

Brad Skonecki (Teaching Apprentice) is excited to be working with First Stage, this summer, as a Teaching Apprentice. He is a graduate UW Oshkosh’s theatre program, where he stage managed, directed, and acted. Brad is looking forward to the compassion and creativity towards theatre that will come from these young performers.

Dr. Shannon Sloan-Spice (Headmaster) received her classical acting training at The British American Drama Academy in Oxford, England where she was directed in scenework by Sir Ben Kingsley and had master classes with Alan Rickman, Kevin Spacey, Sir Derek Jacobi, David Leveaux and Fiona Shaw. She holds a doctorate in Mythological Studies with an emphasis in Depth Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute, CA.  It is from this blended humanities perspective that she approaches teaching World Mythologies at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, IL. She lives in both Milwaukee, WI and Mount Prospect, IL and continues to make a living as an actress, director, props master, and theatre educator. She created and facilitated the inaugural summer theatre conservatory program for In Tandem Theatre and taught for many years at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre and Milwaukee Shakespeare Company. She continues to teach and headmaster for First Stage and absolutely loves it! 

Ro Spice-Kopischke (Teaching Apprentice) is so excited to be back for another summer of fun at First Stage. Ro is a Milwaukee native, and a recent graduate of The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where they received a Bachelor's in English with a focus in Shakespearean studies. 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. They are a former Young Performer with First Stage and an academy alum. Ro has also directed CYRANO DE BERGERAC and THE TEMPEST with GW Shakespeare Company, assisted in dramaturgy work for Mosaic Theatre in Washington D.C., and is a produced playwright with Carte Blanche and Bunny Gumbo in Milwaukee. Other passions include cats, LGBT+ studies, and playing ukulele.

Emilie Thomas (Headmaster) is a recent graduate of Marymount Manhattan College where she received a BA in Theatre Arts with a double minor in Musical Theater and Business. Along with being a Assistant Headmaster, 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. She has worked with Disney Theatricals, helping to develop choreography and staging for the company's Disney Jr. musicals. This past year she was on the casting team for Theatreworks USA, and worked on their new Off Broadway Musical, THE LIGHTNING THEIF.  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) is a composer, lyricist, and instrumentalist. His musical, Passing By (book, music and lyrics by Thompson) premiered in The Chicago Musical Theatre Festival as well as The New York Musical Theatre Festival in July of 2015. He is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree at NYU Tisch in the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program. He works with Skylight Music Theatre and the Milwaukee Public Schools with their KidsWrites program. Patrick is a graduate of McNally Smith College of Music in St Paul, MN with a Bachelor’s of Music in Instrumental Composition and Songwriting (magna cum laude).

Paula Foley Tillen (Lead Teacher) has been a professional musician in the Milwaukee area for more years than she cares to think about. She has acted as music director for many metropolitan area theatre companies from the junior high to professional levels, and has been active at Milwaukee ComedySportz since 1985. She is also a lead teacher at Milwaukee’s First Stage Theatre Academy, and is director of music at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Waukesha. In addition, she remains much in demand as a musical director, pianist, vocal coach, and accompanist. From 1998-2013 she was a founding member and composer-in-residence of the only professional women’s vocal ensemble in the Midwest, the Milwaukee Choral Artists. 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 at; her music has been performed been performed by community, high school, university, and all-state choirs around the USA and Canada. Her compositions have recently been performed by The East Side Chamber Players and Skylight Music Theatre’s KidsWrites.

Kayla Tillisch (Teaching Apprentice) is thrilled to be returning to First Stage and have the opportunity to work with so many amazing kids once again! Her theater experience includes both acting and directing with a particular love of Shakespeare. She is a proud First Stage Alumni, yogi, artist and coffee connoisseur. Recently, she has graduated from Indiana University—Bloomington with a double major in Theater and Drama and Communications as well as a Studio Art minor.

Katarina Vandlik (Teaching Apprentice) is a Senior Music Theatre major at Viterbo University. Last semester she studied classical acting at London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. In the fall she’ll be in her university’s production of 9 to 5 as Roz Keith. She is beyond excited to work at the camp she loved so much as a kid!  

Emily Vitrano (Lead Teacher) is so thrilled to be back at First Stage! She is currently pursuing her MFA in acting at Northern Illinois University. She was most recently seen on the Milwaukee stage as Ms. Framer in LETTICE AND LOVAGE at Renaissance Theaterworks. Regional Theatre: NY Fringe Festival, Allentown Shakespeare in the Park, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Next Act Theatre. Emily holds a BFA in Acting from University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Abigail Walker (Teaching Apprentice) is excited to be a part of the First Stage family this summer!  She will be working with students in the Story Drama and Voice and Movement classes.  Abigail is currently pursuing a BFA in Musical Theatre with an emphasis in Dance at North Dakota State University.  Her favorite theatre credits include: Wizard of Oz (Ensemble; Minneapolis Children's Theatre Company), Peter Pan (Tiger Lily; NDSU), The Odyssey (Calypso and others; NDSU), Pippin (Leading Player; Tartan Theatre), and Aida (Aida; Fridley Drama).

Chelsey Walker (Lead Teacher) is a Wisconsin native that graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Peck School of the Arts. Recently returning from Las Vegas, Chelsey is now teaching, choreographing and sharing her knowledge and experience from performing across the country. Chelsey has trained with companies such as Molodi and Cirque du Soleil, specializing in hip hop, body percussion, African and stepping; while also encompassing ballet, jazz, tap, ballroom, and ariel acrobatics. Chelsey lives by the motto "Dare to Dream" and encouraged all of her students to pursue their dreams and destinies. 

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 young Equity actor from Milwaukee, WI.  He attended classes at First Stage for nearly a decade, and has taught classes on and off for the past seven years.  He graduated from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX in 2014, and has worked professionally around the country since then.  Teddy is happy to be home again, and hopes to instill his students with the same sense of wonder that he felt while attending classes at First Stage.

Emily Zaffiro (Office Assistant) is excited to be continuing her time with the First Stage family. This is her tenth year being a part of the family, between being a student, intern, and two years of being a member of the staff. Currently Emily attends Grinnell College, where she is studying Sociology, Policy Studies and getting a couple of teaching certificates as well. She loves spending her time with the students, as they are a wonderful rays of sunshine. Contact Emily at (414) 267-2988 or


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