Northlight Teaching Artists
Kaiser Ahmed is a director, producer, teacher, and actor. Kaiser is Artistic Director of Jackalope Theatre Company where he served as the Founding Artistic Director from 2008 to 2011. Born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and raised in mid-Michigan, Kaiser holds a BA in Theatre Directing from Columbia College. Recently named on NewCity’s “Players 2019: Fifty People Who Really Perform For Chicago”, Kaiser is a 2016-17 Victory Gardens Directors Inclusion Initiative recipient, a 2015-16 Eugene O’Neill National Directors Fellowship Finalist, a member of Not In Our House Chicago, SDC, and SAG-AFTRA. As a teaching artist, Kaiser also works with Raven Theatre and Mudlark Theatre. He is proudly represented by Gray Talent.
Jessica Alldredge moved to Chicago from Birmingham, AL where she graduated with a B.A. in Theatre Performance from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In Chicago, Jessica has worked as an actor, director, producer, and teacher. As a teaching artist and arts administrator, she has previously worked with American Theater Company and Mudlark Theater, and was a member of the Teaching Artist Development Studio 2015 cohort through CCAP at Columbia. She currently works for Northlight, Bubbles Academy, and The Viola Project teaching students from 18 months old through early high school. Jessica passionately believes in the importance of creativity and art at every age and equal access to arts opportunities. She’s also mom to a four year old little girl and a baby boy.
Sheldon Brown is a graduate of Emerson College ’14. He performed in Time Is On Our Side and This Bitter Earth at About Face Theatre and soon after became an Artistic Associate. His other credits include A Wonder In My Soul at Victory Gardens Theatre. Oedipus Rex and Man In The Ring by Pulitzer Prize playwright Michael Cristofer at Court Theatre and more. He also has numerous credits in Boston including The Grand Inquisitor, directed by Peter Brook through ArtsEmerson. His film credits include Cicada ( SFFILM Rainin Grant, OutFest, BFI Flare Festival, Frameline Film Festival), The Canyonlands, and My Name is Alex. He is a recipient of the President’s Award for Creative Courage from Emerson College for his work educating and inspiring others to create social change. He is a teaching artist with Northlight and Steppenwolf Theatre, as well as the League of Chicago Theatres in conjunction with the August Wilson Monologue Competition.
Tyra Bullock (she/her) is a Chicago-based creative, arts administrator, and teaching artist excited to join the Northlight family. She holds a BFA in Acting from Oklahoma City University, where she first discovered her passion for devising socially charged theatre. Tyra is currently the Community and Education Partnerships Associate at Victory Gardens Theater, and a teaching artist for Lifeline and Steppenwolf Theatre. She’s also had the pleasure of performing and working for companies such as Oklahoma Shakespeare, Oklahoma Children’s Theater, Ignition Arts, Pollard Theater, and GreatWorks Theater. Through her work, Tyra strives to create dialogue that promotes empathy and empowers individuals who feel unseen by society.
Kelsey Chigas is an artist, educator and lifelong Chicagoan. She began her career as an intern working in Northlight’s Performing Arts Camp in 2011, returning as a camp counselor and director in 2012 and 2013 — and has taught for Northlight in some capacity ever since. Kelsey currently serves as the Director of Education at Writers Theatre, where she leads the vision and management of all WT Education initiatives as well as teaching within its programs. Kelsey has worked artistically, educationally and administratively with other institutions across Chicago including Steppenwolf Theatre Company, American Theater Company, Genesis, Tympanic Theater Company, Mudlark Theater Company, MCA Chicago, Salonathon, The Fly Honey Show and the side project. She is an alumna of Cornell College, where she double-majored in English & Creative Writing and Theatre with concentrations on performance and art as civic engagement.
Nate Cohen is a director, teacher and activist. He is currently an adjunct professor at Northwestern University in Chicago, where he recently graduated with an MFA in Directing, and an associate member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society. Chicago credits include productions with Steppenwolf Theatre (AD – Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Script Assistant – Linda Vista), Northlight Theatre (AD –The Book of Will and Beauty Queen of Leenane) , Collaboraction (Director – Manspread Madness) and the Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts (Director – Peter and the Starcatcher, Winnie-the-Pooh,The Angry Brigade, Midsummer A Play with Songs, The Pizza and Oh How We Loved Our Tuna). Prior to moving to the Midwest, he was a Company Member at Theatre Vertigo, sat on the board of the Portland Area Theatre Alliance, and worked extensively in various capacities with companies such as Artists Repertory Theatre (American Hero and Grand Concourse) where he was also the casting associate, the Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble (Procedures For Saying No, Or the Whale, All Well, Drowned Horse Tavern, The Three Sisters, Enter the Night, AfterThought), Third Rail Repertory Theatre (Static, The Night Alive, Bull, ID[ea], Reverse/Loop/Repeat, Off the Rails Festival), Action/Adventure (All’s Faire, Pilot Season) and Theatre Vertigo (Love & Information, A Maze). He was the lead producer of the international touring production of EM Lewis’ The Gun Show and has also directed the world premieres of the KCACTF award-winning plays Middle Names and Alone in a Taxicab in a Snowy Foreign Country at Three in the Morning.
Nate is also the author of the viral flow-chart “Should I Direct this Play? A Guide for Well-intentioned Straight White Men.”
As a teacher, Nate has worked as a lecturer at Northwestern University and as a teaching artist at the Institute of Contemporary Performance, Lewis & Clark College, the National High School Institute, Oregon Children’s Theatre, and more than a dozen public schools in and around Portland. He served for four years as the Program Director of Isinglass and Artists Repertory Theatre’s esteemed Egg Summer Theatre Leadership Academy. Nate is also a street medic and community organizer and has taught Non-violent Direct Action, protest safety, and bias intervention workshops throughout the United States.
Tia Jemison is a non binary black woman who Graduated from USF with degrees in Psychology and Theatre performance she received her masters from DePaul acting credits include Wig Out, Night Runner, Bernada Alba and Trouble in Mind. Professional credits include A Lesson Before Dying, Colored Museum, A Raisin in the Sun, Straz Center’s S’Wonderful, Hair, The Amen Corner, Race, Einstein’s Dreams, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Taming of the Shrew, Steel Magnolias, The Wiz, Seven Guitars, Aint Misbehavin and August: Osage County. She has also appeared in commercials, music videos and the movie Oh Baby! They also have a one woman show entitled A Black Body in Space in Time. Tia studied directing in undergrad and became an outreach teaching artist after graduation, they believe in community work and bridging gaps. They continued teaching after grad school for Black Ensemble theatre because one of her life’s missions has been to eradicate racism and foster safe places for black, brown, and LGBTQIA youth. They now also teach for Congo Square and other organizations in Chicago. They were an advisor while they were teaching at Roosevelt University where she taught acting and a social justice class to the incoming freshman. Tia was a part of the Guthrie Experience for actors in training in 2017. She is an Activist, Writer, Counselor, Jazz vocalist, saxophonist, and percussionist who toured under Ted Shumate. Awards include Creative Loafing and Broadway World’s best actress in a play 2014; both for her role as Ruth in Raisin in the Sun. Best short original play at the 2014 Tampa Bay Theatre Festival. Tia is a proud member of Actor’s Equity and is represented by Stewart Talent.
Juniper Jones is a self-taught multidisciplinary visual artist and writer born in Detroit, Michigan. Juniper integrates oil, ink, acrylic, and pastels into their expressive style of painting. Often described as an extension of their own fluidity, Juniper’s work is an autobiographical approach to studying their identity at the intersecting backdrops of body awareness, spirituality, and self advocacy.
Jamie Macpherson is a theater educator and fight/intimacy director, specializing in working with young people. She has over ten years of teaching experience under her belt. In addition to Northlight, Jamie has worked with such companies as: Mudlark Theater, Adventure Stage, American Blues Theater, Emerald City, and Dream Big. She has been an Invited Artist at Macalester College and at the Lawrence Arts Center, and served as fight director/instructor at the University of Chicago. She is a certified Actor Combatant, and a member of the Society for American Fight Directors. Jamie holds an MFA in Theatre for Youth from Arizona State University.
Anastacia Narrajos is a teaching artist, performer and theater maker based in Chicago. She is deeply introspective and curious about the world, and her work strives to make connections, expand imaginations, to synthesize and reflect. This is her first year working with Northlight! Her path as an arts educator began at The University of Illinois at Chicago where she graduated with a BA in Theater Performance in 2018. Since then she has worked as a teaching artist and facilitator across the city and is also a member of teaching artist cohorts at Lifeline Theater, Raven Theater, and Depaul’s Creative Root. Anastacia (or Ana for short) is an active theater maker with a focus on somatic practices and laboratory style theater making, is an ensemble member with Walkabout Theater Company, and is a lifelong learner. Her practice strives to center the healing and transformative nature of theater and art making.
Edmund O’Brien began improvising and writing sketch comedy in 1989 with Off-Off Campus at the University of Chicago. He has performed in over a thousand shows from the south side to the north side, from Los Angles to Edinburgh. For 11 years he has taught youth and adults at The Second City in Acting, Comedy Writing, Improv, Music, Storytelling, TV and Film Writing, and Wellness. He and his wife Dana perform as Sheila’s Sister, and co-founded KidProv Chicago where they run improv classes for children ages 5-13 at Chase Park (and now online). He has also been a Teaching Artist with Lookingglass Theatre and Storycatchers Theatre where he was the recipient of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice 2016 Volunteer of the Year Award for his work at IYC-Chicago helping the boys write and perform musicals inspired by personal stories. He has also taught memoir writing and improv at The University Club of Chicago and The Center for Life and Learning. Edmund’s writing credits range from You Don’t Know Jack to MTV’s Undressed. Somewhere in repeats you can still hear him as the announcer for Street Smarts.
Wilfredo “Freddie” Ramos (they/them) is a creator and educator with five years experience making and facilitating curricula that empower people of all ages to deepen their relationships to works of art, to themselves, and to their communities through conversation, collaboration, and play. Freddie holds a BA in English, with a creative writing concentration in playwriting, from Yale University.www.wilfredoramosjr.com
Vanessa Strahan is an educator, performer, choreographer, and director based in Chicago. Currently, she is the Education Director at Mudlark Theater, where she also teaches, directs, and choreographs. She is an ensemble member with Chicago DanzTheatre Ensemble and Theatre Unspeakable, and works and dances with Joel Hall Dancers & Center. After studying at the Actor’s Gymnasium, she joined their teaching staff two years ago. Vanessa graduated from Northwestern University where she studied Musical Theatre, Choreography, and Political Science. In her time there, she served as the Outreach Director of Seesaw Theatre, producing original, multi-sensory theatre for children with autism and other disabilities. For more on her work, visit vanessastrahan.com.
Gus Thomas has been working as a bilingual actor, teaching artist, and writer ever since he left his home in rural Oregon. He’s worked with theaters and schools in Seville, Spain as well as Chicago. He specializes in using theater as a medium to teach a second language. He’s worked with Northlight and Global Voices Initiative as an educator since 2018. As an actor he’s worked with Teatro Vista, Filament Theater, and Corn Productions where he is a company member. He is a graduate of Whitman College and has trained at the American Conservatory Theater, Dos Lunas Teatro, and the iO Theater.
Abby Thompson is a teaching artist, voiceover artist, and actor originally from Milwaukee, WI. She has performed and taught professionally with Northlight Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago Children’s Theatre, Storycatchers Theatre, First Stage Children’s Theater, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, African American Children’s Theatre, Compass Creative Dramatics, and Collaboraction. She is currently also a teaching artist for Afterschool Matters at Beidler Elementary School, where she has been teaching the past four years. She also records voiceover for audiobooks, narrations, and commercial work. Abby holds a BA in Acting with a minor in Voiceover from Columbia College Chicago. She has spoken on several arts advocacy panels, including the Education Pre-Conference for the Theatre Communications Conference 2019. Abby has written, directed, performed, and has a passion for theater for social justice, mixed race theater, devised theater, immersive theater, and children’s theater. In her spare time, she is found travelling the world! For more of her work, visit: abbythompson.org.
Lexy Hope Weixel is a Chicago-based actor, deviser, and teaching artist. They received a BS in Arts Administration – Theatre from Butler University in 2018 and studied acting at the Moscow Art Theatre School. They are currently a teaching artist with Northlight Theatre and a teaching artist with Mudlark Theatre. Lexy’s classes put an emphasis on ensemble and collaborative creation. They have performed in Chicago with The Passage Theatre and Eclectic Full Contact Theatre. Lexy also runs their own vintage furniture company, which you can find at till.freds on Instagram.
Northlight Assistant Teaching Artists
Carly Boles is a recent graduate from University of Wisconsin – La Crosse where she studied Theatre Performance and Communications. After graduating, Carly spent her summer at the Children’s Theatre of Madison as a Teaching Artist Apprentice where she assisted in the productions of Beauty and the Beast, Annie, and Treasure Island. She moved to Chicago last year to pursue a career of acting and teaching artistry. To be a part of the Northlight Theatre’s Teaching Artist Apprenticeship team this year and working on the Speak UP! program is a humbling and exciting beginning to her career here in Chicago.
Niv Elbaz is a writer, a teaching artist and a third culture kid who was born in Israel but was raised in Thailand. Niv received a BA in Playwriting from Columbia College Chicago, where a wide selection of his work was produced. His significant work includes his play The Waiter of Le Majestique (2018) which was chosen as one of two playwriting senior showcase shows at Columbia College and his play Lightning (2018) which was performed at Victory Gardens Theater. He also assistant taught for the playwriting program at Columbia under the program’s coordinator Paul Amandes.
Most recently he received an MFA in Writing for the Screen and Stage at Northwestern University (Class of 2021) where he also taught Intro to Screenwriting. His play Delilah (2020) was one of the five winning plays that took part in Panndora Productions “Panndora’s Box 14th Annual New Works Festival” and his play The Blues in Your Whites (2020) was a Shortlisted Finalist in Screencraft’s Stage Play Writing Competition. His first ever Tv pilot Robin was a Semifinalist in Screencraft’s Tv Script Competition (2021) and was a Quarterfinalist in Final Draft-Big Break Contest (2020). His short film script, Fragments, was a Second Rounder in the Austin Film Festival.
Finally, he enjoys cycling, gaming, and eating international food in no particular order.
Alexis A Tornez Martinez is a Chicago – based actor and educator who uses storytelling elements to confront issues within the Latinx communities. He is a graduate from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a BA in Theater and Performance. During his time in UIC, he has worked as an electrician and participated in projects with his peers to create wonderful stories. He is also a part of the cohort at Steppenwolf Theater. Alexis is a DACA recipient, who uses his experiences to create art that connects and responds to Latinx issues. Currently, he is writing a play titled Checkpoint, which confronts the issues, struggles, and experience of immigration. When he isn’t on stage or in a classroom, he participates in other projects where he assists as an electrician, photographer, and/or cinematographer for his peers.
Ari Meixner (they/he) is a nonbinary actor, educator, and child of the Midwest. After completing their BFA in Musical Theatre in Ohio, Ari moved to Chicago to pursue professional performance opportunities. Pre-pandemic, he appeared on several stages throughout the city, including The House Theatre (Verböten), Firebrand (Queen of the Mist), Porchlight (1776), and Blank Theatre Company (Spring Awakening), among others. As an educator, Ari honed their skills at the Adler Planetarium, acting as a STEAM facilitator to hundreds of guests per day. Ari has also worked closely with students in theatrical spaces, both as a teaching artist with Chicago Center for Music Education and as a field trip coordinator with Emerald City Theatre. When not teaching or performing, Ari enjoys skating, cooking, and spending time with his wife, Ren.
Ayssette Muñoz (she/her/hers) is a Mexican-American actor, educator, and director originally from the Rio Grande Valley. In 2015, the Chicago Tribune featured Ayssette as one of the “Top 10 Hot New Faces of Chicago Theatre.” And in 2019, she was nominated for “Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play” from the Alliance of Latinx Theatre Artists of Chicago. As an actor, she’s worked with many Chicago staples such as Steppenwolf, Teatro Vista, Goodman Theatre, Lookingglass, Chicago Shakespeare, Rivendell, A Red Orchid Theatre, Collaboraction, Definition Theatre, Urban Theater, and Teatro Luna. Her on-camera credits include Chicago PD, North of the 10, and En Algun Lugar. Ayssette is a teaching artist with Northlight Theatre, Steppenwolf, Silk Road Rising, Mudlark Theatre, and The Viola Project. She is a proud Teatro Vista ensemble member and is represented by Paonessa Talent Agency.
Rebecca Rose Schilsky (she/hers) is a multidisciplinary artist with emphasis in directing and stage management based in Chicago. Raised in a Puerto Rican, Italian, and Jewish household in Westchester, New York, Rebecca has cultivated the art of storytelling, the skill to organize large gatherings, and a knack for finding her way around the kitchen. Her theatrical passions include creating inclusive spaces both onstage and backstage– bridging the gap between her two worlds of theater– as well as generating productions that strive to entertain and educate audiences of ages 0-101!
Currently, Rebecca is a Creative Producer and Artistic Resident at First Kiss Theatre, a virtual conglomerate of artists who seek to find magic in all of theatre’s nooks and crannies. Select credits include Snow White by Marjorie Sokoloff (Director), Cabaret by Kander & Ebb (SM), Maybe Tomorrow, Maybe Next Year (World premier— as SM), and The Pill by Marla Mase (SM). Rebecca has also worked with Second City, Boomerang Theatre Company, and the New Ohio Theater. Education: Skidmore College – Bachelor of Science in Theater (Honors) with Education Minor.