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.
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
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. In August of 2014, Ms. Sussman commissioned and directed a new play with students which was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; she returned with students in 2017. Ms. Sussman was Robbinsville School District Teacher of the Year in 2008 and the Mercer County Teacher of the Year in 2009. She directed our first NJ All-State Show, Girls Like That , for the 2019-2020 festival.
Advocacy and Outreach Chair, NJ Governor's Awards Chair
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.
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.
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 66th Anniversary this year!!). Angela was inducted into the New Jersey Thespians Hall of Fame in 2019.
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.
Student Board, Alumni, Webmaster
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.
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.
Dr. Michael Penna
Member at Large
Collier High School, Troupe #8701
Dr. Penna is a Theater and English teacher at Collier High School. He has a Ph.D. in Education from Walden University, MPhil in Education from Walden University, MA in Theater Studies from Montclair State University and a BFA in Musical Theater from Syracuse University. Dr. Penna has over 25 years of experience in the Theatrical Arts. Dr. Penna has worked professionally on Broadway, National Tours, and Regional Theaters. Dr. Penna has been seen Regionally: Kiss Me Kate, Big River, Chicago, 42nd Street, The Dinner Party, The Wizard of Oz, West Side Story, The Importance of Being Earnest, Rocky Horror Show, and Crazy for You among a few.Tour: Spamalot, The Drowsy Chaperone, and The Slim Goodbody Tour. Off-Broadway: I Love You,You’re Perfect Now Change. Broadway: Spamalot. Dr. Penna was the recipant of the 2019 Jo Ann Fox Award in Theatre Education from the Montclair State Theatre Night Awards. Dr. Penna is a proud member of the Actors Equity Association (AEA),and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). Dr. Penna has dedicated himself to social justice and equality for all, he is an advocate for the disabled, a champion for Education and is a proud member and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community.
GCIT, Troupe 5480
Kirstin Lynch-Walsh is grateful for the opportunity to work with the amazing individuals of the NJ state Thespian board. She has taught theatre for the School of Performing Arts at Gloucester Co. Institute of Technology for over 20 years. There she is the co-advisor for troupe 5480, runs ACTing Out theatre company, is a Skills USA advisor and ACT-SO mentor. Ms. Lynch-Walsh was fortunate to be chosen as a TLAB scholar through the English-Speaking Union attending classes at the Globe theatre in London. Most recently she has been brushing up on her improvisation, taking classes with Upright Citizen Brigade. She holds a BA in Speech Theatre Dance from Rowan University and prior to teaching lived and worked in NYC as an actor & director.
STO Coordinator Assistant
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.
Cumberland Reg. HS, Troupe 7692
Elisabeth Campbell is a graduate from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University where she received her BFA in Acting. She also studied abroad at The London Academy of Theatre. She has taught Drama at Cumberland Regional High School since 2004 and helped
create the Drama Academy program, where students study a vast curriculum of theatre for all four years of their high school experience. She also directs the fall play at CRHS and takes students every spring to the annual Shakesperience competition at Rider University. Her most
recent fall plays include Game of Tiaras, Under the Big Top, Radium Girls, As You Like It, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Elisabeth has acted, directed, and served as vocal coach for many regional and community theatre companies, including The Delaware Shakespeare Festival, The
Levoy Theatre, and Cumberland County College. Some favorite recent roles performed include Mrs. Gibbs in Our Town, Mrs. Kirby in You Can’t Take it With You, Polly in Play, On!, and
M’Lynn in Steel Magnolias. Elisabeth is thrilled to join the NJ Thespian State Board, as she is a big believer in theatre education and strives to help her students understand that the skills learned
in theatre will serve them in any future career.
Festival Properties 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 NJ All-State Shows. 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.
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.
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
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.
Michelle is a theatre artist, educator, and director based in New Jersey. She is a proud NJ Thespians board member and couldn’t be more excited to be a part of the team. Michelle has taught and directed in various schools across the state and is a teaching artist at Algonquin Arts and BeYou Arts. It is truly Michelle's joy to see young artists grow and flourish in the realm of theatre arts right before her eyes! Currently, Michelle is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre Education at Mississippi University for Women.
Mainland Reg. High School,
Curt Foy is elated to be a part of the NJ Thespians Board of Directors. He is the Drama & Speech Teacher and Director at Mainland Regional High School. Curt also serves as the Drama Club Advisor and the Co-Advisor for Mainland’s 10-year+ state champion NJDFL competition Drama and Speech team. Aside from teaching, he is an actor, singer, dancer, director, choreographer & coach throughout the tri-state area. A member of both Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) and the Screen Actors’ Guild / American Federation of Television & Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), Curt has performed in ten national tours (traveling to forty-six states) and a variety of regional productions along the east coast. He received his BFA in Theatre Arts, Music & Dance from Adelphi University and earned his Master of Arts in Theatre Education from Rutgers University. Curt was nominated for ‘Best Actor in a Musical’ by BroadwayWorld.com for his portrayal of Rum Tum Tugger in 'CATS' at the Broadway Theatre of Pitman and has been the choreographer and/or fight director for various productions in South Jersey. Recent film & television credits include featured roles in HBO’s limited series ‘Mare of Eastown,’ NBC’s ‘Do No Harm,’ CBS’s ‘Hack,’ and the feature film “Paranoia” starring Liam Hemsworth & Harrison Ford. Curt has been featured in local commercials for Herr’s Potato Chips, Hershey Park, the PA Department of Agriculture and the Philadelphia Theatre Company, to name a few. Curt strives to bring a true collaborative experience to every theatrical setting he is a part of and is always an advocate for theatre education in the state.
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!
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
Cedar Creek HS, Troupe 7942
John T. Stephan graduated from Rowan University with a Bachelor’s degree in English and K-12 Subject Matter Education and a minor in Theatre. He earned a Master’s degree in Theatre from the University of Northern Colorado’s Department of Theatre and Dance. He most recently earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in Theatre Directing through the University of Idaho's Theatre Arts Department.
Outside of CCHS, Mr. Stephan directs and choreographs for college, community, and semi-professional theatre companies including Camden County College's Theatre Department, The Off Broad Street Players Theatre Company at the Levoy Theatre, and The Broadway Theatre of Pitman. He has directed/choreographed productions of: Bye Bye Birdie, Damn Yankees, Grease, Anything Goes, RENT, Shrek the Musical (NJACT Perry Award Nomination for "Outstanding Choreography"), Disney's The Little Mermaid (NJACT Perry Award Nominations for "Outstanding Choreography" and "Outstanding Production of a Musical"), The Will Rogers Follies: A Life in Revue, Sister Act: The Musical, Titanic: The Musical, Disney's Beauty and the Beast (NJACT Perry Award Nominations for "Outstanding Choreography," "Outstanding Direction," and winner for "Outstanding Production of a Musical"), Evita, Mamma Mia!, (NJACT Perry Award Nomination for "Outstanding Production of a Musical"), The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Always Patsy Cline, The Marvelous Wonderettes, Pippin (upcoming), and Bright Star (upcoming).
At Cedar Creek, he currently teaches Honors American Literature, Theatre Arts I, Theatre Arts II, and Honors Theatre Arts III, in addition to directing the annual all-school fall play and spring musical. In 2020, he was recognized as "Teacher of the Year" for Cedar Creek High School.
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.
Alumni: Northern Burlington, Troupe 4762
Lexi Collins joined the board in 2020 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.