Meet The Teachers

Our Teachers:
Betina Hershey

Artistic Director/Producer/Director/Choreographer/Teacher  
Betina Hershey’s long and varied resume includes performing her songs on WFUV radio and at the legendary Bottom Line, touring as Meg in the National tour of Phantom of the Opera, playing Anybody’s in the world tour (Italy-Lebanon-Japan) of West Side Story, teaching and performing swing dancing in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan, appearing at City Center as Fleta in Iolanthe & Isabel in The Pirates of Penzance, writing musicals including Lemontales, Finding Home, The Big Leap, Finding The Wonder, Musicville, Space Pirates, We Are Monsters, The Grunch and teaching songwriting, poetry, acting, ballroom, voice, and guitar to all ages.  She is delighted to have worked with composer and musical directors Eddie Guttman, Denver Casado, and now Sunny Knable, writing original musicals for kids, and seeing many published by Beat by Beat Press. She also loves being a part of her American style band Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches, and the 1920’s jazz and New Orleans style band Hot Jazz Jumpers, both led by guitarist/banjoist and husband Nick Russo.
*Read an Interview of Director Betina Hershey in the Queens Gazette, July 2013.

Sunny Knable

Musical Director / Composer / Teacher  
Sunny Knable was raised in a family of artists.  As an adult, he became an award winning composer, classical pianist, jazz player, songwriter, percussionist and educator.  As a composer, he has won three “Best Composition” awards at the Festival of New American Music, and in 2009, he was the recipient of the Iron Composers Award (for which he wrote a 4 minute piece in 5 hours).  His works have been heard throughout the United States and several countries abroad.  After receiving his Bachelors of Music Degree in Composition, Piano Performance and Jazz Studies at California State University Sacramento, he moved to New York City, where he makes his living as a pianist.

In 2010, his 30 minute work Music of the Rails was commissioned and premiered by the Sacramento-based sextet Citywater in celebration of the Crocker Art Museum’s reopening.  In 2011, Half Moon Theatreof Poughkeepsie, NY, commissioned his children’s opera, The Magic Fish, with his brother Jim Knable as librettist.  In 2012, he received his Masters of Arts Degree in Composition at the Aaron Copland School of Music where he served as President of the Queens College New Music Group for 2 years.  His debut composition CD “American Variations” was released in 2012 on Centaur Records.  He serves as Music Director of The Church-in-the-Gardens in Forest Hills, NY, while fulfilling commissions from around the country.  He continues his doctoral education at Stony Brook University.

Special Guest Teachers:

STEPHANIE FITTRO (Actress, Director) starred in the Broadway musical Legally Blonde as Kate/Chutney. Past credits include national tours of Hairspray and Carousel; favorite NY credits include Met Opera (The Merry Widow featured as Joujou, starring Placido Domingo!), Encores!, and Irish Repertory Theatre, as well as the role of Mandy in Eric Bernat and Robin Carrigan’s new comedy Jesus and Mandy at Theatre For The New City. Stephanie has appeared in numerous productions of West Side Story (directed by Alan Johnson) and Finian’s Rainbow at theatres all over the US. Teaching and choreography credits include Diamond Head Theatre (Honolulu, HI), Ft. Salem Theatre (Salem, NY), The Gem Theatre (Detroit, MI), Prospect Theatre (NY, NY), Michigan State Unviersity (East Lansing, MI), Academy of Dance (Clark, NJ), as well as many workshops and outreach programs. As an actor she has studied with Shakespeare and Co. (Lenox, MA), specializing in acting and Shakespeare; as a dancer, she trained at the Boston Ballet and Alvin Ailey Schools. She is proud to be an interpreter of classical musical theatre choreography, especially material melding ballet, character, modern and jazz. She is also proud to have studied with the late great Mr. James Jamieson, Agnes DeMille’s beloved sword dancer in the original Brigadoon, who inspired her to no end, and to whom she dedicates her teaching.

Julianne Abouzaid

GP Tuesday OCT2016-47 Julianne CircleAssistant Choreographer/Assistant Director
Julianne Abouzaid has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre from Point Park University (Conservatory of Performing Arts) in Pittsburgh, PA. In addition to performing at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, she sang with the Pittsburgh Opera and toured as a featured performer with Latshaw Productions.  After graduation, she worked as a singer/dancer for Opryland Productions at their theme parks in Nashville and San Antonio and their Christmas productions in Colorado Springs.  After moving to New York, she continued to work in regional theater as well as sing with the NY Grand Opera and the NY Gilbert & Sullivan Players.  Currently, she is an assistant dance teacher in the Children and Teen Program at Broadway Dance Center.  She also teaches musical theatre and dance summer camps in her hometown of Staunton, Virginia.

Denver Casado

Composer / Advisor
Originally from Clovis, CA, Denver Casado moved to New York City to study music at NYU.  After graduating with a degree in Music Technology and Composition, he was accepted into the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop where he met Betina Hershey and began writing musicals.  Since then he’s written two one-act musicals (Finding the Wonder, The One That Got Away) and four children’s musicals for the Garden Players (The Big Leap, Musicville, Space Pirates, Behind the Scenes).  His musical Life on the Mississippi, based on the Mark Twain novel, recently had a staged reading at the York Theatre in Manhattan. Denver also writes music for TV, Film and the Web out of his home studio in the East Village.  He loves working with the
Garden Players who make him smile during every rehearsal. He’d like to thank Betina Hershey, the entire class and their parents, and the Church-In-The-Gardens community for their generosity and support. (

Brad Gardner (Musical Director) recently moved to New York City from North Carolina, where he received a degree in music education from Campbell University. While in North Carolina, he was the associate music director of the North Carolina Theatre Conservatory for young actors. Brad has worked regionally as a music director and accompanist with Arena Stage in Washington D.C., North Carolina Theatre, and Burning Coal Theatre Company. Since moving to New York City, Brad has worked as a freelance vocal coach and accompanist. In the spring, he was the music director and co-composer of the premiere ofDenial: Time to Face the Musical. Currently, Brad is the music assistant on The Addams Family as well as an accompanist at NYU Steinhardt. He is excited to now be a part of the Garden Players!