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Making Magic, Defying Gravity

In nineteen performances across the country, Making Magic, Defying Gravity has raised $45,000 for Thespian scholarships.

Making Magic, Defying Gravity, an evening of music and storytelling, features “behind the curtain” conversations with working professionals such cast members from the National Tour of Wicked and Walt Disney Creative Entertainment, and performances by local Thespians.

Created by J. Jason Daunter, the former production stage manager of Wicked; Matt Conover, vice president for show development resources and talent casting, and executive producer of special projects for Disney, and Gai Jones, a veteran teacher, author, and performer, the event showcases a question and answer session that highlights the importance of theatre education. Mr. Daunter and Mr. Conover are Thespian alumni and all three serve on the EdTA Board of Directors.

So far, Making Magic has involved twenty-five theatre professionals, 285 student performers, and touched approximately 3,000 audience members. Making Magic has also increased the Chapter Scholarship Matching program from $600 per chapter to $1,000 per chapter.

The Educational Theatre Association would like to thank the following performers for sharing their time and talents with Making Magic, Defying Gravity and with Thespians across the country.


Performer Bios

Emily Behny is thrilled to be joining the cast of Wicked as Nessarose! Emily previously toured as Belle in Disney's Beauty and the Beast Nat'l Tour for which she earned a Helen Hayes Nomination. Other favorite credits include: Sound of Music (Liesl) at Wagon Wheel Theatre and Something's Afoot (Hope u/s) at Goodspeed Musicals. She attended Warsaw Community High School, where her love for theatre was nurtured by an amazing theatre teacher and group of students. They frequented State Thespian Conferences, taking home best overall her sophomore year for Into the Woods! B.A. Musical Theatre, Ball State University 2010.

Justin Brill has performed on Broadway (Rent, All Shook Up, High Fidelity), in national touring productions (Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Wicked) as well as two of the more famous venues in NYC (Midsummer Night's Dream at the Met, A Christmas Carol at Madison Square Garden). He has worked with Academy Award, Emmy and Tony winners. All of it can be traced back to the roots of his theatre training in the drama club at Broadneck High School in Maryland followed by the School of Drama at Carnegie Mellon University.

Matt Conover
 joined the Disney Entertainment family in 1989 as a stage technician at Epcot and, in 1992, joined the Disneyland-Paris grand opening team as a production manager. In the mid-1990s at Walt Disney World, Matt produced the Toy Story Parade and the Hunchback of Notre Dame stage show‑both at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. In 1996, he joined Disney Cruise Line where he was responsible for producing the Walt Disney Theatre and the original three new musicals for the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder. Beginning in 1999, Matt served in several Entertainment Executive roles at Walt Disney World, including General Manager-Entertainment at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Director-Planning & Production for Walt Disney Entertainment, before transitioning to lead the Disneyland Entertainment team and recently his current role based in Glendale, CA.

Matt is a Bachelor of Fine Arts graduate of the SUNY, College at Purchase, with a degree in Theatre Design & Technology as well as an alumnus of Thespian troupe 335 at Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville, Maryland.

J. Jason Daunter is thrilled to be back in OZ as the Production Stage Manager for the National Tour of Wicked after spending several years with the show on Broadway, where he has also worked on Glory Days and Cyrano de Bergerac (starring Kevin Kline). National tours: ChicagoThoroughly Modern Millie, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Regional: Stages St. Louis (five seasons), the world premiere of Up in the Air by Bill Russell and Henry Krieger at the Kennedy Center. Film: The Extra ManThe Conspirator, and Queen to Play, all with Kevin Kline. Mr. Daunter serves on the board of directors for the Educational Theatre Association.

Jason is thrilled to be collaborating with Gai Jones and Matt Conover on this event.

Rick Desloge understudies Boq in the First National Tour of Wicked. He has been seen Off-Broadway in Family Dinner and appeared to critical acclaim in the FringeNYC production of Hello, I Must Be Going. Regionally, Rick originated Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island (Fulton Theatre / Beef & Boards). Other favorite credits include Joseph..., Grease, and Forever Plaid. A native of St. Louis, Rick studied musical theatre at Indiana University after becoming passionate about the arts at Kirkwood High School where he was a member of the KH Players drama club. He thanks you for supporting live entertainment and is grateful to Make Magic with EdTA!

Gai Jones, founder of California Youth in Theatre, entered educational theatre by way of a small liberal arts college for women in Oklahoma which offered a specialized bachelor of arts degree in speech and drama. While teaching eighth grade speech and drama in Fullerton, California, she was the first woman to complete a master of arts degree in theatre at California State University, Fullerton, in 1968. She taught theatre at El Dorado High School for thirty-four years. Upon her retirement, the Black Box Theater was named The Gai Jones Theater.

She has served on the boards of the Southern California Educational Theatre Association and the Educational Theatre Association.

She has also been inducted into the following Halls of Fame: Outstanding Arts Educator for Orange County, CETA Outstanding Educator, California State Thespians, and the EdTA Hall of Fame. She has been granted a Theatre In Our Schools Award from the American Alliance for Theatre and Education.

Michael Mahany understudies Fiyero in the National Tour of Wicked. Michael was inducted into the International Thespian Society in 1998. He is proud to be involved with Making Magic, Defying Gravity and the Educational Theatre Association.

New York/Tours: Spring Awakening (ATC), Disney’s High School Musical (1st Nat.).
Film: Sex and the City 2.
Education: The Boston Conservatory, Bachelor of Fine Arts (cum laude).

Thanks to Jason, Jason, Matt, and Gai.  Love and thanks to Mom, Dad, Jana, Sara, DBA, AEA.

Justin Mendoza is thrilled to be a part of this amazing project! He is currently the Associate Conductor of the 1st national tour of Wicked. Prior to that, he was the music director for the 1st national tour of In The Heights. Other credits include Broadway: In The Heights. Off-Broadway: Fugitive Songs (Drama Desk nomination). Regional: She Loves Me, Falsettos, john and jen (San Francisco premiere), Jesus Christ Superstar, three years as Associate Music Director of Steve Silver's Beach Blanket Babylon, the internationally acclaimed San Francisco institution and longest running musical revue. Much love and gratitude to all who helped me on this journey.

Cassie Okenka is happy to be able to be a part of this hope-filled project. Born in Ohio, Cassie is currently on the 1st National Tour of Wicked (Glinda Understudy). Prior, she was in Broadway's Bonnie and Clyde. National Tours- Wizard of Oz (Dorothy). She has a Bachelor's of Music from Baldwin Wallace College-Conservatory of Music and is a proud AEA member. Thank you to Mr. Szor for telling 9 year old Cassie about an Annie Warbucks audition. And thank you to her parents who bought her many pairs of Orphan shoes.

Sarah Schenkkan
is thrilled to be joining the Making Magic family!

National tour: Wicked (Glinda u/s; Ensemble).
Regional/NY Workshops: Guys & Dolls at Connecticut Rep (Sarah Brown), Professor Brenner with New Worlds Theatre Project (starring Elaine Stritch).
Television: 30 Rock. Other credits include: Into The Woods, Winter's Tale, Lysistrata, My Fair Lady and a recurring role on the popular Scottish radio series Kerides the Thinker.
Education: Proud graduate of the University of Miami (BFA), and a proud former WA State Thespian!

Love and thanks to family & friends, Station 3, Telsey & Co, and Ryan.

Jonathan Shew is currently in the ensemble and understudies Fiyero in the national tour of Wicked. His Off Broadway credits include, Voca People. Regional: Next To Normal (Gabe) and All Shook Up (Chad).

Thanks to Telsey + Co. for this amazing opportunity in Wicked! Love to my family across the U.S. and Brazil.

Carla Stickler is currently the standby for the role of Elphaba with the National Tour of Wicked. She is proud to be an original team member of Making Magic, Defying Gravity and is so humbled by the work that we do. Recently, Carla was inducted as an Honorary Thespian Member in the State of Utah.

Touring: Mamma Mia! (Sophie u/s), Asia tour The Sound of Music (Liesl).
Education: Interlochen Arts Academy, New York University-Tisch School of the Arts

A million thanks to Telsey + Co., The Mine, my friends and my family for their love and support!

P. Jason Yarcho (Musical Supervisor/Arranger/Accompanist). Recently concluded four years as the musical director and conductor of the National Tour of Wicked. Musical director of more than sixty productions, including Little Women, The Full Monty and Follies. Other credits: The Little Theatre on the Square, MUNY.  Jason is happy to serve as MMDG Music Supervisor and work with the talented local students across the country as well as his MMDG Colleagues.

Education: University of Cincinnati, College Conservatory of Music, master of music in orchestral conducting.

Thanks Mom and Dad!