EDI Mentorship Program

The LORT EDI Mentorship Committee is excited to announce the 2021-22 Mentorship Program cohort.

Our intention with this program is to address the barriers that have prohibited the diversity of racial and gender composition in LORT managing and executive leadership. As an evolution to LORT’s EDI Initiative, this year the mentorship program is specifically focusing on pairing BIPOC mentees from LORT theatres with BIPOC mentors from the field. 

The program pairs industry professionals with mentees that currently work for LORT theatres interested in administrative leadership including aspiring Executive Directors, Managing Directors, General Managers and Senior Department Managers including Marketing, Production, Development and Human Resources.

 The objectives of the LORT EDI Mentorship Program are:

  • For current senior leaders to become proactive advocates for rising leaders as they make their transition to more senior leadership positions; and
  • For rising leaders to develop the skills and networks necessary to make the move to executive and senior leadership.

We were thrilled with the responses to the call for applicants. The Mentorship Committee selected and matched the following 10 pairs of participants, our largest cohort to date. Please see all participant bios on the pages that follow.


LORT EDI Mentorship Program 2021 cohort:

 • Leslie Crandell Dawes, Audience Development and Marketing Manager at Artists Repertory Theatre will be mentored by Renee Littleton, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications at Arena Stage;

Ariana Johnson, Associate Producer at American Conservatory Theater will be mentored by Sajal Javid, Director of Human Resources, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion at Alley Theatre;

Jeff Kirkman III, Theatre Services Manager of Shakespeare Theatre Company will be mentored by Daviorr Snipes, Director of Diversity, Equity & Engagement at Alliance Theatre;

Tajh Oates, Assistant Production Manager at Arizona Theatre Company will be mentored by Michael Locher, Director of Design at Alley Theatre.

Lisa D. Richardson, Manager, Executive Office at Center Theatre Group will be mentored by Al Heartley, Managing Director at Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts at Northwestern University;

Marcela Rodriguez Gonzalez, Associate Director of Community Partnerships & Programming at Cleveland Play House will be mentored by Angel Ysaguirre, Executive Director at Court Theatre;

Azaria Samuels, Audience Development & Corporate Partnership Coordinator at Long Whart Theatre will be mentored by Peter J. Kuo, Director of the Conservatory at American Conservatory Theater.

Andrew Aaron Valdez, CARE Teaching Artist/EDI Associate at Cleveland Play House will be mentored by LaTeshia D. Ellerson, Development Director at True Colors Theatre Company;

Alexis Woodard, Spelman Leadership Fellow of Alliance Theatre will be mentored by Stephanie Ybarra, Artistic Director at Baltimore Center Stage;

Sierra “Sisi” Wright, Business Manager at The Wilma Theater will be mentored by Marissa Ford, Associate Managing Director at Goodman Theatre.



Leslie Crandell Dawes is in her second year as the Audience Development and Marketing Manager at Artists Repertory Theatre. She is also a sound designer, sound engineer, and live board operator. Most recently, she was the sound engineer for See Me, an ART film. A California native and avid outdoors person, she has hopped back and forth between the coasts, but now calls Portland, Oregon home. Leslie is on the Public Arts Commission in Forest Grove and has served on the board at Theatre in the Grove, the advisory committee for Adelante Mujeres’ Farmers Market, and a S.T.E.A.M. instructor with local programs. When she’s not working or designing sound, you can find her making jewelry, gardening, knitting, hiking, rock climbing, wine tasting, or chasing after her four kids.

Ariana Johnson (she/her) is a Bay Area-based producer, arts administrator, and reformed director passionate about championing diverse stories and artists, and is currently the Associate Producer at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. She has worked in various roles at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Crowded Fire Theater, and Playwrights Foundation, and is proud to have served as the artistic director of the Stanford Asian American Theater Project for two seasons. She is a graduate of Stanford University with a B.S. in Symbolic Systems.

Jeff Kirkman III is Theatre Practitioner that has worked in arts for approximately 10 years. Theatre Services Manager at Shakespeare Theatre Company since September 2018, prior to this he served as Assistant Theater Manager at The George Washington University for Lisner Auditorium. Other creative projects include: Director—The Spirit of a Movement, Global Citizen Festival; Lead Writer/Director—Breaking the Silence: Beyond the Dream, Global Citizen Festival; Director—The Every 28 Hours Plays, TCG Conference (Session: Black Lives Matter, Civil Engagement and the Responsibility of Theatre), Director—The Every 28 Hours Plays, Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. Director— Glass Rainbows, Baltimore Theatre Project (WOMEN’S VOICES THEATER FESTIVAL); Actor— Marley, Baltimore Center Stage (World Premiere); Colossal, Olney Theatre Center (Helen Hayes nom., Outstanding Ensemble in a Play). 

 Tajh Oates (he/him) graduated from Georgia Southern University in 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and a Minor in Multimedia Film Production. He is currently in his third season as Assistant Production Manager for Arizona Theatre Company. Tajh has traveled the country working for several theatre companies, including Interlochen Center for the Arts, Utah Shakespeare Festival, Westport Country Playhouse, and The Public Theatre, where he got his start in production management on the Off-Broadway premiere of Fire in Dreamland. He serves as a co-chair for the Diversity and Inclusion Committee for the Production Managers Forum, which is dedicated to dismantling white supremacist structures in theatre industry. When he’s not working on spreadsheets or loading in shows, he’s usually found sharing an unnecessary amount of memes to bring a little more joy into the world.

 Lisa D. Richardson is currently the Manager, Executive Office at Center Theatre Group and is a 2019 graduate from the Yale School of Drama where she received an MFA in Theater Management. She is a native of Brooklyn, NY who earned a B.S. in Animal Science with a minor in Astronomy from the University of Maryland. After graduating from Maryland, she worked in public relations and global events. Lisa has worked in both the commercial and non-profit sectors of theatre formerly as the Advertising Coordinator at The Pekoe Group and most recently as both the Development Services Assistant and Organizational Development Assistant at The Public Theater prior to her matriculation at the School of Drama. She ended her tenure at Yale as the Associate Director of Development and Alumni Affairs.

Marcela Rodriguez Gonzalez became the Associate Director of Community Partnerships and Programming at Cleveland Play House (CPH) in November of 2019. Marcela joined CPH in 2017 as the 21st Century Community Learning Center Coordinator. Marcela earned her Master’s Degree in Theatre at the University of Central Missouri. She was the recipient of the President’s Diversity Scholarship. With a BA in Communication and Media, she worked at Univision as a video and digital content editor. Marcela discovered her passion for helping and developing communities through arts and education at a young age. Marcela has a technical degree in music and has taught electric bass and harmony in Mexico City while playing at the Tecnologico de Monterrey’s orchestra. Marcela has focused her research on Applied Theatre and Theatre for Change.

Azaria Samuels is a strong young woman that exudes a vigorous amount of strength, courage, and phenomenal elegance. Azaria is a self-driven, goal-oriented leader that enjoys encouraging and supporting the social and emotional well-being of women in all walks of life. As the Audience Development and Corporate Sponsor Coordinator at the Long Wharf Theatre, Azaria has produced the Strength Within Me, a panel discussion which amplifies the voices of women in her community. Azaria is a proud graduate of The Florida A&M University, where she initially began her philanthropy work following her urban upbringing in warm Miami, Florida.

Andrew Aaron Valdez (he/him) is a Chicanx educator, administrator, poet and theatre artist from Donna, Texas. Andrew is a C.A.R.E. Teaching Artist at Cleveland Playhouse, educator for the Indigenous Cultures Institute, Steering Committee Member of the Latinx Theatre Commons, a 2019-2020 Americans for the Arts Arts & Culture Leaders of Color Fellow, a 2019-2020 Cleveland Public Theatre Premiere Fellow, a 2019-2020 Artist in Residence at the Julia De Burgos Cultural Arts Center and a 2021 Baldwin House Urban Writing resident at Twelve Literary Arts. Andrew is a Terry Foundation Alumni and received his bachelor's degree in Fine Arts - Theatre Studies from the University of Texas at Austin.

Alexis Woodard is an Atlanta-based Director, proud Spelman College Alumna and current Spelman Leadership Fellow at the Alliance Theatre. Her directing credits include: Romeo + Juliet, Eurydice (Spelman College), Finished What We Started (Morehouse College), as well as assistant directing for Hands of Color (Synchronicity Theatre), Hamlet (The Tiny Theater Company), A Kids Play About Racism (Bay Area Children’s Theatre), the developmental workshop of Seize the King (Alliance Theatre) and Associate Director for A Christmas Carol: The Live Radio Play (Alliance Theatre). She has also worked backstage on several productions.  Film Credits include: Hands Up Teasers (Co-Director) and When Morning Comes (Writer). She also wrote and shot her first short film, When Morning Comes, which discusses sexual assault on college campuses.

Sisi Wright is an artist, arts administrator, educator and advocate for artists. This last February, she stepped into the role as The Wilma Theater's Business Manager, after previously serving as the Associate Business Manager, and concurrently serves as the Director of Membership + Engagement at Directors Gathering. Fueled by a love of supporting fellow artists and a desire to contribute to developing  relationships between and opportunities for theatre makers, she approaches her work with an open heart and eager attitude!



LaTeshia D. Ellerson joined Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company in 2007 as Development Associate and was promoted to Director of Development in 2013. In her position, she develops, oversees and implements the strategic fundraising plan for individual donors, corporations and foundations. LaTeshia was a participant in the   2014-15 SPARK Leadership Program administered by Theatre Communications Group. In 2015 she was chosen as one of twenty theatre practitioners to watch in American Theatre Magazine’s People to Watch. LaTeshia began her career as a development professional at United Way of Metropolitan Chicago. She also serves as teaching artist for the National August Wilson Monologue Competition. LaTeshia holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Theatre School at DePaul University in Chicago and Masters of Science in Urban Policy Studies/Nonprofit Leadership from Georgia State University in Atlanta.

 Marissa Lynn Ford is the Associate Managing Director at Goodman Theatre. She was the first participant in Goodman’s executive apprenticeship program where she led projects including the Chicago August Wilson Festival and the Goodman’s first Black Theatre Summit. She spearheaded the Black Words Matter Celebration, managed the opening festival of the Alice Center for Education and Engagement, and curated Goodman’s first sensory friendly and touch tour performances. She is currently managing the implementation of Goodman’s strategic planning around Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Access. Marissa serves on the LORT EDI and Mentorship Committee and is a board member for Haven Theater Company. Previously she served at Collaboraction Theatre, Broadway in Chicago and American Theatre Company. Marissa is a Chicago native and graduate of Drake University with a BFA in Acting and BSBA in International Business.

 Al Heartley (he/him) is the managing director of the Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts at Northwestern University where he supervises all aspects of the season and $2 million operating budget. Al is a graduate of Yale School of Drama and has worked for various regional theaters across the country including the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, Yale Repertory Theatre, Guthrie Theater, Cleveland Play House, and Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Al has written for American Theatre Magazine, Howlround, and Nonprofit Quarterly. He has taught and spoken at Northwestern, Syracuse University, Michigan, Yale, National Theater Institute, Commercial Theatre Institute, and Theater Communications Group. In 2019, he founded ALJP Consulting, a BIPOC firm dedicated to executive search and recruitment. He currently serves on the boards of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network and the Yale Summer Cabaret.

Sajal Javid, SHRM SCP, (she/her) is currently the Director of Human Resources, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the Alley Theatre. She is also a social worker, activist and executive leadership coach with twenty plus years of HR, Operations and Social Work experience in multi-state retail, non-profit, arts and hospitality industries. Sajal is a first generation immigrant from Pakistan. Sajal’s focus is employee engagement, wellness and creating an inclusive culture. She is a Certified Diversity Professional and serves on the LORT EDI Committee and co-facilitates the LORT BIPOC leadership affinity committee. Sajal holds a Master of Science in Social Work, World of Work at Columbia University; a Master of Education from the University of Central Oklahoma, a BA in Criminal Justice from Oklahoma City University and a BA in Social Work from Kinnaird College University in Lahore, Pakistan.

Peter J. Kuo is a director, producer, writer, and educator focused on raising the visibility of marginalized communities. Currently, he is the Director of the Conservatory at American Conservatory Theater. Kuo is an alumnus of Williamstown Theatre Festival’s Directing Corps, Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s FAIR program, The Drama League, and Directors Lab West. He is one of Theatre Communication Group’s 2018 Rising Leaders of Color. He is co-founder of Artists at Play, a Los Angeles based Asian American theatre collective. He has held administrative positions at South Coast Repertory, East West Players, LA Stage Alliance, Cornerstone Theatre Company, and Soho Repertory Theater. He has taught and directed at The New School, HB Studio, The Atlantic Acting School, and Redhouse Arts Center. Directing highlights: Lauren Yee’s in a word and Ching Chong Chinaman; Christopher Chen’s Mutt, Adam Gwon’s Ordinary Days.

Renée Littleton has enjoyed a varied career in arts management connecting audiences with meaningful and quality performances through comprehensive communications strategies. In her current position as the Senior Director of Marketing and Communications at Arena Stage, she focuses on dynamic and effective marketing strategies, audience development, sustainability and establishing long-lasting relationships. Renée has worked at Washington National Opera, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and LORD Cultural Resources. At the Atlas Performing Arts Center known for its annual INTERSECTIONS festival, Renée served as its publicist and marketing specialist for seven seasons. Renée has served on panels for the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and as a mentor with Cultural DC’s Mead Theater Lab program for emerging artists. She received her M.A. in Arts Management from American University and her undergraduate degree from Carnegie Mellon University.

Michael Locher is a designer for the performing arts specializing in scenery for theatre, opera and dance. His work has been mounted in New York City and at regional theaters around the United States, including the Guthrie Theater, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, California Shakespeare Theatre, and the Alley Theatre, where he currently serves as the Director of Design. Michael loves new works and reexamined classics. He loves design which immerses while paying tribute to the theatre itself: ritualized storytelling in a communal space. He served as a professor of theatre for six years, and also on occasion as a graphic designer and illustrator. Michael states he is always learning. A California native, he lives with his family in Houston, Texas. Education: University of California, San Diego; Yale School of Drama.

Daviorr Snipes is a Theatre graduate from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. He is also a 20 year member of Actors’ Equity Association. He currently serves as the Director of Diversity, Equity & Engagement for the Alliance Theatre. As a professional actor he as appeared Off-Broadway with the Ensemble Studio Theatre and has toured nationally with Theaterworks USA. He is a Peabody Award winner for his work on the NPR Podcast, Buried Truths, and has also appeared in the BET tv series, American Soul. In addition to his work at the Alliance, he regularly performs around Atlanta with companies such as Vanguard Repertory Theatre and Working Title Playwrights.

Stephanie Ybarra is Artistic Director of Baltimore Center Stage. Previously Stephanie served The Public Theater as the Director of Special Artistic Projects. Her career started in her home state of Texas, working with Dallas Theater Center and Dallas Children’s Theater. She spent time at Yale Repertory Theater, Two River Theater Company, and Citizen Schools, a national after school program based in Boston. Stephanie serves as a faculty member at The Juilliard School. She co-founded the Artists’ Anti-Racism Coalition, a grassroots organizing effort to dismantle systems of oppression in the Off-Broadway community. She received the prestigious Nation Builder Award from the National Black Caucus of State Legislators in 2018. In 2019, she was named to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts YBCA 100 list in recognition of her leadership in using her platform to enact social change. She holds an MFA from Yale School of Drama.

 Angel Ysaguirre is the Executive Director of the Court Theatre. Previously, he served as the Executive Director of Illinois Humanities from 2014 to 2018. From 1999 to 2005, served as Illinois Humanities’ Director of Programs, creating programs and series that include The Odyssey Project, Einstein's Revolutions, and Brown v Board 50 Years Later: Conversations on Race, Integration, and the Law. He was Deputy Commissioner at the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events from 2012 to 2014, where he managed the City’s public art program, creative industries offices, and arts programming. From 2005 to 2012, he was Director of Global Community Investing at The Boeing Company, overseeing the company's grantmaking program in 60 offices throughout the globe. He began his career in Chicago as a program officer at the McCormick Foundation.


LORT EDI Mentorship Committee:

Amy Dalba, Interim General Manager, American Conservatory Theater 

Corinne Deckard, General Manager, Asolo Repertory Theatre

Marissa Ford, Associate Managing Director, Goodman Theatre

Angela Gieras, Executive Director, Kansas City Repertory Theatre

Khady Kamara, Executive Director, Second Stage

Jeff Rodgers, Member at Large & Chief Financial Officer, Showing Up for Racial Justice