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Welcome from the Dean

As Dean of the School of Performing Arts, I am dedicated to the rigor and discipline of performing arts training that develops artistry on stage and values the significance of truly robust arts training.

At Stephens, we know the arts have the ability to challenge us to exceed and respect our similarities and differences in culture, age, class, gender and capabilities. In short, the power of the arts is unequivocal.

Stephens has a rich history in the performing arts, and it is a privilege to honor that legacy and expand the vision for the arts. The performing artists who emerge from Stephens in the years to come undoubtedly will make significant contributions to the field and society.

Please take a moment to learn more about Stephens College and explore our programs.

                                                                                                                                                              Gail Humphries Mardirosian

“It is the artists of the world, the feelers and the thinkers, who will ultimately save us; who can articulate, educate, defy, insist, sing, and shout big dreams.” - Leonard Bernstein, composer

School of Performing Arts Faculty

Dr. Gail Humphries Mardirosian, Dean, School of Performing Arts; Co-Artistic Director, Okoboji Summer Theatre
Dr. Gail Humphries Mardirosian is in her first year as dean of the Stephens College School of Performing Arts. Prior to Stephens, she was a longtime faculty member at American University in Washington, D.C. Mardirosian’s broad experience encompasses academic administration, program development and fundraising and the direction of more than 130 productions, including drama, musical theatre, children’s theatre, the classics and new works. She is also the past chair of the AU Department of Performing Arts, having opened both the Harold and Sylvia Greenberg Theatre and the Katzen Arts Center during her chairship. She has taught and directed in many countries, including Greece, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden and the Czech Republic, where she was a Fulbright Senior Scholar teaching at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. She is also involved in international forums promoting artistic exchange and interaction. She is the team leader for an arts integration research project titled Imagination Quest (IQ), a collaborative effort between Imagination Stage and AU professors. Mardirosian has won several outstanding teaching, faculty and directing awards, and has had articles published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Teaching Artist Journal and Current Issues in Education. In Spring 2013, she was invested into the College of Fellows of the American Theatre at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Her book, “Arts Integration in Education: Teachers as Agents of Change,” is scheduled to be published by Intellect Books in 2015. She earned a Ph.D. and M.A. from American University and a B.A. from Allegheny College.

Sarah Aker, Staff Artist
Sarah Aker has professional experience as a lighting designer for both theatre and dance, has experience as a master electrician and also teaching experience in higher education.  She has an M.F.A. from Florida State University with a major in Lighting Design. Her B.A. is from Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame, Indiana, with a double major in Theatre and Psychology. Her teaching experience includes work as a teaching assistant at Florida State in the College of Visual Arts, Theatre and Dance as well as guest lectures at the University of Illinois and Beloit College. Her lighting designs for more than 50 productions range from contemporary works to classics. Aker has extensive experience at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival and Surflight Theatre as a master elections (27 productions) and has been a light board programmer on several productions. She also has extensive and varied experience as an assistant /associate designer with 15 productions. Honors and awards include the Saint Mary's College Theatre Service Award and the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Region 3 Lighting Design Projects Competition where she was as a finalist.

Tom Andes, Instructor of Music
Tom Andes was the musical director of Always Patsy Cline and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Okoboji Summer Theatre this past summer and RESPECT at Stephens in Spring 2014. He is co-director of the Velvetones, Stephens’ vocal jazz ensemble. His musical Ripsnorter won honorable mention at the Jackie White Memorial playwriting contest. His new musical, Color Blind, will be produced at Stephens this coming spring. Andes is the house pianist at Murry’s Restaurant, where his piano trio has performed for 20 years. He was commissioned to write an entirely new score for Missouri Contemporary Ballet’s production of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” in Summer 2013. Andes performs with the MU Faculty Jazz Ensemble, which recently held a clinic for “Jazz in Columbia Public Schools” for the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series. He earned a B.S. from the University of Missouri–Columbia and a 2-Year Certificate in Piano Performance from Berklee College of Music.

Michael Burke, Director of Production, Adjunct Instructor
Michael Burke returns to campus following his 15th season as director of production and operations at the Okoboji Summer Theatre. At Stephens, he oversees all production departments for the School of Performing Arts; is the resident sound designer; supervises all student stage managers and sound designers; and teaches Introduction to Stage Management, Stage Management II and Sound Design. Burke is also an adviser to the Warehouse Theatre Company. Prior to his return to Stephens in 2007, he spent 15 seasons at the 5th Avenue Musical Theatre in Seattle as a stage manager and as the company manager, working on more than 35 productions, including the pre-Broadway runs of Jeckle & Hyde, Hairspray and The Wedding Singer. Other regional credits include the American Heartland Theatre in Kansas City and The Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis. Burke is a proud member of Actor’s Equity Association and a 1986 graduate of Stephens College.

Ruth Ann Burke, Executive Director, Okoboji Summer Theatre; Business Manager, School of Performing Arts; Adjunct Instructor
Ruth Ann Burke serves as executive director for the Okoboji Summer Theatre and during the school year is the business manager, overseeing box office operations, marketing and corporate sponsorships for the School of Performing Arts. Prior to returning to Columbia in 2007, Burke worked in marketing and public relations in Seattle. She earned her M.B.A. from Stephens College, an M.A. from Drake University and a B.F.A. from Stephens.

Deborah Carr, Assistant Professor of Dance
Deborah Carr teaches Modern Dance, Choreography and Dance History. Upon graduation from Stephens, Carr became a member of Charles Weidman’s Theatre Dance Company in New York City. After Weidman’s death, she established her own company that performed at various venues in New York and the United States, including the American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C. Besides choreographing her own works, she is often asked to teach the Humphrey-Weidman technique and stage Weidman repertory. She has been a guest artist in London, Dublin and Paris. Besides working with seven different members of the Humphrey-Weidman Company, she has studied with legendary Limon dancers Ruth Currier and Betty Jones and has taught at the Limon Institute. She earned her B.F.A. from Stephens College.

Brandi Coleman, Visiting Artist
Brandi Coleman is a visiting guest artist in dance. Her professional credits include performances and guest appearances in varied venues. She has taught as an adjunct lecturer at both Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisc., and Northwestern University. Coleman has completed residencies as a guest artist at a large number of universities, including the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Alaska in Anchorage. Coleman has active professional memberships in the both the National Dance Educators Organization and the Dance Films Association. In addition, she has received awards for her graduate thesis and an Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Performance in the PBS documentary Jump Rhythm Jazz Project: Getting There. She recently completed her M.F.A. in Dance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. 

Julie Douglass, Visiting Guest Artist
Julie Douglass is a visiting guest artist in costume design. She has an M.F.A. in Costume Design and Technology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and has extensive professional and teaching experience. Her costume teaching experience includes instruction at her most recent institution, Millikin University, as well as a graduate teaching assistantship at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Awards for her designs include a certificate of merit from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival and Project Runway Design Competition 2013. Her design and costume technician credits range from the classics to musicals to modern and contemporary drama. She has worked with both the Nebraska Repertory Theatre and University of Missouri Repertory Theatre. Her costume design skills include sewing, costume crafts and construction, draping, flat patterning and wardrobe. Her fashion design skills include construction, draping, flat patterning and fashion photography.


Robert Doyen, Professor of Theatre
Rob Doyen is a resident actor/teacher at Stephens, where he teaches Acting, Directing and Musical Theatre. He also teaches in the Stephens Summer Theatre Institute (STI) and has spent the last 37 summers at Okoboji Summer Theatre. This past summer, he appeared in Blithe Spirit, The Foreigner and Little Shop of Horrors. Last year at Stephens, he was featured in A Catered Affair, Inspecting Carol, Uncle Vanya and A Shayna Maidel. He earned an M.A. from Illinois State University and a B.F.A. from Stephens College.

Rusty Elder, Program Coordinator for Music, Instructor of Music
Rusty Elder is deeply honored to have served the students of Stephens College for more than a decade. A recipient of the College’s Distinguished Teaching Award, he supports the Stephens community by instructing courses in Music Theory, Music History, Music Fundamentals, World Music, Rock & Roll and Drum Set. As coordinator of music, Elder is excited to work with faculty to expand musical opportunities for Stephens students with new classes and programs. A percussionist, Elder also performs for numerous musicals, revues and recitals throughout the year. He earned an M.M. and a B.S. from the University of Missouri–Columbia.

Pamela Ellsworth-Smith, Associate Professor of Vocal Arts
Pamela Ellsworth-Smith teaches voice at Stephens and is the director of the Velvetones, Stephens’ vocal jazz ensemble, who recently performed at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Tenn., and the Jazz Standard in New York. The group made its Carnegie Hall debut in 2004. She is the artistic director of the Stephens Summer Musical Camps for elementary and middle school students. Ellsworth-Smith has performed roles with New Orleans Opera Company and Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera, as well as regional companies on the West Coast. She has studied and performed at The Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria. She 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. She earned an M.M. from Loyola University and a B.M.E. from Arkansas State University.

Ken George, Visiting Artist, Scenic Designer
Ken George works as a freelance scenic/entertainment designer in Southern California and the Midwest. In addition to teaching Scene Design, Scene Painting, Drafting, Introduction to Theatre Design and various other related courses for Louisiana State University from 2009-2012, his academic responsibilities included designing for the Department of Theater’s Main Stage productions and Swine Palace; mentoring student designers; and serving on the department’s recruiting committee. George has served as a scenic designer for various theatres and schools in the Midwest in the last 15 years, earning him the Wyoming Arts Council’s 2005 Performing Arts Fellowship Award. He is also a professional member of the United State Institute for Theatre Technology. His design credits include Oklahoma State University’s Department of Theater; Casper College’s Theatre and Dance program in Wyoming, where he designed over 20 plays, musicals and dance productions; the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Madison Rep. in Madison, Wis.; and PBS of Missouri. He earned an M.F.A. from University of Wisconsin-Madison, a B.S. from Northwest Missouri State University and an A.A. from Coffeyville Community College.

Sean Glass, Visiting Artist, Lighting Designer
Sean Glass has designed shows at theaters and organizations such as New Theatre Restaurant, Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Kansas City Symphony and Miller-Marley School of Dance and Voice in Kansas City for more than a decade. He is currently the resident lighting designer for the Heartland Men’s Chorus and serves as the associate lighting designer for KC Starlight’s self-produced productions. He earned a B.F.A. and B.A. from Avila University.


Elizabeth Hartwell, Instructor of Classical Ballet
Before teaching at Stephens, Elizabeth Hartwell was the Louisville Ballet School Director from 2004 to 2008, following a long tenure as principal dancer with the Louisville Ballet. Concurrently, she was artistic director of the Louisville Ballet Youth Ensemble, an honor company with the Southeastern Ballet Association. From 1996 to 2004, she served on the faculty of the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts and the Louisville Ballet School. Early on, Hartwell was a member of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Cincinnati Ballet and Chicago Ballet companies, and later performed in the summer months as the ballet soloist with the Cincinnati Opera, from 1987-1995. She received the 2004 Kentucky Governor’s Award for Artist of the Year, for Lifetime Achievement. She has performed the title role in many full-length classics, including “Giselle,” “Swan Lake,” “Cinderella” and “The Sleeping Beauty.” She also received high acclaim for her portrayals as Kitri in “Don Quioxté,” Swanhilda in “Coppélia,” and leading roles in important works such as Anthony Tudor’s “Echoing of Trumpets,” Mikhail Fokine’s “The Firebird” and “Petrushka,” and George Balanchine’s “Serenade” and “The Steadfast Tin Soldier.” This year, Hartwell continues her advanced somatic studies in the Franklin Method. She holds two certifications as a Franklin Method Movement Educator, earned directly from the founder, Eric Franklin. She attended the School for Creative and Performing Arts High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Lamby Hedge, Associate Professor of Theatre Arts
Lamby Hedge hails from N.Y.C. and boasts a more than 30-year career as a professional director/actor/producer. Her directing work has been featured at The Missouri Repertory Theatre, The Mansfield Repertory Theatre, The American Heartland Theatre and the famed Unicorn Theatre, where her direction and choreography of the musical Quilters garnered her a Best of Theatre Award. Her professional credits also include a nine-year stint as artistic director of the Marple Theatre; 10 years as artistic director of the Equity touring company, Shakespeare-On-Stage; and directing/choreographing the national tour of the newly revised musical Babes in Toyland. Hedge has directed over 65 productions for the Okoboji Summer Theatre, serving as associate artistic director from 2005-2012. She serves as artistic director for the Stephens Summer Theatre Institute, coordinating the summer theatre intensives and producing a five-show summer season. Her professional acting credits include over 50 leading stage roles as well as appearing in over 100 commercials, industrial films and feature films. She is a proud member of the professional actors unions EQUITY, SAG and AFTRA. Hedge returns to campus directly from the historic Mt. Baker Summer Repertory Theatre, a professional theatre in Bellingham, Wash., where she guest-directed its critically acclaimed production of Talley’s Folly. She is the recipient of both the Governor’s Award for Teaching Excellence and the Stephens College Distinguished Teaching Award. She earned an M.F.A. from the University of Pittsburgh and a B.A. from State University of New York, Fredonia.

Mimi Hedges, Associate Professor, Lighting, Scenic & Properties Design
Mimi Hedges has served as the interim dean of Performing Arts (2013-2014), director of advising and Liberal Arts (2012-2013), dean of Liberal Arts (2008-2012) and interim chair of Psychology (2009-2012). She was a resident scenic designer/scenic artist at Stephens from 2002-2006 and resident and guest designer for over 50 productions at the Okoboji Summer Theatre. She has taught and designed at the University of Wyoming and Montana State University, and acted as the head of design and technology for theatre and dance at the University of Montana. Hedges has judged for the Iowa Skills/USA VICA competition in graphic design, taught drawing and design in the art department, and designed productions for the music department at Iowa Lakes Community College. Her professional credits include designs for the Unicorn Theatre and Young Audiences in Kansas City, Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre, Tri-Cities Opera, The Montana Rep, Shakespeare in the Parks, and Okoboji Summer Theatre, as well as art direction for the Stephens Summer Film Institute. She earned an M.F.A. from Case Western Reserve University, a B.A. from The College of Wooster and an A.S. from Iowa Lakes Community College.

Lee Heinz, Assistant Professor
Lee Heinz is an assistant professor of musical theatre. Heinz is an experienced actor, director and teacher of musical theatre, Shakespeare, acting, voice and movement. She has experience on Broadway and has had reoccurring roles on Guiding Light and One Life to Live. She has had numerous academic appointments, including at TVI Studios, Chautauqua Institution, Wayne State University and Indiana University. She has also been a private acting, voice and auditioning coach. Heinz has a M.F.A. from the Academy of Classical Acting, an M.A. from Wayne State University and a B.A. from Vassar College.

Elmore James, Visiting Guest Artist 
Elmore James is an award-winning director, actor, opera singer, musical performer, writer-poet, composer/lyricist and educator. His versatile career encompasses 40 years in the professional theater, with 35 years in arts education in the United States and in Europe. He is a veteran of five Broadway shows and has performed at Carnegie Hall in "South Pacific" with Reba McEntire and Alec Baldwin, at the Kennedy Center, and at Lincoln Center and with the Metropolitan Opera. He sings in eight languages and now dedicates his time to the pursuit of teaching young performers. He has taught at NYU, SUNY Purchase, Fordham University, at Temple University and at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, Scotland. 

Herbert Moore, Scene Shop Foreman
A 2008 graduate, Herbert Moore just completed his seventh summer at the Okoboji Summer Theatre, which includes several years as the assistant to the director of production. His previous work includes stage staff for Royal Caribbean International and as an electrician for Dallas Theater Center and Kansas City Repertory Theatre. He earned a B.F.A. from Stephens College.

Cheryl Nichols, Instructor of Music
Cheryl Nichols teaches choir, applied voice and piano, and is collaborative pianist for classes, musicals and events at Stephens. In the current performing arts season, Nichols will direct and produce Dickens’ Victorian Christmas with the Stephens Concert Choir, and will serve as music director, pianist and pit orchestra director for The Light in the Piazza. Nichols is an active member of the American Choral Directors Association, where she serves as accompanist coordinator for clinics and conventions in Missouri and for the Southwest ACDA division. She has accompanied Missouri’s MCDA-sponsored All-State Choir for the last 14 years, and is the church music specialist for Oakland Christian Church in Columbia. She earned a B.M.E. from the University of Missouri–Columbia.

Jill Womack, Executive Artistic Director, TRYPS Institute at Stephens College; Assistant Professor of Children’s Theatre
Jill Womack is the founder and executive artistic director of the TRYPS Institute (Theatre Reaching Young People & Schools). In 2014-2015, the TRYPS Institute celebrates its 15th season and its first year at Stephens College. The Institute produces a year-round education program for young people ages 10 months through college and five productions. In 2002, the TRYPS-commissioned original play The Selfish Giant was chosen as one of eight new plays performed at the Kennedy Center’s New Visions/New Voices Festival. Womack has worked professionally in L.A. and N.Y.C. and was a member of SAG and AFTRA. She was a founding member of the LA Rep Company sponsored by Burt Reynolds and Charles Nelson Reilly. Womack has taught theater at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the Imperial College Summer Enrichment Program in London, England. She has studied at British American Drama Academy and is an alumna of the FSU/Asolo State Theatre. She has received the Kennedy Center’s Coolfont Scholarship and the Kennedy Center’s Award of Excellence. She earned an M.F.A. from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a B.A. from the University of Missouri-Columbia.