Staff Bios

 
 
Executive Director

Executive Director

Mary Joy Nelson is thrilled to see her vision for professional youth performing arts training come to fruition in the creation of InnOVATION Arts Academy.  Ms. Nelson teaches in the Musical Theatre Certificate program at the University of Kentucky and completed her graduate studies in vocal performance at UK Opera Theatre.  This year, she will teach the Musical Theatre Showcase class and serve as musical director for Once on This Island for the Department of Theatre and Dance.  As a vocal coach, music director, and casting director, she has worked on numerous musical productions, including the University of Kentucky Department of Theatre and Dance (Hair 2015, A Christmas Carol 2013, Spring Awakening 2013), KCT Summerfest (Legally Blonde 2012), and UK Opera Theatre children’s choruses and children’s operas (South Pacific 2015, Little Nemo in Slumberland 2014, Les Miserables 2013, Brundibar 2012, La Boheme 2007/2011, The Little Prince 2004 and It’s a Grand Night for Singing 2004-2015).  She received a master’s degree in Vocal Performance in 2006 and will graduate with a doctorate in Vocal Performance this December.  Ms. Nelson served as the Youth Coordinator for the World Equestrian Games, assisting Global Creative Connections in preparing 156 students to perform in the opening ceremonies of the World Equestrian Games in Lexington, KY, 2010.  In partnership with Global Creative Connections, Ms. Nelson has prepared children’s vocal ensembles to perform for former President Bill Clinton at the Lexington Speech and Hearing Foundation Gala and for Laura Bush at the “Day Among Friends” literacy event in Lexington, KY.  Ms. Nelson founded the Academy for Creative Excellence preparatory program at the University of Kentucky under UK Opera Theatre, beginning with Broadway Bound programs in 2007.  During her time at A.C.E., the program received numerous awards and several students realized their Broadway dreams at early ages, landing major roles in national Broadway productions (Audrey Bennett, Sound of Music National Tour 2015-16, Brooklyn Shuck, Annie, Matilda, Tuck Everlasting, Les Miserables on Broadway 2014-16, Sydney Shuck, Annie National Tour, 2014-15).  Ms. Nelson has been teaching youth and children in the performing arts for over 20 years.  She is active as a vocal instructor in Lexington, KY, maintaining a private studio of classical, crossover and musical theatre students.  Mary Joy Nelson would like to thank the board of InnOVATION Arts Academy for investing and believing in her vision to create excellence in performing arts training for the children of Kentucky.  You have made a way!

 


 
Senior Teaching Artist: Dance

Senior Teaching Artist: Dance


Colleen Ireland comes from the Garden State of New Jersey.  She has performed throughout the United States and internationally, showcasing her talents in a variety of styles of dance.  Highlights of her professional career include sharing the stage with Andrea McArdle, who played Annie in the original broadway cast; the Gatlin Brothers, John Byner, Trinity Broadcasting Networks.  As a professional dancer, Colleen starred as Cleopatra at Caesars Palace in Atlantic city, New Jersey and opened forThe Apprentice in Atlantic city.   Ms. Ireland has participated in many outreach arts efforts, showing love and compassion through dance in orphanages in Russia, China, and Jamaica.  She has taught dance and has choreographed for the Northern Kentucky Theatre and Dance Department, The Cincinnati Ballet Academy and the School for the Creative and Performing Arts in Lexington, KY.  Colleen holds her Bachelor of Arts in Dance from Northern Kentucky University.  She has spent summers training at the Boston Ballet and Ballet Magnificat in Jackson, Mississippi.

 

 


 
Teaching Artist: Vocal and Acting

Teaching Artist: Vocal and Acting

Gabrielle Barker is from Lexington, Kentucky and has her bachelors in vocal performance from the University of Kentucky. She performed the roles of Cosette in Les Miserables, Johanna in Sweeney Todd, and The Doll in the Tales of Hoffmann with UK Opera Theatre. She most recently played Miss Andrew in the Lexington Theatre Company's production of Mary Poppins. She is a studio artist with Kentucky Opera and performed in their outreach program "Exploring the River Region" and in a production of Showboat. She will be singing in the chorus of their upcoming season. Gabrielle won the 2016 VSA international young soloist award and performed at the Kennedy center in May 2016. In addition, she has been a competitive figure skater since age 7 and is working on becoming a certified ice skating coach. Gabrielle enjoys knitting, crocheting, playing with her three dogs, ice skating, and singing in her church choir.  


Teaching Artist: Acting

Teaching Artist: Acting

Mary Christopher Grogan holds an MA in English Education and an MA in Theatre, both from the University of Kentucky.  Her research interests lie in Musical Theatre, the cognitive sciences, and Audience Response Theory.  Some of her many directing credits include: Our Town, Disney’s Beauty & the Beast, You Can’t Take it with You, Silhouettes of Broadway,  Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story, Beyond Therapy, Once Upon a Mattress, and Elf, Jr.  She has taught high school drama and arts history courses, as well as Theatre in Diversion classes through the Fayette County Juvenile Court system.  Additionally, she has taught over seven years at the BCTC Upward Bound Summer Program, receiving their “Most Influential Teacher” Award in 2013, and the Humanitarian Award in 2014.  She currently teaches courses in Intro to Theatre and Musical Theatre History at the University of Kentucky and at BCTC, as well as serving as UK Department of Theatre and Dance's Resident House Manager for the 2016/2017 season.  She also continually works as a private acting coach for students of all ages, which keeps her on her toes.  She is beyond thrilled to work with Ms. Mary Joy Nelson and InnOVATION!


Teaching Artist: Acting

Teaching Artist: Acting

Eric Henninger received his BA degree in Theatre & Cinema Performance from Asbury University in 2010. During his time at Asbury College, he was an actor in numerous productions. He has also performed with BCTC, UK Theatre and Actor’s Guild. Eric currently has directed an educational setting at the KidStuff theatre program at SoAcres Christian Church, and for the CHC theatre group for 1st-12th grades. Eric co-owns the Darringer Studios film production company and has directed numerous theatre and film productions. His recent film projects include On the Rocks for the Los Angeles Film Studies Center.

 

 


Teaching Artist: Acting

Teaching Artist: Acting

Sam Hicks was born and raised in Kentucky, and is overjoyed to return to his home state after several years working in New York. During his time in New York, Sam acted in, directed, wrote, and produced dozens of original works with the AMIOS theatre company. He also served as a professional House Manager off-Broadway (Daryl Roth Theatre), and on Broadway (Richard Rodgers, Lunt-Fontanne, Marriott Marquis, and Minskoff). Since returning to Kentucky Sam has taught acting at Lexington Children's Theatre and the Academy for Creative Excellence (ACE), as well as directing ACE's production of Disney's The Little Mermaid, Jr. at the Leeds Center for the Arts. Sam holds a BFA in Theatre Performance from the University of Evansville, and an MFA in Acting from Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts. Sam also teaches at the Lexington Friends Preschool.


Teaching Artist: Acting

Teaching Artist: Acting

Jack McIntyre is from Lexington, Ky. He received theatrical conservatory training at the North Carolina School of the Arts and graduated from the HARTT School with a B.F.A., after studying abroad in England. He has been certified by the Society of American Fight Directors in stage combat styles of hand-to-hand, rapier-dagger, broadsword, and knife.  Mr. McIntyre has done extensive performing as an actor, with specializations in physical acting, Shakespeare and classical theatre. Credits: Hotspur in Henry IV, Octavius Caesar in Antony and Cleopatra, Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, and Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe along with many other shows. He has fight choreography credits for various shows over the years as well. He has extensive experience working with children in theatre through the UK Broadway Bound Program and Dunbar High School's Theatre Program. Jack holds his M.F.A. with an emphasis in special education and is a para-educator at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington. He has worked with children and young adults for more than 15 years in schools and on the stage. 


Teaching Artist: Dance

Teaching Artist: Dance

Ellie Miller is a choreographer and performer from Winchester, KY. She has over fourteen years of training in classical ballet, jazz, and musical theatre dance, as well as experience choreographing numerous shows. Some of her favorite choreography credits include Hairspray, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and The Wizard of Oz, and some of her favorite performance credits include: Into the Woods (Cinderella), Once Upon a Mattress (Nightingale), and UK Opera Theatre’s It’s a Grand Night for Singing. Ellie also serves as the advisor for the Leeds Center for the Arts Youth Advisory Board, a leadership organization for high school students, where she mobilizes dedicated students to energize the community through the power of the arts. Ellie is a passionate advocate for creative place-making and arts education, and dedicates a significant amount of time to educating and engaging children in all aspects of the arts. In addition to her work with the arts, she is a senior at the University of Kentucky, currently finishing her degree in biosystems engineering. Upon graduation, she hopes to complete a MBA and work in engineering management.


Teaching Artist: Dance

Teaching Artist: Dance

Emily Rucker began dancing when she was 3, and began seriously training in ballet when she was 11. She made two national dance teams at this time, and then moved to Lexington and began to train with the Lexington Ballet, under Artistic Director Luis Dominguez and School Director Nancy Dominguez. She danced many soloist roles with the ballet, such as a demi soloist flower, Spanish soloist, Arabian soloist, and Dew Drop in the Nutcracker. She danced the Prayer variation in Coppelia, the Dying Deer solo in Snow White, Dance Teacher in Cinderella, and a soloist variation in Paquita. She’s also danced in ballets with the Lexington Ballet such as Firebird, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Giselle, Les Sylphides, Tales of Beatrix Potter, and many modern productions by Luis Dominguez such as Hard Rock Ballet and 21st Century Ballet, to name a few. She has danced in many intensives and Master Classes with the Lexington Ballet, and the danced an Atlanta Ballet intensive the summer of her junior year. When she was a sophomore in high school, she volunteered with the Lexington Ballet and was an assistant to Ayako Hasebe, one of the professionals with the company, with one of the pre ballet classes. She learned she loved to teach and was an assistant dance teacher with the Academy for Creative Excellence at the University of Kentucky for the 2014 and 2015 dance conservatory intensives. Her senior year of high school she danced as a school trainee with the professionals of the Lexington Ballet. She was accepted into the Cincinnati Conservatory for Music as a Ballet Major, but decided instead to stay closer to family in Lexington and pursue a psychology degree with the University of Kentucky and is a dance minor. She sang and danced in the UK Opera’s Production of It’s a Grand Night for Singing in the summer of 2015. She taught at ACE for the 2015-16 school year as an assistant dance teacher, and was assistant choreographer in the 2016 production of Shrek Junior. She is excited to continue her teaching career at InnOVATION and can’t wait to see the program excel.


Teaching Artist: Dance and Acting

Teaching Artist: Dance and Acting

Sloan Theaker is a graduate of the University of Kentucky, with a BA in Theatre and emphasis in Musical Theatre and Stage Combat. Sloan is a freelance artist in Lexington, KY. Active in the local theatre community, Sloan has worked as a director (University of Kentucky), choreographer (UK and Lexington Christian Academy), production assistant (The REP and Diana Evans School of Dance), props mistress (Woodford Theatre), audition monitor and child wrangler (The Lexington Theatre Company), stage manager (SCAPA and Diana Evans School of Dance), and fight director (Asbury College). Sloan’s first love is performing. She has performed at Lexington Christian Academy (The Music Man, Cinderella, Seussical the Musical, The Wizard of Oz, and choreographer for Shrek the Musical), Lexington Children’s Theatre (Seussical the Musical, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe), Woodford Theatre (Once on this Island JR, Beauty and the Beast JR, Scrooge the Musical, A Christmas Story: the Musical, and Hairspray), The REP (Georgie Boy! and assistant choreographer for Wizard of Oz), UK (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Hair, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and She Kills Monsters), and Georgetown Community Theatre (Peter Pan, the British Musical). Sloan was most recently seen in The Lexington Theatre Company's production, Legally Blonde. She began training in ballet, tap, and jazz at the age of 3. Once in high school (age 14), she started training in musical theatre performance (stylized, character dance and voice lessons), and in college, took classes in musical theatre, ballet, tap, jazz, and hip hop. Sloan is excited to be in her second year of teaching, and is grateful for every opportunity to train with the next generation of theatre artists.


Teaching Artist: Vocal

Teaching Artist: Vocal

Marcus Thomas is a music instructor on both the private and classroom level for InnOVATION Arts Academy.  He is currently in programs for both Music Education and Composition at the University of Kentucky to be completed in December of 2016.  Marcus has been teaching music for three years in many settings, including a growing private vocal studio, music directing a production of Elf Jr., and assisting with the summer 2016 production of Grand Night at the University of Kentucky.  Marcus recently completed training in the Orff-Schulwerk method and is now fully certified at the first level.  He has received many awards over the years at the University of Kentucky, including the John Barnes Chance Composition Award and the Brett and Jackie Scott Choral Award.  Marcus is grateful for the opportunity to teach at InnOVATION.