Starkle Dream Up. Stephens College

Welcome from the Dean

As Dean of the School of Creative and 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 creative professionals 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 Creative and Performing Arts Faculty


Dr. Gail Humphries Mardirosian, Dean, School of Creative and Performing Arts; Artistic Director, Okoboji Summer Theatre
Fellow, College of Fellows of the American Theater; Ph.D., M.A., American University; B.A., Allegheny College
5th Year at Stephens

Dr. Gail Humphries Mardirosian is in her fifth year as dean at Stephens College. Last fall, she was pleased to assume the expanded role as dean of the School of Creative and Performing Arts. At Okoboji Summer Theatre (OST), her directing credits include the recent The Miracle Worker, as well as To Kill a Mockingbird, The Diary of Anne Frank and On Golden Pond. On campus, she has directed When We Were Young and Unafraid, Cabaret, a staged reading of the new musical The Fourth Estate and the original production of Traces in the Wind, which also toured to Washington, D.C., and Phoenix. The project is chronicled in the book “The Courage to Fight Violence Against Women.” She is professor emerita at American University in Washington, D.C. Mardirosian’s broad experience encompasses academic ad­ministration, program development and fundraising and the direction of over 170 productions, including drama, musical theatre, children’s theatre, the classics and new works. She has taught and directed in countries such as 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 a recipient of the Likhachev/Yeltsin Cultural Fellowship at the St. Petersburg Performing Arts Academy in Russia. Mardirosian has won several outstanding teaching, faculty and directing awards, and has published articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Teaching Artist Journal and Current Issues in Education. In 2013, she was invested into the College of Fellows of the American Theatre. This past year, Stephens pre­sented a statewide arts education summit focusing on her book “Arts Integration in Education: Teachers and Teaching Artists as Agents of Change.” It was funded with support from the Missouri Arts Council, The Bank of Missouri, Missouri Alliance for Arts Education and the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau.


Timuchin Aker, Assistant Professor of Theatre
M.F.A., University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; B.A., Kalamazoo College
3rd Year at Stephens

Timuchin Aker is a resident actor/teacher at Stephens, where he teaches all levels of acting, directs, acts in various productions, and fight directs. At Stephens, he directed Emma, and has acted in Intimate Apparel, Blithe Spirit, Into the Wood, An American Daughter, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hay Fever and Clybourne Park. Professionally, Aker has worked across the country at Actors Theatre of Louisville, The Cleveland Playhouse, Great Lakes Theater Festival, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Illinois Shakespeare Festival, American Theatre Company, Okoboji Summer Theatre, among others. He completed the acting apprenticeship at Actors Theatre of Louisville, following which he lived and worked in N.Y.C. and Chicago. He also worked as an actor, director and writer of various world premieres while a member of The Ruckus, a Chicago-based theatre company. While in Chicago, Aker taught several classes based in Meisner Tech­nique at Green Shirt Studio. While earning his M.F.A. in Acting, he also studied the Alexander Technique at the Alexander Technique Center Urbana.


Tom Andes, Instructor of Music
B.S., University of Missouri–Columbia; 2-Year Certificate in Piano Performance, Berklee College of Music
12th Year at Stephens

Tom Andes is the co-director of The Velvetones, Stephens’ vocal jazz ensemble. Andes has music directed productions for the Okoboji Summer Theatre and the Playhouse Company. He composed an original score for "Traces in the Wind," a tone poem by Stephens School of Creative and Performing Arts Dean Gail Humphries Mardirosian, which Stephens took to Washington, D.C. Andes has submitted his original musical, "Color Blind," to the New York Musical Festival for production. He is the house pianist at Murry’s Restaurant, where he performs weekly with his jazz trio.


Dr. Kate Berneking Kogut, Associate Professor
Dr. Kate Berneking Kogut is an associate professor of English and creative writing. She specializes in scriptwriting and new script development. She is a writer and script consultant. Her plays have been produced, showcased and workshopped in California, New York, Chicago and in venues in the South and the Midwest. Kogut also writes, directs and produces short films through her production company, Envelope Sky Creative. One of her current research projects is the examination of "below the line" career opportunities for women working in the film industry. Another research interest is transmedia storytelling, which is ways in which a story unfolds through various media. She looks forward to the release of her transmedia storytelling project and the accompanying web series. She earned her Ph.D. in Theatre at the University of Missouri-Columbia.


Steph Borklund, Assistant Professor 
Steph Borklund is an assistant professor of digital filmmaking. She has more than 15 years of experience as a producer, director and editor. Her works include documen­taries, narratives, and corporate and industrial videos. She previously worked as director of postproduction in Cali­fornia for Left Coast Productions, where she won several Telly, Aurora and Summit Creative awards (editing) for her corporate and industrial work. Her most recent short film, "Chasing AllieCat," is in postproduction. Other works include producing and directing "I Am One" (Citizen Jane Film Festi­val), a short educational film about bullying; co-producing and editing the documentary "Hollywood East" (Jacksonville Film Festival), a short documentary about the silent film era in Jacksonville, Fla.; and working as an assistant camera operator on "Getting Away Together," a PBS television series. Her most rewarding job has been teaching at Stephens and having the opportunity to teach the next generation of fe­male filmmakers. She earned her M.F.A. from Savannah College of Art and Design and a B.A. from the University of Kansas.


Dr. Ann Breidenbach, Assistant Professor
Dr. Ann Breidenbach is an assistant professor in the Women’s Studies and Creative Writing programs at Stephens. She earned her Ph.D. in Rural Sociology with a graduate certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies from the University of Missouri-Columbia. While working on her dissertation, she rediscovered her passion for writing. Breidenbach began taking seminars in creative nonfiction writing and eventually enrolled in an M.F.A. program. She earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the Solstice low-residency program at Pine Manor College in Boston in 2014. Breidenbach brings an interdisciplinary approach and her identity as a writer to her teaching. She is working on a manuscript titled "Girlhood Cache," which is a memoir told through a series of flash non-fiction essays. Her current research project, “Feminist Activism and the Women’s Film Festival: a Site for Social Change,” explores the impact of women’s film festivals as a means of feminist activism. 


Dr. Sean Clouse, Associate Professor 
Dr. Sean Clouse is director of The Children's School at Stephens College. He teaches education, psychology and counseling courses in the Education programs at Stephens, where he’s been on faculty since 2006. He also serves as the certification officer for the School of Interdisciplinary Studies’ educational programs. Clouse has a B.A. in Psychology and master's degrees in Counseling Psychology and Human Development and Family Studies, as well as a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology. As of this summer, he will also be a licensed psychologist. He is an expert in life span and child development, counseling psychology, multicultural issues in psychology. In addition to his faculty position, Clouse provides therapy for clients at a non-profit, no-fee family mental health clinic in Columbia. He is a member of the Missouri Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and the American Psychological Association.


Robert Doyen, Program Coordinator for Theatre, Professor of Theatre
M.A., Illinois State University; B.F.A., Stephens College
37th Year at Stephens

Rob Doyen is a resident actor/teacher at Stephens, where he teaches Acting and Directing. He has spent the last 41 summers at Okoboji Summer Theatre. This year at Okoboji, Doyen appeared in Leaving Iowa, Annie, The Miracle Worker and Over The River and Through The Woods. Last season at Stephens, he was featured in Blithe Spirit, Anything Goes, The Heiress and Into the Woods. Doyen is a member of Actors’ Equity Association and the Screen Actors Guild.


Rusty Elder, Program Coordinator for Music, Instructor of Music
M.M., B.S., University of Missouri-Columbia
19th Year at Stephens

Rusty Elder serves as a teacher, administrator, adviser and performer. As coordina­tor of music, he has worked with faculty over many years to create the B.F.A. in Vocal Performance, a unique music major that unites Stephens’ strengths in Vocal Jazz, Musical Theatre and Classical Voice. Elder works with faculty to facilitate a rich variety of music opportunities to Stephens students: private lessons, academic classes, ensembles, master classes, studio classes and more than 10 major perfor­mances each year. He is also a member of the First-Year Faculty Adviser program, a program that pairs first-year students from all disciplines with experienced faculty dedicated to their success. A recipient of the College’s Distinguished Advising and Teaching awards, Elder instructs courses in Music Theory, Music His­tory, World Music, and Rock & Roll. A percussionist, he performs for numerous musicals, revues and recitals throughout the year.


Pamela Ellsworth-Smith, Associate Professor of Voice
M.M., Loyola University; B.M.E., Arkansas State University
26th Year at Stephens

Pamela Ellsworth-Smith teaches voice at Stephens and is the director of The Velv­etones, Stephens’ vocal jazz ensemble, which has performed at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Tennessee, and the Jazz Standard in New York. The group made its Carnegie Hall debut in 2004. She also directs Stephens’ A Class Act: Musical Theatre Troupe. 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. 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.


Darren Gibson, Visiting Guest Artist, Dance
Ballet Tech School
2nd Year at Stephens

Darren Gibson is a former artistic director for TexARTS Academy and the TexARTS Broadway Company in Austin, Texas, where he choreographed and directed 30 musicals and ballets. He grew up in New York where Eliot Feld discovered him. He was the first graduate of The New Ballet School (known now as Ballet Tech), 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 and Boston ballets, and assisted Ann Reinking in an original work for the American Ballet Theatre. He 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. Gibson was a featured performer and resident director/choreographer in London’s West End production of Fosse. Other credits include the Broadway production of The Look of Love, City Center Encores: House of Flowers, No Strings! and the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular. He last performed in the Broadway production of Twyla Tharp’s Movin’ Out and later acted as dance supervisor for London’s West End production of the same show. Gibson taught dance in the Texas State University Musical Theatre Department and was also a co-artistic director/director of the Dance Department for Broadway Theatre Project (BTP) and artistic director of BTP2.


Jennifer Hemphill, Assistant Professor of Musical Theatre
M.F.A., Kent State University; B.F.A., Tisch School of the Art at New York University
1st Year at Stephens

As an actor, Jennifer Hemphill enjoyed three years of performing the hit ABBA show "Mamma Mia!" on Broadway at the Winter Garden and Broadhurst theatres and on the National Tour for two years, playing to full houses across the United States and Canada. For the last two decades, Hemphill has performed in New York, on tours across, in Europe, at sea and with symphonies. In addition to acting, she has taught masterclasses and private lessons, and was on staff at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) in New York City. Additionally, she enjoys adjudicating for Showstopper national dance competitions. Hemphill is a proud member of the Actors’ Equity Association.


Matthew Pedersen, Visiting Guest Artist, Costume Design
M.F.A., Florida State University; B.F.A., University of Central Missouri
2nd Year at Stephens

Matthew Pedersen is a costume designer and wearable artist based out of Brooklyn, New York. As a native of Columbia, Missouri, he is very excited to join the team at Stephens College. After serving two consecutive apprenticeships at the Santa Fe Opera, Pedersen obtained his M.F.A. in Costume Design from Florida State University. During that time, he served as the assistant costume shop manager for Central City Opera and designed productions in the theatre, film, dance and opera depart­ments at Florida State University. After completing his M.F.A., Pedersen quickly moved to New York City to work in the wardrobe department of The Metropolitan Opera. Since living in New York, he has served as a costume design assistant on Broadway productions including "The Book of Mormon," "Aladdin," "Natasha," "Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812," "Frozen," "Misery" and "Sylvia." His design work has been seen on the opera stages of Tri-Cities Opera, IllumniArts, the Manhattan School of Music, the Curtis Institute of Music, and the Bard College Conservatory of Music. His work has also been featured in primetime commercials/promos for networks and companies like ESPN, Crest, Netflix and Madison Square Garden. This summer Pedersen served as the resident costume designer for the Endstation Theatre in Lynchburg, Virginia. He also designed a world premier opera, "My Undying Love," with the American Chamber Opera in New York City. He also was featured in a world exhibit highlighting 200 of the most innovative costume designers of the 21st century from more than 50 countries at Bakarushan State Historical Museum in Moscow, Russia.


Kristine Somerville, Assistant Professor
Kristine Somerville teaches contemporary literature, advanced composition, language ethics, nonfiction workshop, fiction workshop and the Harbinger publishing internship at Stephens College. Her short stories and prose poems have been published in various magazines, including The North American ReviewPassages NorthRiver CityZone 3The South Carolina Review and Quarterly West. Her essay "Katie Suber" received notable mention in Best American Essays, and her fiction has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize. Her visual and “Found Text” features and omnibus reviews appear regularly in The Missouri Review.


Chase Thompson, Assistant Professor
Chase Thompson is an assistant professor of digital filmmaking at Stephens. Thompson, an independent filmmaker, is a fourth-generation teacher with a passion for helping students find their creative voice through digital filmmaking and photography. His feature length documentary Zielinski was selected into Slamdance, True/False Film Fest and Radar Hamburg International Independent Film Festival, and it received Best Political Doc at Philadelphia Independent Film Festival and the Golden Reel Award at the Nevada Film Festival. Thompson is a screener for Slamdance and is working on his next feature, "The Legend of Sir Lattimore Brown." In the meantime, he wrote and directed "Threshold" (Fargo Film Fest) and "Flat Black" (2014). In 2014, Thompson led a student group to Haiti to create a short documentary for the buildOn organization; photos from the trip appeared in Photographer’s Forum Best of 2014 and 2016 publications. He is pursuing his M.F.A. in Screenwriting and Television at Stephens. He earned a B.S. from Columbia College.


Dr. Mark Thompson, Associate Professor 
Dr. Mark Thompson is an associate professor of history and global studies. He holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Toronto. Thompson teaches modern European, U.S. and world history, as well as the sophomore core courses Government and Economics and Global Village. His research interests include the Indochina War, as well as the intersection of European integration and decolonization. His article "Defending the Rhine in Asia: France’s 1951 Reinforcement Debate and French International Ambitions" is forthcoming with the journal French Historical Studies.


Kerri Yost, Associate Professor
Kerri Yost is an associate professor of digital filmmaking at Stephens. She is an independent filmmaker who learned filmmaking overseas while teaching abroad. After returning home to Missouri, she focused on films about the people in the Midwest. Her feature film "Neither Here Nor There" documents Bosnian refugees starting new lives in Missouri, which played on PBS and was nominated for an Emmy. Her short documentary films "Billy" and "X-Ray Man" focus on soldiers who had extraordinary lives. Committed to helping women gain more access to the film industry, Yost founded the Citizen Jane Film Festival at Stephens in 2008. The festival has grown ever since, providing opportunities for women filmmakers to showcase their work to our local community and Stephens film students to learn about the film industry firsthand. She earned her M.A. from Central Missouri State University and a B.A. from the University of Missouri-Columbia.


Dr. Tegan Zimmerman, Assistant Professor
Dr. Tegan Zimmerman is an assistant professor of English and creative writing. She specializes in contemporary women’s historical fiction, contemporary gender studies and literary theory. She has master’s degrees in creative writing (University of East Anglia) and philosophy (University of Calgary) and a Ph.D. in comparative literature (University of Alberta). Her book “Matria Redux: Caribbean Women’s Historical Fiction,” forthcoming from Northwestern UP, examines the concepts of maternal history and maternal genealogy.



Creative and Performing Arts Staff

Sarah Aker, Staff Artist, Lighting Design
M.F.A., Florida State University; B.A., Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana
4th Year at Stephens

Sarah Aker teaches, designs, serves as the master electrician and advises stu­dents at Stephens. This past year at the College, she designed "Intimate Apparel," "Blythe Spirit," "The Heiress," "Into the Woods" and the Spring Dance Concert. Before Stephens, Aker was the staff space coordinator and lighting designer for the Uni­versity of Illinois Department of Dance. Professional lighting design credits include designs for Okoboji Summer Theatre (Iowa); Bristol Valley Theater (New York); Station The­atre (Illinois); Parkland College (Illinois); South Bend Civic Theater (Indiana); Illinois Shakespeare Festival (Illinois); Beloit College (Wisconsin); Ruth Page Center for the Arts in Chicago; and About Face Theatre in Chicago.


Michael Burke, Director of Production, School of Creative and Performing Arts;  Director of Production & Operations, Okoboji Summer Theatre
B.F.A., Stephens College
12th Year at Stephens

Michael Burke returns to campus following the successful 61st season at Okoboji Summer Theatre. At Stephens, he oversees all production departments for the School of Creative and 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 "Jekyll & 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 Production Managers Forum and graduate of Stephens College.


Ruth Ann Burke, Executive Director, Okoboji Summer Theatre; Business Manager, School of Creative and Performing Arts
M.B.A. and B.F.A., Stephens College; M.A., Drake University
12th Year at Stephens

Ruth Ann Burke serves as the executive director for the Okoboji Summer Theatre, where she recently completed her 20th anniversary summer and helped the com­pany celebrate 61 seasons in the Iowa Great Lakes region. During the school year, she is the business manager, overseeing box office operations, marketing and corporate sponsorships for the School of Creative and Performing Arts. Before returning to Columbia in 2007, Burke worked in marketing and public relations in Seattle. She is a proud alumna of Stephens College.


Dr. Rebecca Holley, Scene Shop Foreman
Ph.D, University of Missouri-Columbia
1st Year at Stephens

Dr. Rebecca Holley is an artist and educator who hails from Colorado. She holds a Ph.D. in Theatre from the University of Missouri-Columbia, where she wrote her dissertation on cosmic symbolism in musical theatre. In Columbia, she has stage managed and designed lights for several GreenHouse Theatre Project shows, and stage managed and sound designed for many shows at Mizzou’s Department of Theatre. Favorite projects include: “Our Town” and “A Christmas Carol” with GreenHouse, and “Crimes of the Heart,” “By the Bog of Cats” and “Greater Tuna” with Mizzou’s theatre. This past summer, she served as the technical director for the on-campus Stephens College Summer Theatre Institute.


Kerri S. Packard, Costume Shop Supervisor
M.F.A., University of Iowa; B.F.A., Arizona State University
2nd Year at Stephens

Kerri Packard has been a costume designer/technician for over 30 years. Her work has been seen at the University of Missouri-Columbia (where she taught for 23 years), the Texas Shakespeare Festival, Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre, Maples Repertory Theatre and Southeast Missouri State University.


Kristy Simpson, Administrative Assistant, School of Creative and Performing Arts
B.E.S., University of Missouri-Columbia
1st Year at Stephens

Kristy Simpson is the administrative assistant for the School of Creative and Performing Arts. She has a 10-year background in e-commerce purchasing and fulfillment, most recently serving as the operations manager for Mitchell Simone, LLC. Simpson has two children active in the arts and serves on several local booster committees.

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