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Hometown: New York City
Current home: Crystal Lake, Ill.
Known for: Vazquez is currently the marketing manager Raue Center for the Arts in Crystal Lake, as well as an ensemble member and director with its in-house professional theatre company, Williams Street Repertory. She is a producer for the company’s new-play reading series, LAB Series, and works freelance as an actor and director.
What’s next: Last fall she directed Deborah Yarchun’s Bomber’s Moon for Williams Street Repertory. Her next gig is as an actor in a to-be-announced play set for April. As a director she’s looking forward to submissions for her upcoming LAB Series.
What makes her special: Miriam Naponelli, marketing director at Raue Center for the Arts, praises her ability to bring out unique performances in her actors and to paint vivid pictures through her work. “Michele is one of the most dedicated individuals I have ever had the privilege to work with,” says Naponelli. “Her passion for theatre is something to be envied and something I personally strive to emulate on a daily basis. Her creativity and talent shine through every project she undertakes, leaving patrons in awe.”
Opening doors: “A door opened for me and I walked through it,” says Vazquez of her early theatre beginnings. “I look for every opportunity to open the door for others, especially other women. The doors that opened for me when I got to New York were mainly regional theatre. New-play development requires you to cultivate flexibility. You must be open to any and all possibilities, to guide the process without controlling it. I have a passion for finding the heart of a play and helping it to beat as loudly and as clearly as possible.”
Profession: Arts administrator/
Hometown: Brawley, Calif.
Current home: Humboldt County, Calif.
Known for: Sanchez founded Lime Arts Productions to help land university students paying theatre jobs, and to “cultivate a culture of empowerment for aspiring practitioners.” He has assistant-directed two world premieres at Dell’Arte International, Ruzzante Returns From the War and The State of Jefferson Picnic, and directed the all-Latinx/Asian Pacific Islander cast and crew of Gruesome Playground Injuries. He has received the College of Fellows Arts Impact Award and the Herb Alpert Scholarship.
What’s next: As co-production manager at Humboldt State University’s theatre, film, and dance department, Sanchez will produce a series of professional development workshops for students. At Dell’Arte, where he’s assistant executive director, he’ll produce and co-direct the premiere of Radioman (Jan. 10-20).
What makes him special: Dell’Arte production manager Kaitlyn Samuel hails Sanchez’s “deceptively low-key way of knowing everyone in various community circles,” calling him “a master at connecting people in need” who then form “powerful teams poised for success in any type of project…Roman is willing and able to conquer whatever tasks are needed to make an arts nonprofit succeed.”
Culture shift: If Sanchez’s main focus is in lifting up young practitioners, it’s because he can see the future. “If we want to see a culture shift in the theatre community, it has to start with those emerging into the industry—young arts administrators who can rise to the top, young actors who can voice their needs, young stage managers who can adapt to this new mindset.”
Profession: Arts marketing director
Hometown: Moorestown, N.J.
Current home: Conshohocken, Pa.
Known for: Devine has been with the People’s Light marketing department for five years, as marketing assistant, marketing manager, and now as director of marketing and communications. In the past two years, People’s Light has rebranded and launched a new website, allowing Devine and her team to stretch their creative muscles. She’s also best known around the office for her love of Harry Potter and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
What’s next: Devine will be working on the remaining People’s Light season, which includes Sweat, Nina Simone: Four Women, For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday, Endgame, Mud Row, and Our Town.
What makes her special: Her “rigor, creativity, honesty, and resilience,” according to Zak Berkman, producing director at People’s Light, “continually elevates her own work and all those around her.” He adds that she’s brought a “refreshing, buoyant public voice to our organization that spurs folks to laugh, read with greater interest, and engage more deeply with us.”
Converging skills: “Growing up, I was all about books and plays,” says Devine about how she wound up in theatre. “I truly believe that humanity needs art to thrive.” Learning on the job at People’s Light, she “quickly realized that theatre marketing provided the perfect convergence of my strengths and interests. I get to immerse myself in plays, unpack each one, then reframe and contextualize the story being told for a variety of creative outlets. That’s pretty great.”
Hometown and current home: Denver
Known for: She is best known locally for appearing at Phamaly Theatre Company, where she serves as artistic director, in productions of Side Show, Man of La Mancha, Urinetown, and Our Town. Nationally she is recognized for being a professional artist/actor and artistic leader with a disability.
What’s next: Linton will continue the development of play projects with peers across the country, finish a few of her own plays now in development, and mount Phamaly’s 30th anniversary season this year, during which she will direct the summer musical.
What makes her special: “Regan is a force,” says Phamaly managing director Sasha Hutchings. “She approaches her work and life saying, ‘Yes, and…’ Her energy changes a room when she enters. Phamaly Theatre Company exclusively features actors with all nature of disability—emotional, cognitive, intellectual, and physical—and uses disability as a creative asset rather than a barrier. Regan works tirelessly to transform the social narrative around disability, and her dedication to the company and actors inspires everyone to take Phamaly to the next level.”
A safe haven: “As a young’un, I was shy, conflicted, and lacked confidence,” Linton admits. In order to find a way out of her shell, she turned to theatre. “Theatre was a safe place where I could explode with aplomb, escape other realities, be messy, and have a voice. Later on, after I lived a bit and was injured, I came back to theatre, realizing it was where I could build empathy, effect social change, and upend stale and ignorant understandings of what it is to be human.” What keeps her going, she says, are “people who are fearlessly and unapologetically kind and optimistic; people who don’t bullshit; teachers and social workers; the actors of Phamaly.”
Hometown: South Bend, Ind.
Current home: Chicago
Known for: Rusk is the chair emeritus of the musical theatre department at the Chicago Academy for the Arts, where she also works as vocal coach and mentor to a generation of students. In 2018 Rusk won the Chicago Academy for the Arts Faculty Legacy Award, and Feb. 15 was named Patricia Rusk Day in her honor by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
What’s next: At the academy Rusk will accompany and coach musical theatre students and prepare the seniors for their college auditions and senior recitals. She also teaches musical theatre singing classes for non-musical theatre majors, culminating in a showcase at each semester’s end. Outside the academy, she is developing a new show with her cabaret group, InterFRIENDtions.
What makes her special: “Pat Rusk is not ‘just’ a teacher, but an extraordinary mentor who routinely transforms the artistry of singers and actors,” raves Chicago Academy for the Arts head of school Jason Patera. “She is not ‘just’ a musical director, but a collaborator who can relate to students as one artist working with another. And she is not ‘just’ a former department chair, but a friend who continues to be a source of wisdom, care, and happiness for two decades of alums.”
Performers as storytellers: “Musical theatre is about much more than just singing and dancing,” Rusk insists. “It is about telling a story, and because it is the art form that is most audience accessible, it is the way we introduce the public to new ideas and challenge them to think and to feel. My students are my motivation. They challenge me, and they love it when I challenge them. I learn from them every day.”
Hometown: Kuskatan, the land known internationally as El Salvador
Current home: Washington, D.C.
Known for: Tapepechul is artistic director of Nelwat Ishkamewe, a two-spirit theatre in D.C. that “centers healing justice through art access for trans Native artists.” She’s produced a reading of the play Agokwe, by two-spirit writer Waawaate Fobister, at New Native Theatre in St. Paul, Minn, and workshopped the play Bitter Water, which featured a two-spirit character, at Columbia University.
What’s next: She’ll direct her 10-minute play, Protect & Preserve, for the D.C. Queer Theatre Festival in D.C., and will stage manage Driving Miss Daisy at the Anacostia Playhouse. Her play The Cosmic Twins will be presented in D.C. on International Commedia dell’Arte Day, Feb. 25.
What makes her special: Fellow two-spirit theatremaker and actor Ahanu met Tapepechul while trying to help a friend of hers gain healing while living on land specifically for transgender people of color, and the two have since collaborated on productions that have all been “about making space for two-spirits in the arts,” says Ahanu. “She’s very passionate about her beliefs and making things better for our community. Her powers of manifestation along with her determination make it feel like there’s nothing she can’t achieve.”
Decolonizing theatre: Tapepechul believes that overcoming the discrimination, transphobia, and xenophobia in the theatre community has only made her stronger. “I am here in spite of all of this hate,” she says. “I belong here. I create two-spirit theatre so that trans Natives such as myself can find a home in a theatre world that has rejected us time and time again.”