The Conservatory faculty at Stephens includes Broadway actors, ballet masters, regional theatre managers and artistic directors, and professional lighting and design artists.

Jennifer Hemphill

Dean of the Conservatory for the Performing Arts

M.F.A., Kent State University; B.F.A., Tisch School of the Arts at New York University

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Jennifer Hemphill spent two decades in New York before transitioning into academia. She was seen on Broadway in Mamma Mia! for three years at both the Winter Garden and Broadhurst Theatres. Prior to that, Jenn enjoyed over two years of touring with the hit show across the United States and Canada. Throughout her career, Jenn has performed in New York City, on National Tours, in Europe, regionally, with symphonies, and at sea. In addition, she has taught masterclasses and workshops across the United States and was previously on the faculty at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) in New York City. Jenn is a judge for SHOWSTOPPER! national dance competitions, is a respondent for the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, and is a member of MTEA and SETC. Jenn is also a proud member of the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC).

 

What word describes you best?

Tenacious.

 

What’s your favorite musical? 

I really do not have just one and they tend to “shift”, but as far as musicals go, probably American Idiot and Sunday in the Park with George. I love American Idiot because when I saw it on Broadway it was like watching the “grittiness” of humanity come to life by way of Green Day. I love to see grit.  I am moved by Sunday in the Park with George for the exact opposite reason. It is a stunning investigation of the struggle to find “balance” in art and in life. It is gut wrenching in the most beautiful way.

 

What drives you every day?  

My commitment to our students.

 

Courses

This semester Jenn is teaching Musical Scene Study courses, Introduction to Audition Technique and directing two pieces in our fall schedule.

 

John Hemphill

Assistant Professor of Acting

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John Hemphill was most recently seen in the First National Tour of "Dear Evan Hansen" playing the role of Larry Murphy. John starred as not one but two Dads in the Broadway production of "MAMMA MIA!" and was in the original Broadway company of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s "School of Rock the Musical." John also starred in the Broadway National Tour of "Mamma Mia!" and the First National Tour of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time." John’s film work includes Paramount Pictures "Zodiac" directed by the Academy Award-nominated David Fincher. On television John has had guest starring roles on ABC's "Castle" and USA Network's "Monk" and recurring roles on NBC's “Las Vegas” and ABC’s "Commander in Chief." Other TV appearances include NBC’s "The Black List," USA’s "Mr. Robot," HBO's "Big Love," "House of Cards," and the HBO mini-series Show Me a Hero directed by Academy Award-winner Paul Haggis.

 

What drives you every day?

I’m really driven to give students the best chance possible to fulfill their dreams. I think the students have to take much upon themselves to grow and expand their talents and a lot of what I do is to give them real world guidance, whether that be in theatre or film and television work or on the business side of things. It’s a joy sharing what has inspired me in my life and career in the business.

 

What is your greatest accomplishment?

I would say finishing. Finishing my first screenplay. Finishing my first original song composition. Finishing. And not judging.

 

What is your favorite play or musical and why?

So difficult. I’m going to try and stay away from anything I’ve done. I would say my favorite play is "Red" by John Logan. His exploration of the process of an artist through the eyes and guts of Mark Rothko is an actor and artist's playground. Truly a remarkable piece. To me I was enthralled by the exploration of what it means to be an artist in all its selflessness of expression and selfishness of self-destruction. Breathtaking work on stage by Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne.

 

Who do you admire?

Many many people in my life. But I gotta say my Mom and Dad. We can think highly of artists and those in our field but unless you truly know someone I don’t think they can be admired inside and out. But my folks, I admire.

 

Courses

This semester John is teaching Acting, with an emphasis on the teachings of Constantin Stanislavski, Theatre History (Ancient Greece through French Neoclassical Theatre), Acting for the Camera, “Business of the Business,” which prepares students for all aspects of the business after Stephens, and also directing a one-act play and a musical review to be released virtually later this fall.

 

Darren Gibson

Assistant Professor of Dance

Ballet Tech School

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Darren Gibson grew up in New York City, where Eliot Feld discovered him. He was the first graduate of The New Ballet School (known now as Ballet Tech) at the age of 16, where he worked as principal dancer and ballet master and also served on the board of directors. Since then, Gibson has accumulated numerous ballet credits, staged ballets for Richmond Ballet and Boston Ballet, and assisted Ann Reinking in an original work for the American Ballet Theatre. Gibson also has been involved in musical theater, appearing as a featured performer in both the New York Shakespeare Festival production and Broadway revival of "On the Town," directed by George C. Wolfe; and "Movin Out," directed/choreographed by Twyla Tharp. He served as assistant choreographer for "The Look of Love," choreographed by Ann Reinking, and was an original cast member in the first national tour of "Fosse." Gibson was a featured performer and resident director/choreographer in London West End's production of "Fosse" and "Movin’ Out." Other credits include "City Center Encores: House of Flowers," directed by Kathleen Marshall; "No Strings!" and the "Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular" directed by Robert Longbottom. Gibson is a proud member of Actors' Equity Association, American Guild of Musical Artists and American Guild of Variety Artists. He is a former artistic director for TexARTS and the TexARTS Broadway Company in Austin, Texas, where he choreographed and directed 30 musicals and ballets.

 

What drives you every day?

Discovering something new while trying to be a better me.

 

What word describes you best?

Impactful

 

What’s your favorite play or musical, and why? 

"Dreamgirls" (Original Broadway Cast). Seeing a full cast of talented black women and men rehearsing in the same building where I was learning ballet, dreaming that my dreams could come true. Brilliant cast, music, choreography and story.

 

Who do you admire? 

The Women in my family! No man has come close to what they have done!

 

Courses

This semester, Darren is teaching Ballet, Jazz (Musical theatre style), Choreography & Terminology.

 

Jamey Grisham

Jamey Grisham

Assistant Professor of Musical Theatre

M.F.A., Brown University, B.F.A., Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts Theatre Conservatory

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A multidisciplinary storyteller, Jamey Grisham’s body of work spans six continents, 80 countries, and more than 100 productions and venues worldwide. An actor, director, choreographer, composer and musician, his ventures have garnered six Encore Michigan Wilde Awards in theatre with an additional seven nominations, six Travel Weekly Magellan Awards in cruise line entertainment, one THEA Award and one Broadway World Regional Award nomination. His collaborators include Tony Award-winners, Emmy Award-winners, and Olympic medalists. During his 12-season tenure as a resident acting company member and director/choreographer with the historic Barn Theatre in Michigan, Grisham helmed the Midwestern premieres of Sam in “Ghost, The Musical,” Will in "American Idiot," Stacee in “Rock of Ages,” and the title role in “Tarzan.” He also choreographed the much-anticipated rework of “Pal Joey” with director Peter Schneider, librettist Patrick Pacheco and Kim Zimmer as “Vera,” as well as the newly released “Hands on a Hardbody” starring Rex Smith. Grisham is a proud member of the Actors’ Equity Association, SAG-AFTRA, Dramatists Guild, American Federation of Musicians, ASCAP, and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, where he is a two-time recipient of the SDC Foundation Observership. His training includes an M.F.A. at Brown University, where he was a Stephen Sondheim Fellow; a B.F.A from Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts Theatre Conservatory, where he was a Newberry Library Fellow and member of the Franklin Honor Society; London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art; Royal Shakespeare Company and Harvard University. 

 

Brett Olson

Brett John Olson

Assistant Professor of Theatre

M.F.A., Western Illinois University; M.A., University of North Dakota; B.A., Minot State University

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Brett Olson is a resident actor/teacher at Stephens, where he teaches a variety of performance courses. He holds an MFA in Acting from Western Illinois University, an MA in Theatre Arts from the University of North Dakota, and a BA in Theatre Arts from Minot State University. Brett is entering his second season as Associate Artistic Director of Minot State University Summer Theatre after serving in the same position at North Dakota Shakespeare Company. He appeared as a guest actor in "Anything Goes" at Stephens as well as "You Can’t Take It With You," "The Game’s Afoot" and "The Odd Couple" at Okoboji Summer Theatre. Most recently seen in Fort Totten Little Theatre's "Rock of Ages," Brett’s favorite professional credits include Claudio in "Much Ado About Nothing" and Macbeth in "Macbeth: Unrehearsed," both at North Dakota Shakespeare, Frederick in "Young Frankenstein" at Crossroads Repertory Theatre, and the direction of "Little Shop of Horrors" at Minot State University Summer Theatre. Brett is a proud member of the Society of American Fight Directors. He is an advocate for theatre as the premiere empathetic art-form and is dedicated to developing imaginary worlds to improve our real one.

 

What drives you every day? 

Stephens College students! They are bright, bold, and truly inspiring to work with.

 

What’s your favorite play or musical, and why? 

My favorite musical is probably "Hamilton." I know that in this, I am not unique. But it’s my favorite because I’ve truly never experienced anything like it – from the cast recording to live productions, it is a completely unified work with elegant, unique themes. I just love it.

 

What is your greatest accomplishment?

Associate Artistic Directorships with both North Dakota Shakespeare Festival and Minot State University Summer Theater. Producing with those two companies has been incredibly rewarding!  

 

What word describes you best? 

Dedicated.

 

Who do you admire? 

I admire so many different aspects of my family; my parents for their wisdom, my sister for her selflessness, and my brother for his protection.

 

Courses

This semester Brett is teaching Directing, Shakespearean Acting and Dialects and also directing a virtual one act play and a cabaret.

 

Pamela Ellsworth-SmithPamela Ellsworth-Smith

Associate Professor of Voice

M.M., Loyola University; B.M.E., Arkansas State University

[email protected]

Pamela Ellsworth-Smith teaches voice at Stephens and is the director of The Velvetones, Stephens’ vocal jazz ensemble, which has performed at the The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Tennessee, and the Jazz Standard in New York. The group made its Carnegie Hall debut in 2004. She has performed roles with New Orleans Opera Company and Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera, as well as regional companies on the West Coast. Ellsworth-Smith has studied and performed at The Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria. She is the Missouri District Governor for the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS). Ellsworth-Smith has been an active adjudicator for voice/choral festivals and taught master classes in various high schools in the Midwest. Her students have attained high honors in regional and national competitions, performing in professional companies and apprenticeship programs across the United States.

 

What is your greatest accomplishment? 

This is a two-fold answer:

1. Personally, meeting and marrying my true love at 41 and giving birth to my second love at 44.

2. Professionally, creating and developing successful programs that bring joy to people.

 

What’s your favorite play or musical and why?

That is difficult to choose; however, in 2005 I saw "The Light in the Piazza" at the Lincoln Center featuring Victoria Clark and Kelli O’Hara, which won a Tony Award. It was also during this time that I was in New York making my Carnegie Hall debut directing the Velvetones! Unforgettable!

 

Who do you admire?

That is also difficult to choose one person. I have many heroes/sheroes that have had a huge impact on my life. I would say anyone who sets the standard of excellence and also inspires/motivates others to greater heights!

 

Courses

This semester Pam is teaching one-on-one vocal technique, primarily to musical theatre majors, and directing the Velvetones Vocal Ensemble, an auditioned group of eight singers, including the group's holiday production, "Peace. Love. Joy." in December.

 

Michael Burke '86

Assistant Professor and Chair, Technical Theatre/Costume Design; Director of Production & Operations, Okoboji Summer Theatre 

M.F.A., B.F.A., Stephens College

[email protected]

Michael Burke’s professional work included 15 seasons at The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle as a stage manager and as the company manager, working on more than 35 productions, including the pre-Broadway productions of "Jekyll & Hyde," "Hairspray" and "The Wedding Singer." Other regional credits include The Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis and The American Heartland Theatre in Kansas City. At Stephens, Mike oversees all production areas and has technical direction and sound design responsibilities. His in-class teaching includes a variety of technical theatre courses. Mike is also the faculty adviser to The Warehouse Theatre Company. Although cancelled for 2020, he continues as Director of Production and Operations for Okoboji Summer Theatre. Mike is a proud member of the Actors' Equity Association and the Production Managers Forum and a graduate of Stephens College.

 

What drives you every day? 

That I work in theatre and, that I get to share that passion for producing theatre work with our students while working with some excellent collaborators. 

 

What word describes you best?

Relentless.

 

What is your greatest accomplishment?

Theatre related, having had a long-term career. It was my goal since high school. It's the only thing I've wanted to do!

 

What’s your favorite play or musical? And why? 

"Follies"  — it's both heartbreaking and beautiful. Wonderful music. Experiences that rise to the level of "crushing" to me are the most amazing ones. To have them played out in front of us, live — there is nothing more amazing.

 

Who do you admire?

Fearless people who really get after their dreams.

 

Courses

This fall, Michael is teaching Production Seminar (“Business of the Business” for technical theatre and design students), Stage Management and Stagecraft, and overseeing the production elements for the fall theatre series and musicals. 

 

Martha J. Clarke

Assistant Professor of Costume Design

Martha J. Clarke earned her M.F.A. in Drama with specialization in costume and make-up design and technology from the University of Montana, and her B.A. in Theatre from Linfield University in McMinnville, Oregon. She taught and served as costume director most recently at Sonoma State University, and just finished up another summer season at Utah Shakespeare Company. Learn more at marthajclarke.com.

 

Brandon PT DavisBrandon PT Davis '10

Guest Artist, Scenic and Lighting Design

M.F.A., University of California, Irvine, B.F.A., Stephens College 

Prior to joining the faculty at Stephens, Brandon PT Davis worked at the University of Texas at El Paso as a visiting assistant professor of scenic design and technology and the University of California, Irvine as a lecturer of scenic design. As an educator he is interested in how technology can enhance the collaboration process in design.

As a scenic designer he has designed more than 90 productions across the United States. Recent designs include Lysistrata at UTEP and Urinetown and Clue at the Okoboji Summer Theatre. He served as assistant scenic designer at Utah Shakespeare Festival. Davis worked as a resident designer at West Virginia Public Theatre and The Great American Melodrama. He has also collaborated with Denver School of the Arts, Western Washington University, Kentucky Rep and the University of Missouri.

You can view his portfolio of work at Brandonptdavis.com

 

Ruth Ann Burke

Ruth Ann Burke

Executive Director, Okoboji Summer Theatre; Business Manager, Performing Arts at Stephens College

M.B.A. and B.F.A., Stephens College; M.A., Drake University

Ruth Ann Burke serves as the executive director for the Okoboji Summer Theatre, and although productions were cancelled for 2020, this was her 24th season in the Iowa Great Lakes region. She is currently a Director of Philanthropy in the Office of Engagement. Before returning to Columbia in 2007, Burke worked in marketing and public relations in Seattle. She is a proud alumna of Stephens College.

 

Kristy Simpson

Administrative Assistant

B.E.S., University of Missouri

Kristy Simpson is the administrative assistant for the Conservatory for the Performing Arts and the School of Integrative Studies at Stephens College. Prior to Stephens College, Simpson was the operations manager for Mitchell Simone, an e-commerce company specializing in purchasing and fulfillment. Simpson received the HE Wilkerson Award in 2019 and serves as the chair of the Staff Advisory Council for Stephens College. She served eight years with the Rock Bridge Show Choir Boosters, filling roles as communication chair, vice president and president. She has two children active in music and theater in the community.

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Conservatory for the Performing Arts

Kristy Simpson,
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