Meet Our Teachers
Amanda Banden - Principal
Amanda Banden earned a B.S. in Theater from Indiana State University, appearing in numerous acting roles and earning a nomination for the American College Theater Festival's Irene Ryan Award. After college, Amanda traveled the U.S. as a Tour Actor/Director for Missoula Children's Theatre. During her year with MCT, Amanda directed and performed in Sleeping Beauty with over 3,000 children across 16 states. Amanda is honored to have worked with the Tony Award winning San Francisco Mime Troupe, as an Assistant Director. In June 2005, Amanda completed a Masters Degree in Performing Arts Management at Columbia College.
Amanda is a co-founder and Board Member of Chicago’s Quest Theatre Ensemble and served as the company’s Executive Director from 2002 -2009. Over the years, Amanda has appeared in more than fifteen original Quest productions and received a Joseph Jefferson Nomination for Artistic Specialization for her work with Quest.
Amanda and her husband Richard have been offering performing arts training in the Park Ridge community since 2010.
Richard Banden – Principal
Richard is truly honored and grateful to give students the opportunity to grow in their confidence, self-expression, creativity, and love of the performing arts at The Stage School. He and his wife Amanda have been providing top quality training in the performing arts to students across Chicagoland since 2008. Prior to starting The Stage School, Richard performed and taught with numerous companies including Missoula Children's Theatre, Nevada Theatre Company, Victory Gardens, Piven Theatre, Quest Theatre Ensemble, Bailiwick Repertory, Talisman Theatre, plus numerous others. Film and television credits include The Weatherman, The Lake House, and ER. These days Richard is giving his focus on being a husband, father, and Principal at The Stage School. He hopes you will join the Stage School family, and we can give your child the tools to succeed, both on and off the stage.
erica zintek petro - drama (the company), Rising Stars
Erica Zintek Petro was born and raised in Chicago and received her B.F.A. in acting from Wright State University in Ohio where she trained in several acting methods and styles including: Improv, Shakespeare, Stage Combat, Stanislavski, Meisner, and Viewpoints, which she trained directly with Tina Landau of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Upon graduation, Erica spent four years traveling as a Tour Actor/Director with Missoula Children's Theatre having the unique opportunity to work in schools, theaters, military bases, and communities across the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Over her four years with Missoula Children's Theatre, she has performed and directed such shows as "Cinderella", "The Princess and the Pea", "Rumpelstiltskin", "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", and "Beauty Lou and the Country Beast". Erica has spent the past seven years as a Teaching Artist specializing in both Children’s Theatre and Dance working with several companies on both the north and south sides of the Chicagoland area. Erica is thrilled to continue working with the students of The Stage School and is looking forward to helping each student reach their goals as a performing artist!
emily shankman - SINGING (the company)
Emily attended The Boston Conservatory and Lawrence University, two intensive conservatory programs where she explored Opera, theater, ensemble music, psychology, dance, management and arts education. She has fostered a lifelong interest in working with children. Over the past two years, she explored her passion with teaching children at Greenfields Academy as their After School Coordinator and Teaching Guide. Her experiences in child care and education have ranged from nannying, to teaching private music and drama lessons, and most recently, group mentoring during and after the school day. She recently spent the better part of three years working in the New York City public school system, developing and implementing arts-driven social emotional programming for children in low-income neighborhoods. She whole-heartedly believes that every child should be encouraged to try something new and take a giant leap towards self-discovery in a safe, supportive environment. This passion has brought her to The Stage School and is eager to serve as their Singing Instructor for the Fall term. In her free time, she loves to cook for her friends, see new theater, play violin, and run around with her dog.
Kat myers - DANce (The Company)
Kat has her undergraduate degree in musical theatre from Western Illinois University and her graduate degree in education with a specialization in early childhood from Ashford University. She has worked as an actor, teacher, choreographer and director for companies such as Lexington Children's Theatre, Missoula Children's Theatre, the Beverly Arts Center, Riversong Dance Studio, TheatreWorks Florida, and the Mundelein Park District. Some favorite roles include Bridgey Sullivan in Oz and Mrs. Beaver in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. When she is not on stage or in the classroom, Kat enjoys watching football and snuggling with her dog, Nugget.
ashley laverty - drama (the company)
Ashley Laverty is a theatre maker originally from Worcester, Massachusetts. She is the founding Artistic Director of Kerfuffle, a theatre and dance company devoted to creating performances with and for children under 6 year olds. With Kerfuffle, she has developed and directed Nested, The Caterpillar's Footprint, and Goose and Gert, a co-production with The Rose Theater in Omaha, NE. A recent transplant to Chicago, Ashley has designed curriculum and facilitated Creative Drama, Acting, Improv, and Musical Theatre classes for children ages 2-17 around the country. She has directed many musicals and plays with young people ages 8-17, and she specializes in creative drama in the early childhood classroom.As an actress, Ashley has performed nationally for young audiences with the Omaha Theater Company at The Rose, the National Theatre for Children, VEE Corporation, Roxy Regional Theatre, and Vital Theatre Company. Ashley is also playwright for young and very young audiences. Her work includes Wynken, Blynken and Nod, The Music Makers, Nadine's Coloring Book, and Dotty Dot!, written in collaboration with Travis Kendrick, Ryan Cavanaugh and John Wascavage. Ashley is a co-chair of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education's Early Childhood Network, and she is the 2019 Ann Shaw Fellow with TYA/USA. She holds an M.F.A in Theatre for Youth from Arizona State University and a B.A. in Theatre Arts with a concentration in Musical Theatre from Point Park University's Conservatory of Performing Arts. For more information, please visit www.ashleylaverty.com.
Allison Sword - The Premier program, Creative Drama, Acting & Improvisation
Allison is so excited to be at The Stage School! She is a teaching artist and actor in the Chicagoland area. She calls Andersonville home now, but recently moved from Columbia, Missouri where she grew up and went to school, earning her BFA in Theatre Arts from Stephens College. While in Columbia she taught hundreds of children of all ages for over 6 years at TRYPS (Theatre Reaching Young People & Schools) Institute - the same theatre where she first stepped on stage and fell in love with acting. She recently directed a production of The Wizard of Oz at TRYPS and worked as a fellow for the Okoboji Summer Theatre, and while here in Chicago she has performed with New Millennium Theatre Company, Public House Theatre, and Three Brothers Theater Company, among others. As a teacher she loves playing creative, fun games that teach fundamental theatre skills - as well as skills for just about everything else. Children's Theatre is a place where every child can grow and express themselves in their own unique way, and Allison cannot wait to make some art with the students at The Stage School
SaraH Schueller - the premier program
Sarah recently moved to Chicago from Tulsa, Oklahoma. She received her B.A. in Acting and Directing from Southeastern Oklahoma State University. She has worked as an actor, teacher, and director with companies such as the National Theatre for Children, Oklahoma Shakespearean Festival, and Devonshire Cultural Center. Sarah is thrilled to be a part of the Stage School and share her passion for theatre with the next generation!
Allison Grabarczyk - dance (The CompanY)
Allison is a Chicago transplant originally hailing from Toledo Ohio where she began dancing at the age of three. She was a competitive dancer for 14 years and graduated with her B.S. in Dance Performance from Illinois State University in 2011. Allison has been teaching dance in the Midwest for over 12 years traveling around Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan sharing her love of the performing arts with students of all ages. In February of 2016 she helped to open Top Note Performing Arts Academy where she is currently on staff as head choreographer. Allison is also the co-founder of The Orchid Theory, a community wellness and empowerment program based in Chicago. Current Teaching credits include: ABC Dance Academy, Old Town School of Folk Music, Design Dance, Chicago Loves Dance,Windy City Performs, and Stretch N Grow. Prior to moving to the Chicago area, Allison had the privilege of working with choreographers such as Jon Lehrer, Kim Neal Nofsinger, and Sonya Tayeh as well as having the honor to work with some of the greats Al Gilbert and Frank Hatchett. Currently she is in her third season as a director with Innervation Dance Cooperative and her sixth as a performer. Other dance credits include: Body Movin Dance, IDC S.P.E.A.K.S., The Subconscious Development Motion Project, The Monocle Eclectic Dance Company, and several independent choreographers since moving to Chicago in 2011. She has most recently performed original works at the Emergence Choreographer’s Showcase, RADFest, Kaleidoscope Choreographer’s Festival, and Dance Chicago in addition to her work with IDC. Allison is also a certified fitness instructor in Zumba and Barre fitness formats. When she is not teaching dance or rehearsing she can usually be found watching through Star Trek for the 100th time or maybe even sleeping from time to time.
morgan Braithwaite - Singing (the company)
Originally from Wisconsin, Morgan attended the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee and graduated in 2017 with a Bachelors of Fine Arts - Musical Theatre. Morgan has worked with several theatre companies in Milwaukee including First Stage and directed at a local elementary school for two years. Still fairly new to Chicagoland, Morgan has found work with the Infinity Arts Academy, music directing for their annual summer camp and their school program, Drama Dance Music. She is also a member of Einstein Theatre Company’s Dramatic Improv group, and will partake in their Dramatic Improv Fest early this October. Musical Theatre has been a part of Morgan’s life for as long as she can remember. Her first role was as a mouse in Into the Woods Jr. and from there she has played roles such as Smitty (How to Succeed), Sally Slaton (Parade) Gloria (Damn Yankees), and Marmee (Little Women the Musical). She is thrilled to be working with The Stage School, and can’t wait to share her passion for the arts with her students.
Katelyn Stoss - rising stars
Katelyn is thrilled to be working with The Stage School’s Rising Stars Program! A native of Hutchinson, Kansas, Katelyn earned her BFA in Musical Theatre from Wichita State University in 2014. She spent the past year touring with Missoula Children’s Theatre as a Tour Actor/Director. Stoss has had the privilege of working with community theatres, high school drama programs, dance studios, and hundreds of kids in communities across the North West and Canada.
Mariah Kuhn Larios - PREMIER PROGRAM
Mariah Kuhn Larios is a California native and received her BA in Musical Theatre from California University East Bay. In the Bay Area, she worked with The Bay Area Children's Theatre for about 2 years. Since moving to Chicago, she has taught Children's Theatre with Windy City Performs. At Big Noise Theatre, Mariah had the honor to portray Shelby in STEEL MAGNOLIAS. Some of her favorite roles include Amalia from SHE LOVES ME, Don Pedro from MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Emily from OUR TOWN, and Reno from ANYTHING GOES. Mariah is very excited to be working with The Stage School and teach amazing children the magic of theatre.
valenda martin - singing teacher (the company)
Valenda began her musical journey at the age of 9 when she first started taking piano lessons. She joined the All God’s Children chorus and sang under the leadership of Harriet Ziegenhals. After graduating from high school, she joined the Community Renewal Chorus, also under the leadership of Harriet Ziegenhals. She served as student intern and was promoted to assistant director. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Music Education from the American Conservatory of Music and a Master’s Degree in Music Education from Roosevelt University. She also completed additional studies in educational administration from Aurora University. Valenda has taught music in the public school system for 30 years, from kindergarten through high school. She also taught music at the Evanston Arts Camp, piano at the Elmhurst Park District and taught for the Center for Talent Development through Northwestern University. She previously held the position of District Music Supervisor and currently teaches middle school music.
Hannah L’Abri Miller - drama (The Company)
A teaching artist and director, Hannah is new to Chicago, but her experience is far reaching. Most recently she directed a reading of Mukbang for The New Colony Writer’s Room and Urinetown: the Musical for Stage Right Performing Arts in Kansas City. Urinetown was recognized as a Regional Broadway World Awards recipient for best non-professional musical in 2018. Hannah’s work was recognized in 2017 by the Kansas City Fringe Festival for production of a new play titled, Here Lies Joyland - the play received a "Best of Fringe" award. In addition she has notable assistant director credits including the 2016 developmental Prince of Egypt workshop in New York City, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre. She is additionally a teaching artist for Skyline Studios in the Chicagoland area. Other teaching artist/education affiliation includes: The Coterie Theatre, Starlight Theatre, Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp and Madison Avenue Performing Arts. Hannah was the artistic apprentice at Bay Street Theatre, in Sag Harbor, NY for the 2016 season where she worked closely with notable Broadway artists throughout the summer. Hannah graduated with her BA in Theatre from Kansas State University in 2015.
amber giudice - dance teacher (the company)
Amber is from Lake Zurich and started dancing at the age of three. She studied dance through high school at Bataille Academie in Barrington and went on to minor in dance at Elmhurst College. While there she was involved with a growing dance program as well as the dance team, but Amber’s involvement doesn’t stop there! She was active with St. Anne Community Theater starting in 2003 until it ended in 2013. The last three years of the program she worked as a choreographer. Shows included were Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream-coat, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Guys and Dolls and Beauty and the Beast. She has studied ballet, tap, jazz, musical theater dance, and social dance (cha-cha, fox trot, tango, waltz). Aside from dance and musical theater, Amber is also a golfer. She was on both the high school and college golf team where she became the captain senior year. Amber currently teaches dance in Barrington at Bataille and is the Dance Company Manager at Rootz in Northbrook. She is beyond thrilled to be working with so many wonderful kids.