Authors Bios

AUTHOR & COMPOSER BIOS

Rachel Nelson Fortner

Playwright and director Rachel Nelson Fortner has a 30-year track record of directing more than 150 productions—many of which she scripted and choreographed—showcasing actors from preteens to senior citizens. She produced many of these shows at the Performing Arts Conservatory (PAC), a nonprofit community theatre that she founded in Grand Junction, Colorado, serving as Artistic Director for ten years.

In addition to offering five shows a year, the PAC also offered “Theatre Projects for Youth,” an ongoing series of dance, musical theatre, and acting classes designed to enhance and nurture the creative spirit of local and regional children—a number of whom have grown up and developed theatre careers of their own. Through its annual “Arts in Education School Tour,” PAC brought a curriculum-based play to more than 10,000 youth annually in western Colorado.

Most recently, Rachel launched A Pocket Full of Plays, a theatre arts program for children. Together with her husband Glenn, she produces several children’s theatre productions each year. Rachel also serves as Artistic Director for the Grand Junction Senior Theatre, directing and choreographing an original musical annually.

Rachel holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Performing Arts from Colorado Mesa University (formerly Mesa State College) and a Master of Arts degree in Dance with a focus in Pedagogy from Brigham Young University, where she graduated valedictorian and was awarded Outstanding Graduate Student of the Year in her program. After receiving her education, she taught acting, speech and dance at Mesa State College for 14 years before forming her own theatre. Rachel is a member of the Educational Theatre Association, and International Centre for Women Playwrights.

Betsy Peterson

Growing up outside of New York City, Betsy fell in love with theatre from a very early age. She performed leading roles throughout her early school career and through college, where she earned a degree in education and theatre, minoring in voice. A former Miss Illinois for the Miss America Pageant, Betsy studied and performed many years in New York City where she worked in musical theatre, soap operas and hundreds of television commercials. She later moved to Vermont- the perfect place to raise a family. There she started a production company and continued writing, producing and performing. Betsy has also taught at the elementary and most recently as a faculty member for the Theatre Department at Elmhurst College. She continues performing with her husband and best friend, pianist, Bill Peterson. Together, they make beautiful music! With a great heart for children, Betsy is passionate about combining her love of music and theatre for “Pocket Full of Plays”, seemingly a match made in heaven. Betsy is grateful to God for the opportunity to work with Bill writing music for children who have been bitten by the same “bug” that got her so many years ago!

Bill Peterson

Bill began his career in Chicago as a pianist and conductor/ arranger/contractor for many celebrity artists, sharing the stage with celebrity greats including Ramsey Lewis, Diane Schuur, Patti Labelle, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, Smokey Robinson, Red Buttons, Suzanne Somers, Steve Allen, Joan Rivers, Morey Amsterdam, Kathie Lee Gifford, Mary Hart, Bob Newhart, Tony Bennett, George Burns, Danny Thomas, and the late Las Vegas sensation, Danny Gans. Bill has played piano and conducted many star performances on numerous television shows throughout the United States including The Merv Griffin Show.

In addition to working with some of the greatest musicians and orchestras on Broadway in New York City and studio musicians and orchestras in Los Angeles, Bill has had the pleasure of conducting some of America’s greatest big band swing orchestras of all time, including The Les Brown Band Of Renown Orchestra and The Harry James Orchestra. After his formal training at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, Bill quickly became one of Chicago’s leading pianists performing at Chicago’s finest venues on the Magnificent Mile which include the Ritz-Carlton, The Four Seasons Hotel, Chicago’s famous Drake Hotel, The Signature Room Restaurant (where he was the exclusive entertainment provider for the past 19 years), numerous Chicago theaters, Navy Pier, and Chicago’s Symphony Center. His experience also includes performing piano and vocals on television and radio commercials for numerous national spots for United Airlines and the McDonald’s Corporation. Bill’s repertoire at the piano spans popular music from the American Songbook (Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, etc.) to Brazilian and Latin standards, popular American jazz and pop standards, as well as classical music for wedding ceremonies.

Mimi Sparks

Mimi Sparks worked as a professional equity actress in Denver, Colorado, for many years, performing frequently in community and dinner theaters. She received a Bachelor of Music degree in Vocal Performance and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Acting, both from the University of Denver.

When she wasn’t onstage, Mimi taught voice lessons and ran a large voice studio in Denver for more than 30 years. Mimi also initiated the vocal program at Swallow Hill Music Association in Denver.

In 2001, Mimi moved to Grand Junction, Colorado, where she worked as Musical Director for the Performing Art Conservatory (PAC) and later as Musical Director for A Pocket Full of Plays. In semi-retirement, Mimi continues to teach some voice lessons and compose musicals for children.

 

Wesley Meyer

As a performer, Wesley has traveled much of the U.S. and the world, including Japan and several countries in Africa. He currently holds a Bachelors of Music from Howard University and is trained in vocal, piano, and trumpet performance. He began playing piano and singing at age 6. At age 11, he added trumpet to his regiment of musical studies. He continued his artistic development through college, majoring in composition. As a composer, he has had pieces performed at the Strathmore by pianist Natalia Efremova. In the summer of 2010 he studied abroad in Siena, Italy, where he premiered his composition, “Reactions to Beauty” for string quartet and clarinet solo. He is currently sharing his passion for music as a freelance singer/songwriter and composer.

Sheri Hickman

Sheri Hickman has been writing plays for nearly thirty years. She has written for many different groups, including schools, churches, museums and various theatre groups. Three plays of her plays were used as touring shows for the Performing Arts Conservatory and were performed in the grade schools on the western slope of Colorado. Over 2,000 children were able to see the plays. Many of them had never seen live theatre before. Her children’s musical play ‘The Dragon Woo Ree’ was a commissioned work for the Creede Repertory Theatre. It was their featured children’s play for the 2001 season.

She served as President of the Board for the Two Chairs Theatre, a nonprofit community theatre in Grand Junction Colorado, and was a board member for the Warehouse Playhouse Theatre in Paonia Colorado.

“Children’s theater can be magic.” says Hickman. “It’s remarkable how a child sparkles on stage when they feel good about their part. When they realize their part is important to the over-all production it changes how they see themselves. That is the magic, and it continues long after the curtain has closed.”

Gabriel Congdon

Originally from Colorado, where he studied acting at Mesa State College, Gabriel Congdon currently resides in Seattle. When Gabe is not writing and composing music for children’s theatre, he is active in a variety of projects. He is cofounder of elgoodtimes (http://www.youtube.com/user/ElGoodTimes), a production company associated with Zombie Orpheus Entertainment, which is wrapping the first season of their web series called &@. In addition to writing and directing several episodes, Gabe and his copartner Ahren Buhman have written the title theme song for the web series The Fringe.

Gabe also performed music for the summer stage show King Arthur and his Knights of the Playground, produced by Balagan, a Seattle theatre company. Choreography credits include Greetings from Styx and Game of Dance. He has also worked as a film actor in a number of short films that include Antipathy for the Normal and Pick Up the Phone. To add to his acting credits, Gabe has performed onstage in roles that include Action in West Side Story, Thornadier in Les Miserables, and Frederick Bhaer in Little Women. He toured in the productions of Tabitha’s Time Machine and The Ant and the Abacus with the Performing Arts Conservatory’s Arts in Education School Tour of Western Colorado. Despite a hectic schedule, Gabe leaves time to read and study filmmaking.

 

 

James Russell

James is a musician and composer living in Salt Lake City, Utah. He took his first piano lessons at the tender age of 9 to impress a schoolgirl crush. Crushes come and go but the love of music stayed with him. From there he went on to study music all through his school years, culminating with studies in violin performance and composition at Snow College and then on to Utah State University.

Although he spent some of his youth playing in raucous local rock and roll bands, his true passion is writing music in the classical, jazz, and Broadway traditions. His musical stylings range from piano solos to full symphonic pieces and everything in between.

James has written and performed pieces for such groups as Make-A-Wish foundation, West Valley Symphony, Choral Arts Society of Utah, Bryan Larsen Quintet, The Cadillacs, and Park City Dance, among others. Currently James spends the bulk of his time writing choral arrangements which he conducts and performs with his church choral group.

Wesley A. Knoch

Wesley has been the K-12 music and band director at Marshall Academy in Marshall, Michigan for the last 13 years. He holds both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in music from Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. A composer since the mid-1980’s, he has been composing children’s musicals since he began teaching in at Stadium Drive, Elementary School of the Arts located in Lake Orion, Michigan in 1995. Wesley is a published author of children’s musical plays and since 2008 his musicals have been performed by many schools and youth theatre companies around the world including Hong Kong, New Zealand, Dubai, UAE, the U.K. and here in the U.S. He writes, composes and produces an original musical play once each year for the local children to perform at our theatre in Marshall, the Franke Center for the Performing arts.

 

 

 

 

 

Armando Perez

Armando wrote his first song at the age of 14 and has not stopped composing since. While studying music education at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, NM, Armando was a member of the PRIDE Marching Band and guitarist/founder of his first band, Plastic Apples. He is an accomplished trumpeter, pianist, and guitarist and is working his way into the film scoring industry. He has served as band director for JP Taylor Academy in Las Cruces, NM,  and taught private trumpet, piano, and guitar lessons to children ranging from ages 7-14.  Armando fell in love with musicals after watching the 2012 film adaptation of Les Miserables and has since been on a composing frenzy trying to recreate the magic he felt that night.

 

 

 

 

Kristen Nelson
Kristen Nelson is a singer songwriter from Spokane, Washington.  As a child she participated in the Missoula Children’s Theater which launched her passion for musical theater. She began writing her own musicals when she was eight years old and opened up a theater in her basement for neighborhood children to audition and perform.  As a teenager she held leading roles in High School Drama and spent her free time learning guitar and performing at local venues.  As a young adult, her passion for writing led her to pursue a B.A in English from Brigham Young University-Idaho with an emphasis in creative writing.

Kristen’s most recent accomplishment is the release of “Out of my Hands”her first record. The album is comprised of seven original songs written and performed by Kristen and spans genres from rootsy folk to alt-country.  Her inspiration stems from 1960’s troubadours and she hopes to be as poetic as Joni Mitchell one day.  kristenelson.bandcamp.com. She currently lives in Central Illinois and is working on a new full-length album.

It is a dream come true for Kristen to return to her roots and write for children’s musical theater again.

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