Meet the Education Team
Education & Community Engagement Department
Director of Education & Community Engagement
Sandy received an M.A. in Theatre History and Criticism from State University of New York and an MFA in Directing at FAU. She finds great joy in watching the students – both children and adults – grow in confidence and communication as they move through the classes at VT.
Assistant Director of Education & Community Engagement
Kelly is proud to be a product of the Education & Community Engagement program she now assists in directing. Her teaching career started right here at Venice Theatre back in 2001 as an intern for the summer programs. From there she went on to take on a teaching role at the theatre prior to leaving for college to pursue a degree in the theatre arts. She holds a BA in Theatre from the University of Central Florida, teaching certifications in multiple disciplines and a 20-year teaching resume that encompasses working with students in exceptional education, coaching a nationally ranked speech and debate team, and developing as well as running theatre programs for elementary through high school in both in the US and in China.
She is responsible for the Troupe in A Trunk Community Engagement Program, the summer student programs and Venice Theatre’s Youth Production Company as well as various other departmental responsibilities. In addition to directing shows throughout the year (her most recent being the Generations show She Kills Monsters: Young Adventurers Edition) and being onstage herself (recent shows include Disenchanted and Blood Brothers), she enjoys giving back to her community by facilitating theatre workshops with local schools/clubs/organizations and by reading to classrooms (sometimes via zoom) through Embracing Our Differences or collaborating with other arts education programmers in our area to bring new arts education opportunities to the community whenever possible.
Additionally she enjoys working with the local Chamber of Commerce, where she was the 2019-2020 chair of the Venice Area Young Professionals. Her professional memberships include Leadership Sarasota (Class of 2018-2019), The Educational Theatre Association and AACT.
Instructor. Director. Choreographer.
An award-winning actor, director and choreographer, Brad’s work has been seen across the United States and Canada. He holds a B.F.A. from the University of Oklahoma and served as assistant director to Broadway directors Fran Soeder and Joe Layton. He has been seen in a number of national theatre tours and national commercials. He is thrilled to call Venice Theatre “home” and to have the privilege of guiding the next generation of young actors to the stage.
Resident Music Director
Michelle Kasanofsky has been playing piano for almost 56 years and is a professional musician as well as a music educator. Michelle received a scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston and studied jazz piano there as well as classical at Boston University. She has a B.A. cum laude from Dowling College, a Master of Science in Music Education from C. W. Post Long Island University and an Education Leadership Specialist degree from Nova Southeastern University.
Michelle is originally from New York and spent most of her life on Long Island. While in New York she music directed many off-Broadway productions which included Always, Patsy Cline and has performed all over the world in Europe, Japan and Korea. Since moving down to Florida in 1998, Michelle has taught chorus, drama and dual enrollment music classes. In 2014, she was selected as Charlotte County’s Teacher of the Year. Since 2000 Michelle has performed and music directed at Venice Theatre. Her productions have included Hair, Mamma Mia, Cabaret, Toxic Avenger and Dreamgirls to name a few. She has also Music Directed at Sarasota Players, Manatee Players, Charlotte Players and the Dingbat Theatre Project.
Michelle has played for national touring companies at venues such as Barbara B Mann and Ruth Eckerd Hall for shows including A Chorus Line, Legally Blonde and West Side Story as well as accompanying artists such as Bernadette Peters and The Irish Tenors. In 2021 Michelle became the resident music director at Venice Theatre.
General Manager. Director of Diversity
A North Carolina native, Kris came to Venice Theatre via New York to play “Coalhouse Walker” in Ragtime and never left. He holds a B.F.A. in Musical Theatre from Mars Hill College, and has performed with various theatres and cruise ships worldwide. As well as serving as General Manager and Director of Diversity, he is VT’s education liaison for area schools and organizations.
Producing Executive Director
Murray Chase is the Producing Executive Director of Venice Theatre, a position he has held since 1995. He is an active participant — and former board member — of Florida Theatre Conference and Southeastern Theatre Conference. He recently completed his term as President of the American Association of Community Theatre, and currently works with the organization as a member of the national Festival Commission. He has served as a frequent grant review panelist for both the Florida Arts Council and the Mississippi Arts Commission. Recently he represented the United States as a delegation member to the World Congress of the International Amateur Theatre Association. Under his leadership, Venice Theatre will host for the fourth time the aactWORLDFEST June 20-26, 2022. Chase is also a former chair of the CEC for Sarasota County Arts Council and a former president of Venice MainStreet.
Actor/Director Credits: Besides the daily aspects of his job here, directing credits include A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I Never Saw Another Butterfly, Mary Poppins, Our Town and the award-winning productions of The Pillowman, The School For Wives, The Good Woman of Setzuan, Tartuffe and Fool For Love. He has also played a few roles on the VT stage, including Johnny in Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, Stuart in the Award-winning Boom Town, and George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? all with wife Lori
Benny Sato Ambush ‡
Benny Sato Ambush is a veteran director, institutional theatre leader, educator, published commentator and consultant. He has been Artistic Director of TheatreVirginia (Richmond, VA) and Oakland Ensemble Theatre (Oakland, CA).
Previously, he was Associate Artistic Director of San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater; Acting Artistic Director of Providence, RI’s Rites and Reason Theatre Company; Co-Artistic Director of San Francisco Bay Area Playwrights Festival; PEW Charitable Trust/TCG Director-In-Residence for Manalapan, Florida’s Florida Stage; and Associate Artistic Director of Anna Deavere Smith’s Institute on the Arts & Civic Dialogue at Harvard University.
He has directed with numerous professional regional theatres including Old Globe Theatre; Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Portland; South Coast Rep; Alabama Shakespeare Festival; American Conservatory Theater; Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Arizona Theatre Company; Magic Theatre; Geva Theatre; Playwrights Horizon; Ford’s Theatre; Triad Stage, American Repertory Theater Institute; Philadelphia Festival Theatre for New Plays; Lincoln Center Theater Institute; Heart of America Shakespeare Festival; Indiana’s New Harmony Project; Actors Guild of Lexington, KY; Alaska Theatre of Youth; International Theatre Festival of Chicago; Sacramento Theatre Company; National Black Theatre Festival; Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre; Lyric Stage Company of Boston; Gloucester Stage Company; The New Rep; TheatreSquared, The Lost Colony; Underground Railway Theater, Tennessee Williams Theatre Festival, and Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training.
Ambush has a BA in Theatre Arts and Dramatic Literature from Brown University and an MFA in Directing from the University of California, San Diego. In 2020, he was inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Theatre.
Instructor. Director. Choreographer.
Becky was the director of Venice Theatre’s annual Loveland show, and is an actor and choreographer. She has taught Creative Dramatics for many years at VT and has been teaching dance for decades. She is also a NIA fitness instructor.
A New Jersey native, Peter has been a Music Director and Vocal Coach since 1991. He is the Organist/Choirmaster at St. Marks Episcopal Church in Venice, and created the St. John’s UMC Community Playhouse , Hazlet, NJ in 2005. He has served on the faculty of the Count Basie theatre, Redbank, NJ. He recently he became the Artistic Director for The Venice Chorale in Venice.
Candace is a community theatre actress, director and “retired” teacher (Booker High School Performing Arts Center and Venice Theatre’s Education & Community Engagement Department). Prior directing credits at Venice Theatre include The Phantom Tollbooth, The Dixie Swim Club, By the Way Meet Vera Stark, Intimate Apparel and Rabbit Hole. Manatee Performing Arts Center directing credits include Agnes of God, Our Town, It’s a Wonderful Life, a Radio play, The Father and Clybourne Park.
Prior acting credits in the Pinkerton Stage 2 include Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage, November, The School for Wives, Anton in Show Business, Cosi, The Comedy of Errors and Nuts. Prior acting credits in the Jervey Theatre include The Heiress, Boeing, Boeing; The Underpants, Noises Off and South Pacific. Candace was a cast member of two award winning productions, The School for Wives (Venice Theatre) and Metamorphoses (Manatee Performing Arts Center). She has been a volunteer at Venice Theatre since the mid-’80s. She holds a BA degree in theatre from the University of South Florida and studied under the late John Ulmer (Asolo Theatre).
Resident Sound Designer
Nate Blaweiss is the Associate Sound Designer at Venice Theatre, recently designing for Love Letters (composer), Good People, and Yard Sale. Having studied classical music at FSU and film scoring at Thinkspace, Nate approaches sound design from a musician’s perspective while mixing shows here at Venice Theatre. You can see and hear some of Nate’s work at nateblaweiss.com.
Jason Bolen is a California-based scenic designer of over 200 productions. He serves as Resident Scenic Designer and instructor at Pacific Conservatory Theatre- PCPA. An enthusiastic gardener, he believes that creativity, like vegetables, can be nourishing.
Preston Boyd *
Preston is a professional actor, director, musician and teacher. He has performed on stage in Washington State, Minnesota, Baltimore, Los Angeles, New York, and most of the theatres in the Sarasota/Manatee County region. He has over 30 years of experience teaching all aspects of theatre arts to students ranging from elementary school to senior citizens. Since his retirement as a music and drama teacher, he has directed plays
for Venice Theatre, Manatee Players, Players of Sarasota, Anna Maria Island Players, and Theatre Odyssey (where he also serves as Director Emeritus.)
Preston received his B.A. degree from Western Washington University and his M.Ed. from the University of South Florida. He is a member of Actors’ Equity Association and is an inactive member of SAG/AFTRA.
Heidi originates from Massachusetts, and has a Master’s degree in Education from the University of Connecticut. She has been teaching in the Sarasota County School system for the past 14 years, with the past 3 years as the creator and teacher of the Drama program at Toledo Blade Elementary. She started at Venice Theatre as a stage mom for her two kids, and is thrilled to be a part of the Venice Theater staff.
Liz, a Salt Lake City native, has been teaching performing arts for the last ten years across the country. She toured with Missoula Children’s Theatre, then landed locally where she teaches theatre and a variety of other subjects at The Mangrove School and Saltmeadow School. She also teaches a variety of acting classes at Florida Studio Theatre, Venice Theatre and holds a certificate in Expressive Arts. Liz most enjoys facilitating other’s creative discoveries and explorations.
William is an award-winning Music Director who has provided local music direction for Little Shop of Horrors, Mame, Jekyll and Hyde, Assassins, Nine, Baby, Annie Jr., Seussical Jr., My Way, The Andrews Brothers, and the World Premiere productions of Boynton Beach Club and Practically Perfect.
He earned a BS in Environmental Sciences from Purdue University, and did undergraduate work in piano performance from the University of Tennessee. He also holds a Master of Arts degree in piano performance from Middle Tennessee State University and did post graduate study in Pedagogy and Performance at the University of Oklahoma.
Assistant Technical Director
Brian is Venice Theatre’s Assistant Technical Director. He has designed many sets over the years, including last season’s Willy Wonka Jr., The Bikinis, and Gulf View Drive. He has been interested in building ever since he picked up his first Lego block and has a degree from Savannah College of Art and Design.
Ric Goodwin lists over 150 acting/directing credits throughout the U.S. He graduated from Ashland University with a BS in Education, an MA in Theatre from Akron University, and holds an MFA in Acting from Wayne State University where he was a member of the prestigious Hilberry Repertory Company in Detroit Michigan. Early in his career Ric was a stunt man in L.A. He is Professor of Theatre Emeritus from Ashland University following a 30-year teaching career. Since retiring to Florida, Ric has directed numerous productions for Lemon Bay Playhouse and Charlotte Players and also directed 27 Wagons Full Of Cotton for Venice Theatre at the Florida Community Theatre Conference five years ago which won “Best of Festival.” In addition to his freelance acting and directing, Ric also teaches theatre workshops and classes for Venice Theatre. Acting credits at VT include Al in The Sunshine Boys and Grandpa in You Can’t Take It With You. Most recently Ric was seen as Ray in Blackbird.
Pamela’s career has been diverse, beginning with receiving a Bachelor of Arts from Hendrix College followed by achieving a Master of Music degree at the College -Conservatory of Music /University of Cincinnati. Her roles as a musician include piano teacher, organist, accompanist and vocal/general music teacher in public and private schools in Ohio and Florida. She served on the state board of the Ohio Music Education Association and the Ohio Arts Education Advisory Committee.
Scott Keys is a professional actor, director, choreographer and a published playwright and lyricist. He spent the last 21 years as head of the renowned Booker High School Visual and Performing Arts Theatre program, directing over 50 plays, musicals and original works.
Scott has a BFA in Musical Theatre performance from Syracuse University, an MFA from NYU, a teaching degree from Eckerd College and is
certified in Meisner Acting Technique. Keys has current and graduated students from some of the top theatre programs in the country including FSU, UF, Carnegie Mellon Univ., Montclair Univ., Pace University, Manhattan School of Music and many others. He is on the board of the Florida Theatre Conference and has over 150 productions to his credit, including Venice Theatre, FST, Manatee Players and Sarasota Players, as well as Weathervane Playhouse where he served as Artistic Director for seven years.
Teen Improv Troupe Director
Natalia is so pleased to be back at VT, a theater she has called her home since she moved here to Florida. Previous favorite VT roles include Little Becky Two Shoes (Urinetown), Janet (The Rocky Horror Show), Jaqueline (Don’t Dress for Dinner), and Lina Lamont (Singin’ in the Rain) to name a few. She holds a BFA in musical theater from Point Park University. Natalia is also a proud mother to her awesome 12-year-old son, Kepler and a theater teacher/director at Manatee School for the Arts.
Carrie Mills grew up in eastern Pennsylvania and before ending up in the classroom as a drama teacher, worked for various professional regional theatres across the country including the Utah Shakespearean
Festival, the Missoula Children’s Theatre, and Asolo Repertory Theatre. She has spent the past nine years as a Curriculum Leader and Theatre teacher at Booker Middle School in the VPA Magnet Program.
Carrie earned her BA in Theatre Arts from Penn State and her MFA in Theatre for Young Audiences from Arizona State and is thrilled to be working with Venice Theatre this summer!
Charley Riggs began his theater studies at SUNY Purchase. He received his masters in theater from the Actor’s Studio M.F.A. program at the New School in NY studying with Arthur Penn, Lee Grant and John Strasberg. During that time, he became one of the founding members of the New York City theater group Fresh Bread Productions. With numerous Theater and Television credits; a former associate producer for 17 years at Madison Square Garden Entertainment’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ and the ‘The Christmas Spectacular w/ the Rockettes’ at Radio City Music Hall. He has taught at Columbia University, School of Visual Arts and Horace Greely High School.
Vanessa Russo *
VANESSA RUSSO has been having an exciting professional Musical Theatre career as a Choreographer, Dancer and Performer. Born and raised in Sarasota, FL, some professional credits include: BILLY ELLIOT (First National Tour), BILLY ELLIOT (Amsterdam), WEST SIDE STORY (Asian/European Tour), OKLAHOMA! (First National Tour), Radio City Christmas Spectacular and Feature Film: (Across The Universe), among others. She has choreographed for the following: St. Pete Opera, MPAC, Sarasota Players, CANDance, and Sarasota Academy of the Arts.
* indicates member of Actors’ Equity Association (AEA)
‡ indicates member of Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC)