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Profession: Choreographer and dancer
Hometown: Born in Salisbury, Md., raised in Bridgeport, Conn.
Current home:Los Angeles
Known for: Kelley was 9 when he headlined the European tour of Black and Blue, and was only 15 when he joined the national tour of Bring in ’Da Noise, Bring in ’Da Funk as its youngest cast member. He also appeared in In the Heights on Broadway and on its national tour. In Hollywood he acted as the body of Dr. Facilier for Disney’s animated movie The Princess and the Frog, assisted in choreographing episodes of the CW series “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” and provided tap Foley for La La Land. Last year Kelley choreographed Oklahoma! at the Denver Center for Performing Arts, and he recently assisted in choreographing John Legend’s performance of his new single at the iHeart Radio Awards.
What’s next: This summer he will choreograph a concert tour for English singer FKA twigs, as well as Indecent at the Denver Center for Performing Arts.
What makes him special: Denver Center artistic director Chris Coleman, who helmed Oklahoma!, called Kelley “exacting, wildly imaginative, and a fierce storyteller. He’s also zero drama in the room, which is always a plus.”
Coloring with steps: “I’d always known I wanted to be a choreographer from a young age, and it was confirmed when I would re-choreograph my dance solos on the spot,” Kelley recalls. “What keeps me going is the need to create opportunities and tell stories from a different viewpoint. I enjoy creating musical theatre because there are no rules and I can color with every crayon in my box.”
Profession: Stage manager and lighting designer
Hometown and current home: Anchorage, Alaska
Known for: Campbell is currently the production manager of Cyrano’s Theatre Company, where she previously served as lighting designer on many shows between 2012 and 2013. She has also designed the lights for multiple dance shows at University of Alaska Anchorage and has stage-managed numerous original dance shows, including Impact, Carried Away, and Over, Across, Beyond, Through.
What’s next: Campbell’s upcoming productions at Cyrano’s include Tea for Three: Lady Bird, Pat & Betty, and a remount of Cyrano’s production of A Doll’s House, Part 2 at Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez, Alaska.
What makes her special: Playwright Arlitia Jones lauds Campbell’s talent, work ethic, and positive attitude. The two originally met when Campbell lit Jones’s play Come to Me, Leopards at Cyrano’s Theatre, which Campbell cites as one of her favorite designs. “She didn’t just light the scenes of my play—she lighted the vision I had in my head, the world, the poetry, the emotion of my play,” says Jones. “Where the stage directions called for a night-time sky, Erin, with just a few instruments, gave us a star-filled vault for the characters to search their destinies among the heavens. It gave me chills every time I watched it.”
Collaborative impact: Campbell believes that theatre provides artists with the opportunity to express themselves for a large audience. “Working as a stage manager, my favorite way to work on a production, allows me the chance to work with a variety of talented artists and then see the final outcome and how their combined talents impact the audience,” she says.
Profession: Production stage manager/artistic associate
Hometown: Multiple places, with high school years spent in Boalsburg, Pa., a.k.a. “Happy Valley”
Current home: Spring Green, Wisc.
Known for: Having worked at American Players Theatre for 28 seasons, she has seen the company grow from four to nine shows a season. A contributor to the theatre’s growth, she takes a collaborative role on productions and is known for mentoring many stage managers during their time at APT.
What’s next: This season Matten will stage-manage APT’s production of Macbeth, directed by Jim DeVita. She is also looking forward to welcoming the new designers and directors on staff at the theatre this season.
What makes her special: “Evelyn’s incomparable work ethic, her organizational genius, her sheer strength, her patience, her integrity, her selflessness, and her exacting discernment have made her indispensable,” raves Brenda DeVita, APT’s artistic director. DeVita, who has worked with Matten for more than two decades, especially praises her colleague’s dedication to storytelling. “She has given her life to the theatre because of her deep belief in the power of great stories.”
Appreciate the service: “For me it’s all about feeling like I am in service to the art and the artists,” says Matten, who was introduced to theatre at the beginning of her college career, and who had stage-managed her first production by the end of her freshman year. “I relish being in the rehearsal room. I like working with and watching artists do their craft, and I appreciate the collaborative nature of the profession that we do.”
Hometown: New York City
Current home: San Diego, Calif.
Known for: As director of arts engagement at the Old Globe, Bradley-Ballentine has created multiple engagement programs. Much of the programming there focuses on community and accessibility, including CoLab, a community writing workshop, and AXIS, a series of cultural events free to the public.
What’s next: Currently he’s working on a free concert and dance party at the Old Globe for Disco Manila Fever—“basically the Filipino ABBA,” he explains.
What makes him special: “He has built a huge, complex network of programming that makes a gigantic impact in countless corners of our community,” says Barry Edelstein, the Old Globe’s Erna Finci Viterbi artistic director. Edelstein considers arts engagement to be the signal achievement of his time leading the theatre, and he puts Bradley-Ballentine’s leadership at the center of that work. “Freedome is a visionary whose every breath is about the way theatre can make a difference in people’s lives, how it can really matter. He’s got a big laugh and a bigger heart, and everything he does is imprinted with wit and fun and sincerity and integrity. The Globe wouldn’t be what it is without him.”
Community through theatre: Bradley-Ballentine credits George C. Wolfe with getting him into theatre. “He made space for me, helping me see how theatre could be cool, relevant, and a viable profession,” he says. When it comes to arts engagement, Bradley-Ballentine says he’s “interested in proving how uniquely theatre brings us together by decreasing social isolation, increasing empathy and building positive social connections.”
Profession: Writer, actor, musician
Current home: Astoria, N.Y.
Known for: Benitez’s all-female play Dike was recently workshopped for Tatiana Pandiani’s 2050 Fellowship Project at New York Theatre Workshop and had an eight-week run last December. This past year her plays Adaptive Radiation and Ashe In Johannesburg received regional premieres in New Paltz, N.Y., and Raleigh, N.C. As an actor she appeared in The Album with New York City’s Tectonic Theater Project and Indecent at GableStage in Coral Gables, Fla.
What’s next: GringoLandia, a play commissioned by Miami’s Zoetic Stage, will premiere in 2020 as part of a planned Cuban trilogy. She is also workshopping the play Whitewashed and beginning the book for a new musical, I Am. In addition Benitez will star in the musical Under Fire at St. Petersburg’s freeFall Theatre this summer.
What makes her special: North Carolina’s Burning Coal Theatre gave its first playwriting commission to Benitez. Says Burning Coal artistic director Jerry Davis, “We were delighted with the result.” Over eight drafts of Ashe in Johannesburg, about Black tennis star Arthur Ashe’s 1973 visit to South Africa, he says Benitez “took every note seriously and crafted a complex biographical picture” of the sports and Civil Rights giant, finding “the humanity and the internal conflict” of the story.
More life: Among the things Benitez hopes for the future of the theatre scene are “shifts into equitable representation in theatre both onstage and behind the table, more bilingualism in mainstream storytelling, and more dynamic roles for female-identifying performers.”
Hometown: Lake Bluff, Ill.
Current home: Brooklyn
Known for: Sachnoff originated the role of Jane Jr. in Will Arbery’s play Evanston Salt Costs Climbing, which she workshopped at the New Group, Clubbed Thumb, Playwrights Horizons, and the New Neighborhood, plus the role of Sascha in the play Wheelchair. She can also be seen in the web series “Good Cop Great Cop.”
What’s next: She will star in a short film by Mona Pirnot based on her Youngblood “brunch play” Strategies for Staying Calm, and is working on a project with Calliope Theatre Company.
What makes her special: Arbery, who has worked with Sachnoff on several projects, was “so impressed that I wrote two roles specifically for her,” he says. “Despite being humble and averse to self-promotion, she’s always working. She’s one of those actors to whom playwrights flock, because she brings so much of her heart to each role, and she works diligently and intelligently and without ego. She has a remarkable ability to make sadness funny, and to make humor sad and moving. She’s a bundle of painful alive-ness. Despite drawing so little attention to herself, she’s unmistakably brilliant.”
What makes her special: “I want to make theatre that gives people the creeps,” says Sachnoff. “The good, giddy creeps and the bad, prickly creeps that make people remember how lonely every person is. We’re all weird, kind, beautiful jerks, and when theatre is good it reminds us of that in a brutal way. I want to make theatre that helps me remember life is gorgeous even when it’s the pits.”
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