The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company’s teaching artists provide our youth and inter-generational participants, from underserved and at-risk environments, with unique theatre-arts mentoring residencies that build self-esteem, communication and coping skills, and empower participants to make positive life choices. Residencies are comprised of four- to 10-week theatre arts workshops that increase participants’ language arts, collaborative teamwork and problem-solving skills, as well as utilize theatre to build community and bring about social change.
US teaching artists are sensitive to the needs of participants’ pro-social development and have the knowledge and tools to lead with high expectations, model positive behavior, and support participant accomplishments — no matter how large or small. They have backgrounds in theatre and/or arts education, and as part of their tenure with US, all undergo annual and quarterly trainings.
Jesse Bliss Woods
Jesse Bliss Woods is an actress, writer, director, producer and arts education veteran with her work performed in prestigious venues around the world. Some works include Diamonds, Roots and Wings, Between Fingertips, and performance appearances at the United Nations and the Edinburgh Festival. Most recently, her play, A Record of Light, had a sold-out run in downtown Los Angeles’ The Last Bookstore. Her play, Tree of Fire, is opening in March 2013 at Inner-City Arts' The Rosenthal Theater. Jesse is a featured artist in the Kate Crash documentary LA Woman. She is Founder/Artistic Director of The Roots and Wings Project. www.therootsandwingsproject.com
Gilbert Glenn Brown
Native New York Actor, BFA NYU T.S.O.A. Theater credits include: Rio - New York Musical Theatre Festival 2012, Leslie Lee & Charles Strouse’s – Martin: A New American Musical – Negro Ensemble Company, Sade Lythcott’s A Time to Love, Ifa Bayeza’s Charleston Olio, Lydia Diamond’s Harriet Jacobs - Kansas City Rep, Paula Vogel’s Civil War Christmas – Huntington Theater, Esther Armah’s Forgive Me - Mid-Town International Theatre Festival, TopDog/UnderDog - Seattle Rep/Circle Theatre Group, Miss Evers Boys – The Complex & National Black Theatre Festival, Live From Death Row… Scottsboro Boys - Fountain Theatre Drama Critic and a L.A.Weekly Award), DWB in Beverly Hills - Matrix Theatre. Film credits include: Dreamgirls , Rain, Children of the Struggle, Raising the Heights, Night Falls on Manhattan Television credits include: Mercy, ER, The O.C., Cold Case, Shark, CSI: Miami, The Shield. He has garnered 3 NACCP Theatre Award nominations (Best Lead Male, Best Supporting Male, Best Ensemble) and a COLSAC Award for Best Lead Male Performance.
Zach Brown studied theatre at Marymount Manhattan in NY. After school Zach spent several years in Ft. Worth TX performing as a company member with Ohlook Theatre, Artisan Center Theatre and the Bedford Onstage as well as teaching theatre dance and art at private art schools and studios in DFW. In 2010 Zach moved to LA and has performed with the Will Gear Theatricum Botanicum, is a company member with Theatre MAB town hall and is currently filming with Finite-films. Along with being an actor Zach is also a professional visual artist and Illustrator. Zach has been thrilled and honored to be working with the unusual suspects since 2010.
Erik Escobar began working with US as the Development & Marketing Intern in 2010 as part of the Los Angeles County Arts Commission Internship Program. He is a comic and improviser who has performed at clubs, universities, and venues all over the country with credits from NBC’s Last Comic Standing, The World Famous Comedy Store, and The Jon Lovitz Comedy Club and Podcast Theatre. In addition to stand up, Erik is also a contributing writer for ISA TV’s The Weekly Rewind and improvises weekly at ComedySportz LA and Bang Comedy Theatre’s comedyBOOM. Erik is a recent graduate of Whittier College (Go Poets!) with a BA in Arts Management and holds certificates in Marketing & Strategy from Harvard Business School.
Sharon Freedman has performed at theaters including Ensemble Studio Theater (NY & LA), Rattlestick, Primary Stages, The Shakespeare Theater of NJ, The O’Neill, New Dramatists, and The Actor’s Studio. She is a longtime member of the Obie Award winning theater company Partial Comfort Productions (NYC). Film/TV credits include The Young & The Restless, It’s Dark Here (with Ileana Douglas), The Ski Trip (LOGO Network), and Café Morocco (The Buffalo Niagara Film Festival). She has appeared in numerous commercials, industrials, and voiceovers, and is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Playwrights Horizons Theatre School. For more, visit www.sharonfreedman.com.
David began as a volunteer with US at Camp David Gonzales in 2008. He later became a teaching artist and from 2009-2011, David served as Outreach Coordinator and Program Coordinator in Pacoima, CA, for the City of Los Angeles’ Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) program and the Prevention Initiative Demonstration Project (PIDP). In addition to US, David is also on the teaching and performing artists rosters of The Music Center, Boxtales Theatre Company, Theatre of Will, East LA Classic Theatre, Enrichment Works, and Watts Village Theater Company. David is a working actor.
Adam Kalesperis joined the Unusual Suspects team in the fall of 2007, and has since branched out with fellow teaching artist Joe Quintero to form B.R.I.D.G.E Theatre Project - www.bridgetheatre.org - an international arts organization inspired by the principles of US. As an actor, Adam has appeared in dozens of theatrical productions and a handful of popular films and TV shows, including The Dark Knight and ER. He also wrote, directed and produced his own original musical Return to Shilo while getting his degree in Theater at UCLA, and he continues to write music and scripts to this day.
Xavi is a native Angelino, born, raised, and staged "east of the river" in the historic barrio of Boyle Heights. A kaleidoscope of talent, Xavi has performed for multiple theater's including Independent Shakespeare Co., Ensemble Studio Theater LA, Cornerstone Theater, Moveable Piece, Frida Kahlo Theater, Teatro Prometeo-Miami, tounge in chic*ana, Company of Angels, The Center of Theater of The Oppressed, Watts Village Theater Company, Teatro East of the River & Casa 0101 Theater. Grounded in his roots and community, Xavi teaches spoken word, theater, and creative writing to youth in his community and the greater LA. He is passionate about working with inner city youth who like himself fell hostage to the juvenile system, education system, and are finding a means to express themselves and survive through the arts. Xavi is co-founder of Los Poets del Norte an essential spoken word duo born out of the seabed of rebellion of Boyle Heights – rhythmically vocalizing the untold urban corridos for the understanding of the Xican@ reality. Xavi is Producing Director of Company of Angels + Community Outreach Coordinator for Independent Shakespeare Co. In 2011 Xavi was nominated and accepted into the "Young Leaders of Color" program for Theater Communications Group - National Conference in Los Angeles. www.XAVIMORENO.net
Jordana Oberman earned her Master’s from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and has worked extensively in Theatre, Film, Television, and Commercials. She won New York’s prestigious Spotlight On “Best Actress” Award for her role as Morgaine in the world premiere of Avalon. Most recently seen on Grey’s Anatomy and the Freemont Centre Theatre’s world premiere of South of Delancey. Jordana teaches the professional Meisner Training Program at the Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio and is thrilled to be a teaching artist with Unusual Suspects and the Virginia Ave Project.
Maya Parish is an actor, dancer, writer, yogi, fledgling choreographer and proud teaching artist for The Unusual Suspects. The world premiere production of her original play, “Lost Limbs”, which she wrote, produced, and starred in, ran from April 20th - May 21st, 2012 at the Elephant Theater (more info at www.facebook.com/LostLimbs). She also produced and starred in the indie vampire hit “Midnight Son”, to be released domestically by Image Entertainment on July 17th, 2012 (more info at www.midnightsonmovie.com). Maya is thrilled to be a part of The Unusual Suspects Family, and hopes to be a part of that family for many years to come.
Maria Pasquarelli started working with The Unusual Suspects in 2002 as Laura Leigh Hughes' very first assistant. She has been working as a teaching artist since 2004 with various companies in the Los Angeles area. Her work with US has taken her to many of our sites and has given her endless joy, inspiration and a renewed passion for life. As an actress, she has performed in a great deal of theater in the LA area and abroad, and has had the opportunities to dabble in some television and film along the way. In May 2013, she will finally graduate from the MFA Acting program at USC, which has taken her away from teaching these past few years. Upon graduation, Maria hopes to be right back in the swing of things with US!
Robert has an MFA in Acting from Southern Methodist University, and worked for 7 years as a Student Affairs professional at Texas A&M University at Galveston. He has served for over 15 years as a tutor, teacher, mentor, and theatre artist, holding numerous positions with youth programs such as School On Wheels, Junior Players, Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Program, and Johns Hopkins Center For Talented Youth. Robert has appeared locally and regionally throughout Houston, Dallas and Los Angeles. Robert is passionate about making theatre accessible and available to everyone, and is proud to be part of the Unusual Suspects family!
A member of the LAByrinth Theater Company, Joe began performing on stage in New York City, various regional theatres across the county, and in several European tours, including Edinburgh Fringe Festival (Fringe First Award) and Peter Sellars’ The Merchant of Venice. He has also appeared on film – Cuco Gomez Gomez is Dead!, Shaft, Exiles in NY (AFI Fest.), The Absolution of Anthony (Sundance); TV - Numbers, NYPD Blue, Law & Order, The Eddie Matos Story, Guiding Light; RADIO - Jesus Hopped the A Train (LA Theatre Works). All throughout, Joe has partnered up as a Teaching Artist with arts-in-education organizations offering theatre and writing classes to young people. He attributes the courage and play of his students as responsible for inspiring him to pick up his own pencil and write. In 2006, Joe was selected as a finalist for a PEN/USA Emerging Voice Fellowship. He performed his collection of short stories entitled First Voice at NYC’s Public Theatre (LAByrinth Barn Series). He was also commissioned to perform his one man show Pilgrimage at Highways Performance Space. In 2008, Joe Co-Founded B.R.I.D.G.E Theatre Project. B.R.I.D.G.E – Building Relationships and Inspiring Dialogue through Global Exchange – is an arts organization offering playwriting and acting programs to communities worldwide, providing opportunities for cultural exchange and artistic communion on an international scale.
Nicole Gabriella Scipione is an actor and writer, and is thrilled to begin working for The Unusual Suspects and Melissa Denton, having been impacted by the beauty of their work and mission when she was a mentor for them in 2011. Her short "Song in a Convenience Store," directed by Silas Weir Mitchell (series regular Monroe on "Grimm") won in the Oscar qualifying Athens International Film Fest, continuing on the festival circuit in The Hollywood Film Festival and others. Her play "Janis Costs" was directed by Jose Rivera for Ensemble Studio Theatre, her play "Kickflip" was a semi finalist in the New Works of Merit Playwriting Contest, and two original pieces recently debuted with Cornerstone Theatre Company/The New York One Minute Play Festival. As actor she’s worked on the Hallmark Channel with John Larroquette, Chad Lowe and Daryl Hannah, with William Petersen on "CSI," and won Stage Scene LA’s Best Performance by a Featured Actress Award (Abigail Williams in "The Crucible") alongside Alicia Silverstone in "Time Stands Still." She's had some of her most fulfilling artistic experiences volunteering for the Screen Actors Guild literacy program, Bookpals, and the Writers Guild Foundation's high school screenwriting program. Education: BFA in Theatre, UCSB. Wants: to be a trapeze artist action heroine. Thanks: for empowering our youth through the US arts programming; it changes things!
Tiffani Sierra began working with US in April 2010 as a Teaching Artist and Workshop Coordinator. Tiffani is an Actress and Dancer. She has trained at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York and is a Graduate of The Second City Training Center here in Los Angeles. As a stage actor she has performed in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.Tiffani has worked with organizations such as Each One Reach One in the Bay area where she taught playwrighting and mentored young people inside Juvenile Halls. She is a huge advocate for arts programs in undeserved areas and loves empowering young people by finding their own voice through the arts. She also recently started her own production company with their first project being a Comedy Webseries called "hIMPERFECT".
R. Ernie Silva is a product of the Bushwick projects in Brooklyn, New York, where he grew up the youngest of 13 siblings. Ernie’s desire to make people laugh drew him to the stage at places like The Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village. Years of traveling around doing comedy eventually earned him a full scholarship to the Graduate Acting Program at the University of Southern California. In addition to conventional stage acting, Ernie’s extensive and eclectic performance background includes classical and blues guitar, break-dancing, stand-up and sketch comedy, and a long list of self-penned one-man shows, including his current world-traveled show, "Heavy Like the Weight of a Flame.”