Wonderful memories and life lessons

A guest post by Elise Collins, PAA student and Boettcher Scholar.

Oliver_thumbnailMy greatest passion is life, observing and experiencing it in all of its teeming and vibrant complexity. Perhaps it is for this reason that I have an intense fervor for performing. Yet such excitement for the miracle of existence did not blossom overnight. It gradually developed over the course of many years, driving me to be involved in Destination Imagination, the Wesley Improv Team for Youth (WITY), French National Honor Society, all theatrical performances at ThunderRidge High School, National Honor Society, dance at the Academy of Theatre Arts, Soul Purpose Youth Choir, puppetry at St. Luke’s UMC, and Girl Scouts, where I recently earned my Gold Award for organizing Improvisation Sensation!, a district-wide improv event for high schoolers. These diverse interests along with a great deal of community service hours helped me decide that I will be double majoring in biology and theatrical performance with the Boettcher Scholarship at CU Boulder this fall. I am so excited to be able to study life from two different perspectives, from a scientific standpoint and through the most complete form of empathy, theatre.

Theatre enables all individuals involved to view life from another’s perspective, giving the audience and the actor an opportunity to learn more about themselves and their world through each performance. One of my absolute favorite theatrical experiences has been participating in the St. Luke’s Performing Arts Academy for five summers. PAA has given me outstanding performance opportunities, the ability to hone my skills, and a supportive community of my peers and performing professionals.

Each production I have participated in through the Performing Arts Academy has left me with wonderful memories and life lessons I shall carry with me for years. I shall never forget my first PAA production. On a whim I decided to sign up for Honk Jr., a musical following the story of the Ugly Duckling. I had the wonderful opportunity to play the antagonist, the Cat, a wonderfully complex villain with a desire to eat the protagonist. I had never portrayed an animal or a villain before, so a mixture of nervous excitement consumed me. Through this production, I began to take new risks, making larger and bolder character choices until I found the expression I desired. This technique in addition to the marvelous direction of the artistic staff led me to discover the wonders of changing one’s physicality. Cats move far differently from the average bipedal and our director encouraged us to personify our animal through our movements. This yet unexplored possibility was exciting and fun to discover. I began to try ‘sneaking’, ‘stalking’, ‘purring’, and ‘pouncing’ to get into character, even lowering my center of gravity to become more catlike. This opened doors for me as a performer because PAA helped me discover that each character has a different physicality, how they hold themselves, walk, and talk, and this can prove instrumental in building a character.

My next experience with PAA was more low key, but no less invaluable. I was a tree. A tree in an adaptation of Into The Woods. One’s first thought might be “So you just stand there…?”, “Is that really a necessary part of the production?”, or “Do you now celebrate arbor day?” To be honest, at first I was a little disappointed, but then the phrase “there are no small parts, only small actors” kept running through my head. I had heard this common maxim countless times, yet I had never comprehended its true meaning. Among my fellow trees, we began to realize how integral our contribution to the production truly was. We were the living scenery, adding character and versatility to an otherwise small space. We knew the show inside and out because our movements guided the other characters’ entrances and exits. Although our arms grew tired and we could recite the entire show by the time it was over, we were proud to know that we were an integral part of the show, because without us actors would have been confused, lacking scenery, and in a show called “Into The…”

I took a break for a couple of years due to schedule conflicts and my summers just felt like they were lacking something. I continued to do theatre through my high school, landing dramatic roles and quirky characters, but it just wasn’t the same. I missed the community I found in PAA and was beginning to doubt my ability to make people laugh. A well known Wicked song states “Some people come into our lives for a reason, to teach us something we must learn”, but in this instance a person didn’t come into my life, it was a show – The Wizard of Oz! Upon looking at the cast list, I received a role I had never anticipated – the Scarecrow. This part along with the wonderful encouragement of the director Terry Dodd and the rest of the artistic staff gave me confidence in my performing abilities again. Their support reminded me that I just needed to tap into that inner comedian each and every one of us contains (You know it’s in you, don’t deny it! It’s that comedian that compels you to make faces in mirrors and crack jokes only you may laugh at.) This show rekindled my passion for performing after quite a spell of doubting myself. Yet it was not just the artistic staff that made the show into the wonderful memory I have today. I was proud to be part of a production with such a strong and dedicated ensemble. Each and every individual did their absolute best and created a wonderful company full of unique and vibrant characters. Even after a couple years of being absent, I was welcomed in again like an old friend, a wonderful feeling. Productions may have an ensemble or a chorus, but PAA created a family.

Establishing a family within two weeks sounds like a daunting task, yet everyone always comes together so effortlessly and quickly. It is astounding to see. I had never realized how quickly the production came together as I did when I portrayed Cinderella in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. I had felt the time crunch before, but as the title role I felt a new weight of responsibility resting upon my shoulders. This production taught me the necessity of “doing your homework”. In PAA it is essential to remember everything one learns from the day before because that is the only way the production moves forward. I was bombarded with blocking, music, dances, and lines, yet I was determined to conquer all of these before they conquered me. I vowed to come to rehearsal the next day with everything I had learned memorized, having ‘done my homework’, and what a difference it made! This alleviated any stress I was feeling, helped rehearsals run more smoothly, and led to a far more confident performance than would have otherwise occurred. Learning that lesson has assisted me in so many areas of my life, from school to other productions to extracurricular activities. Concluding that show was definitely bittersweet, but I moved forward knowing that I was a better performer and individual for having done it.

My most recent experience with PAA was this summer’s production of Oliver! It was both wonderful and nostalgic since I had loved the show for years but knew this would be my final production with the Performing Arts Academy. I played the Widow Corney, the strict woman who helped run the orphanage with Mr. Bumble. Although my character despised the majority of the other characters in the production, I couldn’t help but feeling proud and grateful for the talents and kindness of my fellow cast members. From the orphans to the named roles to the tech crew, each individual was more than kind to each other and all helped to put on one of my favorite productions to date. We were not just an ensemble or production team, we were a family.

A family normally consists of individuals close to you, your kin, your blood relatives. PAA is family. We are kin. Performance runs hot through our veins. We are together for two weeks, yet connected for years to come. In those two weeks, I always feel totally, utterly, and completely alive. I don’t just get to observe and portray life, I get to live it to the fullest by making friends and pursuing my passion. Thank you Performing Arts Academy for allowing me to know what it feels like to be truly alive.


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Awards and Accolades

Performing Arts Education

501(c)3 EIN – 45-4372479

Performing Arts Academy is creating community, building character, and inspiring excellence through performing arts education by bringing the transformative power of theatre to all people.

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John Boggs

John Boggs is a pianist, composer and vocalist based currently in Thornton, Colorado. He holds a DMA in Composition from the University of Colorado Boulder, a M.M. in Composition from the University of Michigan and a B.F.A. from Bard College. Previous piano instructors include German Diez and MaryAnn Griebling. He taught students of all ages and experience during his undergraduate and graduate studies.

At Bard College he studied voice with tenor Rufus Müller. He has sung such roles as Jamie in The Last Five Years, The Lecturer in Reefer Madness, and El Gallo in The Fantasticks. He teaches repertoire in the genres of musical theater, art song, pop and opera. He currently is a Choral Pro for both the Ars Nova singers and the St. John’s Episcopal Compline Choir. In 2016, John co-founded Renaissance and Contemporary a cappella group, Solis, to promote new works from local and national composers.

His music direction includes Pippin and Rocky Horror Picture Show with the Bard Musical Theater Company. In 2017 he music directed Centerstage Theater Company’s production of Godspell, and most recently their 2021 production of Theory of Relativity.

He has had composition premiers by such groups as the American Symphony Orchestra, University of Michigan’s Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Choir, DaCapo Chamber Players, Ars Nova Singers, the Columbine Chorale, 303 Children’s Choir (now Vocal Coalition), the Chamber Music Society of Ohio, and new music ensemble Contemporaneous. He is the co-founder/co-writer as well as the keyboardist and vocalist for experimental rock band Fifth Veil, and is delving into the world of film and interactive game scoring.

He also has experience teaching students with developmental disabilities. He provided accompaniment for Tapestry Theater’s productions of Elf, School House Rocks and Shrek Jr. He was previously employed with Imagine’s CORE day program, where he instructed group music classes using midi over wifi to create the feeling of being in a band and orchestra.



Amy Arpan

Amy Arpan has worked professionally as an actress, show host, variety artist, improviser, fight choreographer, clown, and director for 22 years.

She is represented by Radical Artists Agency, and you may have seen her competing in the ‘Dish Network Challenge’ and zooming along on an electric scooter in the ‘Colorado Lottery’ Commercials.

Past local credits include Ella Enchanted at the Arvada Center; Mrs. Soames in Our Town at Miners Alley; the Conductor and Engineer in The Polar Express; Madame Volange in Les Liaisons Dangereuses at Miners Alley; Characters in Crisis for the Colorado Police Departments; and directing Fright Fest and the Summer Illusion Shows at Elitch Gardens. She is also a local weekly Trivia and Bingo Host.

Favorite out of State Credits and Clients
include: Nickelodean, Royal Caribbean,
Disney Cruise Lines, & Cedar Fair Theme Parks , Shakespeare Carolina, ChickSpeare, The Children’s Theatre of Charlotte,.

In addition to Clowning around with her Ringling Brother’s Circus School training, she is also fond of Juggling, Improv-ing, Performing Magic, Balloon Twisting, Lip Print Reading, Stilt Walking, Mascot work, Puppeteering, Show Hosting, and Character Roaming. She has been the owner and principal performer for Amy Arpan’s Illusions And Confusions since its founding in 1998.

Katie Reid

Resident Acting Director

Katie is thrilled to be returning to her beautiful home state of Colorado after 15 years away performing and teaching professionally in NYC and Chicago. Katie holds a BFA in Musical Theater from The University of Oklahoma. In Chicago, Katie taught and directed in several performing arts programs, directing/music directing over 20 shows with ages K - 12, including multiple pilot productions with MTI and Disney theatricals. She also worked in events and development at American Theater Company and as Production Manager for the award-winning program, BRAVO Performing Arts, in Oak Park. Theater credits include the National Tours of South Pacific (Nellie Forbush), 'S Wonderful (Jane), and Annie (Ronnie Boylan). Regional theater: Nunsense (Sister Robert Ann), Last Five Years (Cathy), Marvelous Wonderettes (Missy), Princess and the Pea (Queen u/s), Land of Forgotten Toys (Queen), Full Monty (Pam), Ordinary Days (Claire), Broadway: The Big Band Years (featured singer), Sweeney Todd, and The Who's Tommy. She is excited to be a part of the PAA staff!



Kathryn Dudley

Kathryn Dudley is a dancer, instructor, choreographer, and stage manager based in Denver. She attained her Bachelor of Arts in both Dance and Theatre from Gustavus Adolphus College where she received the Distinguished Dance Student Award and graduated with honors. Originally from Minnesota, Kathryn has worked with various theatres around the Twin Cities such as Children’s Theatre Company, SteppingStone Theatre for Youth Development, and Daytripper’s Dinner Theatre. Some of Kathryn’s favorite performances were with ...and Company, of which she is a founding member. Along with the 4 other founding members, Kathryn choreographed, directed, produced, and performed in 2 shows for the MN Fringe Festival. Her work has also been featured in shows by Minneapolis Ballet Dancers, Zenon’s Zone Program, Sarah Hauss, and COHORTS. Kathryn is a company member, resident choreographer, and production manager for 21/40 Productions where she enjoys exploring every facet of the performing arts. As an educator, Kathryn is passionate about sharing dance with people from all walks of life and lives by Alvin Ailey’s famous words: "Dance is for Everybody”.

Jennifer Lillibridge

Jennifer Lillibridge came to Colorado from Los Angeles where she earned her BA in Theater Arts and Directing at Occidental College. For several years after college she was a proud member of Actors Equity and worked throughout the Greater Los Angeles area as an equity production stage manager and scenic artist for several prominent theater companies. Since moving to Colorado, Jennifer has been at D’Evelyn Jr./Sr. High School as their theater program’s director and costume designer. She and her husband Adam, enjoy creating stories and having wild adventures with their daughter Juniper and two dogs.

Jennifer Maggi

Jennifer Maggi grew up dancing in Orange County, California at the Pacific School of Ballet from the age of 5 to 18. Throughout her years there, she trained in Ballet, Pointe, Jazz, Lyrical/Contemporary, and Tap. She went on to receive a Bachelor of Arts in Dance from California State University, Fullerton with an emphasis in Ballet and Modern. While completing her degree, Jennifer performed and choreographed for numerous professional dance shows and showcases as well as participated in the Limon Dance Intensive under Collin Connor. After graduating, Jennifer returned to Cal State Fullerton to choreograph the BFA Musical Theatre main stage productions of Andrew Lippa’s Wild Party, and Cry Baby. In 2014, Jennifer was cast as a performer at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California where she danced and portrayed famous Disney characters in the Pixar Play Parade, Paint the Night Parade, The Frightfully Fun Parade, and The Christmas Fantasy Parade. She moved to Denver in May 2019 and is so excited to join the team at PAA and share her passion for dance with her students.

Jana Wesson

Jana Wesson is thrilled to be back at PAA! As a former alumni, Jana is excited to be continuing with PAA as a staff of the outreach program. Since her last show in 2013 Jana has gone on to do community theatre at the Pace Center and Wesley Players Theatre Company, starring in shows such as Singin’ In The RainMary Poppins, The Music Man and many more!

McKensey Struzik

McKensey graduated from Point Park University’s Conservatory of Performing Arts with a BA in Acting and a Minor in Musical Theatre in 2016.  Since, she has taught children’s theatre at various studios in Virginia as well as in Colorado.  She has taught dance, private voice and group acting classes as well as choreographed, music directed many productions.  She has tap danced for 17 years and had the opportunity to study under tap dancers such as Savion Glover, Chloe Arnold, Maude Arnold, and Jason Janas.  She is thrilled to teach tap with PAA this year and can’t wait to get started.

Aria Faddis

Aria Faddis grew up in Boise, Idaho, and moved to Colorado in 2017. She began dancing at age twelve and has since discovered how much she loves to share her love of dance with children. Aria has a BFA in Dance with an emphasis in teaching from the University of Montana and spent one season dancing with Off Center Dance Company in Boise before relocating to Colorado.  Aria currently teaches at studios across the Denver Metro area as well as working as a choreographer for D'Evelyn Jr./Sr. High School. When she is not dancing, Aria is visiting as many National Parks as possible and enjoying exploring all Colorado has to offer.

Darin Drown

Darin Drown is in his 18th year teaching choir at Grandview High school in Aurora, CO in the Cherry Creek School District, and 30th year of teaching.  His choirs have consistently received the highest ratings at festivals around the United States and have been featured performers at the Colorado Music Educator’s convention several times.  In addition, Darin directed the 120-man Sound of the Rockies barbershop chorus to 7 medalist performances in international competition in the Barbershop Harmony Society, reaching as high as 3rd place.  Darin has traveled all over the world coaching men’s and women’s acapella quartets and choruses.  He also sings in Storm Front, the 2010 International Champion barbershop quartet.  He has been named Teacher of the Year in two different schools over his career, as well as a District Teacher of the Year.  He took over directing responsibilities for the Velvet Hills Show Chorus in Colorado Springs for the past three years.

Rachel Snyder

Rachel Marie Snyder is so excited to be returning to PAA! She has been teaching musical theatre and dance for over 8 years at studios in New York City and across the country. She shares her passion for creativity and self-expression in the classroom and on the stage. Rachel has performed internationally as a vocalist with Aida Cruise Lines and regionally in roles such as Sherrie in Rock of Ages and Maggie in 42nd St. She continues her lifelong training in dance, acting, and theatre in New York, and loves to pass on her knowledge to the next generation of young artists.

Andrew McGlothen

Andrew McGlothen is thrilled to be back for his 2nd summer with PAA. Originally from Texas, Andrew has been fabricator, scenic painter, director and actor for over a decade. He’s had the privilege to work for companies like the Arvada Center for Arts and Humanities, Rocky Mountain Theatre for Kids, Denver Comic Con, Visionbox Studio and many others. If you need something designed or created, he’s your guy. When not working in theatre Andrew is a Graphic Designer and coffee snob. He’d like to thank his husband and dogs for the support and PAA for the opportunity!”


Steph Holmbo

Steph Holmbo is an actress, dancer, singer, poet, creatoe. Steph received her BFA from New York University's Atlantic Theatre Company and worked off-broadway with the dance company Mitra Dance Collective for 3 years. Since moving to Denver she has performed at several theaters including Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, Miners Alley Playhouse, Town Hall Arts Center, and originated roles in two world premiere musicals with Mitch Samu. In 2020, Steph wrote and performed in her one-woman show and again, creating a story around how we listen in a world where everyone is talking. Steph is passionate about storytelling, justice, and finding hope in especially difficult situations. www.stephholmbo.com

Melanie Ware

Melanie has been with PAA as their Properties Master for six years and teaching classes for five. Melanie received her BA in Theatre from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs in May of 2016. Between Acting, Directing and Properties Design she has roughly 12 years of theatrical experience. Favorite PAA design credits include: You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown!, Tarzan, Mary Poppins and The Addams Family.




Stephanie Hesse

Stephanie is thrilled to join PAA, and is very proud of this group of talented kids!  With a BA in both Theatre and Dance from Colorado Mesa University,  Stephanie has performed with Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, Avatar Movement Dance Company, and in several musicals in the Denver area including 9 to 5, 42nd Street, Crazy For You, and West Side Story. Choreography credits include: A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder, Hello Dolly!, She Loves Me, 13: The Musical, and Disney’s Mary Poppins Jr.