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OUR TEAM

Nora Younkin received her BFA in Dance Pedagogy from Columbia  College in downtown Chicago where she performed in work by Jennifer Archibald,  Merce Cunningham, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane, Michael Rodrguez Cintra, and Taisha  Paggett, among others. She continues to perform and choreograph for independent  productions in Chicago. In addition to studying at Columbia College, she attended  teaching training at Westbeth Studios in New York City and learned the teaching and  compositional techniques of the modern dance luminary Merce Cunningham. Nora  writes about dance and the arts for The Huffington Post Chicago and has been a guest  speaker on WBEZ’s arts podcast General Admission.  Nora has taught ballet, modern,  jazz, and creative movement to students of all ages and in settings ranging from local  dance studios to universities to Chicago Public schools to Panamanian orphanages.    Nora strives to cultivate a love of dance in students by making the classroom a place for  expression and discovery while also fostering strong dance technique through rigorous  training.

Jennefer Ludwigsen has been a professional actress and teacher since graduating form Northwestern University in 1999.  She has taught at Northwestern University, for Evanston School Disctrict #65, and the Eileen Boevers Center for Performing Arts at Apple Tree Theatre in Highland Park. She also was an associate teaching artist with Free Street Programs where, in partnership with the Fiction Writing Department of Columbia College, she helped with the Write/Act program in Chicago public schools. Jennefer is the founder and director of Doorways: Creating Theatre for Children in Door County WI where she serves as the Director of Education for Door Shakespeare. As an actress, Jennfer has performed on stages in Chicago, Seattle, and Los Angeles, and most recently spent her 11th summer as a company member with Door Shakespeare. Her TV credits include CRIMINAL MINDS, CSI, KEY & PEELE, and numerous commercials. Currently airing is a sketch on-line for The Onion. As a writer, she is currently a staff writer with jokes4miles.com, creating content for children diagnosed with cancer. Her stories have been heard on KCRW and NPR, and various storytelling venues in Los Angeles. Jenn holds a MFA from the Professional Actor’s Training Program (PATP) at the University of Washington.

Brent Eickhoff received his Bachelor of Science from Ball State University
with a double major in Theatre Production: Direction and Theatre Education, and was the recipient of the Faculty Award in Theatre Education. While at Ball State, Brent was a co-captain of Reflex, the Department of Theatre and Dance’s Improvisation and Sketch Comedy Troupe, and also served on the executive board of Alpha Psi Omega, the department’s service fraternity. He interned at A Red Orchid Theatre in Chicago, where he served as a production assistant and actor on their youth ensemble production, Pins and Withers. Brent’s youth directing credits include Huck Finn’s High Tailin’ AdventuresThe Hysterical History of the Trojan War, and The Laramie Project. Brent also directed an adaptation of the book The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig that toured with five other children’s stories to local elementary schools and the Muncie Children’s Museum. At Muncie Civic Theatre, he assistant directed Annie, and served as a facilitator on their youth production, Bugsy Malone, Jr. He also teaches empathy through playwriting with Silk Road Rising Theatre. Originally from Indianapolis, Brent has five years of experience as a camp counselor at the Arthur Jordan YMCA, where he was recognized as “Counselor of the Week” several times. Brent taught classes in Directing, Playwriting, Musical Theatre, and Ensemble Building at Northside Middle School, Muncie Central High School, and Burris Laboratory School. He is proud to have student taught under Carrie Reiberg at Warren Central High School, and was inducted as an Honorary Thespian in Thespians Troupe 1984 at the end of the semester. Brent holds a teaching license in the state of Indiana, and is ecstatic to be working with The Children’s Theatre Company!

Willow Star Faygenholtz started dancing at a young age taking ballet, jazz and hip hop classes and performing in local talent shows in her home town of Santa Cruz, California. She was mainly a swimmer in high school but still pursued her love of dance by dancing on the semi-pro sharketts dance team in 2005/06. Willow’s ethnic roots in dance became obvious when she trained and studied the art of traditional Hawaiian Hula dance and decided to compete in the 2007/08 Miss Santa Cruz pageant. She won the Artistic Expression Award and pursued the love of dance in her studies at Cabrillo Jr. College in Aptos, California where she studied and performed closely with amazing choreographers Tandy Beal, Cid Pearlman, and David King.There she choreographed her 1st work for the stage with 21 dancers and was awarded the 2009 Special Recognition for Achievement in Dance by Cabrillo dance department. Graduating with an AA in Liberal Arts and General Science degree in May 2009, motivated Willow to grow and expand her skills and talents with a change in educational environment.Inspired by her mentors, she moved to Chicago and attended Columbia College for Performing Arts. During her studies she expanded her repertoire from dance performance to fashion modeling working with teams of creative professionals to produce fashion shows, print media and advertising, and TV segments for events and fashion designs. Willow graduated with a BS in Dance and Performing Arts in May 2012. Falling in love with the social City Life style of Chicago, Willow incorporated her teaching skills both as a children’s swim instructor and dance instructor choreographer for a children’s theatre group. She was awarded Employee of the Month in 2014 at the esteemed East Bank Club. She is a special guest speaker and TV personality for many fund raising educational events focusing on the power of self confidence and following your passion for performance.
Instagram @WILLOWSTAR26

DeAndre McLaurin (Dre)

Dancer, DJ, and emcee, DeAndre McLaurin (Dre) encompasses all of these assets into his ability to entertain. Dre is from the Chicago suburb of Joliet, IL. Growing up Dre was exposed to many different styles and genres of music and dance. He has since then used the knowledge he has gained since being a child to make himself a better entertainer. He has been involved in the entertainment industry for over 5 years working with A-Z Entertainment as a dancer DJ, and Emcee, He has taught Hip Hop classes for children in a wide range of ages, and has also taught dance fitness classes to adults. He has also recently received the opportunity to begin Deejaying on the cruise ships on Chicago’s coveted Navy Pier. Starting as a dancer Dre quickly found his skill and love for Deejaying and emceeing. Overall, Dre has the ability to work with many different types of audiences no matter the demographic and always puts his best effort forward.

Sami Malnekoff is an actor and musician born and raised in Chicago, IL. She has been acting since the age of 12, her first role ever being Lt. Brannigan in Guys and Dolls. Sami continued her acting training at New Trier High School both in plays, musicals and on Harold and Maude, the long form improvisation team where she got her first taste of improvising around Chicago. Sami also taught at a theater camp for three consecutive summers which is where she first had the priviledge of passing down some of her knowledge and passion to aspiring young performers. After attending Emerson College, and recognizing her true love was comedy, she returned home to pursue the improv conservatory at Second City which she graduated from last May. She is on several teams in Chicago including Mostly Ladies, Malnekoff & Blair: The Sampler and additionally does stand-up.Aside from her comedic proclivity, Sami has been musically inclined from a young age. Classically trained vocally throughout her high school career, she began playing guitar and piano after graduating. Once she got the hang of her instruments, which she is primarily self taught on, Sami began to write her own music. Her style is heavily influenced musically by artists such as Amy Winehouse, Adele, Paloma Faith and lyrically by Eminem, Atmosphere, and Angel Haze- to name a few. What her style has evolved into is a unique sound that she describes as acoustic rap. Sami has had two independent demos produced in the last three years and is currently unsigned. You can often find her playing shows in the Chicago area.Sami aspires to sustain herself and her passion on other people’s laughter and mutual adoration for music and the stage.

Jessica Zhivotovsky

I have been studying dance for 10 years. From a small dance company called ” Artists in Motion” to nationwide professional hip hop company named Hip Hop Connxion. I have a passion for inspiring young kids to be the best possible versions of themselves and strive to put forth positivity through my teaching. I have debuted in music videos and performed in theaters all around Chicago. I teach for The Children’s Theatre Co. dance program at The River Forest Community Center. I am currently a Senior at DePaul University studying Business Administration, hoping to open my own dance studio one day.

Gabrielle Garza

Gabrielle is an actress and musician raised in Naperville, IL. She grew up watching old movie musicals like “Funny Girl” and “Hello Dolly” and instantly fell in love with musical theatre. After attending Emerson College and receiving her BFA in Musical Theatre, she moved to New York City to pursue her dream. Shortly after she booked the role of Anna in the Tony award winning musical “Spring Awakening”. She had the pleasure of working with the original creative team including Michael Mayer, Bill T. Jones, Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, and exploring the country touring with this ground breaking and provocative show. After returning to New York, she also had the pleasure of working with Joe Mantello on the workshop production of Dogfight at Second Stage. After taking a break from acting,Gabrielle was fortunate enough to dive back into work with the Tony award winning theatre company Deaf West in LA on their unique production of “Spring Awakening” featuring deaf actors. She played a swing and understudied all the female roles having to learn American Sign Language and the guitar. After many years in NYC and LA, it was time to return home to Chicago.When not auditioning or teaching, she also sings in the cover band “Uptown Shakedown”. She is happy to be apart of The Children’s Theatre team, and hopes to inspire confidence and a love of the performing arts in her students.