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Our Staff

 Ann O’Grady, Ph.D. — Executive Director of RIYT

Ann has over 40 years of teaching experience and holds a Ph.D. in education from the University of Connecticut. In 1995, she was honored to receive the Milken National Educator Award. In 2009, she was named a Rhode Island Fellow by the RI Foundation.

Instructors for The Ghost Light Project (Fall/Winter 2020/21)

Nikita Zabinski

Nikita is a classical pianist, composer, and sound engineer. He earned his B.M. in Piano Performance from The Boston Conservatory and M.A. in Global Entertainment and Music Business from Berklee College of Music. A seasoned and dynamic music industry professional, Nikita is highly regarded for his superior technical expertise, passion for developing artists, and use of his vast musicological knowledge to create effective mechanisms for instruction and promotion. In 2017 Nikita worked as Content Creator and Producer for Disrupcion Records, where he managed A&R, marketing, and social media content for the record company. As a sound engineer, Nikita has produced and composed music both independently and in collaboration with clients throughout Providence, Boston, NYC, LA and Valencia, ES. Currently, Nikita holds a position at The Rhode Island Philharmonic Music School where he is a piano and music theory faculty member.

Helena Widmann

Helena is a Rhode Island-based contemporary singer-songwriter and vocal teacher with 20 years of performance experience. Her career started at the age of 5, when she began acting and singing in musical theatre productions with Rhode Island Youth Theatre. Throughout her high school and college career Helena studied classical voice. She was a member of the jazz select choir for her high school and was the lead singer for jazz combo groups at Rhode Island College (RIC). She also sang in concert, chamber, and select choir, frequently auditioning and being chosen for solo performances.  Her interest in jazz and contemporary music influenced her decision to audition for and later study voice at Berklee College of Music.

Throughout her college years, Helena also worked as a freelance contemporary singer and vocal instructor, providing backup vocals for Grammy-nominated music engineers based in Rhode Island.  She performs as one of the lead vocalists in the New England based R&B/soul band, “SoulBabe”.

Core RIYT Staff

Nancy Hillner250x250Nancy Hillner — Musical Director

A graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell with a B.A. in Music Education, Nancy made her Broadway debut in the critically acclaimed comedy, Dance With Me. She appeared off-Broadway in Nunsense—touring the country with Phyllis Diller, Pat Carroll, Dodi Goodman, and Joanne Worley—and performing in the National Tour of Neil Simon’s Rumors with Peter Marshall and Patty McCormack. Locally, she was a member of Charlie Hall’s Ocean State Follies and Mixed Nuts, but her favorite production is her daughter, Amy. Nancy was a 2016 Tony Award Nominee for the Excellence in Theatre Education Award.

Chelsea Cook — Director of Education & Lead Director

In addition to her roles at RIYT, Chelsea is the Resident Theater Director and Choreographer at Hopedale Memorial School in Massachusetts. She previously ran after-school programming for the Narragansett School Systems and was a member of the production team that won the 2013 Moss Hart Award for Best Youth Production in New England for the Narragansett Pier Middle School’s production of The Wiz. Chelsea is a member of the acting ensemble for Ten31 Productions. During the summer, she is a Collaborating Artist with the White Heron Theater Company in Nantucket. She runs educational programs that allow students to navigate their emotions, using techniques taught by the theater arts. Chelsea has also run summer programming at The Arctic Playhouse in West Warwick, The South County Guild in Wakefield, Narragansett School Department, and Narragansett Recreation Department. She has choreographed multiple shows at Providence College—including The Addams Family and What Dreams May Come—and Festival 56’s production of Seussical the Musical in Princeton, IL.

Jenna Tremblay — Young PlayRIYTs Coordinator

Jenna has been Director and Performing Arts Chair at RI-based Barrington Christian Academy for the past five years and has choreographed musicals at Pilgrim High School in Warwick for the past six years. She is a master’s degree candidate in the Mental Health Counseling and Expressive Arts Therapy Program at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA, with a concentration and intent to certify in expressive arts therapy and drama therapy. For the past two years, Jenna has interned at Child and Family Services in Southeastern Massachusetts in the Emergency Services Program, Crisis Stabilization Services Department, Adult Behavioral Health Services, and CBAT for children ages 4 to 17.  She holds a BA in Theatre with a concentration in musical theatre from Rhode Island College. For eight years she split her time between NY and CT, working in company management and development at Long Wharf Theatre and the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce while consulting on a variety of NYC-based theatre projects. Jenna is an advocate for the arts and the proven therapeutic, healing, and support that they offer in individual, group, and community settings.

board norma malachowski 245x245Norma Malachowski — Camp Manager

Norma is passionate about providing opportunities for all children and has an interest in lifelong learning.  Active with the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts for over 15 years, she has received national leadership awards from the Girl Scouts and National Catholic Scouting organizations. Norma leads a high school Girl Scout troop, is a local council trainer and service unit manager and sits on the Diocese of Providence Catholic Committee on Scouting. A state-certified middle school Language Arts teacher and librarian at St. Luke’s School in Barrington, Norma assists with the school drama club, too.  She holds a BA in Psychology and a MAT degree in Elementary Education. Norma enjoys seeing students flourish, develop confidence, and assume leadership roles.

Courtney Roque — SkillsRI Innovation Challenge Business Coach

Courtney graduated with honors from Wheaton College (MA) with a major in Theatre and Dance Studies. During her time at Wheaton, she co-led the freshman peer advising program and was an academic mentor to transfer students. She then served as the Program Coordinator for the Tony Award-winning Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Theater Institute. She currently works for the New England Conservatory of Music’s School of Continuing Education as the Student Services and Operations Manager. Courtney spent her high school and college years working at Rhode Island Youth Theatre as Camp Manager and Marketing Coordinator, and spent a summer working with the Gamm Theatre’s high school program.

Caroline300x300Caroline Bateson — Lead Director

Caroline grew up in East Greenwich, where she spent many summers performing with Rhode Island Youth Theatre. Caroline earned her Masters in Elementary Education from RIC and is a 5th-grade teacher in Woonsocket. She is also part of the Teaching English as a Second Language program at RIC. She holds a B.A in Communications, with a minor in Theatre from Merrimack College. She has lived in NYC and performed in musical theater regionally and professionally. Caroline loves spreading her passion for theater to a new generation of RIYT kids. Her goal is to teach children to believe in themselves and have their own expectations of success. She hopes to give students the tools to follow their dreams and make a difference in the lives of others.

Liz Paolella — Summer Production Stage Manager

Liz is a graduate of Rhode Island College with a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education. She currently teaches eighth grade Social Studies and is certified to teach grades 7-12. From age nine, Liz spent many summers in productions with Rhode Island Youth Theater. She now returns for her eighth season on the RIYT staff. As a staff member, Liz has designed and created a number of sets, props, and costumes for shows in addition to stage managing. Through her work at RIYT, she hopes that students are able to grow as performers and feel confident in expressing themselves through theatre.

Bryn Martin — Workshop Facilitator / Hair & Makeup Design

Bryn is a rising Sophomore at Lesley University where she is studying Expressive Arts Therapy.  A homeschooled  2018 high school graduate, she earned her diploma with high honors. Bryn has been a part of RIYT since 2011. In addition to performing in RIYT productions, she has been a hair and makeup artist for RIYT since 2015. Her favorite roles include Beth March in Little Women, Belle in Beauty and the Beast, and Cinderella in Into the Woods.  When she is not studying for school, Bryn spends her time performing in theatre, participating in modeling/photography, and enjoying the outdoors.

Jennifer Daly — Workshop Facilitator / On-Camera  ActingTechniques

Jennifer is a recent BFA Musical Theatre graduate from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She has spent the past 3 summers performing and working at Berkshire Theatre Group. Most recently she was their Summer Artist in Residence, teaching theatre camp sessions while also performing in Shrek the Musical. Jennifer is so thankful to RIYT for introducing her to theatre at the age of 7, after which she returned every summer until college. Not only did RIYT introduce her to performing, but also to many great people, including her best friend Kelly Hooper!

Kelly Hooper — Workshop Facilitator / On-Camera Acting Techniques

Kelly Hooper is a rising senior BFA Musical Theatre major at Marymount Manhattan College. She is a proud RIYT alum, having performed in over a dozen shows starting at age 7. Her most recent credits include the Hal Prince Tribute at Marymount Manhattan College and Hair at Peregrine Theatre Ensemble. Jennifer and Kelly met doing shows at RIYT and now live and go to school together in NYC.


Melissa Hayes — Workshop Facilitator, Costumer & Set/Prop Designer

Melissa grew up in Charlestown and graduated from Chariho High School. She is now a freshman at URI, studying theatre. She has a passion for musical theater and she loves working with children. Melissa has performed in–and costumed–multiple shows, in addition to co-directing and choreographing Peter Pan Jr. and James and the Giant Peach Jr. for RIYT.  She is very excited to work with RIYT again this Winter!



Kristine Szrom — Costumer

Kristine is a senior at RIC majoring in the studio arts, and a studio assistant in the RIC ceramics studio. She began performing for RIYT at the age of 13. In 2011 she interned as a costumer for RIYT. Soon, she was designing and creating costumes for shows such as Lion King, Mary Poppins, and The Little Mermaid, including costumes for Ariel and the other mermaids. In all, she has worked on wardrobe and/or designed costumes for 17 RIYT productions. Kristine worked as the wardrobe assistant for the Salt Marsh Opera production of Madame Butterfly. She loves working with children and being able to use her creativity to inspire youth in all aspects of theater production.

Cooper Cardone — Co-Director

Cooper has worked with Rhode Island Youth Theatre since the age of 6 and performs frequently with the company and North Kingstown High School. Last year, he won the 2018 Sondheim Award for Best Actor and was nominated for the 2018 Jimmy Awards. Cooper is experienced in directing children’s theater and has directed and musically directed several productions with RIYT. Most recently, he composed the score for an original musical that was performed at North Kingstown High School. He will begin his studies in music and theater at Brown University this fall and he intends to pursue a career in acting and composing.

Independent Contractors

Jeanne Heston — Digital Marketing Manager & Webmaster

Jeanne has held marketing, managerial, sales, and UX design roles at various high-tech companies and taught marketing courses at the college level. She grew up in Providence and was a member of the Classical High Drama Club. Jeanne holds a BS in Marketing Management and an MBA in International Business from Bentley University.  She has been managing the RIYT website, writing web content, and creating email campaigns since 2010—initially as a volunteer. Jeanne is currently the marketing director for a RI-based energy company, covering a wide range of marketing strategy and implementation initiatives.

Walter Sage — Pianist

Walter has performed over 50 different shows with community theaters and high schools over the past 20 years, since the time when his children were students of Ann O’Grady at Aldrich Junior High. A newly-retired school social worker, he is currently working with Jamestown Community Theater and as the organist/choir director at Central Baptist Church in Jamestown. He loves the energy, emotion, and teamwork of participating in live theater. Walter holds a lifetime certification as a School Social Worker, issued by the RI Dept. of Education.

Matt O’Grady — Photographer/Videographer

Matt O’Grady graduated from Mass College of Art with a bachelor’s in Fine Arts, Integrative Media major. He is the owner of All Events Photo and Video.

Zane Lewis — Sound Designer

Guest Artists

Christopher Lysik — Composer, Workshop Facilitator, and Musical Director, Treasure Island April & Summer 2020 

Christopher is a Brooklyn-based playwright originally from North Kingstown, Rhode Island. His work has been developed or presented at Powerhouse Theatre, Williamstown Theatre Festival, The Clemente, Rhode Island Youth Theatre, and Rutgers University. Christopher has also assisted on projects with various playwrights and composers, including Mashuq Mushtaq Deen, Geoffrey Nauffts, and Zoe Sarnak.  A graduate of the theater program at Rutgers University, Christopher has held positions at the Manhattan Theatre Club and New Dramatists. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild and an even prouder cancer survivor. Christopher is very excited to be back with RIYT, where he started his career as a music director and the composer/orchestrator of The Spirit of Rocky Point!


Emily Kaczmarek — Workshop Facilitator & Mentor

Emily is a New York-based playwright, librettist, screenwriter, performer, and Fantasy Works/RIYT alumnus! Her plays and musicals have been developed and produced by the Village Theatre (AFTERWORDS, with music & lyrics by Zoe Sarnak, will run this winter), Prospect Theatre Company, First Floor Theatre, New York Musical Festival, Musical Theatre Factory in residence at Playwrights Horizons, Wombat Theatre Company, This Is Water Theatre Company, New York University, and more. Residencies include the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, SPACE on Ryder Farm, and Goodspeed Musicals (upcoming). A 2018 Jonathan Larson Grant recipient, in partnership with Zoe Sarnak, she holds a BS in Educational Theatre from NYU.

Zoe Sarnak — Workshop Facilitator & Mentor

Zoe is a composer and lyricist. Works include AFTERWORDS (with Emily Kaczmarek, Beta Series Production, Village Theatre), THE YEARS BETWEEN (with Kirsten Guenther, T-fellowship lab), A LASTING IMPRESSION (Off-Broadway 2012). In development: SECRET SOLDIERS (with Marsha Norman), GALILEO (with Danny Strong, Michael Weiner, and dir. Michael Mayer), TEDDY & MAX (with Brian Crawley), A CROSSING (with Josh Bergasse). Awards: Davenport Songwriting contest winner, NY Stage & Film’s Founders Award finalist, ‪Fred Ebb Award finalist, Billie Burke Ziegfeld Award Honoree, Women’s Project Lab Artist, and a 2018 Jonathan Larson Grant recipient (in partnership with Emily Kaczmarek). Residencies include The Public Theater, Goodspeed, Williamstown Theatre Festival, ‪New York Theatre Workshop, Eugene O’Neill, McCarter Theater, Rhinebeck Writers Retreat. Music featured by NY Times Live, Lilly Awards, and more. Education: Harvard, NYU.

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