We have an array of amazing faculty and staff here at Festival Playhouse, including visiting professors and special guest artists.
Lanny Potts- Director of Theatre and Professor of Theatre Arts
Scenic Design, Lighting Design, Stage Management, Theatre Senior Seminar
Lanny is a professional designer and consultant. His work includes international lighting and production design; national tour designs for opera and dance; regional designs for opera, modern dance, ballet, drama, and corporate events; concert work for Willow Creek International and the Indigo Girls; work in architectural lighting and consulting; TV studio production design and consulting; and consultant planning for performance venues and events (including the 1996 Olympics). In addition to his professional work Lanny has sustained a 25-year teaching career within the Higher Education Academy while also providing guest “masterclass” design instruction at various venues; and providing professional presentations on lighting design, design communication, and leadership and creativity within the arts at professional conferences and workshops. He has presented portfolio examples of his work at regional conferences, worked at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and has received numerous professional awards including a Michigan Governor’s Commendation and Atlanta Critic’s Choice awards for his design work (including the Atlanta premier of A Few Good Men). Recent work includes Gypsy (State of Michigan Wilde Award), Fun Home (National Lighting Design Award from the John F. Kennedy Center), Beyond the Rainbow, Bridges of Madison County, Dogfight, Cabaret, Next to Normal, The Light in the Piazza (State of Michigan Wilde Award), and many more; international production design work with the Willow Creek Organization in Germany; architectural and lighting consulting for theatre performance spaces and houses of worship; scenic and lighting design work for local and regional companies; group facilitator for a hiking tour of Israel; design and logistics support for our recent production of Kahani in Varanasi, India. He has also served six years as Associate Provost of Academic Affairs at Kalamazoo College. Lanny enjoys spending time with his family, the outdoors (hiking, camping, and horseback riding), Ultimate Frisbee, reading, triathlons, and youth ministry.
Ren Berthel- Professor and Department Chair
Fundamentals of Acting, Developing a Character, Advanced Acting, Voice and Diction, Theatre for Community Dialogue, Theatre Senior Seminar, Seminar In Women’s Studies, and Yoga
An associate professor of Theatre Arts at Kalamazoo College, Karen Berthel teaches all of the performance courses plus senior seminar. She is a founding member of Queen’s Company in NYC, an all-female company devoted to producing classical texts. Favorite professional credits there include the Cardinal in Duchess of Malfi, Gremio in Taming of the Shrew, and the title role in Macbeth. Some West Coast credits include: San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, Electra Theatre Company, Central Works, Boscov Productions, Human Nature, and The Marsh. Karen also spent six years with Kaiser Permanente’s Educational Theatre programs, as both an actor and manager of multiple shows that toured across the U.S. mainland and Hawaii. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Acting from The American Conservatory in San Francisco, and is an Associate Teacher of Fitzmaurice Voicework®. Recent directing credits for Festival Playhouse include A Raisin in the Sun, Cloud Nine, Macbeth, Top Girls, Imaginary Invalid, an all-female production of Hamlet, and In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play).
Jon Reeves- Director of Technical Theatre and Professor of Theatre Arts
Stagecraft, Stage Combat
Jon has called Kalamazoo home since 1989 when the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre hired him to be their new Youth Theatre Technical Director. Since that time, Jon has designed or built shows for many area theatres including The Whole Art, Wellspring/Cori Terry & Dancers, The API Theatre, the Barn Theatre, the Knockabout Theatre and many local high schools. When he’s not building a show, Jon can often be found making theatrical weapons and teaching actors how to fight with them. Jon also works as a sculpture artist. His main medium is steel. The studio is named Combat Ready Art. Visit him at the Park Trades Building.
In 2015, Jon received the prestigious Kalamazoo Community Medal of Arts Award.
Laura Livingstone-McNelis- Festival Playhouse Manager and Theatre Arts Administrator
Laura holds her M.A. in Liberal Studies in American Culture from the University of Michigan-Flint and wrote her master’s thesis on African-American playwrights. A graduate of Kalamazoo College, Laura has spent most of her career teaching middle and high school students in the Kalamazoo area as well as in the Academically Talented Youth Program in the Lee Honors College at Western Michigan University. She designed the middle school humanities curriculum at a local progressive school. As a forensics coach, she took her teams to state competition on many occasions. One of her favorite directing experiences was Twelve Angry Men, in which she used masks, interaction with the audience and even the refreshments to raise social awareness. A few of her favorite shows were Uncommon Women and Others when, as a first-year student herself, she acted with (recently retired) Professor of English, Dr. Gail Griffin; The Bacchae, in which she portrayed the blind Tiresias; and Fefu and Her Friends, in which she depicted the wheelchair-bound and hallucinogenic character Julia.
Laura’s first original play was produced in the New Play Festival and featured in a Be Light article, “A New ‘Lost’ Adventure.” She is currently working on publishing a children’s book based on true stories.
“C” Heaps- Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts
Theatre History, Directing, First Year Seminar, Playwriting, Sophomore Seminar
“C” received their M.A. in Theatre History, Theory, and Literature from Indiana University, and they recently defended their dissertation at that university. They are a translator, director, and playwright whose current research involves the application of cognitive linguistics to the theory and practice of translating theatre.
Lori Sands- Guest Artist, Costume and Make-Up Design and Costume Shop Manager
Costuming and Stage Makeup
Lori is a M.F.A. graduate of Michigan State University class of 2009. She has taught costume design courses at Michigan State University, Saginaw Valley State University, and Lansing Community College. Professional design credits include productions at Williamston Theatre and Boarshead Theatre. Awards include Pulsar Award (2007, 2008), Thespie Award (2008), American College Theatre Festival Certificate of Merit (2007) and Honorable Mention Regional Design (2009), ACTF National Design Entrant (2007, 2008) and Production Entrant (2007, 2018). Lori considers educational theatre her true calling and has adjudicated high school theatre, mentored costume design students and designed for many college productions, most recently, Fun Home, Intimate Apparel, It Can’t Happen Here, Student Body, Twelfth Night, The Spitfire Grill, and Silent Sky for Kalamazoo College.
Emilio Rodriguez- Guest Artist
Emilio Rodriguez is a theatre artist who began his career at the age of 2 performing one-kid adaptations of The Wizard of Oz in his parents’ living room using a broom, a funnel, and his mama’s high heels. Since then, he got his degree in theatre from U.C. Irvine and went on to pursue acting, directing and playwriting. He has taught theatre at Monster Box Theatre, Mumford High School, Cranbrook Summer Theatre Camp, Living Arts Detroit, Detroit Wolftrap, and West Hills. Emilio has directed for companies like Shakespeare in Detroit, Two Muses Theatre, and Black and Brown Theatre for which he is the current Artistic Director.
Emilio’s play Swimming While Drowning was featured in the anthology Scenes for Latinx Actors: Voices of the New American Theatre and has been professionally produced in Dallas, Houston, Austin, Portland, Minneapolis and Ann Arbor. His play Mamacita was performed at Planet Ant Theatre and was also a part of the Austin New Latino Play Festival, the Great Plains Theater Conference and was selected to be a part of the Lark Playwrights’ Week in New York. The play got him a free meal at Panera from a cashier who liked the play! Emilio’s play Dance Again has been produced in New York, Houston, Orlando, and Pittsburgh and was featured in the After Orlando Series. His newest play God Kinda Looks Like Tupac will premiere at Theatre Nova in Ann Arbor this summer. Emilio has guest taught playwriting at the University of Michigan and the University of Houston. He was also selected as the guest playwright for the 2017 Theatre Kalamazoo Festival and the 2019 Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival Midwest Region in 2019.
Bianca Washington- Guest Artist
Bianca Washington has been teaching at the collegiate level four years now and has been an educator of young people for ten years. She received her B.A. in Theater Performance at Western Michigan University and her M.F.A. in Acting and Theater Education at The Pennsylvania State University in 2012. She studied abroad both in London and South Africa, performing and engaging in master classes and research. Bianca is a former member of the Black Theatre Network through the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, NC and has formed a theatre company with her colleagues from WMU called FACE OFF Theatre that focuses on diversifying theatre in the City of Kalamazoo, and she has stage-managed Face Off Theatre’s production of The Mountaintop at Kalamazoo College. She directed Student Body at Festival Playhouse in Winter of 2019. Currently, Bianca is currently the Programs Director and Theatre Manager for the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo.
Ed Menta- Emeritus Professor of Theatre Arts
From 1986-2018, Ed Menta taught Directing, Theatre History, & Playwriting, serving as James A. B. Stone Professor of Theatre Arts. As Director of Theatre, Menta directed and produced over 100 plays for Festival Playhouse of Kalamazoo College. His final production, alumnus Lisa Kron’s Fun Home, was invited to perform at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival 2018 Region III festival. Menta’s The Magic World Behind the Curtain: Andrei Serban in the American Theatre (Peter Lang Press, 1996) was a Choice “Outstanding Academic Book.” His articles have appeared in such journals as Theatre Topics, Shakespeare Bulletin, and The Baseball Research Journal. New England Theatre Journal published his 2020 essay, “I Finally Saw the Italian Renaissance Theatres (and their Silent Ghost Audiences).” In 2018, Menta received the Kalamazoo College Lux Esto Award of Excellence for a “superlative record of stewardship and innovation.” Currently, he performs as a founding member, guitarist, singer, & songwriter with the Kalamazoo blues band, BlueBack. For more info on the band and other gigs, check BlueBack’s Website.
Update from Ed Menta:
Emeritus Professor of Theatre Arts Ed Menta has an article, “I Finally Saw the Italian Renaissance Theatres (and their Silent Ghost Audiences)” in the 2020 edition of New England Theatre Journal (Menta gave a talk based on this research in the ARTBreak Series at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts in December 2019). He also continues as the guitarist in the Kalamazoo blues band, BlueBack, which presented concerts in the Beats on Bates last summer.
Nelda K. Balch (1916-2011)
Nelda K. Balch founded and established Kalamazoo College’s Festival Playhouse. Following her retirement in 1981, the Playhouse was renamed the Nelda K. Balch Festival Playhouse in her honor. In her time at K, she was Department Chair, Full Professor, and Founding/Managing Director of Festival Playhouse. She was one of the most important members of the Kalamazoo College theatre community. Without her efforts, Festival Playhouse would not be the theatre it is today.
Nelda’s Obituary in the Kalamazoo Gazette.