TDF Teaching Artists

The people behind our education programs

Kate Bell is a writer, theater-maker, singer/songwriter and teaching artist. She believes that creative practice is for everyone and that art-making can be a powerful tool to increase self-empowerment, healthy living and positive social change. She founded Theater to the People with fellow theater artist Julia Cavagna in 2018; the bilingual project brings adults together to use theater-making as a social justice tool to think about immigration and gentrification. TTTP recently received a Brooklyn Arts Council Grant. As a playwright, Kate’s work has been produced or developed in New York at the Downtown Urban Theater Festival at HERE Arts Center, Park Avenue Armory (through an Education Department Space Grant), Culture Project, Theater for the New City, Red Fern Theatre Company, Sanguine Theater Company, Naked Angels Tuesdays @ 9, New Perspectives Theatre, Manhattan Theater Source, Gallery Players, Theatre for the New Economy, Random Access Theatre and at Baruch College (with Committed Theatre), as well as in the Washington D.C. area by Silver Spring Stage, and in the Appalachian Play Festival at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, VA. Past honors include the Audience Award at the 2015 DUTF and two Hopwood Awards at the University of Michigan, where Kate earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Her plays have been published on Indie Theater Now and in The Book of Estrogenius; Kate has also collaborated with the New York Philharmonic, as a story writer for their Very Young People’s Concerts. She founded the Lower Manhattan Arts Academy Theater Ensemble in 2005, and directed 19 productions there during her nine-year tenure. As a musician, Kate currently plays bass and s1ings for the Brooklyn-based rock band, The Reverse Engineers. Kate’s been a Teaching Artist in New York City since 2004, working in public schools, senior centers, libraries and youth incarceration facilities. For more information visit: katebell.info

Becca Bernard is a performance artist and educator who specializes in both ensemble and original devised theater. In addition to performing onstage as an actor, she is a resident clown for the Zany Umbrella Circus, the hospital organization Lev Leytzan and has toured with her solo performance The Fainting Room as part of the Cincinnati, Minnesota, Elgin Fringe and NY Clown Theatre Festivals.&nbsmp;As an educator, she has worked with a variety of different age levels and programs in the city including Queens Theatre, the Big Apple Circus, Robert Louis Stevenson School and as a trainer for the CUNY Master Teacher's Institute. Becca studied Commedia Dell’ Arte, mask performance and clown at the Accademia Dell Arte in Arezzo, Italy and has an MFA in theatre pedagogy from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Athena Colón  is a native New York Actress and Teaching Artist. While earning her BFA in Theater from Long Island University, C.W. Post, she co-created a physical theater performance ‘THIRD CHILD’ which toured in Italy, Czech Republic, Peru and New York City. She recently performed ‘LUNA GALE’ at The Cleveland Playhouse. Her recent TV credits include: Tracy Morgan’s ‘LAST O.G.’, CBS’s ‘BULL,’ Martin Scorsese’s ‘VYNIL’ and LAW & ORDER: SVU. When not acting on stage or film, Athena passionately teaches basic acting techniques and conducts theater workshops to over five hundred youth annually. She proudly collaborates with the Theater Development Fund, Family Life Theater, Repertorio Español, Manhattan Theater Club and Heidi Miami Marshall’s Acting Studio in New York. Athena also loves Pizza! AthenaColon.com

Adam Crescenzi is a director, published playwright, and educator who has been making theatre with communities of all ages in New York City and beyond for the last eighteen years. He holds a Master of Arts from New York University and a Bachelor of Arts from Vassar College. He is a proud proponent of arts education.

Neil Dawson  is a NYC based actor and teaching artist originally from Bronx, NY. Acting credits include Stick Fly (Majestic Theater), The Blacks(Classic Stage Company), Ain't Supposed to Die... (Classical Theatre of Harlem) , Intimate Apparel (Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater), 365 Days/365 Plays (Public Theater), AmericanBlackout (NY Fringe Festival), Macbeth (Bonn International Theater Festival), Brooklyn Bridge(Children's Theatre of Minneapolis), Black Man Rising (National Black Theatre Festival), Flambeaux (Theater for the New City), Fires in the Mirror (Cincinnati Playhouse) TV: Law and OrderToday Show, national commercials, voice-overs, industrials.  When he's not performing, he mentors high school boys at the Eagle Academy for Young Men and facilitates workshops throughout NYC works as a Master Teaching Artist for Theatre Development Fund, New Victory Theater and The DreamYard Project. Education: BA, Temple University.  MFA, University of Washington Professional Actor Training Program.

Stephen DiMenna is an Off-Broadway and regional theatre director. He is the Artistic Director of The International Theatre Project, which uses theatre as a catalyst for education, self-discovery and empowerment for young people living in disenfranchised communities worldwide. He has been a senior teaching artist for TDF since 1996. He was the Artistic Director of The MCC Theatre Youth Company for 11 years. He was on the faculty of New York University's Program in Educational Theatre for 14 years. He was the director of The Hennepin County Home School Drama Project, where he conducted workshops with incarcerated juvenile felons in a detention facility in Minneapolis. He was the Co-Artistic Director of The Stargate Theatre Company, a program of Manhattan Theatre Club that works with court involved youth in NYC. He has directed over 60 productions Off-Broadway and around the country. He directs theatre workshops regularly for The Stratford Festival of Canada. He is a theatre facilitator for the NYC DOE and was a co-author of The Theatre Blueprint. He is the director of the high school theatre studio for Summer Arts Institute for the NYC Department of Education. He is a member of The Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers. For more information, visit stephendimenna.com.

Chesray Dolpha is a Cape Flats native from Cape Town, South Africa. In 2002 she became one of the founding members of Brown Paper Drama Studio. It was an extracurricular theatre program focused on teaching students to use physicality and the strength of their voice to tell their story. Currently, Chesray is one of the lead-teaching artists for the International Theatre and Literacy Project (ITLP) based in New York City. Through a three-week residency programs students are taught play writing and acting, culminating in a performance. Also in New York City, Chesray was a full time Program Director at Urban Arts Partnership where she managed art programming in a portfolio of 14 public schools in Brooklyn. In her free time, Chesray is building an African print clothing line, AMARA Fashion. Her mother was her style icon who loved to wear bright colors and Chesray is following suit.

Carrie Ellman-Larsen is a Brooklyn based teaching artist and applied theatre practitioner and has been working in NYC schools and CBOs since 2005.  Passionate about the power of story, Carrie loves to create original theatre with actors and non-actors based on history and current political issues.  Carrie has a BFA in Theatre from NYU Tisch School of the Arts and an MA in Applied Theatre from CUNY School of Professional Studies.  She has worked with The Theatre Development Fund since 2007 and other arts organizations such as The Roundabout Theatre Company and Arts Connection, to name a few.  Carrie is currently planning on starting a documentary theatre piece with survivors of breast cancer and their caregivers.

Noelle Ghoussaini is a director, playwright and educator. She creates immersive and inter-disciplinary performance that examines and re-imagines our society within a political, social and cultural context. Recent Projects include: Acquittal (Director, Pan Asian Rep), 6 views: on women of power and interest (Creator / Performer, Venice Biennale), Mariposa and the Saint by Julia Steele Allen (Dir. National Tour), There is a Field by Jen Marlowe (Dir. National Tour.) HKEELEE by Leila Buck, (Dir. Mosaic Theatre). A Doll’s House: REMIX edited by Heather Raffo. (Dir. Epic Theatre). Phoenicia Flowers (Director / Playwright. Noor Theatre) Upcoming: A Skate Play (Director / Adaptor, Jenin Freedom Theatre), Fatima and her Pigeon (Playwright. The Flea Theatre, commission). Dreamscapes (Director / Creator, Naked Angels Lab). Noelle has also been teaching theatre, playwriting and dance for over a decade with organizations such as TDF, New York Theatre Workshop, the Jenin Freedom Theatre and viBe theatre, among others. Noelle is the recipient of the Laundromat Project Create Change Fellowship, was a New York Theatre Workshop 2050 directing fellow, a Hemispheric Institute fellow for artist activists and a member of the Lincoln Center Director’s Lab. M.A. Arts Politics (NYU, Tisch). noelleghoussaini.com

Lisa Hershey has been involved in the world of theatre education for over twenty-five years. She is the Program Supervisor for Theatre Development Fund’s Tony Honored Open Doors program. Lisa serves as a Theatre Mentor for the Arthur Miller Foundation for Theatre and Film Education and the NYC Dept. of Education Arts Matter Program. She is also a Supervisor of Student Teachers for CCNY’s Graduate Program in Educational Theatre. Lisa also works as a teaching artist for TDF’s Stage Doors, NJPAC and The Institute of Music for Children. She taught theatre for over ten years in NYC public and independent schools, pre-K through college level, including New York University, Talent Unlimited High School, The Bronxville School and Packer Collegiate Institute.  She has directed over twenty-five productions, including Oliver!, for which she was nominated for a Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Direction. Lisa has worked as an actress, director, playwright and producer, studied acting with Uta Hagen and directing at the Yale Summer Theatre Institute.  She has a B.A. in English and Theatre from Barnard College and an M.A. in Educational Theatre from NYU.

Rachel Kara Pérez is a​n educator and award-winning ​actor​ and ​singer based in New York City. ​As a Teaching Artist​ for​ the Theatre Development Fund (TDF),​ she works in the Stage Doors Program, leading residencies in NYC schools to expose students to theatre, showing them how it can be a vital part of their everyday lives.  As a Program Facilitator for Artists Striving To End Poverty (ASTEP), ​Rachel Kara ​serves as a liaison between the organization, the Volunteer Teaching Artists, and the school where they lead classes in the arts to a Spanish-speaking population of unaccompanied minors.  She is also involved with R.Evolución Latina​, which works to empower the Latino community through the arts, and recently participated in their professional training program, the Beyond Workshop Series​. ​Her performance experience and training covers a variety of genres, including drama, music, and dance.  ​With a​ ​repertoire ranging from classical to Afro-Cuban Jazz, she has appeared in concert at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Jazz at Lincoln Center. Recent projects include: Clemenza in the World Premiere of CONVICTED, in the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival; Broadway Close Up: One Hit Wonders, a concert at Merkin Hall led by Tony Nominee Mark Jacoby; a vocalist for choreographer Beth Gill's CATACOMB; dancer/vocalist in The Sound of His Living by Bianca Johnson & Dancers; Charlie in Newton’s Cradle directed by Victoria Clark at the New York Musical Festival; and The Concubine in Art of Memory, a new opera workshopped through American Opera Projects. A member of Actors’ Equity and a Latin Grammy nominated musician, she holds a Master’s Degree in Classical Voice from Manhattan School of Music and a Bachelor’s in Theatre Arts, ​minoring in Sociology with a focus on race, sex, and gender politics ​from Marymount Manhattan College. ​Rachel Kara ​views teaching as her activism, ​and centers much of her work on educating and uplifting children through the arts. rachelkaraperez.com

Tom Picasso is a professional theatre and teaching artist based out of Brooklyn, NY. As an actor, he has appeared across NYC at Classic Stage Company, Dixon Place, Duplex Cabaret Theatre, and the Laurie Beechman Theatre among others. As a voice-over artist he can be heard on many audiobooks including the NYTtimes bestseller, THE REASON I JUMP, as well as the YA novels SALT and PRISONER 88.  He can also be heard announcing for the COZI-TV cable channel from NBCUniversal. Tom attended The University of Kansas and the Case Western Reserve University - Cleveland Play House Graduate Acting Program.  As a teaching artist, he currently works with Theatre Development Fund in their Stage Doors program.  Other organizations have included the American Place Theatre - Literature to Life Program and Classic Stage Company.  He is currently in development of a solo-musical entitled THE GREAT ESCAPE OF ALEXANDER MATISSE which had a reading at The Silent Barn in Bushwick, Brooklyn. He is originally from Overland Park, Kansas.

Crystal Skillman is an award-winning dramatist. Her plays include Geek and Cut (NY Times Critics’ Picks), as well as Pulp Vérité (Playwrights Foundation, Clifford Odets Ensemble Play Commission, 2018 Last Frontier Theatre Conference Selection) and Rain and Zoe Save the World, announced as the winning script for the 2018 Earth Matters On Stage (EMOS) New Play Competition. Crystal is the musical theatre book writer of Mary and Max (with composer/lyricist Bobby Cronin, adapted from the animated film by Adam Elliot). She is also the book writer of Postcard American Town (composer/lyricist Lynne Shankel), selected for the 2018 Rhinebeck Writers Retreat. Last year, Mary and Max was awarded the Journalist Prize for the 2018 MUT Awards, premiered at Theatre Calgary in the fall, and was just announced in Playbill with a second production at Theatre Linz in Austria. Crystal’s play King Kirby, co-written with her husband, writer Fred Van Lente (about the comic book artist Jack Kirby) was a NY Times Critics Pick, hailed as a pop-culture Death of a Salesman and has been performed around the country. Her comic book and TV work includes: Eat Fighter, also written with Fred Van Lente, published on Web Toon, the largest provider of digital comics. Their original pilot Paper Heroes (“Mad Men meets Marvel”) was named one of the top three pilots for 2017 Final Draft’s Big Break contest, and one of the top 50 in the 2017 Launchpad Pilots competition. She has written for Adventure Time comics (BOOM! Studios), and contributed to Marvel’s Fantastic Four and Slapstick series. She has penned the pilot to Eat Fighter the TV series (currently a finalist for Orchard Project’s Episodic Lab), and is currently writing the pilot to her new series American Brunch. Other original pilots include: Crooked Land and Bluebook. Her play Open runs in New York this June at the Tank Theatre. Awards/Commissions include: NY Innovative Theatre Award for Outstanding Play, and two EST/Sloan commissions. She is represented by Mark Orsini at Bret Adams Agency, Ltd. Crystal teaches playwriting at ESPA/Primary Stages and Pace University. For more information, visit crystalskillman.com.

Lisa Strum is an actress, playwright, producer, director, singer and educator. She received an MFA in Acting from the University of Washington in Seattle and has performed in regional theatres all across the country.  As an actor, Lisa has performed at Lincoln Center Theatre where she worked with Tony Award winning director Thomas Kail, Summer Stage, Signature Theatre, New Federal Theatre, Intiman Theatre, The Obie Award Winning 48 Hours in…Harlem, ACT Seattle, and The Fifth Avenue Theatre. Lisa has also had a recurring role on Law & Order: SVU and co-stared in the television pilot Citizen Baines with James Cromwell from BABE and LA Confidential.  As an educational consultant, she has worked in numerous public schools throughout New York, conducted theatre workshops for Teachers College at Columbia University, and was the Theatre Specialist for the Abrons Arts Center, Barbara L. Tate Arts Camp for nine seasons.  Lisa was a Finalist for the Doric Wilson Independent Playwright Award and a recipient of the Playwrights Initiative Fellowship at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program.

Channie Waites is a performing artist, director, facilitator, educator and program consultant. She has worked and collaborated with youth, senior citizens and social justice leadership programs in the United States, Rwanda and South Africa. She has toured and performed professionally within the United States and abroad. She is currently performing a one-person adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel If Beale Street Could Talk, produced by Young Audiences New York. Channie has received several honors and acknowledgements for her audiobook narrations. Channie has been co-program director for The International Theater and Literacy Project (ITLP) –Rwanda for the last four years where she has co-directed four original plays devised by youth in Rwanda. Channie has worked for People’s Theatre Project, WNYC, The Phyllis Rose Dance Company, Creative Arts Team and The August Wilson Monologue Competition. She is an actor for Only Make Believe NYC. Channie was also co-founder of Capacity Arts, a theatre collective that created highly interactive historical dramas and developed tailored leadership workshops to lift up untold stories, build empathy across dividing lines, and deepen participants’ analysis of historical and present day conditions. Channie has a M.A. in Applied Theatre from the School of Professional Studies-CUNY, B.A. Penn State University.

Eric "Wally" Wallach creates responsive entertainment and much more. He has directed, choreographed and written many shows across the country and abroad including Millesgården, The End is Here: Enjoy!The Didi Plays and the musicals Suc DaddyThe Jack of Tarts and The Breasts of Tiresias.  He published the true-to-life play titled Interview or Who’s Afraid of Mr. Albee? in the Brooklyn Rail.  He crucified himself in Astor Place in his direct action called Radical Jew, 33. Spaceflight18, Wally’s brainchild since 2002, is getting ready to set sail for the stars again in 2018. Wally, who received his BA in Theatre at San Diego State University, also continues to bring his own approach to theatre collaboration to students of all ages throughout New York City and beyond.  Wally is a torch-bearer of the great artists he has worked with such as Jack O’Brien, Robert Wilson, Joseph Chaikin and Penny Arcade.  He is a soldier in the army of love, a truth-seeker, soul-plumber and ecstatic dancer. Browse around ebwally.com for scripts, articles, photos and videos.

Joe White graduated Cum Laude from The University Of Rhode Island with a BA in English and a BFA in Theatre. He has been an active member of the theatre community in New York City for 38 years, performing in off-Broadway theatres, including So-Ho Rep, The Public Theatre, West Side Arts Theatre and Ensemble Studio Theatre. He has performed at the Edinburgh Theatre Festival, toured India and acted in Regional Theatre. Joe’s film and television acting credits include Goodfellas directed by Martin Scorcese, and numerous episodes of TV's Law and Order and Blue Bloods. As a director, Joe has worked at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, Lincoln Center Institute and The Williamstown Theatre Festival, to name a few. As a Teaching Artist Joe is an Acting Coach at Fordham Law School and teaches playwriting at CWA Union Local 1180. He is a Teaching Artist for Manhattan Theatre Club and Theatre Development Fund. He has spent many years volunteering for The 52nd St Project (a program which brings theatre professionals together with the underserved children in Hell’s Kitchen). Joe is a member of Actors & Writers, a theatre company in the Catskill Mountains of New York, where he maintains a home.

Susan Willerman works with TDF as a teaching artist for Stage Doors and a rep for Open Doors, with Lincoln Center Education as a TA, teaches playwriting to middle school students through the Astoria Performing Arts Center, and since 1995, guides a writing workshop of retirees with Elders Share the Arts. In 1986 she has began as Theatre Instructor for the Coe College (Iowa) New York Term and is now also its Program Coordinator. Her first experiences as a theatre workshop facilitator were with the Imagination Workshop/Creative Alternatives of New York, in 1976, where she was a program artist and later Director of Training until 1989. She has since worked with many arts-in-education organizations throughout New York City as a TA and facilitator of professional development. Susan received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama from Carnegie-Mellon University. She is an actor, writer and director. Member of Ensemble Studio Theater and The Actors Ensemble. Early NY acting -  No Place To Be Somebody, (off-b’way and first Nat’l Tour). Most recent - a staged reading of A Bintel Brief, letters to the editor of the Jewish Daily Forward having to do with immigration in the early 20th century.