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), The Premier Program
Erica Zintek Petro was born and raised in Chicago and received her B.F.A in acting from Wright State University in Ohio. Erica spent four years 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 children five through eighteen years-old in such shows as "Cinderella", "The Princess and the Pea", "Rumpelstiltskin", "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", and "Beauty Lou and the Country Beast". Erica is thrilled to be a part of The Stage School staff and work with such wonderful students.
JUSTIN CALLIS - SINGING (the company)
Justin Callis is a composer and teaching artist in and around Chicago. As founder and Artistic Director of Artists Giving Back, he helmed their inaugural production of "Rent" in honor of World AIDS Day 2015, and oversees their continuing cabaret series, "AGB Sings!". With Storycatchers Theatre, he worked for many years with incarcerated youth creating original musicals. He has performed with Chicago Opera Playhouse, and toured the country with Child's Play Touring Theatre. He is the Music Director at Community Christian Church in Lincolnshire, and a frequent soloist at Temple Chai in Long Grove and K.A.M. Isaiah Israel in Hyde Park. Justin is so excited to work with such a vivacious, charismatic group of students at The Stage School!
jessica mcclain - DANCE TEACHER (The Company)
Jessica McClain was born and raised in Chicago Illinois. She began her dance training as a member of three pre-professional competitive companies out of Oak Park. She was awarded the "Transcend the Norm" scholarship for exemplifying excellence in her academic studies and dance training. In 2010, she was given her first teaching opportunity and fell in love with inspiring young dancers. Since then she has taught students ages 3-adult in over ten studio locations in Illinois and on the West Coast. Jessica’s choreography has been featured in a number of performance venues including four full production musicals, music video footage for brands such as Barbie, numerous studio recitals, and on competition stages across the Midwest. Jessica completed Millennium Dance Complex Los Angeles Professional Certificate Program in 2015 training under the core instruction of some of the industry's top teachers and choreographers. Having been studio-trained in Ballet, Tap, Jazz, Hip-hop, Breakdance, Lyrical, Contemporary, Pointe, and Modern, Jessica was driven to further her dance education at Illinois State University. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Theater- Dance Performance in 2016.
Allison Sword - The Premier program
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
Molly burns - creative drama/acting and improv
Molly has taught drama in Chicago and suburban schools for thirty years. She was an Illinois Arts Council artist-in-residence, and often adapted literature into musical performances for the student actors. As an active member of Equity Library Theatre she has directed a reading of Flying, a new play by Sheila Cowley, and Frank Farrell’s adaptation of The Wonderful Visit. Other credits include Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol at Stage 773; The Wonder Emporium at the Den; three productions as guest director at The Theatre of Western Springs including The Heidi Chronicles; and The Carrot Carrot and Other Proclivities for Bailiwick Theatre. She is a member of Actors Equity Association and received her BFA in Acting/Directing from Syracuse University. She has an MA in English Literature from NEIU and an Illinois teaching certificate.
Sara Sherman - the premier program
Sara is thrilled to be joining the teaching staff at the Stage School! She recently relocated to Chicago from Kalamazoo, MI where she has taught dance and theatre classes for over five years with programs like Kalamazoo Kids on Stage and the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre Academy of Theatre Arts. She is also a preschool teacher with a huge passion for early childhood education. Sara has a Theatre Arts degree from the University of Michigan and seeks to instill her own love for performing in her students by making each class a fun and engaging learning experience.
samantha gatwood - creative discovery
Samantha is absolutely thrilled to join the talented team at The Stage School this fall! Samantha is a performer, teaching artist, director and choreographer from the Chicago Suburbs. She is a recent graduate from Drake University with her BFA in Musical Theatre and Directing and she recently relocated to Chicago to begin her career as a performer and teaching artist. Her favorite theatrical credits include The Wild Party (Queenie), Footloose (Rusty), Hairspray (Tracy Turnblad), A Chorus Line (Maggie Winslow), Rock of Ages (Waitress #1, Assistant Choreographer) and Jesus Christ Superstar (Choreographer). She is elated to be able to help a new generation of artists fall in love with the amazing world of theatre, and is so excited to pursue her passion for education and theatre as a teaching artist for the first time in the Chicago area.
Shera Haase - Singing (Summer Camp)
Shera is excited to be back as the singing teacher at The Stage School this Summer! She is currently attending Wichita State University where she is studying Music Education. A Kansas native, Shera graduated from Wichita State University with a B.F.A in Musical Theatre in 2008. After college she performed as a singer/dancer for the Shoji Tabuchi show in Branson, MO. In 2013 Shera joined Missoula Children's Theatre International Tours as a Tour Actor/Director performing and directing The Frog Prince and Rapunzel. This past year Shera performed in several Great Plains Theatre shows including The Cat in The Cat and the Hat, Sister in Damn Yankees, and in the musical She Loves Me. In her free time Shera enjoys volunteering at Music Theatre for Young People (Wichita, KS), playing her ukelele, and spending time with her friends and family, inclusing her mom's six cats!
shannon huneryager - drama (summer camp)
Shannon is happy to be back teaching with The Stage School this summer! She is currently teaching with The Old Town School of Folk Music, Play In A Book, and Columbia College’s Project AIM. In addition to The Stage School, she is also a musician and theater gypsy who performs at venues across the country. Local credits include Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike and Les Miserables with Hope Summer Repertory Theatre, Land of Plenty with Tiger in the Bush, and Paradise Lost with The Agency Theater. She has a BA from Butler University and an MM – Vocal Performance from the University of Massachusetts. She is also a proud teaching artist alumna of Missoula Children’s Theatre and Columbia College’s TAD Cohort.
Staci Weidner - drama (summer camp)
Staci Weidner is overjoyed to be joining the Artistic Staff at the Stage School this summer. A Montana native, Staci holds a Bachelor’s degree in Theatre with a minor in Vocal Performance from the University of Montana. She has worked extensively with Fort Peck Summer Theatre, Missoula Community Theatre, and most recently finished an International Tour with Missoula Children’s Theatre. Staci is excited to be working in the Chicago area, after discovering a love for it last year, and even more thrilled to be continuing her passion of shaping the lives of children through the performing arts. Staci would like to thank her friends, family, and mentors for their ceaseless love and support, and she hopes to inspire the next generation of artists here in Park Ridge.
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.
ALISON STAKE - PREMIER PROGRAM (SUMMER CAMP)
Alison is so delighted to be teaching at The Stage School this summer! She is a performer and teaching artist, originally from Bloomington, Indiana. She has a B.A. in Theatre from Lewis & Clark College. After college, she spent a summer as an Acting Apprentice with the Berkshire Theatre Group. While there, she studied the Suzuki Method of Actor Training. She has been performing (mostly in musicals) in Chicago for the last four and a half years. She has worked with both professional and community theatre companies in and around Chicago, including Citadel Theatre, Big Noise Theatre, Highland Park Players, and Chicago Opera Theatre. She loves working with kids, and truly enjoys the positivity and energy that they bring to the day!
Carley Walker - after school programs
Carley is a native of Texas and one of Chicago's newest residents moving here from the great city of Charlotte, NC. Carley is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama. She is currently a working actor, teacher, and designer in Chicago. As a theatre teacher, she loves getting to help a child learn something new. Encouraging a child to learn more and fall deeper in love with something they're passionate about is the best part of her job. She has taught with a variety of companies in Charlotte including Children's Theatre Charlotte and Davidson Community Players. She is so excited to have the opportunithy to teach in her new home of Chicago and she can't wait to meet all her new students!