The People of Creative Stage

Madeline Bender

Madeline Bender (Founder of Creative Stage, and Musical Theater Builders Lead Teacher) has had a rich career as international opera singer, arts educator, and producer.  She has worked with some of the top stage directors, conductors and singers in the classical music profession. 

Madeline developed the Musical Theater Builders program over seven years ago.  Originally created for the After School Program at the School at Columbia University, Musical Theater Builders is now offered in numerous schools and venues across Manhattan, in addition to a thriving summer camp program offered at the Peter Norton Symphony Space, and Riverside Church.  Also the co-creator of the Dancing Designers, and Instrumental Story Tellers programsMadeline's, multidisciplinary, child-focused performing arts curricula have proven hugely popular with students, educators, and  parents alike.  

As a performer, Madeline has been praised by the New York Times, for her "dramatic stage presence",  "voluptuous soprano" and "theatrical flair”.  Her extensive performing career has spanned nearly 15 years, and saw her in leading roles on many of the world's most important operatic stages. She has worked with notable opera directors such as Sir Colin Grahm, Sir Peter Hall, Robert Wilson, David McVicar, Paul Curran, John Copley, Mark Lamos, and  Sir Jonathan Miller, to name just a few. Career highlights include performances as Euridice in Orphee’ e Euridice at the Le Theatre du Chatelet in Paris with Sir John Eliot Gardiner Conducting; Helene in A Midsummer Night's Dream at La Monnaie, the Royal Opera House in Brussles, as well as with the Glyndebourne Festival Opera; Konstanza in Mozart's Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail with the Baden Baden and Aix en Provence festivals; Violetta in La Traviata with Santa Fe Opera, as well as performances as soprano soloist for Beethoven's  Symphony No. 9 with the  New York Philharmonic, and Handel's Messiah with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Sir  Andrew Davis. 

A passionate supporter for children's education, Madeline is the Founder and General Director of Voices of Hope.  Voices of Hope is an opera gala event that raises tens of thousands of dollars each year to provide life changing education to severely underprivileged children around the globe. 

Madeline received her Masters degree from the Manhattan School of Music.  She lives in NYC with her husband, operatic bass Paul Whelan, and their six-year-old son.

(For more about Madeline's performing career click here.)

Tanya Bannister

Tanya Bannister (Co-creator and Lead Teacher of Instrumental Story Tellers ) is a distinguished private piano teacher with an award winning studio, and a solo performer with a distinguished international career.  She is also Founder and Director of the Alpen Kammer Musik Festival in the Austria Alps.  Her passion for music making and teaching for students of all ages spans the breadth of her various pursuits. 

Lauded by The Washington Post for playing “…with intelligence, poetry and proportion,” Tanya Bannister’s recent victories at the Concert Artists Guild International Competition and the New Orleans International Piano Competition confirm her status among the leading pianists of her generation. Receiving further distinction as an “Artist to Watch” on the cover of SYMPHONY Magazine, Ms. Bannister’s career has already brought her to many of the world’s great concert halls, with recitals at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Salle Cortot in Paris, Teatro Communale in Bologna, Tokyo’s Nikkei Hall, London’s Queen Elizabeth and Wigmore Halls, The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., and Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall.

Ms. Bannister’s extensive recordings include; chamber versions of Chopin Concerto No. 2, Mozart Concerto K. 449 and Schubert Adagio and Rondo, released in the fall of 2012, her debut recording, featuring three late piano sonatas of Muzio Clementi, was released in 2006 on the Naxos label, and her latest recording for Albany Records, This is the story she began, features solo piano music of American composers.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which occurred soon after Ms. Bannister’s victory in New Orleans, she joined forces with three previous winners of that competition to form “Pianists for New Orleans.” These artists performed together across the United States to achieve their ambitious mission to raise $100,000 to help support the classical music community of New Orleans.  Born in Hong Kong, Ms. Bannister holds degrees from the Royal Academy of Music in London, Yale University, where she studied with Claude Frank, and New York’s Mannes School of Music, where she received an Artist Diploma as one of a handful of pianists selected to study with Richard Goode.

Allison Altman


Allison Altman (Musical Theater Builders, Co-teacher) is an accomplished actress with credits from both stage and screen - comfortable in the genres of Improv, Film, and Shakespeare. Allison has a variety of impressive acting credits, including performances in Twelfth Night and Midsummer Nights Dream with Playmakers Repertory Company, and The Taming of the Shrew with the Chautauqua Theater Company. She has appeared in short web series East Hills, Five Stars, and Compulsive Love (episode 3). Allison also has a strong teaching background, having taught improvisation during her graduate studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Dramatic Play in preschools throughout NYC.

christina beck

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Christina Beck is an NYC-based actor and director. She is a recent graduate of Barnard College of Columbia University, where she majored in Theatre. Christina has extensive theatrical training and experience performing in both film and theatre, locally in New York as well as across the country and internationally. Her most recent credits include Olivia in Twelfth Night at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, Six in the Detroit-based short film Heads/Tails, and Narrator in her devised thesis, Some Hero, at Barnard. Christina loves exploring the creative process with children, and has taught at Creative Stage for several years.

Katelyn Candiello

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Katelyn Candiello (Musical Theater Builders Co-teacher), is currently studying at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in the prestigious Stella Adler Studio. She regularly performs in both student and professional productions in repertoire ranging from Shakespeare to My Fair Lady.  Katelyn also has a strong musical background and has trained in both classical voice and piano for nearly a decade. She has also trained as a dancer in ballet, tap and jazz.   In addition to her performing experience, Katelyn is also an experienced teacher, having spent many summers teaching and directing young people in her home town of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  


Jake Chapman

Jake Chapman (Comedy Improv Co-teacher) is a musician, composer, and lyricist.  Originally from Los Angeles, he studied music and computer science at Columbia University and jazz vibraphone at Juilliard.  Now a member of the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop, he began his career writing musical theatre with the 122nd Annual Varsity Show at Columbia, for which he contributed music, lyrics, and orchestrations.  Jake’s performing credits include Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, Harold Hill in The Music Man, and Troy Bolton in High School Musical.  He plays keyboard in NYC alternative rock band Cale and the Gravity Well.  Jake has worked as a music director for children, teens, and college students, and as a pianist for improv theatre. He has also taught lessons in music theory, guitar, vibraphone, and piano. 


Kyle Cherry


Kyle Cherry (Comedy Improv Co-teacher) is a gifted actor and experienced educator. His teaching credits include work at the Cleveland Play House in the roles of Creative Associate, Summer Enrichment Teaching Artist, and Academy Instructor, using games and reading activities to increase confidence and social/emotional awareness. In addition, Kyle has worked as an Actor/Teaching Artist with the New Repertory Theater in Watertown, MA - performing Romeo and Juliet and To Kill a Mockingbird in repertory at schools and community centers throughout the region. Kyle earned his BA from Tufts University, and an MFA from the prestigious Cleveland Play House Acting Program.

Alexis Flakes


Alexis Flakes (Dancing Designers Co Teacher)  has performed in dance ensembles since early childhood.  A graduate of Howard University, Alexis is also a trained yoga instructor, specializing in Vinyasa Yoga, and Kids Yoga since 2012. 

Alexis currently works at The School at Columbia University, were she teaches dance, and yoga, and continues to create other curricula in the fields of science and business for the External Affairs Department. 

A passionate educator, Alexis strives to enhance children’s spatial awareness, and motor skills through her teaching. Her love for all things creative has lead her to explore other avenues, most recently including jewelry making, and short story writing.



Tatum Gale

Tatum Gale (Musical Theater Builders Pianist) is recent grad from the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught students in both jazz and classical studies. A passionate educator, Tatum spent 10 weeks teaching English and Language Arts to groups of 90 students in Uganda.

Since moving to New York, Tatuam has collaborated with jazz/funk/world/pop label , GroundUP, and Brooklyn-based fusion group Snarky Puppy. He also recently performed as part of the Creative Stage Uptown in South Harlem, in the summer of 2018. Tatum joins the Creative Stage team for our classes in Brooklyn this Fall.

RAFaeL Hernandez


Rafael A. Hernandez (Film Makers Workshop Lead Teacher) is an independent Filmmaker, who has worked as assistant Director, editor and producer on multiple projects for Shatter Wolf Entertainment. He has assisted on music videos and shorts, while balancing other key rolls, such as directing, budgeting low-budget productions, and scheduling shoots. Rafael has scripted and filmed his own short, and he has written a feature entitled “No Sleep till” that he plans to produce and direct in the summer of 2019. Hernandez has worked as a freelance videographer for companies such as New York Cut & Sew, Stay Woke Harlem, and for the indie group, The Quantum. Hernandez severed as a producer of a community activism project called “The Cost of Milk,” a short film made by the community of Hamilton Heights to bring to light the struggles of inner city residents, screened at Stay Woke Harlem Community meetings and community centers around Harlem. While in high school, he interned as a producer’s assistant for TEDx working with guest speakers, scheduling events surrounding the talks and Q&As afterwards. After his graduation from Hunter College, Hernandez teaches film at The School at Columbia to elementary students.


DAniel Kvoras

Daniel Kvoras (Creative Stage Intern) is an actor, comedian, musician, and current student at Columbia University, majoring in Drama and Theater Arts. He studied and performed improv comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, and wrote and performed shows at the People’s Improv Theatre. He currently performs with the improv team Apostrophe in New York City. As a musician, Daniel has played and studied Jazz for over ten years.





Moira Lo Bianco


Moira Lo Bianco (Musical Theater Builders Co-teacher) is currently working on 19twelve, a multidisciplinary performance project that explores the interrelation of Music with Dance and Visual Arts, and serves as pianist at Martha Graham School. As educator, she will be part of 2018-2019 Music Educators Workshop Program at Carnegie Hall.

Moira has recorded for Steinway Spirio, and her solo album Imago, released in March 2016, was produced by Steinway & Sons recording label (Naxos distribution). In 2013, she released her debut album Lunaria, featuring Bruno Råberg on double bass and Marcello Pellitteri on drums.

She is a former faculty at Berklee College of Music where she received the Berklee Faculty Fellowship Grant, and founded The Equinox Music Festival and co-directed with Stephany Tiernan. Moira has enjoyed collaborations with violin virtuoso Simon Shaheen, Global Jazz Institute director Marco Pignataro, Grammy award winning clarinetist Kinan Azmeh (Silk Road Ensemble), among many others. She has performed at festivals (Villa Celimontana Festival, Newport Jazz Festival) concert halls (Steinway Hall, Steinert Hall, Bohemian National Hall, Berklee Performance Center), cultural spaces (Institute of Contemporary Art, French Cultural Center, Italian Cultural Institute, Goethe Institut, Steinway Society of Puerto Rico) and clubs (Regatta Bar, Ryles, Rockwood Music Hall, Cornelia Street Café).

Moira completed her Bachelor of Arts at University of Tor Vergata. Under the tutelage of Oscar award-winning composer Luis Bacalov, Moira studied film scoring at Siena's Accademia Chigiana. She graduated from Berklee College of Music, and is a Steinway Artist and a Steinway Educational Partner.



Kathryn Metzger (Musical Theater Builders Co-Teacher)

Kathryn is a critically acclaimed actor and experienced educator, with performance credits from New York to London Stages. An alumnus of the prestigious Chautauqua Theater Company Conservatory, British American Drama Academy, and The National High School Institute (Cherubs), Kathryn also holds a teaching certification in the Michael Chekhov technique from the Great Lakes Michael Chekhov Consortium. MFA from Case Western Reserve University, in collaboration with the Tony-Award winning Cleveland Play House. 

Her credits include; LORDES (Columbia Stages) Pericles: Born In A Tempest (Guerrilla Shakespeare/Hunger and Thirst) London: King Lear, (BADA). Regional: The Amish Project, In the Next Room, The Taming of the Shrew (Chautauqua Theater Company), The Crucible, A Christmas Story, Comedy of Tenors (Cleveland Play House), Violins of Hope (CPH/Cleveland Orchestra), Taming of the Shrew (Island Stage Left). CWRU/CPH: Two Gentlemen of Verona, Philadelphia Story, Three Sisters, Too True to be Good. Kathryn has also recently appeared in New York Shakespeare Exchange’s ShakesBEER Pub Crawl and #MeToo Freestyle Events. MFA, Case Western Reserve/Cleveland Play House.


Eric Messihi (Musical Theater Builders Co-Teacher) has held a fulfilling career as a Professional Multi-Instrumentalist and Educator. He has shared the stage with world-renowned artists and has contributed to musical projects with some of the top writers and producers in the contemporary music industry.

Eric has collaborated with many musicians in various genres. He has toured nationally with acclaimed artists including the Disney Stars Bridget Mendler, and Zendaya. His collaborations have led him to perform at multiple world-renowned festivals including SXSW Music Festival, CMJ Music Marathon, and Montreal Pop. Most recently, Eric has performed as lead Bassist for the Broadway Musical workshop of August Rush. Additionally, Eric has contributed to multiple studio projects. His most recent work includes Bass, Guitar, and Piano performances on The 2014 record Ille Grande, by Texas Indie rock band, Analog Rebellion.

Eric graduated from Berklee College of Music where he studied under the tutelage of world-class musicians including Whit Brown (Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie), Danny Morris (Bo Diddley, James Cotton) and Anthony Vitti (Sammy Davis Jr., The Drifters).

 As an educator, Eric has worked taught with the After School Program at The School at Columbia University since 2013. Eric also takes great pride in his career as a private music instructor, teaching piano, Guitar, and Bass to students of various ages and skill levels. Eric currently resides in Greenpoint Brooklyn and works with several local acts including the breakout Pop artist, Catey Shaw.

Joel Oramas

Joel Oramas (One Great Day, One Great Show! and Carnegie Hall Fall Family Day) Joel is an enthusiastic performer and teaching artist, with credits including work in Romeo and Juliet (Burning Coal Theater), The Rape of Lucrece (NY Shakespeare Exchange), The Taming of the Shrew (Connecticut Free Shakespeare), to musical theater performances in shows such as Pippin and Man of La Mancha (Jean’s Playhouse), and Avenue Q (Hippodrome Theater). He has also appeared in the London tour of the critically acclaimed work, Prisoner’s Dilemma. As a teacher, Joel has taught young people through the Orlando Shakespeare Festival (Acting/Education Intern), Children’s Stage Adventures (Actor/Educator), and the James Franco Acting and Film School (Voice and Speech Instructor), and during his time as a Graduate Teaching Assistant at the University of Florida, where he earned his MFA. Joel continues his work with young people through Curated Care, developing activities that help children develop physically and mentally. Joel is a graduate of Western Connecticut State University, BA and University of Florida, MFA.

Marissa Ryan


Marrisa Ryan (Comedy Improv, Lead-teacher) is a veteran performer of both stage and screen. Ryan made her screen debut in the 1983 film Without a Trace. From 1989 to 1993, she starred as Elizabeth Cooper-MacGillis in the NBC sitcom Major Dad opposite Gerald McRaney. She later went to star in the Independent films Love Always, Slaves to the Underground, Taylor's Return, and With or Without You. In 1998, Ryan joined the cast of Fox police drama series, New York Undercover as Det. Nell Delaney, during the show's fourth and final season. He guest-star credits include appearances on The Practice, Sex and the City, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Law & Order. Ryan co-starred as Abby Bernstein in the ensemble cast satirical comedy film Wet Hot American Summer. She reprised her role in the Netflix prequel series, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp in 2015. She has also appeared in films Don's Plum (2001), Riding in Cars with Boys (2001), and Brooklyn Lobster (2005). Ryan made her directorial debut with the independent short film Three Women of Pain, which she also co-wrote.


Paulina Perera-Riveroll (Creator of Imaginary World Builders Summer Camp, and Set for Puppets Lead Teacher) is a visual artist and educator who believes that an arts education is critical for the healthy development of children. Paulina received training in Inquiry Based Learning from the Guggenheim Museum and has worked as a art educator with kids of all ages in museums across New York City. She presently teaches at New-York Historical Society leading the Spanish speaking program Hablemos de la Historia y el Arte and The Miriam and Ira Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University. Paulina has worked also at El Museo Del Barrio and the Queens Museum. Her artwork includes photography, mixed media and installation. 

Paulina Perera-Riveroll was born in Mexico City.  She received a BFA in Photography from Parsons School of Design.  She is a co-founder and active member of RadiusTwelve a group of independent artists working together to showcase contemporary art. She has participated in several exhibitions. Her artworks are in private collections in Mexico and the U.S.


Lindsey Simpson (Musical Theater Builders Lead Teacher) is a veteran performing arts educator, with a specialty in early childhood education.  As the Creative Director and Co-Founder of The Oz Project at the Palace Theater in Hamilton, NY., Lindsey brings an inclusive musical theater program aimed at developing and enhancing social skills through theatrical performance to children with and without special needs.  Lindsey has also taught numerous musical theater classes at The Studio: A School for the Performing Arts in New Canaan, CT.  Lindsey's own performing credits include appearances in favorite roles such as:  Aldonza in Man of La Mancha, Mary Lane in Reefer Madness, and Hope Cladwell in Urinetown.  She is classically trained as a singer, and has studied ballet, jazz, tap, and partner swing dancing.  She completed her graduate training at Teachers College, Columbia University, and is currently at first grade teacher at the Manhattan School for Children.

Hannah VeSHANcey


Hannah VeShancey (Musical Theater Builders Assistant Teacher) has 4 years of experience on film sets, overseeing various elements of production including lighting, sound, equipment, and talent. In addition to this, Hannah has been a radio host in Cinncinati, OH and a reporter in Bloomington, IN. As an actress, Hannah has appeared in films such as Fried Rice, Volition, Save Our Shows, G.D.I, Greg Center, Night Ring, Chapter 24, Rosetta Stone, Outside (Independant). She participated with The Barrow Group (Part-Time Conservatory), Stella Adler Theater (Summer Intensive), and the Royal Academy of the Performing Arts in London. Hannah is a graduate of Indiana University. She is excited to join the Creative Stage team!

Mack Walters


Mack Walters (Musical Theater Builders Co-teacher) is a guitarist, composer, and educator currently performing, recording, and teaching in and around New York City.  Recently, he has had the chance to record music with Grammy Award-winning artist John Scofield, and is getting ready to release his debut album as a bandleader.  He is currently teaching classes and individual lessons as an adjunct instructor at New York University.  During his professional career, Mack has had the opportunity to collaborate with some very noteworthy teachers and musicians including: John Scofield, Adam Rogers, Ari Hoenig, Peter Bernstein, Gilad Hekselman, David Newsam, Tony Moreno, and Mark Shilanksy. He is currently pursuing my Masters degree in Jazz Studies from New York University, and have a Bachelors degree in Music Performance from the University of New Hampshire."




Clare Wasserman (Co-creater and Lead Teacher of Dancing Designers) and has had a rich career as a costume designer with projects ranging from Quentin Tarentino films to Broadway shows.  Career highlights include exciting projects such as; Heidi Klum's Halloween costumes, the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, the Marc Jacobs costume ball, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Santa costume, and the creation of a Zac Posen dress for the HBO series, Sex in the City. Clare has also collaborated with award winning designers for the Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Side Show and Tuck Everlasting on Broadway,  as well as working with the prestigious Spoleto Opera Festival in South Carolina.

As an arts educator, Clare has held positions such as lead teacher at the Inner-city Arts Camp in Houston, TX, teaching artist at The New Works Festival at the University of Texas in Austin, and the Children Arts Program Coordinator, at Emmanuel Presbyterian Church.


Chinese-born Canadian pianist Sophie Xuefei Zhang (Musical Theater Builders Co-teacher) enjoys a career both as soloist and chamber musician. First-place winner of the national Canadian Music Competition, Sophie was also the First-place winner of the Beijing district of Concours de Piano Sino-Francais "MIDO" and semi-finalist of the 12th Pacific International Piano Competition. Sophie was the winner of Felix Galimir Chamber Music Award in 2008 and was on full scholarship to attend the Chamber Music program at The Banff Centre. Concert appearances include venues such as Beijing Concert Hall, Bing Concert Hall at Stanford University, Carnegie Hall, Toronto's Arts and Letters Club, Toronto Centre for the Arts, Rolston Recital Hall at The Banff Centre, CBC's Glenn Gould Studio,Berkeley Piano Club and Canadian Opera Company's Richard Bradshaw Theatre. Sophie has also been heard on Beijing Classical Music Radio Station FM97.4, CBC Radio Soundstreams Canada, and Banff Centre Radio Station. She has been named an Osher Foundation Scholar.

An active educator, she led masterclasses for the Alexander String Quartet at San Francisco State University and coached chamber ensembles from the Crowden School in Berkeley. She currently serves as piano faculty at Turtle Bay Music School, and is also a Freelance Lecturer at MoMA The Museum of Modern Art.

Sophie graduated with honors from University of Toronto with a bachelor degree in Piano Performance and a minor concentration in Fine Art History, and obtained her Master of Music degree from Manhattan School of Music. Currently based in New York City, Sophie maintains a private teaching studio


Regina Yung (Musical Theater Builders Co-Teacher) a Hong Kong native, has performed as a soloist, collaborative pianist, and chamber musician in numerous venues throughout Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, and the United States. She obtained her Bachelor of Music degree from Oberlin College Conservatory, and her Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees from Manhattan School of Music.  Regina is currently a member of piano faculty at the St. Thomas Choir School and South Shore Conservatory.  She is also a chamber music coach at Duxbury Music Festival Preparatory Summer program as well as a collaborative piano faculty at Duxbury Music Festival.