The performing arts faculty at Stephens includes Broadway actors, ballet masters, regional theatre managers and artistic directors, New York City audition accompanists, professional lighting and design artists, and much more.

Get to know us.

 

Jennifer Hemphill

Assistant Professor of Musical Theatre, Musical Theatre and Acting Chair

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

 

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.

 

Jennifer Hemphill spent two decades in New York before transitioning into academia. She was seen on Broadway in "MAMMA MIA!" and enjoyed three years of performing the hit ABBA show at the Winter Garden and Broadhurst Theatres in New York and two years playing to full houses on the National Tour. Throughout her career, Jenn has performed in New York, on National Tours, in Europe, regionally, with symphonies, and at sea. In addition, she has taught masterclasses, private lessons, and was on staff at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) in New York City. Jenn is a judge for SHOWSTOPPER national dance competitions and is a proud member of the Actors' Equity Association. She holds a B.F.A. from the NYU Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and an M.F.A. in Acting from Kent State University.

 

John Hemphill

Assistant Professor of Acting

 

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.

 

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.

 

Darren Gibson

Assistant Professor of Dance

Ballet Tech School

 

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.

 

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. He taught dance for the Texas State University Musical Theatre Department. He teaches Ballet, Modern and Jazz techniques and Improvisational Choreography.

 

Pamela Ellsworth-Smith

Associate Professor of Voice

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

 

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.

 

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.

 

Brett Olson

Assistant Professor of Theatre

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

 

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.

 

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.

 

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

 

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. 

 

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.

 

Michael Hicks

Visiting Artist

B.F.A., Tisch School of the Arts at New York University

 

What is your greatest accomplishment?

The umbrella of my career feels like my greatest accomplishment. I have been able to find a space in the musical theater world where I only do work that is fulfilling and don't worry about how I’m going to pay my bills. Between a mixture of hard work and luck, I have achieved something that many dream of achieving.

 

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

Ask me on another day, and I might have a different answer, but my favorite musical, today, is "The Fantasticks". I love that the work is done without expensive technology. It feels like the root of theater to me. Don’t get me wrong: I love a big, multimillion-dollar Broadway musical, but there is something about seeing a handful of actors, some scraps of cloth and props, a harp and a piano create a complete and full world. I also think the songwriting is exquisite.

 

What drives you every day?  

I am extremely regimented with routines. I am not driven by inspiration. If I waited to be inspired to work, I would rarely work, but I find true satisfaction in having accomplished things I care about, so I schedule my weeks as if someone else is telling me to practice my craft. When my calendar tells me it’s time to practice, I am upset about it, but once I am doing it and once it is done, I feel fulfilled. Seeing progress, having abilities that I didn’t have two years ago, five years ago, twenty years ago, continues to inspire me to put in the work even though it doesn’t always seem fun. Part of what I like about being a teacher, is that I have to show up at a certain place and time and share those things that I have learned. To see other people catch the glow of, “Oh, I can do that, too, if I just put in the time,” is also very fulfilling.

 

Courses

This semester, Michael is teaching Music Theory, Tap, accompanying several musical theatre classes and serving as musical director for the upcoming virtual musical performances.

 

Michael Hicks received a B.F.A. from NYU Tisch School of the Arts where he attended CAP 21 Conservatory and The Experimental Theatre Wing. He has performed at Deutsches Theater München (Munich), Vienna’s English Theater, Playhouse Weston, Capital Repertory Theatre, People's Light, Flat Rock Playhouse, The Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, Florida Studio Theatre, The Swine Palace at LSU, Ground Up Productions, The Ivoryton Playhouse, The Depot Theatre, Cape Fear Regional Theatre, Arts Center of Coastal Carolina and The Theatre Company @ CAP 21. He works as an audition accompanist in NYC, plays class for Jen Waldman and David Brunetti and plays shows for Leslie Carrara Rudolph and Joe Hartman. The multi-instrumentalist composed the score to "Plan B," which was part of the Next Act New Play Summit 5, Capital Repertory Theatre/Proctors Theatre, Albany. He’s written a couple of novels and is a vocal coach for the BFA program at Molloy College. Michael is proud to have taught at Mason Gross School of the Arts and be the first hire for The Studio in New Canaan, CT, where he taught tap, piano, voice and songwriting.

 

Alexander Le Vaillant Freer '11

Instructor

B.F.A, Stephens College, M.F.A., California Institute of the Arts

 

What is your greatest accomplishment?  

Well, I think I have achieved many important milestones in my life and career so far, such as designing Off-Broadway and working internationally. But I don't think I have a greatest. I am not done yet, so we will see what the future has to offer.

 

What’s your favorite play or musical?

Oh man, this is a hard one. There are just so many amazing pieces of theater out there. May not be my favorite overall, but the first that always comes to my mind is “Wicked.” It was the show that solidified my decision to pursue a life of lighting design.

 

Who do you admire? 

Howell Binkley and James Turrell are definitely two major influences in the way in which I create my work as an artist. But I also truly have a deep admiration for my colleagues in this industry. I have met so many amazingly talented, and just lovely people in my time in the theater, and I am always impressed with their constant determination and work ethic to create something beautiful for the greater society. 

 

Courses

This semester Alex is teaching Intro to Design, Drafting, and Lighting Design 1 and 2.

 

An American-based lighting designer, Alexander Le Vaillant Freer’s theatrical work has been influenced by his time working and studying in immersive theater and architectural lighting. When creating lighting designs in performance-based collaborations, he strives to create a seamless experience between the physical and visual elements. Alexander’s work has been seen not only stateside but internationally as well. He holds an MFA in Lighting Design from California Institute of the Arts, and is an alum of Stephens College. Previous design credits include: #Unwanted (The Shed, NYC), Not Even The Good Things (Theatre Row, NYC), Miracle on 34th Street (Pasadena Playhouse, Pasadena CA), Fruition (Theatre of Note, Los Angeles CA) Cirque Swan Lake (Mesa PAC, Mesa AZ) Fantômas-Revenge of the Image (Whuzen, China), Francesca Francesca (Edinburgh, Scotland), Ocean of Milk (Prague, CR), of Light (Reykjavik, Iceland), Titanic-A Devised Piece (Moscow, Russia). Visit levaillantdesign.com to learn more.

 

Katharina Windemuth

Instructor

M.F.A, Tisch School of the Arts at New York University

 

What drives you every day?

Working on a project, whether it's filming an illustration tutorial for my students or renovating an old house in the mountains with my partner. The accountability and rigor of projects give my days structure and purpose.

 

What word describes you best?

Persistent.

 

What is your greatest accomplishment?

I think my greatest accomplishment is that I carved out an educational path for myself to suit my interests. I designed a new major in undergrad and studied fashion design in Italy, which totally changed my perspective on costumes. Studying at Tisch while also working creative jobs in New York really helped clarify what I wanted to spend my time on.

 

What’s your favorite play or musical?

Seeing August Wilson's “Jitney” on Broadway was a phenomenal experience. The cast forged this quietly confident intimacy on such a large scale. The narrative was so engrossing that I completely forgot where I was. I think that production encapsulates the power of theater.

 

Who do you admire?

My students! They are the coolest. I'm learning so much from them already, and I can't wait to see what they do next.

 

Courses

This semester, Katharina is teaching Costume 2 and 4.

 

Katharina Windemuth is a costume designer for film and theatre. Her designs blend the precision and logic of clothing construction with the intimacy of narrative storytelling. After working as a stitcher in Berlin, Katharina moved to the United States to study at Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design, where she created an independent major in Fashion Studies. Katharina’s recent projects include the NYU graduate production of "Suddenly Last Summer" directed by Pamela Berlin and the music video "Religion" for British pop singer Shura. She holds an MFA in Costume Design from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Visit katharinawindemuth.com to learn more.

 

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 School of Arts and Humanities at Stephens College. Prior to Stephens College, Simpson was the operations manager for Mitchell Simone, an e-commerce company specializing in purchasing and fulfillment. She is the Booster President for Rock Bridge Show Choirs and is active in several other community committees that support the arts. She has two children active in music and theater in school and the community.

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