Return to About Us

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.



Fall 2021 RIYT Staff Members

Connor Buonaccorsi — Director/Choreographer

Connor (he/him/his) is currently in his third year at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, majoring in musical theater. As an actor, singer, and dancer, he has hd an opportunity to work at many regional theaters across New England. Connor’s favorite roles include Howie (Speech and Debate), Mark (A Chorus Line), Angel (Kinky Boots), Pinocchio (Shrek the Musical), Ensemble/Dance Captain (American Idiot), Salieri’s Cook/Ensemble (Amadeus), and Ancestor (Addams Family). He is thrilled to be working with RIYT again!

Caraline Connor — Workshop Instructor

Caraline is a Rhode Island native who studied improv in Chicago for three years and is excited to share what she learned in the windy city with her hometown theater scene. She graduated from Clark University with a BA and theater, where she focused on improv and scene study. Her lifelong passion for theater blossomed performing with Rhode Island Youth Theater, and she couldn’t be happier about working with them again.

Staff for Special Project, A Rock Show (2021-22)

Michell Cardone — Writer

Mitchell Cardone is a 22-year-old actor and musician who was born and raised in Rhode Island. He recently graduated from the New England Institute of Technology. Mitchell performed in more than 20 RIYT musicals before transitioning from a performer to a live sound technician. While working with RIYT, he has written two musicals, one of which won the 2014-15 New England Theatre Conference Moss Hart Award. Mitchell continues to pursue acting opportunities in TV shows and small film productions.

Jessica Still Blogger & Social Media Manager

Born, raised, and residing in North Kingstown, Jessica has always been proud of her Rhode Island roots. An alumnus of RIYT and an Irene Ryan Award nominee, she has used her talents singing, dancing, and acting her way across the stage for over ten years. Jessica has also channeled her creative talents into other fields, graduating from the University of Rhode Island with her Bachelor’s in public relations and a minor in communications.  She is a social media marketing manager and graphic designer with experience creating and curating content for professional social media accounts. Fueled by her lifelong love of art and performance, Jessica has dedicated her time to studying best practices for social platforms and the psychology of media advertising.

Cooper Cardone — Composer

Cooper is a 20-year-old actor and composer who has lived in North Kingstown for most of his life. His acting career began at a young age, and he has since performed in numerous musicals at RIYT, North Kingstown High School, and Brown University. In 2018, Cooper won the Stephen Sondheim Award for Best Actor for Beauty and the Beast and was nominated for the 2018 Jimmy Awards. He developed his music writing skills throughout high school, culminating in the musical composition of the hour-long musical Raphael, written, produced, and performed by students at North Kingstown High School in 2019. Cooper now studies Music and Theatre Arts at Brown University and plans to continue his work in both music and theatre after college.

RIYT Core 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 

Chelsea currently serves as the Director of Education for RIYT. She has managed, written, and choreographed many student theatre productions across Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Her previous roles include Associate Creative Director of Education at White Heron Theatre Company in Nantucket, MA, theater direction and choreography at Hopedale Memorial School in MA, and manager of after-school programs in Narragansett, RI. As part of the production team for The Wiz at Narragansett Pier Middle School, she won the Moss Hart Award for Best Youth Production in New England. Chelsea is a member of the Ten31 Productions acting ensemble. In 2019, she won a Motif award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for her role as Magenta in The Rocky Horror Show. She is currently developing new works for the stage, including original musicals and cabaret productions.

Norma Malachowski — Camp Manager

Norma has been involved with RIYT for many years in various roles, including her current role as the organization’s summer camp manager. As a result of her active participation with the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts organizations for over 17 years, she has received national leadership awards from the Girl Scouts and National Catholic Scouting organizations. She is the current Chair of the Diocese of Providence Catholic Committee on Scouting. Norma holds a BA in Psychology and a MAT degree in Elementary Education. As a state-certified middle school language arts teacher and a librarian at St. Luke’s School in Barrington, RI, she enjoys seeing students flourish, develop confidence, and assume leadership roles.

Jenna Tremblay — Internship Coordinator, Skills for RI

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.

Bryn Martin — Social Media Coordinator

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.

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.

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.

Instructors for The Ghost Light Project

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”.

Summer 2021 RIYT Staff Members

Dave & Annie Weeks — Dance Instructors

Annie’s love for the arts was fueled by Rhode Island Youth Theatre and carried her all the way to receiving her BFA in Musical Theatre. Growing up with a passion for theatre, Dave found himself studying theatre at Marymount University in Manhattan. In the summer of 2017, Dave and Annie began dancing ballroom smooth and rhythm. They ascended to the finals in future champions and won that division in 2020. Their mission is to change people’s lives through the arts.

Christopher Lysik — Playwright/Composer & Workshop Facilitator, Treasure Island

Christopher (he/him) is a Rhode Island-born, Brooklyn-based playwright/musician/RIYT alumnus. He has developed work at Williamstown Theatre Festival, Powerhouse Theater, The Clemente, Rhode Island Youth Theatre, and Rutgers University, and was a finalist for the 2020 Greenhouse Residency at SPACE on Ryder Farm. Prior to writing, Christopher appeared as an actor at Shakespeare’s Globe (London), Williamstown Theatre Festival, and Trinity Repertory Theater, among others. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild and an even prouder cancer survivor. Education: Rutgers (BFA-Acting), Northwestern (MFA-Writing for the Screen and Stage, in progress).

Rebecca Malachowski Director, Treasure Island & Production Manager/Assistant Director, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Rebecca (she/her) is a Rhode Island native, RIYT alumni, and a current DC-based performer. Rebecca’s regional credits include performing at Ocean State Theatre, Synetic Theatre, and Monumental Theatre Company. She has also worked as a choreographer and director at RIYT, CenterStage Theatre Company, and Summer Dinner Theatre. Rebecca received her Bachelor’s degree in Musical Theatre (BM) in 2020 and her Master’s of Science and Business (MSB) in 2021, both from The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. 

Marcos Mendoza-Cabrera Assistant, A Midsummer Night’s Dream 

Marcos is a 2021 graduate of Exeter-West Greenwich Regional High School (EWG). He has been involved with RIYT for several years as both a program participant and a staff member. In 2020, he assisted with many facets of the RIYT production of Disney’s Aristocats, Jr, including directing, choreography, musical direction, costuming, and set design. While a student at EWG, he actively participated in the school’s drama department, winning the Rising Star Award, presented at the school’s fine arts banquet. In addition to performing in musicals and other stage productions, Marcos also plays piano and trumpet and is skilled in music production.

Sophie Brusini Co-Director, Fractured Fairy Tales

Sophie attends Each Greenwich High School (EGHS), where she is a rising senior. Sophie began her drama career at the age of seven, performing in RIYT’s “The Wizard of Oz.” Her notable roles include Amaryllis in RIYT’s “The Music Man Jr.,” Jojo in EGHS’s “Newsies,” and the Fairy Godmother in Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” at EGHS. Sophie has many years of experience in a wide range of dance styles, with Irish dance and tap concentrations. She looks forward to sharing her love of musical theatre with RIYT students.

Molly Wren — Assistant Director & Choreographer, Pinocchio

Molly is a rising senior at North Kingstown High School. She has been an active participant in the arts since the age of three, focusing mainly on ballet, theatre, and storytelling through dance and movement. She is a member of the Providence Ballet Theatre Junior Company and enjoys participating in the North Kingstown Music Department Music CTE Program and the Best Buddies program. Molly is looking forward to live performances, as well as the team effort required to bring the Pinocchio show to life.

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

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.

Connect with RIYT:

Permanent link to this article: