Meet The Teachers

Betina Hershey
Artistic Director/Producer/Director/Choreographer/Teacher
Betina Hershey’s recent projects, “Get Us Out Of Fearland” with Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches and “The Very Next Thing” with Hot Jazz Jumpers and have received rave reviews in London Times, DownBeat, Elmore Magazine, and more. You can find Betina playing with both bands in and out of town. Betina Hershey’s resume includes touring as Meg in the National tour of Phantom of the Opera, playing Anybody’s in the West Side Story world tour (Italy-Lebanon-Japan), appearing at City Center as Fleta in Iolanthe and Isabel in The Pirates of Penzance, and dancing in the feature films Disney’s Enchanted and Mona Lisa Smile. She loves writing, performing, and teaching and is thrilled that her musicals are getting published by Beat by Beat Press and being performed all over the world. She is delighted to be a Music Artist in Residence at P.S. 144, focusing on solfege, sight reading, ear training, and more through songs and music games with K-5! In 2002, she came in as a guest artist to play Peter Pan with the Garden Players and in 2003 she turned down a tour to become the Artistic Director of the Garden Players program. With a Dance Degree from LaGuardia H.S. of Performing Arts and a BFA in Acting from Marymount Manhattan College, she’s thrilled to have had a varied and inspirational performance and teaching career. She’s loved every moment and is so thankful for all of the loving support and help from her collaborators, her husband Nick, the Garden Players parents and actors, and the community here in the Gardens!!!! www.betinahersheyrusso.com  *  www.hotjazzjumpers.com  *  www.banjonickaru.com
*Read an Interview of Director Betina Hershey in the Queens Gazette, July 2013.

Sunny Knable
Musical Director / Composer / Teacher  
California-native Sunny Knable is a multifaceted composer who currently resides in New York City.  He has won numerous awards including three “Best Composition” Awards from the Festival of New American Music, and the Iron Composers Award, for which he wrote a four-minute piece in five hours.  He holds degrees from CSU Sacramento—where he received his Bachelor of Music in Composition, Piano Performance and Jazz Studies—Queens College(CUNY), where he completed a Masters of Arts in Composition—and from Stony Brook University, where he holds his PhD in Music Composition. In 2017, his chamber opera Beethoven in Love was performed at the National Opera Center.  In 2016, Knable’s Symphony No. 2 “The Great Expanse” was commissioned and premiered by the California Youth Symphony, Leo Eylar conducting.  Since its premiere in 2012, The Brothers Knable’s opera for young audience, The Magic Fish, has been performed multiple times around the country.  Other professional credits include his debut album “American Variations” on Centaur Records and his multiple bassoon works published by TrevCo-Varner Music.  Dr. Knable serves as Music Director of The Church-in-the-Gardens; Music Director of The Garden Players, and as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Queens College and LaGuardia Community College, while fulfilling commissions from around the country.

Garden Players Assistants:

Amanda Talero (Director’s Assistant) spent most of her childhood as a Garden Player.  She is more commonly known for her role as Charlie in The Most Epic Birthday Party Ever and as Piano in Musicville.  Amanda then enrolled in Frank Sinatra School of the Arts for her high school career, as a vocal major.  Now, she’s returned to Garden Players as an assistant, where she helps in directing students as they explore their creative liberties.  She is currently attending the City College of New York where she is pursuing a minor in theater.

Arden Arabian (Director’s Assistant), dedicates her time helping students bring emotion to their scenes and songs. She is a Freshman at The Kew Forest High School.  She is best known for playing the role of Jack in Beanstalk! The Play!. She attends Saturday classes at the Young Actors Program at Strasberg in NYC where she studies method acting technique on scene and monologue work, as well as, Acting for Film and TV and Musical Theater.  When Arden is not on stage she can be found on the tennis court. Arden also plays the ukulele and dances. She attributes her passion for acting to Betina Hershey, who first instilled in her the magic of performing.

Stella DiCicco (Garden Players Assistant) is a recent alumnae of Garden Players. She attends The Mary Louis Academy, pursuing her love of theater, science, and history. Stella discovered her skills from GP translated well to Speech & Debate. She credits her years with Betina as the reason she made State Championships this past year. Stella has loved working as a GP Assistant for Rising Stars and GP1. Watching the children develop new skills in improvisation, vocal projection, and portraying emotions has been such an amazing and rewarding journey. She is so proud of the hard work and energy they put into each class every week. Congratulations to both casts & the Rising Stars on a job well done!

Special Guest Teachers:

STEPHANIE FITTRO (Actress, Director) starred in the Broadway musical Legally Blonde as Kate/Chutney. Past credits include national tours of Hairspray and Carousel; favorite NY credits include Met Opera (The Merry Widow featured as Joujou, starring Placido Domingo!), Encores!, and Irish Repertory Theatre, as well as the role of Mandy in Eric Bernat and Robin Carrigan’s new comedy Jesus and Mandy at Theatre For The New City. Stephanie has appeared in numerous productions of West Side Story (directed by Alan Johnson) and Finian’s Rainbow at theatres all over the US. Teaching and choreography credits include Diamond Head Theatre (Honolulu, HI), Ft. Salem Theatre (Salem, NY), The Gem Theatre (Detroit, MI), Prospect Theatre (NY, NY), Michigan State Unviersity (East Lansing, MI), Academy of Dance (Clark, NJ), as well as many workshops and outreach programs. As an actor she has studied with Shakespeare and Co. (Lenox, MA), specializing in acting and Shakespeare; as a dancer, she trained at the Boston Ballet and Alvin Ailey Schools. She is proud to be an interpreter of classical musical theatre choreography, especially material melding ballet, character, modern and jazz. She is also proud to have studied with the late great Mr. James Jamieson, Agnes DeMille’s beloved sword dancer in the original Brigadoon, who inspired her to no end, and to whom she dedicates her teaching.

Julianne Abouzaid

GP Tuesday OCT2016-47 Julianne CircleAssistant Choreographer/Assistant Director
Julianne Abouzaid has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre from Point Park University (Conservatory of Performing Arts) in Pittsburgh, PA. In addition to performing at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, she sang with the Pittsburgh Opera and toured as a featured performer with Latshaw Productions.  After graduation, she worked as a singer/dancer for Opryland Productions at their theme parks in Nashville and San Antonio and their Christmas productions in Colorado Springs.  After moving to New York, she continued to work in regional theater as well as sing with the NY Grand Opera and the NY Gilbert & Sullivan Players.  Currently, she is an assistant dance teacher in the Children and Teen Program at Broadway Dance Center.  She also teaches musical theatre and dance summer camps in her hometown of Staunton, Virginia.

Denver Casado

Composer / Guest Teacher
Denver discovered early on the joy of writing songs and telling stories. This led him from a small town in Cal
ifornia to New York City, where he studied the craft of writing musicals with some of the best in the industry. Since then his 10 musicals (6 written for the Garden Players kids to premier) have been performed in over 35 countries. Denver’s innovative approach to exploring musical theatre with kids has earned him invitations to speak at the national conferences of the American Association of Community Theatre and the American Alliance for Theatre Education.

He loves working with the Garden Players who make him smile during every rehearsal. He’d like to thank Betina Hershey, the Garden Players and their parents, and the Church-In-The-Gardens community for their generosity and support. www.denvercasado.com, www.bbbpress.com