School of Music, Theatre and Dance

SMTD Faculty, Student and Alumni News

July 2023

icon of a calendarJuly 12, 2023

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SMTD Faculty, Student and Alumni News: July 2023
SMTD Graduates
Recent graduates of the School of Music, Theatre and Dance.

Congratulations to all of the School of Music, Theatre and Dance graduates who walked April 28 at the College of Arts and Sciences commencement ceremony. In addition to the usual graduation festivities, Curtis Armstrong (ADA ‘75) was granted a Doctor of Arts Honoris Causa.

Brant Ford (BM '22) has been awarded the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music Performer’s Certificate, IU’s highest performance accolade. This award is a special recognition of musical understanding and technical proficiency demonstrated in recital and involves a three-step process (the hearing, the recital, and a special hearing by the All-Faculty Performer’s Certificate Committee). This is Ford's first year of study at IU on a graduate fellowship — he graduated from OU with a double major in saxophone performance and music technology.

OU's World Music Concert was held on March 31 in Varner Recital Hall. The Akwaaba African Ensemble performed music from Uganda's Bunyoro, Busoga, and Buganda kingdoms. The Pan-Jumbies Steel Band performed Trinidadian steel pan music, including music from the recent Global Arts Study Abroad program to St. Lucia.

Acclaimed international disabled choreographer, artistic director and dancer Marc Brew hosted a contemporary Master Class for dance department students at Oakland University on March 15. “It’s important to remember that when one door closes, another opens,” Brew said. “Being a dancer isn’t an easy world to be in; you need to have that determination and that drive to continue to follow your passion and reach your goals.” Read more here

Milica (Mila) Govich

Paula Tutman (Channel 4) stopped by OU on March 29 to interview Milica (Mila) Govich, special lecturer in theatre, and her Camera 2/Advanced Acting for the Camera students. You can watch the interview here. Govich also appeared on that same day on an episode of Chicago Fire. “I played a woman working a blood drive when a fire breaks out at the community center,” she said. “I am desperate to save the blood. It was so much fun jumping in and out of the fire. I will be an action hero yet!”

On March 30, SMTD theatre students — juniors Rachel Sarles and Phillip Christiansen, and senior Kennedy Vernengo — performed scenes in Professor Jason Wasserman’s Medical Humanities and Clinical Bioethics course in the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine. “One of the things that’s really cool about having the scenes played out in class is (that) it brings these things that we would otherwise talk about rather abstractly to life,” said Abram Brummett, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Foundational Medical Studies. “You can feel the emotion of the actors and you can feel emotions you would have in their situation…it forces you to encounter the moral dilemma in a way that you don’t when you just read about it,” he added." David Gram, assistant professor of theatre, has been teaching a course in the medical school for the past three years called Coughing in the Theatre: Medical and Moral Ethics on the Dramatic Stage, which examines ethics through the reading of plays. “Stories help us understand humanity,” said Gram. “And we continue to pass stories down because it helps us make sense of the world, or at least helps challenge us to think about the world in a different way.” Read the entire article here.

Oakland University’s Department of Theatre presented Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare on March 30 – April 2 at the Pontiac Little Art Theatre. The production tells the story of shipwrecked Viola, who finds herself alone in a strange land. Determined to survive on their own, they disguise themselves as a man. “Our approach to the show is that of fluidity; the fluidity of the space, of time, and of gender — including all the things that accompany the perception of gender and identity,” said Sara Catheryn Wolf, director. “It’s very much about the freedom to find yourself and express the power within you in a comedic way.”

On April 1, the Oakland University Jazz Band and Latin Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of Dr. Enrique Rios-Ellis, presented an evening of music from composers such as Chick Corea, Victor Feldman, Poncho Sánchez, Eddie Palmieri and many more.

Regina Carter (BA ‘85) has been recognized as an NEA Jazz Master, joining the 2023 class of inductees with Louis Hayes, Kenny Garrett and Sue Mingus. The NEA Jazz Masters fellowship, often described as the nation's highest honor for jazz, brings with it a $25,000 award and a prestigious title. The new class was honored in a gala NEA Jazz Masters Tribute Concert on April 1 presented in collaboration with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. A past recipient of both a MacArthur Fellowship and a Doris Duke Artist Award, Carter is the most celebrated jazz violinist of her generation, known for a warm, lustrous sound and a springy way with rhythm. You can read more here.


Oakland University welcomed Stanislav Golovin, the clarinet professor at the University of Akron, as a guest artist in April for a master class in the clarinet studio.

The Oakland Symphony Orchestra presented Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring on April 4 at Orchestra Hall in Detroit. The OSO was joined by the Oakland University Symphony Chorus for Requiem by Gabriel Fauré. The concert featured Gregory Cunningham, conductor; Michael A. Mitchell, conductor; Melissa Maloney, soprano; and Constantine Novotny, baritone.

On April 5, the Oakland University Trumpet Ensemble, Five Seconds of Musicianship Brass Quintet, and Renovation Brass performed in the Brass Chamber Ensembles concert in the Varner Recital Hall.

The Wind Symphony and Symphonic Band pulled out all the stops for their final concert of the season on April 18. This concert featured a world premiere of Benjamin Dean Taylor's "Aurum Tetra for Saxophone Quartet and Wind Ensemble" featuring the Assembly Quartet; a special performance by Cloudfolk, OU's Percussion Ensemble; and a pre-concert by the 338th Army Band, Strong Winds.

Carrie Slade and Calleigh Wilson

OU alumna Carrie Slade and current OU student Calleigh Wilson shared a smile together in the lobby of Pontiac’s Flagstar Strand Theatre after a performance of A Little Night Music, which ran from March 23 – 26. Slade played Anne in OU’s 1994 production of A Little Night Music, and Wilson played Anne In this year’s production. Both productions were directed by Distinguished Professor of Theatre Karen Sheridan. “When I saw that Karen was the director, I immediately made plans to attend,” Slade said. “I knew I had to see this musical — 30 years later — to see the similarities and differences, and of course, to see my beloved character, Anne Egerman.” For Slade, watching the character she once played come to life again on stage brought back fond memories. “Since many years had passed, it took me a little while to get reacclimated to the story, but when the ball of yarn rolled off the couch onto the ground, I remembered that moment from the inside out,” Slade said. “I was mesmerized the entire show and I'm so proud of Calleigh. I found my heart filling with joy to hear her beautiful voice singing ‘Soon.’ She was perfect!” Slade said she also enjoyed reuniting with Sheridan after the performance. “It was very emotional to see and talk with her,” she said. “She was the only other one there besides myself that knew both productions, both casts and held them both in our hearts and memories. I’m so incredibly proud of the work Karen has done. It’s obviously a show she loves and she brought it not once, but twice to audiences.”

Soprano Christine Goerke has appeared in the major opera houses of the world. She has won the Richard Tucker Award and has been named a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Government. She is also the associate artistic director of the Detroit Opera. Goerke presented a voice masterclass on April 11 featuring OU students Montana King, Kellan Dunlap and Olivia Donnel.

April 13 kicked off a series of performances by Oakland Dance Theatre and OU Repertory Dance Company in the annual Young Choreographers Forum, featuring works by student choreographers, resident dance company Take Root and Maggie Allesee Choreography Award recipient Anthony Alterio.

On April 19, new OU voice faculty members — Elise Eden, Constantine Novotny and Katrina Van Maanen — and collaborative pianist Aran Kim presented works by J.S. Bach, Samuel Barber, Carlisle Floyd, Thomas Ford, Thomas Morley, John Dowland, Donald Swann, Mikis Theodorakis, and Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx.

American pianist Robert McDonald — faculty at The Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute of Music — performed a free recital on April 21 in Varner Recital Hall. The event was sponsored by the Judd Family Endowed Fund.

April 18 was student worker Olivia Friedenstab's last day in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance office. She performed that same evening in the Symphonic Band/Wind Symphony concert in Varner Recital Hall. Next up, she will be student teaching this fall at Harlan Elementary School in Birmingham with music education alumna Amber Cooper (BM '10, MM '14).

The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF)'s national awards ceremony took place on April 21 and Colin Franz, theatre technology and design major, was one of eight recipients of a Randy Lutz Allied Design and Technologies Award, which he won at the KCACTF Region III festival in January. Franz, along with the other winners of this award, presented his work at the United States Institute for Theatre Technology conference in March. Franz received the award for his puppets for OU's production of She Kills Monsters. This fall, Franz will attend the University of Maryland to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree in Theatre Design. The Randy Lutz Allied Design and Technologies awards are open to students who have completed major crafts or technology projects in areas including makeup, projection, properties, millinery, masks, tech, wigs, scenic art, draping and tailoring, technical direction, puppets, special effects, costume craft, and audio engineering.

Also at the KCACTF, musical theatre student Chanelle Beach won the Irene Ryan Region III Selecter's Partner Award in January, which resulted in her residency at the National Festival. Beach said, “There’s nothing better than learning with and celebrating young artists from all over the country.” You can learn more about the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival here.

Chicago Showcase

OU BFA acting seniors Mason Gaida, Princess Beyonce Jones, Olivia Kiefer and Emily Nichter wrapped up a successful showcase in April in Chicago where they attended several workshops at Acting Studio Chicago (Improv, On Camera, Advanced Scene and Guideposts, Gaming and Animation Voiceover); an industry panel with top agents, casting directors, actors; and performances at The Second City, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, A Red Orchid Theatre and Steppenwolf Theatre. The senior experience in Chicago is a capstone to the students’ training in the BFA Acting program. The goals are an introduction to the city, masterclasses, alumni gathering, and an overall immersive experience with the theatre industry. Anthony Guest, associate professor of theatre, accompanied the students to Chicago as well as directed and coached their pieces. Through the fall course Professional Practices for the Performer, David Gram, assistant professor of theatre, mentored their scene and monologue selections. Rachael Patterson, director of Acting Studio Chicago, said "It was such a pleasure hosting the BFA Seniors from Oakland University; a group accompanied by Tony Guest. Tony was easy to communicate with and seemed to bring out the best in his students. The seniors were open, fun, mature and appreciative of our teachers and guests. Everyone at Acting Studio Chicago shared positive feedback on their experience working with the OU students. The showcase this year, though small, was thoroughly enjoyable to watch, and professional in quality. The choice of material was strong. The opening and closing sequences were clever, highlighted the physicality of the group and engaged the panel of agents.”

OU alumna and playwright Anetria Cole was interviewed on April 27 on WDET's Virtual Artist Salon Series. To listen, register for free here. Cole is also a 2022 Gilda Emerging Artist Award recipient.

North American Brass Band Association

In April, five Oakland University alumni — Scott Brickner (cornet), Andrew Cicchelli (cornet), Dan Head (cornet), Dallas Long (trombone) and Scott Voytush (trombone) — performed with the Five Lakes Silver Band at the North American Brass Band Association (NABBA) Championships in Huntsville, Alabama where they competed in the championship section, NABBA’s highest level. The band placed first overall in the competition and was named the NABBA Champions. While studying at Oakland University, all five performed with the award-winning Oakland University Brass Band, beginning with its initial run during the 2009-2010 school year. You can watch their NABBA performances here (5:58.00 approximately is the test piece “Titan’s Progress” by Hermann Pallhuber) and here (8:09.00 is the choice piece “On the Shoulders of Giants” by Peter Graham). According to a review from “The basis of their victory came on the set-work, with an outstanding rendition of Herman Pallhuber's 'Titan's Progress' packed with detail and purposeful impulse to secure a clean sweep of first place technical as well as artistic marks from judges Dr. Howard Evans, Col (ret.) Thomas Palmatier and Allan Ramsay. That performance was subsequently followed the next day with a solidly delivered rendition of their own-choice of 'On the Shoulders of Giants'." You can read the full review here.

Percussion Ensemble

The Oakland University Percussion Ensemble won second place in the North American Brass Band Association’s Percussion Ensemble Competition in April. Their performance of "The Feeling of Coming Home" by Victor Labozzetta led to their second winning performance in as many years. The ensemble members include Collin Arena, Taylor Atkinson, Mattheas Boelter, Makensie Harrington, Brady Jacot, Jay Lobsinger, Kyle Paoletti and Jake Voight.

Five vocalists — out of 50 — were chosen as finalists for the 2023 Rising Star Vocal Jazz Competition, and two of them are OU students: Kait Wiegand and Aniya Gray. The competition took place on May 21 at Aretha’s Jazz Café at Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts. The first place singer wins a slot at the Michigan Jazz Festival, performing with vocal jazz legend Ramona Collins. “I’m really proud of both of them,” said Scott Gwinnell, special lecturer of music at OU and director of the OU vocal jazz ensembles.

Anna Marck

Musical Theatre alumna Anna Marck has created her own work, “Women of the Watch, Keepers of the Light” — a 45-minute, one woman play written and performed by Marck, and directed by D.B. Schroeder. The play follows Marck as she relives hilarious family trips to lighthouses in Michigan, which ignites a passion to share the spectacular stories of various female lighthouse keepers of the Great Lakes. She details the lives of four particular keepers by donning voice and movement. As she steps into these brave women’s shoes, she discovers the tragedy of their hardships and the beauty of their spirits. “It was nerve-wracking to write and learn and stage a one-woman play in the span of six weeks, but the stories about these women were so full and captivating that I really just had to translate their stories for the stage,” Marck said. “And I was lucky enough to have some family trips to lighthouses which helped tie the whole thing together. I ended up really enjoying the writing process.” The show was commissioned by The Lorenzo Cultural Center in Macomb, Mich. It has been performed at The Lorenzo Cultural Center, The Crocker House Museum and Gardens, Community House of Rochester, USS Silversides Museum, the Port Huron Museum, the Dossin Museum on Bell Isle, and Troy Historic Village, as well as several private performances for organizations, libraries, museums, retirement homes, etc. For more information, visit

Oakland University’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance presented two performances of Mozart’s comic masterpiece, Così fan tutte, on May 5 and 7 in Varner Recital Hall on the OU campus. Reimagined on a beach in 1970s Michigan, Così fan tutte tells the story of two pairs of young lovers testing the strength of their relationships. It was directed by Drake Dantzler, associate professor of music; and featured musical direction by Victoria Shively, a special lecturer in music. “Così fan tutte features some of the most beautiful melodies and musical moments in the operatic canon,” Dantzler said. “The first act trio is sublime. But Così’s comic material and youthful exuberance is uniquely suited for talented college students. It provides our young singers a chance to shine, be it in their singing, their acting, or their comic timing.”

Grizz at Michigan Youth Dance Festival

The Grizz — along with OU students Iyabossasere Enabulele, Elise Spears, Aliyah Spears, and Jada Givens, alumni Sam Lamer and Martin Sanchez, and faculty Mary Murphy and Elizabeth Kattner — went to the Michigan Youth Dance Festival, hosted by the University of Michigan Dance Department, in May and met high school dancers from all over the state of Michigan.

Seven OU dance majors arrived in Berlin, Germany in early May to begin the German Contemporary Dance study abroad program. The program, which takes place at Uferstudios Center for Contemporary Dance and the Tanzfabrik Berlin, includes dance technique classes, rehearsals, lectures, and readings on contemporary issues in dance.

Dr. James Long attended and presented at the International Tuba and Euphonium Conference from May 31 to June 4 at Arizona State University. He performed a chamber recital containing a world premiere of Sounds of Hawaii by Brendan Ige. Sounds of Hawaii is a piece that strives to capture the experience of growing up in Hawaii as an Asian American. All three movements are accompanied by electronics with use of euphonium, tuba, flugabone and sousaphone. The work tries to incorporate, as well as juxtapose, elements of dance music with classical music. In addition to the chamber recital, Long also performed with the Backburner Tuba and Euphonium collective performing works by Kevin Day and Elizabeth Raum.

Brian Wiik, who is a senior in the Bachelor of Music in Tuba Performance program, was selected as a semi-finalist in the Mock Band Tuba Competition at the International Tuba Euphonium Conference (ITEC). The conference was held at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona on May 29 through June 3. Wiik was selected through a recorded preliminary round from submissions by collegiate tuba players from around the world. In addition, Wiik was selected along with Dustin Freeman, a senior in the Bachelor of Music in Trombone Performance program, to take part in the Bay View Music Festival. This annual chamber music festival takes place every summer in Bay View, Mich. where they will be performing from July 17 through August 14. They were both invited through a competitive audition from applicants from across the country. Wiik is a student of Dr. James Long, lecturer of applied tuba and Dustin studies with Dr. Kenneth Kroesche, professor of low brass.

Eric Oleksiak

Dr. Eric Oleksiak (BM Ed/Perf. ‘09) was a guest artist with the bands at Saint Clair High School in St. Clair, Mich. He performed Variations on Barnacle Bill the Sailor for bass trombone and concert band at the East China Performing Arts Center on May 9. Dr. Oleksiak is a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army and currently serves as a trombonist with “Fort Sam’s Own” 323d Army Band at Fort Sam in Houston, Texas.

Flint Repertory Theatre’s next production, Ragtime, ran June 9-25 and included four OU connections: Karen Sheridan (distinguished professor of theatre) was Emma Goldman/Ensemble, Emily Nichter (BFA '23) was Assistant Director/Dramaturg, Noah Canales (BFA '22) was Ensemble, and Emi Fishman (BFA '21) was Evelyn Nesbit/Ensemble.


OU presented Yo, Vikings!, a fantastic adventure that combines sweeping melodies, thrilling Viking chants, and funky rock ‘n roll with a beautiful, heart-warming story on May 19 and 21. Based on Judith Byron Schachner’s acclaimed book and the true story that inspired it, Yo, Vikings! is the story of Emma Katz, a spunky little girl with a limitless imagination. After being assigned Erik the Red for her World Discovery Day report, she begins to channel her inner Viking and sets off on a fantastic voyage of self-discovery. “Emma looks at life through the eyes of an adventurer,” said Rachel Sarles, who played Emma in the production. “In this story, Emma discovers how to embrace her own identity as she navigates the challenges of being an outgoing and creative adolescent. I feel very connected to her journey, and I am drawn to stories that celebrate authenticity in young children. I want to represent her in a way that encourages the youth and adults to express themselves freely and unapologetically.”

Abigail McKay Cherry

This fall, Abigail McKay Cherry (BM '19) will be attending the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music to pursue a master's degree in Voice Performance and a Certificate of Vocology. "When I graduated in 2019, I decided to take a gap year which turned into gap years because of Covid,” Cherry said. “In the meantime, I have studied voice privately with Dr. Brian Gill, who is based at IU. I am so excited to continue working with him! I have held a position as a staff singer at The Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Detroit since 2019, where I have been able to perform great choral music with an incredible community of passionate singers. I also spent three seasons singing with the Detroit Concert Choir under Dr. Mike Mitchell's direction. After I graduate, I plan to return to the metro Detroit area to begin building a private voice studio and continue participating in the vibrant culture of classical music here.”

Kevin Cornwell II

Kevin Cornwell II (BM ‘23) will be attending the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) for a master’s degree in Choral Conducting. “At UCLA, not only will I be able to further my development in choral conducting but also in film score and media music,” Cornwell said. “This was the best decision for me to make in all areas of my life, and I’m ecstatic to be in Westwood very soon.” Dr. Mike Mitchell, Cornwell’s conducting teacher, said “He's one of the finest young conductors in America, and he's going to study at UCLA with a full ride plus a stipend. Go Kevin, I’m incredibly proud! Want to be a successful conductor? Study at Oakland University!”

Sam Torres (BFA ‘21) received rave reviews for her performance in ThreePenny Theatre Company’s production of A Shayna Maidel, a powerful, poignant drama about two sisters trying to reconnect after years of separation during World War II. Daisy Blake, of the Gephardt Daily in Salt Lake City, wrote: “The performances, across the board, were absolutely lovely. Merry Magee, who plays Lusia, and Sam Torres, who plays Rose, are both names to watch in the Salt Lake theater scene. Both seem less to act and more to just be. And Torres is just a wonder. I’ve seen her in three pieces recently; Wasatch Theatre Company’s Melancholy Play, a reading of Morag Shepherd’s The Big Quiet for Pygmalion Theatre Company and now this show, and with apparently no effort at all, she transformed utterly for each. Of course, that is what actors do, but to see such complete metamorphosis into vastly different characters is quite a feat.” A Shayna Maidel ran through May 27 at Alliance Theater – Utah Arts Alliance in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Juju Palmer Encore

JuJu Palmer (BFA ’23) recently performed in The Encore’s Theatre’s production of 42nd Street, along with several other OU alumni including Madeline Daunt (BFA ’23), Sam Sommer (BFA ’21), and Josh England (BFA ’21), as well as current OU students Sydney Nummer and Sullivan Saliby. The show ran from June 1 – 25, 2023.

Carly Uhrig and Kathy Boersma

SMTD staff member Kathy Boersma (production and facilities manager) and former Marketing Manager Carly Uhrig were selected to receive a 2023 AP Reward. An AP (Administrative Professional) Reward recognition is given to individuals who have gone beyond their regular job responsibilities to advance the mission of the university over the past year.

Jennifer Ward

OU alumna Jennifer Ward recently directed Clarkston High School’s production of Oklahoma!, which included incoming OU theatre student Ellise Dowd in the role of Aunt Eller. Ward said, “Ellise is thrilled to attend OU this fall. She won the Oakland University Spirit Award at her orientation! I’m so excited for her to start her career at OU!” Ward also won the award for Best Play for the entire Art Speaks Festival this summer and has written a play to be produced by Open Book Theatre for their Driveway Theatre summer series called Driveway Dating. For more information, visit

Peyton Miller has been selected as the recipient of the Duino Prize for his work for his string quartet, “Recitative and Scherzo,” and will be traveling to Italy this summer to hear it premiered. “I’m looking forward to hearing it performed in Duino, Italy in June at the International Music Festival of the Adriatic,” he said.

OU alum Joshua Tobias recently finished his first year of M.M. in Orchestral Conducting at Oklahoma City University. He also has a new post as director of middle school orchestra for El-Sistema Oklahoma in Oklahoma City. In addition, Tobias completed conducting workshops at The University of Texas, The University of Missouri Kansas City, and The University of Michigan this summer.

Kellan Dunlap

Kellan Dunlap (BM ‘23) is a 2023 Apprentice Artist with the OPERA San Antonio-Classical Music Institute Summer Voice Program, an intensive training program focusing on classical solo and chamber vocal music. After his apprenticeship concludes this summer, Dunlap will attend the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University for a Master of Music in Vocal Performance. Dunlap says, “Thank you to my family, friends, and teachers who have helped me while I've been at Oakland University and beyond. I'm very excited for this next chapter in Houston, Texas this fall!”

Distinguished Professor of Theatre Karen Sheridan was in Chicago in June and had brunch with OU alums Alex Benoit (acting) and Josh Frink (musical theatre) who both now live and work in Chicago. Both are currently in shows, Sheridan said.

Ian Lester

Ian Lester (BM ’18) recently received his doctorate degree in euphonium performance and master’s degree in composition from the University of Missouri – Kansas City. In addition to graduating from UMKC, Dr. Lester has been making a splash with his compositions and performances, receiving numerous awards and accolades. Notable honors include being named the winner of the highly competitive North Texas ITEA Composition Competition and placing second at the 2023 North American Brass Band Championships with the Fountain City Brass Band, in which Dr. Lester currently plays 2nd baritone. Dr. Lester was proud to represent both OU and UMKC at the International Tuba Euphonium Conference in Arizona. At ITEC, Dr. Lester was named the winner of the prestigious R. Winston Morris Composition Award for Tuba/Euphonium Ensemble, advanced to the semi-finals of the chamber music competition with his euphonium trio The Troubled Euphs, and had several of his compositions performed by conference soloists and collegiate tuba/euphonium ensembles. Most recently, one of Dr. Lester’s newest works, S0c1AL for trombone, electronics, and guitar pedals, was accepted to be performed by Brent Mead at the International Trombone Festival in Salt Lake City in July. Dr. Lester states that his undergraduate education and experience at OU gave him a strong foundation in performance and composition. “Working with world-class faculty such as Dr. Kenneth Kroesche, Terry Herald, Dr. Ben Fuhrman, and Dr. Gregory Cunningham has helped shape me into the musician and person I am today,” he said. You can read more about Ian and his music-making by visiting

Every spring OU Music, Theatre and Dance recognizes distinguished students, alumni and community members with MaTilDa Awards. The MaTilDas are named to honor Matilda Dodge Wilson who donated the land on which Oakland University is built. This year’s recipients include: Kellen Dunlap (Distinguished Musicianship Award - undergraduate), Tyler Hewett (Distinguished Musicianship Award - graduate), Olivia Donnel (Outstanding Student in Vocal Performance), Qi Zheng (Outstanding Student in Piano Performance - undergraduate), Joseph Walters (Outstanding Student in Piano Performance -graduate), Yang Yang (Outstanding Student in Piano Performance - graduate), Ana Miller (Jennifer Scott Memorial Award), Litang Feng (Jennifer Scott Memorial Award), Jaiwen Zhang and Yipeng Zhou (Joyce Adelson Piano Ensemble Award), Anna Greyerbiehl (Outstanding Student in Instrumental Performance -undergraduate), Mahki Murray (Outstanding Student in Instrumental Performance - undergraduate), Shannon Sheldrick (Outstanding Student in Instrumental Performance - graduate), Angela Bonello (Outstanding Student in Music Education), Shea Socrates (Outstanding Student in Music Education), Jackson Stone (Outstanding Student in Jazz), Jacob Voight (Outstanding Student in World Music), Kyle Marker (Outstanding Student in Music Technology), Renovation Brass - Anna Greyerbiehl, Shannon Sheldrick, Derek Kolp, Mabelynn Dill and Noah McDonald (Outstanding Students in Chamber Music), Madeleine Krick (Outstanding Student Service Award - Music), Olivia Friedenstab (Outstanding Student Service Award - Music), OU Percussion Studio (Outstanding Student Service Award - Music), Travis Darghali (Pat and Mercedes Nicosia Meadow Brook Estate), Mason Gaida (Gittlen Achievement in Acting), Joe Kocenda (Gittlen Achievement in Theatre Design and Technology), Mark LeMire (Gittlen Achievement in Musical Theatre), Anna De Valois Konno (Gittlen Theatre Award), Emily Nichter (Outstanding Student Service Award - Theatre), Morgan Pinkham (Distinguished Dance Student), Marissa Smith (Outstanding Choreography Award), Brady Jacot (SMTD Award - for commitment to the interdisciplinary nature of the school), and Sarita Alvarado (Social Justice Award).

David Gram, an assistant professor of theatre at OU, recently directed a production of the musical, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, at Opera Saratoga in Saratoga Springs, New York. The production ran from June 30 through July 8. Gram’s theatre company, Renaissance City Repertory Theatre (RC Rep) also kicked off its new works festival, (R)evolutions, at the end of May. The festival featured two staged readings: Imposter! By Canadian playwright Jessica Moss, and Challenging Brown by Cris Eli Blak. “We had six OU alums involved and one current student among a host of other local artists,” Gram said. “In addition to the in-person presentation, we also live streamed both readings.”

Kelsi Fay (BFA ’20) has been touring with the Michigan Shakespeare Festival and their MiSFITS company, which travels to high schools in the Michigan/Ohio/Indiana area. “We are performing Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth, the latter of which I performed in my last show at Oakland under the direction of David Gram,” Fay said. “I, again, am playing a witch and it's nothing but fun. I would encourage any high school teachers out there that want to introduce students to the wonderful world of Shakespeare, to book us to come to your school. Who doesn't want to see people fighting with swords onstage?” Fay also got accepted to a Playback Improv Troupe in Detroit at Matrix Theatre Company. “This is the inaugural year of the troupe and we get the opportunity to go out into the community, hear their stories, and re-tell them in fun, different, and/or inspiring ways,” she said.

Anna Konno recently announced she will be extending her Disney College Program into Entertainment in a character performer role. Konna said she feels “absolutely blessed to continue my journey making magic in the happiest place on Earth!”

Mary Beth (Myth) Parks had her play, Life with Mara, accepted for production in Stage It, a short play festival in Bonita Springs, Florida. Along with the production, her play will appear in an anthology of short plays. 

Jack Swanson, a creative writing major, had his short play, Selective Service, produced at Art Speaks, a playwriting festival held annually in Midland, Michigan. 


Music Theory Professor Melissa Hoag has recently been named Chief Reader-Designate for the College Board's Advanced Placement Exam in Music Theory. In this role, she will lead the annual in-person reading of free-response questions. She will also shape the content of AP music theory courses as well as the annual exam by serving on the test development committee. She will spend the 2023-2024 year shadowing the outgoing Chief Reader; as of July 2024, she will become the official Chief Reader for the exam, a four-year position.

OU playwriting student Alessia Fionda turned Give Us A Smile, a short play she wrote for Kitty Dubin’s class, into a film that will premiere at the MJR in Troy on July 15.

Aurora Renee

Aurora Renee, who earned a BFA in musical theatre, is performing in a production of Caberet as Fraulein Kost and understudying Sally at Glow Lyric Theatre in South Carolina. She is also a lead vocalist in their Broadway Revue, Black Broadway. For more information, visit

OU alumna Alexis Grace Clark, along with Detroit Theatre natives Craig Ester and Maurizio Dominguez, opened their own theatre company, “Break the Chain Theatre Company” in 2021 and have been working hard to make it a place that is diverse, empathetic, and culturally impactful. “We strive to create this by creating high quality, professional live theatre and arts education programs to serve the city of Detroit and those who are traditionally under-represented onstage in the theatre community,” said Clark, who serves as general manager and marketing manager. “We are very proud of all we have accomplished so far, but we are most excited about our first in-person full production, titled The R and J Project.” The show also featured recent alumni Jalen Wilson Nelems and current student Cassius Merweather. For more information, visit

Robert Benton

Dr. Robert Benton (BM ’07) is associate professor of low brass and music theory at the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK). This year, Dr. Benton was invited to perform at the International Tuba Euphonium Conference, in Tempe Arizona. He performed an acclaimed solo recital consisting of music by avant-pop Dutch composer, Jacob TerVeldhuis. Dr. Benton has also been selected to host the Great Plains Regional Tuba Euphonium Conference in May 2024 at UNK. This past academic year, Dr. Benton was nominated for the Pratt-Heins Award for Excellence in Scholarship/Research (awards will be announced in August).

Blake Whyte

Blake Whyte will be joining the theatre faculty this fall as visiting assistant professor of musical theatre. Prior to this appointment, he was a guest-teaching artist at Michigan State University, Interlochen Arts Camp, Denison University, and Kalamazoo College. He holds a BFA in Musical Theater from Syracuse University and a Masters of Songwriting from New York University. Whyte has played principal roles in the Broadway productions of such hit shows as Wicked and Mamma Mia! He has had the pleasure of working for some of the great songwriters and storytellers of our time, including Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner Michael R. Jackson, Stephen Schwartz, Craig Carnelia, Rona Siddiqui, Liz Suggs, Julianne Wick Davis, and Rachel Peters. He was also seen on the web series “Submissions Only” as Josh Clark. His solo show at New York’s legendary Joe’s Pub was NY-1’s pick of the week. At New York University Steinhardt’s Songwriting Program, Whyte was named program assistant. He spent two years co-directing the innovative Songwriting/Vocal Performance Collaborative Project. At NYU he received a Diversity and Inclusion Award, a Distinguished Service Award to the Songwriting Program, and most recently, the Music and Performing Arts Professions Departmental Award for outstanding commitment, achievement, and service to the program and community. He is a songwriter, film composer, arranger, orchestrator, producer, and instrumentalist who has worked in many diverse areas of music. He co-produced his debut album, “More Like Myself,” with Jeffrey Lee Campbell (Sting’s guitarist). His single release, “Let Me Fly,” sparked a collaboration with prolific mixer/engineer Adam Hawkins. And as an artist, Whyte has toured all over the United States. A true lover of songwriting and theater communities, Whyte was selected to participate in the Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project, the Banff Centre’s Music Residency, and a unique lyric intensive with Rosanne Cash at NYU. He is also the recipient of the ASCAP Plus Award.


Professor Mark Stone, Guba, recently traveled to Cologne, Germany where he presented some of his current Ph.D. research at the African Futures Conference, organized by the European Conference on African Studies. Together with fellow percussionist-composer-scholar Lukas Ligeti, Stone co-convened a panel at the conference entitled Experimental music based on concepts from African traditions: new directions in composition, pedagogy and technology. While in Cologne, he was also invited to perform at the Oluzayo Festival. As part of this exciting New African Music festival, Prof. Stone presented a set of Bernard Woma's original compositions for the gyil xylophone.

Stone and OU Music Professors Marion Hayden and Gayelynn McKinney will travel to Manaus, Brazil at the end of July to participate in the Amazonas Green Jazz Festival. They will perform with the Amazonas Symphony Orchestra and Choir, OU Alumna Regina Carter, UM Professor and Flugelhornist Ed Sarath, South African Percussionist Dizu Plaatjies, and Brazilian Pianist Cris Bloes. Together they will present the South American premiere of Sarath’s new composition His Day is Done for symphony orchestra, choir and solo improvisers. The piece was premiered in South Africa in December 2022, to highly enthusiastic acclaim by performers and audiences alike and can be heard in its entirety here. The work sets to music Dr. Maya Angelou’s poem of that title, which she wrote and dedicated to Nelson Mandela in 2014, shortly after his passing. The music embodies the boundary-crossing programming that increasingly defines the symphony orchestra world. Interweaving classical, jazz and a broader range of influences, incorporating improvisation in carefully designed passages (within a largely composed-notated work), His Day is Done directly translates the racial justice visions of two iconic visionaries into sound. In addition, the septet of soloists from His Day is Done will present an ensemble set at the festival as the Global Jazz Collective. In this performance, each member of the collective will contribute an original composition.


Rhys Burgess (BM ’17) played the role of Manny the accompanist in two performances of Terrence McNally’s Tony Award-winning Master Class on July 9 – 10 at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen, Colorado. Directed by Tony winner Joanna Gleason, the cast also featured two-time Tony winner Phylicia Rashad as famed opera star Maria Callas. “I’m excited to be working on this project during my summer in Aspen, and I’m so happy my experiences at OU helped pave the way for this opportunity,” Burgess said. In addition to his role in Master Class, Burgess is going into his last year of the DMA in Collaborative Piano at the University of Maryland, where he has been studying with Professor Rita Sloan. “At UMD I’ll be playing for the Maryland Opera Studio and playing rehearsals for their productions of Albert Herring and Daniel Catán's Florencia en el Amazonas.” He also recently completed the Résidence UdeM-McGill in Vocal Accompanying in Montréal, Québec. “It was an amazing year of study in Canada with terrific professors and guest artists,” Burgess said.


Teri Hansen will be joining the theatre faculty this fall as visiting assistant professor of musical theatre. Hansen has received International recognition for her crossover abilities as an actor from Broadway to film/tv and concert stages around the world. She made her Broadway debut in The Boys From Syracuse and starred in London’s West End as “Magnolia” in Hal Prince’s Tony award winning production of Show Boat. Most recently she starred in the National Tours of The Sound Of Music (Elsa) and the Tony Award winning An American In Paris (Madame Baurel). She has also appeared on “The Blacklist,” “Law & Order SVU,” “FBI: Most Wanted,” and “Orange is the New Black.” Internationally recognized as an interpreter of Weill, Hansen starred as “Rose” in the film version of Kurt Weill’s Street Scene. She also toured for years with Marvin Hamlisch, appeared at the Lincoln Center singing Rodgers and Hammerstein, as well as regular appearances there as a part of the prestigious “Meet the Artist” series.

Musical Theatre major Sarita Alvarado will be performing in Godspell at the Hackmatack Playhouse in Berwick, Maine from August 3 – 19. For more information, visit

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