TODD ESPELAND is the Executive/Artistic Director of the Fort Wayne Youtheatre. He is the former Artistic Director of Commedia Zuppa Mask Company, The Kalamazoo Civic Theatre and a graduate of the world renowned Dell' Arte International. While at Dell' Arte, Todd did extensive post-graduate work in Mask, Clown, Circus Techniques, Commedia Dell' Arte and Physical Theatre. He holds MFA in Directing from the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
With Commedia Zuppa Todd served as a mask and movement specialist and artist in residence Off-Broadway for the Rosebud Theatre Company, and at many regional theatres, colleges, universities and toured original works of theatre nationally and internationally including his award winning Theatre for Young Audiences mask show BOXHEAD. During this time he was also a lead coach and director with Starfish Circus, a nonprofit that focuses on helping kids develop skills for healthy, active and enthusiastic lives through circus & performing arts.
In Kalamazoo Michigan, as well as being the Artistic Director of the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre, Todd served as a Guest Artist/visiting Assistant Professor at Kalamazoo College where he taught classes in acting, mask performance and directed productions of Endgame, Servant to Two Masters, Peer Gynt and Romeo and Juliet. At the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre each year he oversaw the artistic vision and administrative realization of a 16 show season as well as directing productions of Seussical Jr., Richard III, Of Mice and Men, Mary Poppins, A Christmas Story the Musical, To Kill a Mockingbird and Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery.
Christopher J. Murphy
Associate Director/Director of Outreach
CHRISTOPHER J. MURPHY is proud to share Youtheatre’s mission with the young artists of our community. Murphy began his long association with Youtheatre as an actor, then as a teacher and guest director before joining the organization full-time in 2016. As the Associate Director and Director of Outreach, he directs, teaches and oversees Youtheatre’s diverse community outreach programs such as the Storybook Theatre Troupe.
Before coming to Youtheatre, Murphy spent twenty-two years as the Theatre Director at his alma mater, Blackhawk Middle School, from 1993- 2015. In addition to producing two
plays/musicals per academic year, he organized a highly successful summer theatre program for students grades 6- 12 throughout northeast Indiana. In addition, Murphy has been a Master Teacher with F.A.M.E. (Foundation for Art and Music in Education) for fifteen years, taught FWCS adult acting classes and regularly teaches acting and musical theatre at author/PBS host Mark Kistler’s fine arts camps throughout the United States.
As an award-winning actor and director, Murphy’s work is regularly seen on stages throughout northeast Indiana, including the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre, First Presbyterian Theatre and Arena Dinner Theatre. In addition, he has worked extensively in the orchestral world, producing, writing, directing and often hosting shows for the Fort Wayne Philharmonic’s Masterworks, Family and Pops series. In 2015, he collaborated with composer Adrian Mann on “The Journey of Johnny Tincap,” a symphonic telling of the story of Johnny (Appleseed) Chapman, for which he wrote the narration. His adaptations and original narrative scripts for classic orchestral works have been produced from Norfolk, Virginia to San Diego, California.
Murphy is a proud resident of Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he lives with the finest terrier knownto man, Herbie.
Administrative Assistant/Teaching Artist
KIMEE GEARHART is excited to be joining the Fort Wayne Youtheatre as a part time administrative assistant after volunteering here most of her life. During middle and high school you could find Kimee involved in various shows, onstage and offstage, as well as in classes. During her senior year of high school, she was one of the Fort Wayne Youtheatre's high school interns where she was a recipient of Youtheatre's "Harvey Cocks Volunteer-of-the-Year-Award". Currently, Kimee is pursuing a double major at Purdue University Fort Wayne in Theatre and Psychology. She hopes to combine the two in the future to advocate for the importance of arts in education, specifically in young students.
REUBEN ALBAUGH has taught Beginning Drama and Junior Drama since 2004. Reuben has his bachelor’s degree in Theatre from IPFW. Reuben has acted, directed, and designed at the Civic Theatre, IPFW Dept. of Theatre, First Presbyterian Theatre, Arena Dinner Theatre, and Youtheatre. Some of his favorite roles include Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast, The Stepmother in Cinderella, Boris Kolenkhov in You Can’t Take it With You, and Andre in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. When not busy onstage he is the Box Office Supervisor and Volunteer Coordinator at IPFW.
HEATHER CLOSSON has been a part of the Fort Wayne Youtheatre since her captivating performance as “Baby Angel #4” in the 1999 production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever!” Now, she loves to share her knowledge and experience with the next generation of theater enthusiasts. She holds a B.S. in Dance Performance, a Master's in Organizational Leadership, and years of professional experience in technical theater. Active in the community, Heather is proud to have performed, worked, or volunteered with several Fort Wayne nonprofit organizations centered around the arts and youth education, including: Arts United, Fort Wayne Civic Theatre, Philharmonic, Dance Collective, Project READS, dAnce.Kontemporary, FAME, Middle Waves, and Science Central.
Teaching Artist/ SFP Advisor
GAVIN THOMAS DREW is ecstatic to be on the Youtheatre team, having performed shows and taken classes as a young artist. He fell in love with the stage after playing “The Mayor of Munchkinland” when he was five. Gavin studied Musical Theatre/Directing at Oklahoma City University. As a director, he has led casts to award-winning performances at AACT Festival and worked as the camp director for Stillwater Children’s Theatre for two summers, directing students through the MTI Junior Catalogue and original works. As a profoundly deaf performer and director with cochlear implants, he takes pride in mentoring disabled/differently-abled cast and holding seminars on inclusion and accommodation for all talents. He has guest lectured on disability in theatre at the University of Central Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University. What makes us different, makes us shine on stage!
LINDSAY HOOPS has proudly been a part of the Fort Wayne theatre community for more than a decade. You may have seen her romping across the stage in some of her favorite local productions such as Les Miserables, Company, Jekyll & Hyde, Beauty and the Beast and A Comedy of Tenors. She’s had the privilege of participating as an actor, singer, assistant director and now teacher with Youtheatre in recent years. Lindsay holds a B.A. in Theatre Performance from Huntington University and has worked professionally both on stage and on film across the country since graduating in 2013. While living in Chicago, Lindsay landed a job as a Registered Behavior Technician in ABA Therapy, specifically because of her ability, through years of studying acting, “to listen and respond.” Thanks to a myriad of similar opportunities, Lindsay has learned that what we develop through good and honest acting goes far beyond the impact we make on stage. She’s very excited to share with the next generation of artists.
AUDREY KINDY became a member of the Fort Wayne Youtheatre family at just 12 years old joining the wonderful cast of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. She participated with Youtheatre all the way through her sophomore year of high school. Once Audrey graduated high school, she began her scholastic journey at Purdue University Fort Wayne, where she is has her Bachelors Degree in Theatre with an emphasis in acting and directing. She has now happily returned to the Youtheatre family as an intern. You can find Audrey helping with classes and camps and many of our outreach initiatives including our traveling Storybook Theatre Troupe.
ALYSSA PLISCO loves working with her students to build strength, flexibility and confidence in their voice and performance style. Since completing her studies in Vocal Performance and Theatre Arts at Huntington University, Alyssa has been teaching, directing and performing in the greater Fort Wayne area. Over the past few years, Alyssa has worked with the following organizations: Fort Wayne Youtheatre, F.A.M.E, Fire and Light Academy, and The Creative Arts Council of Wells County. She also maintains a private vocal studio of 15 students. Alyssa is a vocal artist with Heartland Sings and loves to be involved in the local theatre scene when her schedule allows. Her favorite role will always, always, always be Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz because Dorothy reminds us to appreciate our loved ones and the place we get to call home.
GREGORY STIEBER has been with Youtheatre for more than 25 years as an actor, teacher, playwright and director. He is the creator of our Young Heroes of Conscience Series, writing & directing Mary’s Story, The Kid from Kokomo: The Ryan White Story, Ruby Bridges, and Remembering Anne. He has directed for Civic, Arena & FW Ballet. His other creations include Star Crossed for the Fort Wayne Dance Collective, An Evening Hamlet for the Fort Wayne Philharmonic and I Will Wait: The Veterans Spouse Project with George John Productions. He was named Artist of the Year by Arts United in 2011 and 2015. He was recently awarded “One of the Righteous” from the Jewish Federation.
BEN WEDLER is a Fort Wayne-based musician, director and performer. Ben has served as Music Director for countless musicals at Arena, Youtheatre and Civic over the past fifteen years, including A Charlie Brown Christmas, Assassins, Seussical, Elf, Frozen and Sweeney Todd, to name just a few. He is a longtime member of the Arena Board of Directors. By day, he is the Music and Liturgy Director for St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church. Love and thanks to Leah, Evelyn, Henry & Ollie for the support that allows him to follow his passions.
LESLIE HORMANN (emeritus) served Youtheatre for 8 years as the Executive & Artistic Director. She created our StoryBook Theatre, Backstage Insight, Preschool programming, and is the co-creator of our Young Heroes of Conscience Series. A graduate of IU-Bloomington, Leslie has more than 34 years of teaching under her belt with experience at FWCS, SWAC, EACS, and Abacus Learning Center. Leslie grew up in Youtheatre stage and has acted on the Civic, First Presbyterian and Arena stages. Leslie currently assists with our fundraising and leads Arts In Education workshops.
Born: April 3, 1925
Died: March 31, 2022
HARVEY COCKS may not literally have been, as the old theatre adage goes, “born in a trunk”…but close. Born in Glen Cove, Long Island, Harvey’s father was a vaudeville theatre manager who took his son to rehearsals and shows at the various theatres he managed throughout the country. Known as “the Boy on the Box” because “They put a box in the wings for me and I would sit and watch all the performers.” With such an upbringing, a life in the theatre seemed predestined.
Harvey first moved to Fort Wayne when his father became the first manager of the Emboyd Theatre (now known as the Embassy). He left when, at the age of 18, he booked a Broadway role on his first audition and was off to appear in the long-running comedy Life with Father. Harvey continued to work extensively in New York and regional theatre, appearing in such standards as Finian’s Rainbow and Pal Joey. His first directorial gig was attended by theatre legends Helen Hayes, Katherine Cornell and the Lunts. Harvey also spent 2 ½ years serving with the U.S. Army in Europe.
In 1971, he and his wife Jean returned to Fort Wayne to help his father run Quimby Village. In 1978, he became Executive/Artistic Director of the Fort Wayne Youtheatre and the rest is history. Now Youtheatre’s distinguished and beloved Artist-in-Residence, Harvey has directed over 110 Youtheatre productions, taught over 640 Saturdays of classes and inspired tens of thousands of young artists. His credits and awards are too numerous to list. In 2019, Harvey was awarded Youtheatre’s first ever “Lifetime Achievement Award” and the organizations volunteer awards were named the “Harvey Cocks Volunteer of the Year Award” in his honor.
Youtheatre Guest Artists & Teachers
Albert Crowder Jr.
Youtheatre Board of Directors
Susana Worth - President
Martin Fisher - Vice President
Dr. Ken Bugajski - Secretary
Hannah Janssen - Treasurer
Theresa A. Brady