San Diego Junior Theatre Teaching Artists

Learn more about our teaching artists and their current & upcoming classes.

Amanda Joy Brais

Amanda Joy Brais is an actress born and raised in NYC. She started acting at the age of 3 and grew up performing with a number of theatre companies in the city including TADA!, Urban Youth Theatre and the Wingspan Arts Conservatory. She holds a B.F.A. in Music Theater and a minor in Education from the University at Buffalo. After graduation, Amanda went on to work in commercial television in NYC and has taught a wide range of interdisciplinary classes including, but not limited to Musical Theatre, Ballet, Gymnastics, Science, Chess, Sports and Tennis. She is very excited to start her west coast journey with San Diego Junior Theatre!

David Decker

David Decker is a lifelong musician who started singing at church when he was a young child, played the Cello in his school strings and orchestra programs all through high school, then sang in church and school choirs. He went on to receive his Bachelor of Music Education with a Choral Emphasis from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, AZ. He has sung with various community choruses in his adult life from The Valley Chamber Chorale in Phoenix, AZ to most recently with the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus. In his time with SDGMC, he has served as a Section Leader for both the Tenor 1 and Tenor 2 sections and also taught remedial music theory courses for their general membership. Also, he has had the honor of guest conducting the group at times during the annual holiday show, Jingle, and at various outreach events. Mr. David recently music directed JT’s production of How I Became A Pirate!


Spring Session: Mini Musical: Annie

David Goodwin

David Goodwin has spent nearly twenty years as an educator in the performing arts, working for organizations such as Junior Players of North Texas, Big Thought and Shakespeare Dallas. From 2012 to 2014, David was a Teaching Artist Fellow with Big Thought where he developed arts-integrated programming and trained both teaching artists and classroom teachers in strategies for using arts engagement to catalyze learning. From 2015 to 2018 he was the Director of Actor Training for Shakespeare Dallas. As a professional actor, David spent ten years as a company member with Shakespeare Dallas and is a longtime member of Kitchen Dog Theater. He is a member of Actor’s Equity Association and is currently the director of Performing Arts at E3 Civic High School in San Diego. David is delighted to be working with San Diego Junior Theatre.

Desha Crownover

Desha Crownover is an award-winning stage director and musical director with over 75 shows to her name, ranging from intimate black-box style plays to fully-staged musicals. She has had the opportunity to direct, teach, and perform across the country for the past twenty-five years where her work has been commended by such theatre notables as Edward Albee, Ming Cho Lee, Patricia Zipprodt, and Timothy Near. She holds a Master’s degree in Theatre from SDSU and a B.A. in Theatre with an emphasis in Performing from UCSD and has served on the teaching faculty of SDSU, Cuyamaca College, and Santa Fe Christian Schools teaching music, acting, theatre history, public speaking, and speech and debate. Her work as a playwright has been produced at UCSD, SDSU, and Santa Fe Christian Schools, as well. Desha currently serves as the Artistic Director of San Diego Junior Theatre where she has taught and directed for the past twenty years.

Elissa Russell

Elissa Russell is thrilled to join San Diego Junior Theatre as Education Director after spending three years teaching, directing, and expanding outreach programming with Theatre Aspen Education in Colorado. Elissa has also worked as a teaching artist and administrator at Midland Community Theatre (where she was once a student!), Austin’s ZACH Theatre, and Virginia Repertory Theatre. She holds a degree from the University of Texas at Austin with a specialization in Shakespeare, and formerly reviewed theatre for the Austin Chronicle. Theatre has always been an essential part of Elissa’s life, and she is grateful to share her passion with the students of San Diego! This spring, Elissa is co-directing JT’s production of Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical.

Eliza Vedar

Eliza Vedar is a composer, sound designer, music director and pianist. Her original music/arrangements have been featured in productions with TuYo Theatre, Moxie Theatre and the Amigos del Rep. She has also written music for three original musicals during her undergrad (Araceli of the West, Despierta!, Way of the Witch). Eliza recently graduated from SDSU with a Bachelor’s of Music, Music Performance: Piano and was Artist in Residence at CSU San Marcos Theatre Arts this past academic year. Eliza just music directed JT’s The SpongeBob Musical and is currently music directing Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical.


Spring Session: Adventure Begins!

Spring Session: Solos, Duets and Trios

Gina Barba

Gina Barba is a proud San Diego Junior Theatre alum who has been with the company since she could walk. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree from UC Santa Cruz in Community Studies and Theater and is elated to share her love of the stage with her students. Gina has taught in public schools around the country from New York City to North Carolina to California and is elated to return to Junior Theatre. Gina has spent the last 8 years working with SDJT as a Teacher’s Aide, Administrative Assistant and now as a Teaching Artist. Gina recently choreographed JT’s production of How I Became A Pirate.


Spring Session: Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo

Spring Session: Homeschool Sr: Improv

Spring Session: Mini Play: Charlotte’s Web

Spring Session: Pipsqueak Pals

Hunter Brown

Hunter Brown is a teaching artist, performer and director based in San Diego. They have been studying acting/stage combat for 14 years, and teaching for the last four. They have taught at San Diego Junior Theatre, the Red Mountain Theatre Company and the Birmingham Children’s Theatre. Directing credits include The Secret Garden (Wildsong Productions), Weirdo (or Make Nice) for New Village Arts’s Final Draft New Play Festival, You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown (Trinity Theatre Company), Big Fish (Coronado Playhouse) and JT’s productions of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales and How I Became A Pirate.


Spring Session: Puppets on Parade

Spring Session: Homeschool Jr: Improv

Isaac Vermilye

Isaac Vermilye is a Prop Designer, Painter, Set Designer and Theater Technician with a degree in Theatre & Technical Design from Concordia University, Irvine. He has been a youth educator for 5+ years and has worked on sets and built major props and puppets for shows like Shrek the Musical, Junie B Jones, Matilda and Cats, to name a few. Isaac serves as the Assistant Production Manager at San Diego Junior Theatre, where he is currently working on this year’s lineup of fantastic shows, and is excited and eager to be teaching technical theatre inspired classes here at SDJT.


Spring Session: Backstage Pass: Puppet Making Workshop Jr

Spring Session: Backstage Pass: Puppet Making Workshop Sr

Jasmin Haddad

Jasmin Haddad is a San Diego based theatre artist, actor and teacher. She has a degree from the University of San Diego in Neuroscience and Theatre Arts. She has been with Junior Theatre (JT) specifically for 5 years now and has taught at several San Diego Theatre Arts companies. Her specialties include acting, improv, story writing, stand up comedy, comedy acting, Commedia Dell Arte, Stage Combat and making people smile. In her acting career, she has worked at several San Diego theaters as well as for Amazon Prime (Netflix if you read this, Jasmin is available after JT Class). If you see her around JT please say hi. She loves Star Wars, dogs and funny jokes; she’ll also tolerate the unfunny ones.


Spring Session: Create a Scene

Spring Session: Improv-orama

Julia Giolzetti

Julia Giolzetti is an actor, teaching artist, mom, San Diego native and proud alumna of San Diego Junior Theatre. She holds a BFA in Theatre from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. For 2 years and almost 400 shows she performed Off-Broadway with the New York Times Critic’s Pick Drunk Shakespeare. Other New York theatre credits include over 15 Shakespeare plays, originating roles in 3 world premieres, and national ad campaigns. She taught theatre workshops in NYC at Gramercy Arts High School, City Lights Youth Theatre, the Manhattan JCC and as a one-on-one monologue coach. In addition, she led classes as supplements to performances with the all-female ensemble the Tempest Ladies in Istanbul, Turkey. Here in San Diego, she has taught at North Coast Rep, in many county classrooms with Playwrights Project, and toured multiple Shakespeare productions in local schools with Intrepid Theatre Company. Last year during lockdown, Julia created Sofa Shakespeare, a global project where anyone can perform 1 minute of a Shakespeare play from home. Her goal is to help students gain confidence, learn the art of performance, and have fun on stage.


Spring Session: Shakespeare for One Workshop

Kailee Ash-Ray

Kailee Ash-Ray is fresh to San Diego and excited to serve as a vocal teaching artist at San Diego Junior Theatre. She graduated from Millikin University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Vocal Music Education and throughout her undergrad taught K-12 students in the Illinois area. Along with working in public schools, Kailee has served as the Music Director at the black box theatre on Millikin’s campus and taught youth theater in her hometown. Her passion for music and education continues to grow and she is excited to bring something new to San Diego Junior Theatre! In addition to Kailee’s classes at JT, she will be music directing JT’s upcoming production of Grace for President.


Spring Session: I Won’t Grow Up

Spring Session: Pitch Perfect

Kandace Crystal

Kandace Crystal is a multi-hyphenate theatre maker and currently serves as the Artistic Director of American History Theater. Kandace spent 5 years working for Barbizon USA and is the creator of Theatre Alliance’s Roundtable series exploring issues that plague our industry. Additionally, Kandace developed a Podcast/Oral Documentary with Cloudcast Media entitled 8:46-The Catalyst for Change, in response to the disproportionate murder of black and brown people at the hands of police. You can find her performing around San Diego, most notably in the “Get Ross” commercials. Kandace graduated with a BFA in Acting from Florida State University and is a former mime. At Junior Theatre, Kandace directed last season’s The Snowy Day and Other Stories by Ezra Jack Keats and will be directing this summer’s production of Grace for President.

Kira Blaskovich

Kira Blaskovich is an actor, teaching artist, director and musical coach, working in San Diego for the last four years. Previous to California, she spent almost twenty years in New York City working as an actor and teacher. When she wasn’t working and playing in the NY Off-Broadway scene, she was able to help create and develop several theatre and music programs in schools from Brooklyn to New Jersey. Kira has worked with major theatre companies and companies no one has heard of – she’s acted with world-famous artists and with amazing hidden, unknown gems. She holds a BFA from The University of California at Berkeley and a Masters in Acting from The American Conservatory Theatre. Kira believes that theatre and music are about honesty of expression and vulnerability of self – two qualities that take confidence and commitment. Working with kids to help them find their confidence and voice is what it’s all about – well, and the fun!

Leasa Thernes

Leasa Thernes is a teaching artist, award-winning filmmaker and choreographer. She has written, directed and/or produced five short films. Her film, Basket of Sane, won awards for Best Surrealist and Best Experimental at the New York International Independent Film Festivals in New York City and Los Angeles, and was a participant in the Cannes Film Festival’s Short Film Corner. She has directed and choreographed numerous ballets and theatrical productions. Her choreography won the Gold Medal for Group Dance and the Silver Medal for Solo Dance at the Maccabi Games (Jewish Olympics) in Boston. Leasa can be found teaching, choreographing and directing at Coronado Academy of Dance, San Diego Junior Theatre, the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center and at numerous after school theatre enrichment programs around San Diego county.


Spring Session: Spoofs and Send-ups

Spring Session: Seize the Day!

Spring Session: Fancy Feet

Marc Caro-Willcox

Marc Caro-Willcox is a San Diego Junior Theatre alum, currently teaching at SDJT and Helix High School. SDJT choreography credits: Newsies Jr., Tuck Everlasting, Seussical. Other choreography credits include: She Loves Me (Scripps Ranch Theatre), Mamma Mia! (Coronado Playhouse) In The Heights (Patio Playhouse), Little Shop of Horrors (San Diego City College), Smokey Joe’s Cafe (SDCC), Entrances and Exits (SDCC). Performance credits include: Shockheaded Peter and Supers (Cygnet), Hall Pass and Danny’s Story (Blindspot Collective), Avenue Q (OB Playhouse), A Chorus Line (Coronado Playhouse). Marc will be directing JT’s production of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella this summer.

Marie Bast

Marie Bast is ecstatic to begin her first summer as a Teaching Artist with Junior Theatre. Passionate about sharing arts of all kinds, Marie aims to help children grow their confidence and practice their self-expression. She has recently graduated with a degree in Liberal Studies: Elementary Education and Theatre from San Diego State University, where she will be returning in the fall to earn her Multiple Subjects Teaching Credential. In her free time, she enjoys camping, learning new vegan recipes, vibing at the OB Farmer’s Market and teaching her black cat, Jasper new tricks. She is looking forward to a summer of creativity, learning and play!


Spring Session: Treasure Trove Theatre

Spring Session: Silly Rabbits

Patrick Marion

Patrick Marion is thrilled to be getting back in person for classes and camps! Patrick has been teaching and performing with Junior Theatre since 2006. In addition to running his own private music studio, he has also taught and directed classes and shows for Young Audiences of San Diego, Francis Parker Upper School, and is the current accompanist for the Musical Theatre program at Grossmont College. Patrick frequently performs and directs music for productions at Diversionary, Cygnet and Lamb’s Players Theatres.

Ricardo Valenzuela

Ricardo Valenzuela is a graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, NYC. His experience with children comes from working at San Diego Civic Dance Arts for over a decade. Past Credits at SDJT as director and/or choreographer; Junie B. Jones, Mr. Poppers Penguins, Sleepy Hollow, The Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, Pippi Long Stocking and Head Over Heels. He has also choreographed Mt. Carmel High School’s choir’s annual concert, “LEGENDS” since 2017, and their theatre’s productions of Cabaret, West Side Story, The Wizard of Oz and Little Shop of Horrors. Acting credits include two seasons as the character “Antonio” in the Latin American television show Dos y Dos, and two episodes of Los Jumpitz en Espanol. Ricardo has been lucky to perform with the following theatre companies: the Starlight, Moonlight Amphitheatre, San Diego Musical Theatre, Hispanic Arts Theatre, San Diego Asian Repertory Theatre, Performance Riverside and Coronado Playhouse. Ricardo holds a BA in Liberal Arts and Sciences LGBTQ+ studies from San Diego State University. He is currently choreographing JT’s production of Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical.

Sarah Siegel

Sarah Siegel holds a degree in theatre from San Diego State University. She began her theatre career in the San Francisco area, performing and directing for several years before moving to New York City, where she started two theatre companies and continued her work in both theatre and film. While in New York City, Sarah continued her training, studying under Milan Stitt and Lanford Wilson at the Circle Repertory Company. In addition, she worked as a private audition coach and acting instructor helping her students obtain roles on stage and screen. In San Diego, some of Sarah’s favorite places she has worked have been The Fritz Theatre, Stu Segall Productions, and of course as a teaching artist at JT, teaching acting and directing since 2002, where she has had the joy of watching so many students grow up and shine. When she is not teaching, she works as a certified integrative hypnotherapist and uses these skills to help her students discover their confidence and joy in being themselves.


Spring Session: Blackbox Theatre: Rehearsal and Performance

Shawn Foote

Shawn Foote comes to Junior Theatre all the way from Illinois. She graduated with a BFA in Theatre from Millikin University and spent most of her time in undergrad directing various plays and musicals. She also worked as the Director of New Works and the Artistic Director for the black box theatre on campus. Her time in undergrad was also spent leading camps and teaching children theatre in her hometown, and eventually teaching children theatre at Lifeline Theatre in Chicago before she graduated. Since graduation, Shawn spent time teaching pre-school and nannying in Chicago before joining us here. Shawn firmly believes in the magic of art and theatre-making, and she is elated to share this with the students of San Diego Junior Theatre! Currently, Shawn is serving as JT’s Interim Artistic Director and will be co-directing JT’s production of Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical this spring.


Spring Session: Llama Llama Drama

Tammy Molenaar

Tammy Molenaar has been sewing and creating her whole life. She started designing costumes for San Diego Civic Youth Ballet about 13 years ago and has since moved into the SDJT costume department as well.

Zoe Goldstein

Zoe Goldstein is a proud San Diego Junior Theatre alum who has been doing shows and taking classes with SDJT since she was 10. Zoe is currently pursuing her BFA in musical theatre from Texas Christian University and will be graduating in May of 2024. Zoe is ecstatic to create a safe and playful space for her students! When not working at SDJT, being a full time college student, working as a barista or rehearsing for an upcoming production, you can find Zoe practicing yoga, taking a walk while listening to a podcast, or sipping some form of coffee or tea. Zoe has spent the last 5 years working with SDJT as a Teacher’s Aide, and is thrilled to take on the role of Teaching Artist and plans to continue teaching students as well as continue her acting career after graduating. Zoe can’t wait to harbor a warm, magic-filled environment for her students.