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DIRECTOR Nicole Kenley-Miller is known for her colorful and embodied productions of opera and music theatre, both on stage and film. She is very much at home both on and off the stage as a director, producer, singer, and creative artist. Throughout her career, she has worked fluidly between the opera and music theatre genres. She has been at the forefront of an initiative to bring musical theatre to the Schools of Music, Theatre and Dance at University of Houston, where she directed the first two collaborative musicals. Nicole has been directing opera at UH’s Moores Opera Center for almost a decade, where her innovative productions have won top prizes from The National Opera Association, The American Prize, and multiple national and international film competitions. Her work has also been seen at Opera in the Heights, the former Sugar Land Opera, and at several regional colleges and universities. Nicole's latest creative venture is the founding of Intersection Arts in Houston, an organization which explores the convergence of different art forms to speak to social and cultural issues of our day. Its first production, The Women Have Something to Say, was featured on the Kennedy Center’s pandemic livestream series Arts Across America. The performance you will see today is a new version reimagined especially for The Why Collective’s residency at the cell. Nicole has served as Production Manager and Stage Director at The University of Houston for the past four years, but she will be relocating to The University of Oklahoma in the Fall where she has accepted a faculty position as Stage Director for their opera program.

LEAD CHOREOGRAPHER Laura Dearman is a New York City based dancer and choreographer. A native of North Carolina, she graduated from UNC Charlotte with her degree in Dance: performance, choreography, and theory. While in Charlotte, Laura danced with Charlotte Ballet, earning a Professional Training Certificate. Laura takes pride in being a versatile dancer and has performed principal roles in a variety of works including Bourneville’s Flower Festival in Genzano, George Faison’s Suite Otis, and Paul Taylor’s Esplanade. While attending The School at Jacob's Pillow, Laura had the opportunity to work with choreographers Ronald K. Brown, Didy Veldman, and Cayetano Soto, all under the direction of Milton Myers. Since moving to New York, Laura’s professional performance experience includes works by Brooklyn choreographer Matthew Brookoff, Neville Dance Theatre (principal dancer), Visions Contemporary Ballet, and Ballet Inc., among others. Laura made her professional choreographic debut with the operatic production of B Ario in the pring of 2022 at The Italian Academy in New York City. Separately, she’s presented her own solo choreography through the Omni Arts Foundation, The Why Collective, and others. She is thrilled to be joining the cast of The Women Have Something to Say as dancer and choreographer this Spring!

COMPOSER Madeline Styskal (b. 1995) is always exploring fresh ways to combine her interests in music and Russia, whether through composing, performing, curating, or researching. Currently she is pursuing a doctorate in musicology at the University of Texas at Austin (UT), from which she obtained an M.M. in composition (2022) studying under Yevgeniy Sharlat. She is the curator of SoundProof, a new music exchange project connecting Texan and Russian composers and performers of UT and the Moscow Conservatory, which began as a virtual exchange in 2020. She holds an M.M. in composition from the Butler School of Music where she studied under Yevgeniy Sharlat, an artist's certificate in composition studies with Vladimir Tarnopolsky from the Moscow State Conservatory (2019-20), and a bachelor's in composition from the Moores School of Music, where she studied with Robert Smith and David Ashley White. Some of her collaborations include a commission by the Kingwood Park High School Chamber Orchestra in 2016; the Veteran's Songbook Project with HGO Community, Grace After Fire, and local female veterans in 2017; writing for the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception choir in Moscow (2016-20); and the 2020/23 theatrical-musical production "The Women Have Something to Say." Her latest soundscapes album, "Kommunalka: a thin-walled memory palace in sound" (2022) focuses on creating spatial narratives through evocation and construction of personal and collective sonic memories.

GRAPHIC ARTIST Janine Dworin has been doodling all over any surface she can find for the past 24 years. A mezzo-soprano by day, she has been studying for her Masters in Music at the University of North Texas and performing whenever she can in the Houston and Metroplex areas. Her art can be seen on her Instagram (@ja9doodles), promotional materials for music events in the Houston area, friends’ walls, and recently, in a book (Dear Dissertation Writer: Stories, Strategies, & Self-Care Tips to Get it Done, Susan D. Corbin PhD.) set to be published in September 2021.

DRAMATURG/WRITING CONSULTANT Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton is an internationally-known writer, educator, activist, performer, and the first Black Poet Laureate of Houston, Texas. Formerly ranked the #2 Best Female Performance Poet in the World, Her recent poetry collection, Newsworthy, garnered her a Pushcart nomination, was named a finalist for the 2019 Writer’s League of Texas Book Award, and received honorable mention for the Summerlee Book Prize. Its German translation, under the title "Berichtenswert," is set to be released in Summer 2021 by Elif Verlag. The opera, Marian’s Song, for which she wrote the libretto, debuted in 2020 to roaring reviews. Honored by Houston Business Journal as a part of their 2021 40 Under 40 class, D.E.E.P. has been a finalist for Texas State Poet Laureate, a Kennedy Center Citizen fellowship, and the prestigious Breadloaf Retreat, her work has been highlighted and studied in Canada, England, New Zealand, and Germany. She recently performed as a part of the Kennedy Center's Arts Across America, virtual performance and was named a Houston Artist Commissioning Project award winner by the Society for the Performing Arts Houston. Her second book, Black Chameleon is set to release in 2023 by Henry Holt & Co. A storybook opera, entitled "Lula, the Mighty Griot", which reinterprets one of the stories from Black Chameleon is set to debut in Fall 2021 with the Houston Grand Opera. She lives and creates in Houston, TX. For more information visit


LIBRETTIST/SOPRANO/CO-PRODUCER Sydney Anderson is a versatile soprano, actor, director, educator, and the founder of The Why Collective. A contemporary classical music enthusiast, Sydney has participated in numerous World Premieres as well as workshops at various stages of the creation process. She has most recently been featured with American Lyric Theater, Beth Morrison Projects, HERE Arts, Opera Saratoga, and Opera NEO. Last season, she created the roles of Dalinda in the World Premiere of Being Ariodante by Jonathan Dawe with Ensemble Échappée, One in the World Premiere of "it is a comfort to know" at National Sawdust, and portrayed Ruth Bader Ginsburg in "Scalia/Ginsburg" with Opera in the Heights. This season, she will sing Marzelline in Beethoven's "Fidelio" with Opera Company of Middlebury. Sydney was named an Eastern Region Finalist after winning the Eastern District of the 2020 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and went on to win the Audience Favorite Award at the Region Finals. When she is not singing or fostering creative laboratories for artists, she teaches early childhood music education classes and conducts the Preperatory ensembles for Brooklyn Youth Chorus

LIBRETTIST/SOPRANO Praised for her “bright and passionate tone” (Houston Chronicle), soprano Gwendolyn Alfred made her Houston Grand Opera debut in a newly-commissioned work which landed her in the prestigious Texas Monthly magazine. Her Houston Symphony debut featured her as a soloist in their touring Summer Community Concert Series and she additionally sang the soprano solos in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (Houston Civic Symphony & Fort Bend Symphony) and Carmina Burana (Fort Bend Symphony). Her most notable opera roles include: Emeline (What Wings They Were), Donna Anna (Don Giovanni), Giulietta (Les Contes d’Hoffmann), Magda (The Consul), Contessa Almaviva (Le Nozze di Figaro), Madama Cortese (Il Viaggio a Reims), Mrs. Gobineau (The Medium), Cinna (Lucio Silla), and Maria Corona (The Saint of Bleecker Street) with such companies as HGOco, Opera in the Heights, Miami Music Festival, and The Moores Opera Center. Dr. Alfred is an Associate Professor and Area Coordinator of Voice at Texas Southern University’s Department of Music. She earned her Bachelor of Music degree in Vocal Performance from the University of Houston, Master of Music from Lamar University, and Doctorate of Musical Arts in Voice Performance and Pedagogy from the University of Houston. Alfred has performed recitals on “The Black Female Composer” nationally and has presented her research at the Texoma NATS Regional Conference. Her most recent presentation of this material was featured at the 2020 NATS National Virtual Conference, the Spring 2021 Edition of the NATS Journal of Singing, and The International Florence Price Festival. Her mission is to influence and build well-rounded musicians from diverse backgrounds with her love for a wide array of genres, and her eclectic experience with various musical styles.

LIBRETTIST/MEZZO-SOPRANO Mezzo-soprano Jessica Blau is a multi-faceted performer working to break boundaries and create dynamic changes in the classical music world. While primarily focused on operatic singing for the past decade, she has also been immersed in flamenco dance and music for the past twenty years. In 2022, she created, produced, and performed in Sojourns on the Silk Road: from the Orient to the Occident, a concert exploring Orientalism and colonial perceptions of “the other” through French and Spanish art song, Spanish guitar, flamenco dance, and Orientalist paintings. As one of the original Houston writer/performers in The Women Have Something To Say, Jessica spoke to her lived experience as a “young artist” facing ageism in the opera industry. In the NY production, she will present a new monologue exploring her journey as an artist both pre and post-pandemic. Jessica has completed young artist residencies with Florentine Opera, Chicago Summer Opera, Castleton Festival, Opera in the Ozarks, and Spotlight on Opera. Notable past performances include the title role in La Llorona with Opera Cultura, Rosina in bilingual productions of Il barbiere di Siviglia with both Houston Grand Opera (HGOco) and Portland Opera To Go, Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro and Orestes in La belle Hélène with Pocket Opera, and the title role in Carmen with Spotlight on Opera. She holds a MM in Vocal Performance from Texas State University, San Marcos, and a Performance Certificate in Vocal Performance from the University of Houston, Moores School of Music.

LIBRETTIST/SOPRANO American soprano Cynthia Clayton is well known throughout the United States and overseas for her critically acclaimed performances of leading operatic roles including Puccini heroines Tosca, Manon Lescaut, Mimi, Musetta, Liù, and Madama Butterfly; Mozart heroines Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, Pamina, Countess Almaviva, and Fiordiligi; and numerous others, such as Desdemona in Verdi’s Otello, Leonora in Il Trovatore,  Nedda in Pagliacci,  Violetta in La Traviata, Micaela in Carmen, Marguerite in Faust, Janáček’s Jenůfa, Floyd's Susannah, and Catán’s Florencia (Florencia en el Amazonas). She has bowed in leading roles at New York City Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Dallas Opera, San Diego Opera, Utah Opera, Cleveland Opera, Opéra en Plein Air (Belgium), Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Opera Grand Rapids, and Central City Opera, among many others. Most recently with Houston Grand Opera, Ms. Clayton appeared as the Beggar Woman in Sweeney Todd, Madame Larina in Eugene Onegin and three roles in Houston Grand Opera’s world-premiere production of Marian’s Song by Damien Sneed and Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton. In 2017, Ms. Clayton produced a recording of vocal works entitled Encantamiento - Music of Daniel Catán, available on Albany Records. She holds the rank of full professor at the Moores School of Music, where she is also Voice division head.

WRITER/ACTOR/VISUAL ARTIST Newsha Farahani is a multidisciplinary artist based in Seattle, with a background in theatre and digital performance. In recent years she has acted in a number of online and live projects based in Seattle and New York City, including a live reading of Rooftop at DramaLeague, and performing online in Your Destination Was Not Found, and on stage in The Forgotten History of Mastaneh produced by Seda Iranian Theatre Ensemble. When not acting, Newsha enjoys creating illustrations for short stories and poetry, dancing, and producing regional Moth shows in Seattle.

LIBRETTIST/MEZZO-SOPRANO Isabelle Ganz holds a D.M.A. in Voice from the Eastman School of Music. She was a Fulbright Scholar to Jerusalem and received a Solo Recitalist grant from the N.E.A. As a mezzo-soprano soloist she has performed with the Seattle Symphony, Brooklyn Philharmonic (Lukas Foss, conductor), Slovak Radio Orchestra, Portland, Maine Symphony, Arad Philharmonic (Romania), Houston Ballet, Aspen Music Festival, Grant Teton Music Festival, Voxia Festival (Sao Paulo), Texas Music Festival, and with chamber ensembles world-wide. She has sung on over 25 recordings, including John Cage's "Ryoanji" and Luciano Berio's "Sequenza III". Ms. Ganz has given master classes and conducted improvisation "playshops" in Europe, Mexico, Israel and the U.S. She has also served as a Cantorial Soloist for synagogues in Munich, Amsterdam, Winnipeg and in cities throughout this country. Her Sephardic music ensemble, Alhambra, which she founded in 1981, has produced 4 CDs and performed in Colombia, Quebec, Lithuania, Turkey, at Merkin Hall, the 92nd St. Y and throughout the U.S. The group will be performing at the club Barbes in Brooklyn on May 15th. As a young singer, she and her husband Peter formed a folk music duo called "The Gardners", which was the opening act for Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Simon and Garfunkel, Odetta, Bob Dylan, The Smothers Brothers and others. Recently, Ms. Ganz has composed chamber ensemble works commissioned and premiered by the Apollo Chamber Players and the ROCO ensemble. Her choral compositions have been published by Boosey & Hawkes, Transcontinental and Shalshelet Publications. Ms. Ganz is overjoyed to be back in her home town!

LIBRETTIST/VIOLINIST Dr. Ingrid Gerling, a violinist native of Porto Alegre, Brazil, has performed extensively as a soloist, recitalist, chamber musician, and conductor throughout the United States, South America, Europe, and Asia. Named a “String Diva” by Arts and Culture Magazine, Dr. Gerling is known for her incredibly active and diverse musical pursuits. Recordings of Dr. Gerling can be heard on the IBS CLASSICAL, PARMA, and AMIRANI labels. She completed her D.M.A. at the Moores School of Music under the tutelage of Frank Huang, concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic. Currently she is a Professor of Violin at the University of St. Thomas and Orchestra Director at Marshall Middle School. Dr. Gerling is a very passionate and dedicated chamber musician. She has a violin and piano duo with concert pianist Dr. Andreea Mut that regularly performs recitals, concerts, and engages in outreach and educational activities. She was also a member of the Axiom Quartet for six years. Dr. Gerling was selected to be a DaCamera Young Artist Fellow, a highly competitive engagement which led her to perform numerous chamber music concerts throughout Houston. She is a member of the Dallas Chamber Orchestra, and the Classical Music Institute in San Antonio. Beyond her extensive accomplishments on the violin and as a conductor, Dr. Gerling also regularly performs as a Brazilian jazz vocalist.

WRITER/ACTOR/DANCER Mary-Angela Granberry is a multi-hyphenate artist based in New York City. Her background in dance has enabled her to perform on stage and screen with notable credits including The Tonight Show, Beyoncé, ELSCO Dance Company (Ellenore Scott, artistic dir.), the Macy’s Parade, Broadway Bares, and various music videos. She has also presented work as a choreographer for the AAPI Dance Festival “We Belong Here” and the Harlem Dance Festival. Ms. Granberry is a graduate of the Two-Year Conservatory Program with Terry Knickerbocker of which she was a recipient of the school’s Excellence Scholarship. She is thrilled to be a Core Collective member of the The Why Collective, and so grateful to have been involved with every show this season at the cell theatre. “The Women Have Something to Say” will mark her debut as a writer. Thank you so much this safe space to create and devise work!

LIBRETTIST/PIANIST Dr. Shannon Hesse is an active collaborative pianist based in Houston, TX. She regularly performs with musicians from the Houston Symphony, including her husband, cellist Anthony Kitai. A devoted teacher, Dr. Hesse is a long-standing member of Music Teachers National Association, where she is a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music. She is frequently in demand as an adjudicator and her students have been prizewinners in competitions at the local and state levels. Dr. Hesse has served on the faculties of Houston Baptist University, Texas Southern University and Valdosta State University, and spent many wonderful summers teaching at Westminster Choir College's High School Piano Camp and at the Interlochen Center for the Arts, where she served as Coordinator of Collaborative Piano. She is currently a member of the collaborative piano faculty at the Chautauqua Summer Music Festival and serves as staff pianist at Rice University and the University of Houston.

LIBRETTIST/BASSIST Gracie Ibemere is a double bassist and orchestra director in Katy ISD. She studied performance at Oklahoma State, University of Texas-Austin and received her masters and doctorate at the University of Houston under the tutelage of Dennis Whittaker, and with whom she earned a Doctor of Musical Arts in bass performance degree. During her studies Gracie had the opportunity to teach double bass lessons in the Houston area as well as freelance as a performing musician. While teaching lessons in public schools Gracie observed several amazing orchestra directors, who later inspired her to teach orchestra in the public school system. In addition to teaching junior high orchestra Gracie gives clinics, continues to teach double bass lessons, and substitutes for regional symphony orchestras.

DANCER Uila Marx (they/she) is a nonbinary dancer, choreographer and educator from O’ahu, Hawai’i. Their movement work is informed by a lifelong education in hula with Ka Pā Hula O Ka Lei Lehua and practices of land and body care. Uila attended Mid-Pacific School of the Arts where she studied Graham, Horton, and classical ballet, and later received B.A.s in dance and psychology from Barnard College of Columbia University in Harlem, New York. They have performed works by Okwui Okpokwasili, David Thomson, Mark Morris, David Dorfman, Colleen Thomas, Davalois Fearon, and Neta Pulvermacher, among others. Currently, Uila creates, performs, and engages in research with interdisciplinary movement artists in NYC including Edisa Weeks (DELIRIOUS Dances), Lucia Gagliardone, and formerly Mari Meade, Caroline Fermin, Noa Weiss, and Cauveri Suresh. Uila is also a Community Actionist in Gibney’s Hands Are for Holding program, which uses dance to have conversations with youth attending New York City public schools about healthy relationships, consent, boundaries, and choice making. As an educator Uila is interested in actualizing safe spaces and queer-forward sex/consent education through dance and contact improvisation. As a dance maker, their work centers tenderness, community care, and silliness through improvisation and collaborative physical theater.

LIBRETTIST/PIANIST Pianist Tali Morgulis is a passionate performer and a dedicated pedagogue. Prizewinner of several international competitions, Dr. Morgulis continues to present critically acclaimed solo, chamber music, and orchestral performances worldwide. An expert collaborator, Tali has shared the stage with such renowned musicians as soprano Albina Shagimuratova, cellist Misha Quint, violinist Uri Pianka, mezzo-soprano Sonja Bruzauskas and many others. Tali’s recordings can be found on Delos, Albany, and Navona labels. Tali’s upcoming performances of 2022 include a cello and piano recital at Weill Recital hall and a faculty position at the Interharmony Festival in Italy. Dr. Morgulis’ students come from many different countries and backgrounds. They describe her as a great motivator and an inspiring mentor. She takes pride in supporting not only their performance and teaching but also in becoming important members of their respective communities. Tali began her college teaching career at Fort Hays State University, KS in 2005. She is currently an Associate Professor of Piano at the Moores School of Music, University of Houston, TX. Tali began playing the piano at the age of 4 in her native Ukraine. She continued studying piano after moving to Israel at age 15. Dr. Morgulis holds degrees in piano performance from Tel Aviv Academy of Music (BM and MM), the New England Conservatory in Boston, MA (DMA). She also holds diplomas from the Manhattan School of Music and the Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles. Tali was fortunate to study with such wonderful musicians as Esther Balasha, Mikhail Boguslawski, Wha Kyung Byun, Lev Natochenny, Alexander Gorin (organ) and Patricia Zander (chamber music)

DANCER Manatsu Tanaka (they/them) is a bicultural multi-disciplinary performing artist; 13 years in Japan and 13 years in the US! Their career spans from Dance/Immersive/Musical Theater to Burlesque, Aerial Silks, and have been training in Stage Combat and Japanese Sword Fighting, Tate. Regional: The Nosebleed (U/S, Woolly Mammoth DC) Recent: Dis-Orientalism Part 3 at Joe’s Pub, BIPOC Immersive Murder Mystery The Art of Killin’ It (Swing), Hard/Femme Dances Works, Einstein on the Beach (Japan Revival 2022), Elisa and the 11 Swan Princes (Nissay Theater & Japan Regional Tour) @manatsu.tanaka

LIBRETTIST/SOPRANO Michigan native Dr. Lisa Borik Vickers, soprano, has been hailed for her “rich, soaring voice” and “honeyed tone.” She received her Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Vocal Performance/Vocal Pedagogy and her Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance from the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston, and her Bachelor of Music degree in Vocal Performance from Butler University. Her recent singing engagements include the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, Rosalinda in Die Fledermaus, Michaëla in La tragédie de Carmen, Magda in La rondine, the title roles in Manon and Frau Margot, Suzanne in Suzanne’s Secret, Echo in Ariadne auf Naxos, Lady Valerie in Cabildo, Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915”, and Galatea in Acis and Galatea. A frequent soloist, she recently appeared as the soprano soloist in Carmina Burana with the Victoria Symphony and the Lake Charles Symphony, and sang the soprano solo in Mahler’s Second Symphony in Michigan. She made her Carnegie Hall debut as the soprano soloist in Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass. Dr. Vickers has sung with Houston Grand Opera, Opera in the Heights, Lone Star Lyric Theater Festival, Divergence Vocal Theater, Opera Vista, Kingwood Summer Opera, the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Houston, the Houston International Festival, the Houston Bach Society, Divergence Vocal Theatre, Houston Symphony Chorus and the Houston Chamber Choir. She is a current member of the prestigious Houston Grand Opera Chorus, and most recently appeared in the company’s production of Florencia en el Amazonas, The Phoenix (world premiere), Aida, Turandot, and La traviata. She also manages HGO’s Bauer Family High School Voice Studio. Dr. Vickers is a 500-hr RYT yoga instructor and maintains a small voice studio in Houston. Her greatest role to date is wife to Austin and mama to Charlotte Jane (3) and Cora Ann (1)

Collage Art by Emilie Kent / Graphic Art by Janine Dworin
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“What Do YOU Have to Say?” was offered in tandem with The Why Collective’s production, “The Women Have Something to Say,” and will now be offered monthly in 2024. The workshop follows the same process the cast went through to develop their own stories for the stage. The session will consist of a facilitated discussion about our voices - internal and external - identifying pivotal moments on our journeys when we have asserted our voices to overcome silencing or ways in which our voices are still finding their way to expression. Following the guided group discussion, participants will choose a medium - creative writing & poetry, visual art, movement, and/or music - in which they will develop a creative expression of a chosen moment. At the end of the session, space will be made available for artists to share their creation if they so choose. This workshop is designed for participants to discover seeds of stories that might be developed into larger expressions, and not intended to generate finished products. There will be light refreshments provided and an opportunity for mingling before the workshop begins. All genders welcome. We suggest attendees be 18+.

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