Meet the NJPAC 2016 Summer Programs Faculty


All-Female Jazz Residency Faculty

Geri Allen (Artistic Director)


Geri Allen is a pianist/composer, Guggenheim Fellow, and Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.  The first recipient of the Lady of Soul Award for jazz, Allen was also the first woman, and youngest person to receive the Danish Jazz Par Prize. Allen’s work is featured in the Lisa Gay Hamilton Peabody Award winning film, Beah: A Black Woman Speaks, and Andy Bey's GRAMMY nominated American Song. Allen received an NAACP Image Award nomination in 2011; she also performed in a theatrical and musical celebration honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., MLK: A Monumental Life, for the statue unveiling. Allen is a pianist/composer on Terri Lyne Carrington's GRAMMY-winning Mosaic Project, and performs with the collaborative trio featuring both Carrington and Esperanza Spalding. Allen also tours consistently with her Trio and Tap Quartet, Timeline. The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Maestro Jacques Lacombe, commissioned Stone and Streams, an original work by Allen, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of King's "I Have a Dream" speech. The work was performed as part of the NJSO's Gala Celebration in September 2013. She continues to concertize internationally.

Singer/Songwriter Workshop Faculty

Amy Ward-Wurst (Singer/Songwriter Workshop Teacher)

amy_ward_wurst_170x160.jpgSinger/songwriter/teacher Amy Ward-Wurst delivers her music with a pop/rock/soul sound. A graduate of Berklee College of Music, she has had hundreds of songs air in various feature films and TV shows in the United States, Canada and Europe on CBS, ABC, FOX, FX, USA, The WB and Lifetime. Ward-Wurst has performed at such venues as Madison Square Garden and Shea Stadium, and also opened for the Dave Matthews Band. She has been teaching music in the New York City area for 10-plus years, as well as directing musicals and hosting piano/vocal recitals.

Mark D. Conklin (Singer/Songwriter Workshop Artistic Director)


Mark D. Conklin is an award-winning songwriter/producer/manager and the founder of Music City East, LLC, a full service entertainment and marketing company. Music City East’s artist roster includes singer/songwriter Mree, who was recently named a “Rising Star” by the Grammy Foundation. As a songwriter, Conklin has had songs reach the Top 10 on several Billboard album charts and Top 40 on the Billboard Indicator and Country Breakout Singles Charts. He has won the L.A. Music Award for Best Pop Song, as well as the Independent Music Award (IMA) for Country Song of the Year and nomination for producer of the Country Album of the Year. His songs have been heard in film and television shows, such as HBO, SHOWTIME, CW and the E Channel, as well as several appearances at the Cannes Film Festival and recently a Target holiday national TV commercial.

Young Artist Summer Intensive Faculty

Janeece Freeman Clark (Musical Theater Advanced Division Instructor)

Janeece.JPGJaneece Freeman has spent most of her career simultaneously performing and educating. She has a great love for both, and would have it no other way. As an actor, she can be seen as Miss Molly on PBS KIDS award-winning children’s series Dittydoodle Works. She has appeared on and off Broadway in productions including Urinetown the Musical, The Ark, A Band of Angels, and Africa Plumbridge. She has also performed in many regional theater houses across the country, her favorites including: Westport Playhouse, Westport, CT; Arena Stage, Washington, DC; Center Stage, Baltimore, MD; Dallas Theater Center, Dallas, TX; Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT; Theater Building Chicago, Chicago, IL; Cape Playhouse, Cape Cod MA, and Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit, ME. Some of her favorite roles have been Charlayne in Ain’t Misbehavin’, Brenda in Smokey Joe’s Café and Ida B. Wells in Constant Star. Freeman received her Bachelor's in Music from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!), where her concentration included musical theater, vocal performance and music education. During her tenure there, she reluctantly admits to having been first runner-up in a Miss Michigan competition. As an educator, Freeman teaches vocal technique to musical theater students attending NJPAC’s Young Artist Institute. She is also a vocal instructor at the Institute of Music for Children in Elizabeth, NJ. She has worked as a teaching artist in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx through Periwinkle National Theater Company and has directed and choreographed several musical productions at Brooklyn High School of Legal Studies. She has conducted various children, youth and gospel choirs in New York City and abroad and heads her own private vocal studio in South Orange, NJ.

Daryl Stewart (Musical Theater Advanced Division Instructor)


Daryl Stewart comes from a uniquely diverse background in the performing arts. As a performer, he has performed on renowned stages across the country. He has portrayed roles in musical productions like the Gershwins' My One and OnlyFive Guys Named MoeLeader of the PackThe Wild Party, CarouselRagtimeInto the Woods and Disney’s Aida as well as a host of TV/film projects. Additionally, he has worked with the New York Musical Theater Festival, Downtown Theater Festival, regional and several off-Broadway theaters in new musical theater works. As an educator, Stewart is a sought-after clinician, coach and teaching artist who specializes in working with young talent. He has served as the Associate Director/Choreographer of several productions, including FameOnce on This IslandHigh School MusicalOnce Upon a MattressSeussical, and The Wiz. He has studied dance with Kate Swan, Sherry Alban and Tori-Lockett Kruse. In addition to his theatrical work, his choreography has been commissioned for festivals, concerts, competitions, music videos, and performance workshops in the industry. At NJPAC, Stewart serves as the Musical Theatre Dance Instructor for the Young Artist Institute and is a musical theater teaching artist for In-School Residencies. He is also a teaching artist and performance coach at the All Stars Project Inc., Snyder High School of the Arts and Burnet Middle School. He is the recipient of the Wasserman Award for Excellence in the Arts, two-time Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star nominee and a BMC Award for Entertainment nominee. Stewart is a proud alumnus of the New York Conservatory of Dramatic Art, Paper Mill Playhouse Musical Theater Conservatory and New York University.​

Chantel Wright (Vocal Music Advanced Division Instructor)


Pastor Wright is a native of Chicago, Illinois where she started her career as an award winning choral conductor.  She received her formal education at VanderCook College of Music where she received her BA degree in Music Education.  Ms. Wright started her professional career in Atlanta, Georgia where she served on the music staff of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, home of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and as an educator in the Dekalb County Public Schools where her choirs performed theFrostiana by Randall Thompson at Carnegie Hall.  In New York, Chantel hit the ground running as the new Director of the Girls Choir of Harlem, as well as Minister of Music at the Macedonia Baptist Church in Mt. Vernon, New York.   An honor celebrated by few women, Ms. Wright gave her gifts to the young people of Queens, New York as the Artistic Director of the Queens Symphony Orchestra Youth Gospel Choir.  Not only did she gather valuable experience as an orchestral conductor, her work with the orchestra encouraged her to incorporate her own non-profit organization, SONGS OF SOLOMON: An Inspirational Ensemble, Inc.  The ensemble has toured the East Coast, Florida, Wisconsin, Chicago, Atlanta, Texas, Detroit, Utah, Vegas, and Canada and recently worked with the “Y.E.S.” program in Bermuda.   Chantel is sought after as a choral clinician nationally and internationally and for the past two years she held voice workshops at the Roma Gospel Festival in Italy. As an envoy for the United States Department of Arts and Culture, Pastor Wright sojourned to Zimbabwe bringing youth together for a week of inspiration at the Harare International Festival for the Arts.  She is the recipient of the New York Times Teacher’s Who Matters Most Award, Who’s Who among American Teachers, The Ebony Ecumenical Ensemble Community Service Award and the Ephesus Seventh Day Adventist Community Service Award and the Riverside Club for Education.  She loves God, Music and Children: her life is dedicated to the pursuit of all three.

Lisa Gunn Becker (Vocal Music Apprentice Division Instructor)

Gunn_Lisa_160x160.jpgLisa Gunn-Becker, a native Californian, comes to the NJPAC summer program by way of Philadelphia, New York and Brooklyn.  Lisa has performed on Broadway in the 20th Anniversary production of Annie; with composer great Marvin Hamlisch, and at numerous regional theatres such at The Walnut Street and Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.  Lisa’s work includes stage, commercials, television, and film.  She has represented such products as Chevy, Dominos, Band-Aid, and was the spokesperson for Tom Kean Jr.  She can be seen in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening, Christmas Present, The Last Days of April as well as episodes of All My Children, As The World Turns, and Law and Order.  She has been a teaching artist for NJPAC for the past five years with the Dancing Classrooms, Musical Theatre, and Explore a Story programs.  She has taught at Temple University, Saint Anne’s in Brooklyn, E-Arts, and many public schools in New Jersey.  She also facilitates improv seminars for Destination Imagination.  Lisa coaches business executives in Performance Skills and Accent Reduction work.  She holds a BA in Theatre Arts from CSU Fresno and an MFA in acting from Temple University.  She has also trained at the National Theatre of Great Britain and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  Lisa lives in a 1725 farmhouse with her husband, two daughters, and two collie dogs.  Lisa believes creative expression can empower and transform individuals.


Brandon Jones (Dance Advanced Division Instructor)

Brandon_Jones.jpgBrandon Joshua Jones has been a student of dance for twenty-four years. Trained in seven genres, he competed regionally and nationally from ages eight to eighteen. He was awarded a full artistic scholarship to attend the Conservatory of Performing Arts at Point Park University, finishing in the summer of 2007. Brandon has danced works by classical and contemporary concert choreographers such as Peter Anastos (Company of Dance Arts, NJ), Kim Gibilisco; formerly of the Alwin Nikolai/Murray Louis ensemble (KGDances, NYC), Cleo Mack (Cleo Mack Dance Project, NJ), Obediah Wright (Balance Dance Theatre, NYC) and Attack Theatre (PA.), under the artistic direction of Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope. From fall 2008-spring 2009, he was also blessed with an opportunity to perform with international recording artist Crystal Waters. This led Brandon to the cities of Vienna, Salzburg, Belgrade, Tel Aviv, Moscow, Bucharest, Amsterdam, and Brisbane. Brandon has recently been performing with ModArts Dance Collective (CA) under the artistic direction of Leah Tubbs and has also performed with the Tiny Starr Productions Theatre Company (NYC), under artistic director Pamela Eatman-Skinner. This is currently Brandon’s third season with Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company.  

Danielle Thompson (Acting Advanced Division Instructor)

Danielle_Thompson.jpgDanielle Renee Thompson is an actress and a teaching artist. She had the honor of winning the $40,000 NJPAC Star-Ledger Scholarship in 2000. Danielle received a BFA in acting at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in NJ. She recently starred in the Off-Broadway production of the world premiere of My Occasion of Sin by Monica Bauer and directed by Frances Hill at Urban Stages Theater in NYC. Over the past couple of years, Danielle has had the honor of touring a one women show, Warriors Don’t Cry, by Eisa Davis directed by Trazana Beverly through the Urban Stages Outreach program. Danielle has also been teaching for various NJPAC Arts Education programs such as the Young Artist Summer Intensive (formerly Summer Youth Performance Workshops), Young Artist Institute and the Artist-in- Residency programs in the fields of theater, performance techniques, and ballroom dance. 

Hip-Hop Institute Faculty

Sheikia Norris, aka “Purple Haze” (Hip-Hop Institute Artistic Director)


Sheikia S. Norris, lyrically known as Purple Haze or Haze, was born in the birthplace of hip-hop, The Bronx. Currently residing in Newark, New Jersey, Haze challenges audiences with a natural ease and a voice that inspires audience movement and positive thoughts. Enthusiasts of the art form appreciate her energy, her impeccable flow and a clever deliverance of truth. Haze has mastered her own rich style of spitting lyrics with both power and substance. As the Hip Hop 101 Edutainment Program Facilitator & Recruiter for the Hip Hop Culture Center, a member of the Rhyme Like A Girl Collective (Freestyle Union) and up and coming curator for hip-hop art and performance, Haze is a diversified talent poised for success in a host of arenas. She is recording her highly anticipated EP, pH Balance for a 2014 release and “Painting It Purple” all over the globe!

The Second City Summer Workshops Faculty

Jonny Nelson (Teen Improv Workshop Instructor)


Jonny Nelson grew up a Michigander and attended Grand Valley State University, receiving a double major in Philosophy and German. In Chicago he has been improvising and performing at iO with June Boy, Berserker, and his one-man show Social Science; at Comedy Sportz with Battle-Prov and house teams, with his two-man improv show Eisbär, and The Kickback. He is thrilled to be teaching at the place he loves!​

Jessica Mitolo (Teen Improv Workshop Instructor)


Originally from Youngstown, Ohio, Jessica received her degree in Acting and Directing from Bowling Green State University. Since moving to Chicago, Jessica has studied, performed and directed at various schools and venues throughout the city. Her most recent directing credits include Nostalgia Sucks: But It Used To Be Awesome!, Second Day Party Hair and Forty Winks. Jessica is proud to have worked as Assistant to the Director on The Second City Mainstage production, South Side of Heaven.

Nick Johne (From the Inside Out Instructor)


An alumnus of Toronto’s award-winning Second City Main Stage cast, Nick Johne has been teaching improvisation in various capacities since 1983. He is currently teaching at The Second City Chicago and in the Theater Department of DePaul University where he is adjunct faculty. He has performed all over the world and was an original member of the workshop production of the Tony award-winning musical The Drowsy Chaperone. Nick Johne currently lives in Chicago with his wife and daughter.

Molly Fisher (From the Inside Out Instructor)


Molly Fisher grew up in a northern suburb of chicago, Kenilworth. She graduated from St Lawrence University with a BFA in Speech and Theater. She then decided to work in the Special Education Department at New Trier High School for two years before going back to get her MFA in Acting at DePaul. While she was at New Trier she was also the director of No Questions Asked Improv. Another love of Molly’s is dance. She danced all throughout college and started a dance theater program, telling the story of shows through movement, at St. Lawrence University.

Ryan Bernier (Adult Improv Instructor)


Ryan Bernier (Director) is thrilled to be directing this wonderful cast. His directing credits include Second City e.t.c.’s A Clown Car Named Desire and the Jeff Award–winning We’re All in this Room Together (Best Revue, Best Director), Second City’s Girls Night Out and Six Degrees of Desperation, Him & Her, Deadly Sins, and An Unscripted Romance. He studied at Suffolk University and Improv Asylum in Boston, as well as the Annoyance, iO, the Second City Conservatory and directing programs in Chicago. Ryan teaches at the Second City Training Center.