Meet our State Board of Directors

The NJ Thespian High School Adult Board is a volunteer board that serves our great state of New Jersey. Board members primarily spend their time working on the NJ Thespian Festival. This festival boasts over 1600 students from across the state. Board members collaborate to ensure that each student receives an optimum theatre festival experience. Each board member holds a job. We have board members who: plan the workshop schedule, reach out to judges, manage our statewide professional development, manage our student leaders, organize our fundraising and community service efforts, advocate at the state and national levels for the arts, manage our technical events, serve on the ArtsEdNJ Governor's Awards Committee, and more. We also have board members who are a part of the production team for our All-State show. The board meets 4-5 times a year with one of those times being our longer summer retreat. 

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Carolyn Little

NJ Chapter Director

Toms River HS North, Troupe 7455

Carolyn Little has been the New Jersey Chapter Director of the Educational Theatre Association since 2013. She has a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Human Services and a concentration in Secondary Education from Montclair State University. She also holds a master’s degree in Higher Education: Leadership for Student Success from Walden University and a master's degree in Theatre from Regent University. She began her career in 2002 at Toms River High School North, in Toms River, NJ, where she currently teaches English and Theatre. She has been directing the after-school theatre program since 2006 which includes the musical, fall and spring plays, and the International Thespian Society Troupe #7455. Carolyn serves on the ArtsEdNJ September Ready Taskforce, the Count Basie Theatre's mindALIGNED Programming Committee, and the Educational Theatre Association's Broadway Back to School Committee. In 2013, she received the United Way's Live United Young Altruistic Professionals Award for her creation of Operation Storm TROUPErs, a community-service group serving those impacted by Superstorm Sandy. In 2018, Carolyn was honored to receive the Educational Theatre Association's National Inspirational Theatre Educator Award. In 2021, she was humbled to be nominated and awarded the New Jersey Thespian Educator of the Year. "Art is important. We tend to think it is a luxury, but it gives people deep pleasure because beauty is the personification of hope that something grander is at work." - Gil Dellinger 

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Alison Sussman

Colleges and Summer Programs

Robbinsville HS, Troupe 7161

Alison Sussman received her degree in Theatre Arts from Drew University. After leaving school, she worked at George Street Playhouse (GSP) as the Associate Director of Education and Outreach where, among her many other duties, she coordinated (and often taught) the theatre classes and summer camps. She has been teaching theatre and English in New Jersey public schools since she left GSP in 2001. In addition to directing plays and the drama program at her school, she has created numerous theatre workshop, festival, and performance opportunities for students. She is the founder and director of Fellowship of the Ravens (FOTR), a non-profit theatre troupe from Robbinsville, NJ, educating teenagers in theatre production and performance. In August of 2014, Mrs. Sussman commissioned and directed a new play with FOTR which was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; she has been invited to return with the company in 2017. Mrs. Sussman was Robbinsville School District Teacher of the Year in 2008 and the Mercer County Teacher of the Year in 2009

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Zach Bates

Advocacy, Outreach, Fundraising

Alumni: GCIT, Troupe 5480

Zach Bates is ecstatic to be a part of the Adult State Board. Zach is a graduate of the Gloucester County Institute of Technology and Troupe 5480 where he works alongside his former director, Kristin Lynch Walsh.  Zach is a one-one-one teachers assistant at the Bankbridge Development Center as well as serving as the Senior Night advisor at GCIT. Zach has also done play-by-play and color commentary work for the Gloucester County Educational Network.  He is a 2013 graduate of GCIT from the school's Drama Academy. While at GCIT, Zach was a manager for the cross country team and the public address announcer for girls' basketball all through high school. He was also involved widely throughout the school as a member of the International Thespian Society, SkillsUSA, Student Government and #SeniorNight, a program that Zach and three other students developed with the help of two teachers. Zach is a national Gold medal winner in SkillsUSA for advocating for suicide and mental health awareness.

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Scott Cooney

Member at Large

BCIT Medford, Troupe 7891

Scott F. Cooney is an acting and theatre instructor at BCIT Medford’s Academy of Performing Arts. He help found and charter ITS Troupe #7891 and is an Honorary Thespian of Troupe #4762.  He has been coaching and teaching acting for over ten years and is always trying to better himself both as an instructor and an artist.  He is the 2015 Foxy Award recipient for Outstanding Direction of a Play for his original immersive theatre adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic Romeo & Juliet, which also received the 2015 Foxy Award for Best Classical Play.  Mr. Cooney is excited to be on the State Board and is looking forward to another successful year.    

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Angela Corenblith

Judges Coordinator

Retired: Lakewood HS

Angela Corenblith is the Judge Coordinator for the Festival and a Thespian since her high school days! She retired from Lakewood High School (troupe #6118) in 2012.While at Lakewood she was the drama/musical director and choreographer teaching Performing Arts and English. She is currently the Director/Owner of Lakewood School of Dance and Theatre Arts (celebrating its 64th Anniversary this year!!).

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Katie Rochon

All State Show Director 2020-21 

Hopewell Valley HS, Troupe 7964

Katie Rochon has been very fortunate to be teaching drama at Hopewell Valley Central High School (Troupe 7964) for the past four years and was at Timberlane Middle School for the three years prior. Recent shows at HVCHS include Dracula, Pippin, Noises Off, Damn Yankees, The Drowsy Chaperone, and last fall's New Jersey Thespian Chapter Select and Governor's Award winning production of Picnic, which was presented in cutting form at the 2018 International Thespian Festival. She is a graduate of Indiana University (BA Musical Theatre) and Rowan University (MST Theatre Education). Before becoming a teacher Katie spent nearly a decade working professionally as an actress and vocalist based out of NYC.  Some of her favorite roles/shows include; The Producers (Ulla), Singin’ in the Rain (Lina Lamont), Ragtime (Evelyn Nesbit), The Secret Garden (Lily), and three contracts as a principal singer on-board Norwegian Cruise Line and Silversea Cruises. 

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Jess Bohnenberger

Festival Properties Coordinator

Tech Director, All State Show 20-21

Newsletter Coordinator

Ewing HS, Troupe 4883

Jessica Bohnenberger (Ms. B) is excited to be returning to the NJ Thespian Adult board this year. In the past, she created the Props IE category and stage managed the first ever NJ All-State Show, Girls Like That. She has also acted as a judge at the New Jersey Festival and is the NJ Festival Properties Coordinator. She has been the co-troupe director for Troupe 4883 since its inception at Ewing High School back in 2015. She continues to teach Science and co-run the Drama program at Ewing High School. She graduated from Rider University with a BA in Special Education and Technical Theater as well as her certificate in Leadership. In addition to teaching, she acts as a props master for shows all over New Jersey. 

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Christine Causer

Security Director, Tech Events Manager

Burlington Twp. HS, Troupe 4294

Christine Causer is the troupe adviser for troupe 4294 in Burlington Township. She is looking forward to working on the state board. Christine teaches technical theater and manages the Performing Arts Center. She is a graduate of troupe 4328 in Alexandria, Virginia. Christine  has a Bachelor Of Fine Arts concentration in lighting design from Virginia Commonwealth University. She has toured nationally and internationally with opera and dance companies.

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Veda Rouze

Jr. Thespians Coordinator

Alumni: OCVTS PAA, Troupe 6185

Veda is a New Jersey based theatre-maker, director, and actor. She is passionate about advocating for theatre arts education, and is interested in the communicative and transformative power of theatre. Veda is a Viewpoints and Suzuki trained theatre artist who often finds herself drawn into the worlds of experimental, devised, site-specific, and physical theatre. Previous training includes: Pig Iron Theatre, SITI Company, and Double Edge Theatre. Veda currently interns at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club and The Wooster Group. Veda is an alumna of NJ Thespian troupe 6185. View her work at www.vedacreates.com

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Jessica O'Brien

Workshops Coordinator
Brick Memorial HS, Troupe 3411

Jessica has an M.A. in Theatre from Villanova University, and a B.A. in Musical Theatre/Theatre Performance from Marymount Manhattan College. She is the Drama Advisor/Director at Brick Memorial High School, Troupe #3411. She
works professionally as  a Director/ Choreographer and has staged more than 200 productions. She is a four-time IMEA Award nominee for Outstanding Direction of a
Musical and Outstanding Production of a Musical (Gypsy, The Last Five Years). She is a nine-time NJACT Perry Award nominee, and two-time winner for Outstanding Choreography (Me and My Girl, Crazy for You). She is a two-time Count Basie Award nominee for Outstanding Choreography (Crazy for You, The Little Mermaid). In 2017,
Jessica was also the youngest Choreographer to be inducted into NJACT Hall of Fame.

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Lydia Shirley

Marketing Coordinator

Alumni: OCVTS PAA, Troupe 6185

Lydia Shirley is a New Jersey based arts administrator and marketer. She currently works as the Administrative Assistant at the nonprofit Hope Loves Company. She has previously worked for Music Theatre Wichita and Ambassador Theatre Group North America assisting with producing, administration, event management, and social media marketing. She studied Arts Administration and Theatre with a Certificate in Leadership at Rider University. She also has adjudicated at the New Jersey, New York, and Florida Thespian Festivals, as well as served as a main stage adjudicator for the International Thespian Festival.

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Katie Knoblock

Member at Large

GCIT, Troupe 5480

Katie (or Ms. K) is a graduate of Rowan University where she obtained her B.A in Theatre Performance and Masters Degree in Theatre Education. She has been teaching theatre and public speaking and coaching soccer at Gloucester County Institute of Technology since 2015. She is also an actor and director in the surrounding area. Recent performance credits include Juliet in Romeo and Juliet and Loggaine in Spelling Bee. Recent directorial credits include Heathers: High School Edition, Metamorphoses, and The Music Man. She was not a Thespian in High School but was fortunate to be inducted as an honorary Thespian in 2018 by Troupe 5480. She is thrilled to be a part of an organization that brings her favorite things together: competition, camaraderie, and the arts!

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Valerie Gargus

Festival Director/Community Admin

Northern Burlington, Troupe 4762

Mrs. Valerie Gargus is the Festival Director and New Jersey Thespians Community Administrator for the NJ Thespian Board of Directors. She loves the challenge of making sure everyone has time to do all they want to do at the festival!  In 2015 Mrs. Gargus retired from Northern Burlington County Regional High School (Troupe 4762) where she had taught theatre and directed plays and musicals since 1980.  She has a BA in Drama from William Paterson University and an M.A. in Teaching Speech & Theatre from Montclair University.  She received her school’s Educator of the Year Award in 2015, the NJ Governor’s Award in the Arts for Outstanding Speech & Theatre Teacher in 2008, the Best Practice award from the New Jersey State Department of Education for her Directing a Play course in 2002, and the Outstanding NJ Thespian Director in 1999. She was inducted into the NJ Thespians Hall of Fame in December 2019.

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Jason Wylie

Student Board, Alumni, Webmaster

Asst. Director, All State Show 20-21

Northern Burlington, Troupe 4762

Jason Wylie is currently working toward a BA in Theatre with concentrations in Musical Theatre and Theatre Education at Rowan University. He is an alumnus of the STO program and currently serves as the coordinator of Student Leadership, Alumni Coordinator and Webmaster for New Jersey Thespians. Jason also serves as the Treasurer and Webmaster for the New Jersey Drama and Forensics League. While pursuing his degree, he is working as the Mainstage Costumer and Theatre Competition Coach at Northern Burlington Co. Reg. High School. He is blessed to be able to continue his work at Northern Burlington and work on expanding programs that helped develop his love for theatre when he was a student there. Jason serves on the LEADS and Alumni Committees for EdTA and the Steering Committee for the Governors Awards in Arts Education.

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Christina Caldwell

Professional Development Director

Ewing HS, Troupe 4883

Christina Monaco Caldwell is the troupe co-advisor and Artistic Director at Ewing High School, troupe 4883.  Christina has endless gratitude to direct, and teach English and Theatre for Ewing’s ever growing drama program.  This is Christina’s 14th year as an educator, her journey has brought her from the tri-state area to Hawaii and back, where she has experience as a director and choreographer.  After reinstating Ewing’s troupe in 2015, students in troupe 4883 have qualified for Nationals in both theatre and musical theatre.  In 2019, troupe 4883 was featured at the International Thespian Festival Showcase for “Daddy’s Son,” from Ragtime in the musical theatre solo category.  The most recent shows at Ewing High School include High School Musical, Godspell, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Legally Blonde.  Christina is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University and received her masters degree from Holy Family University. When she is not directing, Christina teaches yoga, a passion that has altered her style as a director to encourage her students to be mindful and present humans both on and off of the stage.  Christina’s love for theatre stems from the community that thespians create, one that is uniquely loving, supportive and inclusive.   

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Tallen Olsen

Board Secretary

Burlington Twp. HS, Troupe 4294

Mr. Tallen Olsen, Secretary of the NJ Thespians Adult State Board, is excited and grateful for the opportunity to serve our state thespian troupes and student actors in this capacity. Mr. Olsen is the Choral Music and Theatre Educator and Director at Burlington Township High School in Burlington, NJ. He has studied Operatic Vocal Music, Choral Music Education and also has a BFA from Elon University, Majoring in Musical Theatre Performance and a M.Ed. from Rowan University. He is currently entering his 14th year of teaching in the great state of NJ. Mr. Olsen is also a proud member of NATS, the National Association of Teachers of Singing; ACDA, the American Choral Directors Association, NAfME, National Association of Music Educators, and the NJMEA.

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Kirstin Lynch-Walsh

Asst. Outreach Director

GCIT, Troupe 5480

Kirstin Lynch-Walsh proudly serves as the thespian adviser for Gloucester County Institute of Technology’s troupe 5480. Along with teaching and directing at GCIT's School of Performing Arts for the past 16 years, she also founded ACTing Out, a touring company in which students write and produce shows based upon issues such as domestic violence, racism. mental health awareness etc.  She holds a BA in Theatre from Rowan University and prior to her position at GCIT, worked in NYC as an actress, director and teaching artist.

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Crystal Swancey

Judges Coordinator

Toms River HS North, Troupe 7455

Crystal Swancey joined the state board in 2016.  She is one of the judge coordinators for our festival, organizer of the trashy costumes competition, and in charge of hospitality.  For seven years, she spent time working with the amazing Toms River High School North Nautical Star Theatre Company, as the Musical’s costume mistress, and was a past co advisor for the Thespian troupe #7455.  She is currently working at Toms River High School North as an English teacher, where she started in 2007. 

“Being true to yourself never goes out of style.”-Legally Blonde

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Sarah Osman

Sponsorship/Vendor Coordinator

Alumni: OCVTS PAA, Troupe 6185

Sarah Osman is elated to begin working with the NJ Thespian Adult State Board as the Membership Chair! She currently attends Ocean County College with the NJSTARS program as a Performing Arts major. She is a recent graduate of the OCVTS: Performing Arts Academy where she studied as an acting major and served as the president of, and is now a proud alumni of Troupe # 6185. Her ITS achievements include performing in Chapter Select and International Freestyle Theater, and ranking ‘Superior’ at states for Group Acting, Dramatic Monologue, and ranking ‘Internationally Superior’ twice for Contrasting Monologues. In 2017 she received a Montclair Theatre Night ‘Foxy’ Award for Outstanding Performance by a Lead Actress in a Comedy for her portrayal of Sabina in ‘The Skin of Our Teeth’. Now being apart of the State Board, Sarah aims to have every troupe be involved and be ‘the best troupe ever’ so the New Jersey Chapter can continue to grow and flourish! She wishes to enhance experiences and have everyone involved with the International Thespian Society feel the same way she does- proud to be a thespian!

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Rob Klimowski

Tech Events Manager

BCIT:Medford, Troupe 7891

Robert J Klimowski is the Performing Arts Center Manager and Technical Director for the Academy of Performing Arts  at BCIT Medford. Rob is a South Jersey native and he is a graduate from Rowan University with a BA in Technical Theatre. He has worked all over the Tri-State area for the past few years as a Free-lance Scenic Carpenter and has worked with many theatres as their Technical Director and Designer as well. He is the 2017 & 2018 Foxy Award recipient for Outstanding Lighting Design in a play. He currently runs his Scenic Rental / Custom Build shop in Cherry Hill - RJK SCENIC PRODUCTIONS, LLC. Rob has run the Tech Olympics and Advanced Tech Challenge for the past two years. He is very excited to be a member of the NJ Thespian Society State Board. "If the World is a Stage... It needs someone to run it" - Stage Technician  

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Irene Fitzpatrick

Member at Large

Morris County Tech, Troupe 7890

Irene Fitzpatrick is a director, choreographer, and theater arts educator with a passion for new media and dramatic literature. She teaches 3 levels of theater production courses , and 2 levels of Drama electives and Public Speaking classes. She serves as MCST Drama Club advisor and ITS Troupe advisor. In her 20 years working with and for the students in the Morris County School of Technology district, she has directed and tech directed well over 60 productions including musicals, mainstage plays, dance and music concerts and multimedia events. Her program and her students have won numerous awards including Rising Star, Theater Night, STANJ, Governor's Arts Awards, and NJ Thespian.  Since 2005, MCST graduates have pursued college/professional training in their chosen fields and gone on to join the ranks of the Arts, Audio/Video Technology Communications Career Cluster as arts educators, graphic designers, photographers, actors, dancers, choreographers, stage managers, sound designers and lighting designers. Irene earned her B.A. in English/Performing Arts from NJCU and her M.A. in Theater Studies from Montclair State University. She is also a CMA, Certified Laban Movement Analyst. She is thrilled to collaborate with such a talented and dedicated board and looks forward to an exciting and challenging year.

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Nancy Portnoy

Member at Large

Egg Harbor Twp. HS, Troupe 3993

Nancy is a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), With a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Theater Performance.  She is in her 21st.  year as Theater and Dance Director of Egg Harbor Township High School as well as Thespian Director of Troupe 3993. During this time, she has choreographed and directed many of the EHTHS’s High School Musicals. As a youngster Nancy was a Three Time National Winner on the acclaimed Ted Mack Amateur Hour Television Program, filmed in New York City at the Ed Sullivan Theater. She starred for 7 summers on the famous Steel Pier in Atlantic City as a” Tony Grant Star of Tomorrow.” Some of Mrs. Portnoy’s Professional and Regional Theater Credits include Playing the role of Annie for David Merrick’s  “42nd Street” at the Shubert , dancing and singing in, “Sugar Babies” as a featured artist, sharing the Stage with Rip Taylor and Carol Lawrence, playing Nannette in “No No Nannette” at the Famous Masquers Club. Mrs. Portnoy appeared singing and dancing in a National Tour with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. She also starred in the Greenwich Village Scandals of 1923 as a Dancer and Understudy, for Dancer Movie Star Legend Leading Lady Cyd Charisse with Co –Star Imogene Coca. Mrs. Portnoy is married to Professional musician Barry Portnoy.

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Lexi Collins

Asst. Alumni Coordinator

Alumni: Northern Burlington, Troupe 4762

Lexi Collins is a new board member this year and is thrilled to be a part of such an amazing organization. Lexi is an alumni of troupe 4762. She is pursuing her degree in Political Science, currently at Rowan College of Burlington County. Theater has always been a huge influence in her life and uses the skills she was taught in programs like NJ Thespians throughout her continued education. This year as assistant Alumni coordinator she aims to continue to help alumni stay connected with fellow alumni and remind those who are not pursuing theater or theater education, that the skills learned in classrooms can still be used throughout their everyday lives.

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