Meet The Teachers

Betina Hershey
Artistic Director/Producer/Music Director/Director/Choreographer/Educator
Betina Hershey’s recent projects, “Get Us Out Of Fearland” with Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches and “The Very Next Thing” with Hot Jazz Jumpers and have received rave reviews in London Times, DownBeat, Elmore Magazine, and more. You can find Betina playing with both bands in and out of town. Betina Hershey’s resume includes touring as Meg in the National tour of Phantom of the Opera, playing Anybody’s in the West Side Story world tour (Italy-Lebanon-Japan), appearing at City Center as Fleta in Iolanthe and Isabel in The Pirates of Penzance, and dancing in the feature films Disney’s Enchanted and Mona Lisa Smile. She loves writing, performing, and teaching and is thrilled that her musicals are getting published by Beat by Beat Press and being performed all over the world. She is delighted to be a Music Artist in Residence at P.S. 144, focusing on solfege, sight reading, ear training, and more through songs and music games with K-5! In 2002, she came in as a guest artist to play Peter Pan with the Garden Players and in 2003 she turned down a tour to become the Artistic Director of the Garden Players program. With a Dance Degree from LaGuardia H.S. of Performing Arts and a BFA in Acting from Marymount Manhattan College, she’s thrilled to have had a varied and inspirational performance and teaching career. She’s loved every moment and is so thankful for all of the loving support and help from her collaborators, her husband Nick, the Garden Players parents and actors, and the community here in the Gardens!!!!  *  *
*Read an Interview of Director Betina Hershey in the Queens Gazette, July 2013. * Private Lessons & School Enrichment

Nick Russo (Band Class Director, private instructor, guitarist/banjoist/composer) has had the honor to play with Sir Paul McCartney while performing at Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s home. Nick has performed on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, The U.N., and internationally. Nick plays banjo and guitar for PBS Kids “Peg + Cat,”   appears in the Sam Mendes film “Away We Go” and PBS Masterpiece “The Chaperone.” Nick is also the author of Metallica Legendary Licks (series 1 & 2) and editor of various guitar instructional books for Cherry Lane Music (Hal Leonard Corp.). Nick leads 3 bands: Nick Russo+11, Hot Jazz Jumpers and Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches. Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches  charted as top #2 artist, #2 album on April 2018 International Folk Radio. * More Info on Nick’s Lessons & Teaching
*Read an Interview of Nick Russo  in the Queens Gazette, 2021. *

Sunny Knable
(Composer / Guest Teacher / Music Advisor)
California-native Sunny Knable is a multifaceted composer who currently resides in New York City.  He has won numerous awards including three “Best Composition” Awards from the Festival of New American Music, and the Iron Composers Award, for which he wrote a four-minute piece in five hours.  He holds degrees from CSU Sacramento—where he received his Bachelor of Music in Composition, Piano Performance and Jazz Studies—Queens College(CUNY), where he completed a Masters of Arts in Composition—and from Stony Brook University, where he holds his PhD in Music Composition. In 2017, his chamber opera Beethoven in Love was performed at the National Opera Center.  In 2016, Knable’s Symphony No. 2 “The Great Expanse” was commissioned and premiered by the California Youth Symphony, Leo Eylar conducting.  Since its premiere in 2012, The Brothers Knable’s opera for young audience, The Magic Fish, has been performed multiple times around the country.  Other professional credits include his debut album “American Variations” on Centaur Records and his multiple bassoon works published by TrevCo-Varner Music.  Dr. Knable serves as Music Director of The Church-in-the-Gardens; Music Director of The Garden Players, and as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Queens College and LaGuardia Community College, while fulfilling commissions from around the country

Aviv Fetaya (Teacher/Accompanist/Pianist) has been acting, directing, and performing music since he was young. From his first ever role as Captain Hook in his elementary-school production of Peter Pan, to his current work as a performer across New York City, he credits the opportunities to share his energy and creativity with a diverse set of artists and audiences as his motivation to participate in the performing arts. A Garden Players alumnus himself, Aviv returned to the Garden Players in his freshman year of high school as a Director’s Assistant. That same year, he joined the Nassau Chamber Chorale, a child ensemble of the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York, and as a vocalist he has accompanied the group to Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, and on international concert tours for four years. He has also performed as principal percussionist of the New York City Honors Symphonic Band, a clarinetist and timpanist of the Townsend Harris Wind Ensemble, and conductor of the Townsend Harris Symphony Orchestra. Aviv is attending Yale University where he studies music and theater arts, and he has studied film scoring, audio engineering, and digital production at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College and at Berklee College of Music.

Caitlin Burke (Assistant Director)  is a third year student at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School where she is studying classical and contemporary drama. She started her training as a Garden Player at the age of nine and has since continued to expand her knowledge and craft as an actor. She has workshopped and performed scenes from many well known and up and coming playwrights. She has acted and participated in many student films, stage readings, and improv competitions. She plans to continue her training and craft by pursuing a directing or acting BFA in college.

Nicholas Bompart (Assistant Director) is an actor, director, writer, and musician from Forest Hills, New York. He began acting at the age of five in the Garden Players. He wrote and acted in his own short films which were screened at multiple national and international film festivals and won extensive laurels including awards for Best Horror Film, Best Direction, Best Screenplay and Best Actor. Nicholas has authored and directed theatrical plays and starred in many Off-Broadway productions, his plays received accolades and were selected for the Rogue Theater Festival, CHAIN Theater Festival, Strawberry Theater Festival and others. He also sings opera and has performed at Carnegie Hall. He is happy to return to the Garden Players and be involved in this amazing show under the direction of his mentor, Betina Hershey.


Stefania Papadopoulos (Assistant Director), an actor-centric director herself, is pleased to assist Betina Hershey and work with the Garden Players and Rising stars for the first time. Oriented towards empowering foundational creative choices that express the originality and uniqueness of each player as a key component to storytelling, she directs plays of classical theater as well as original script plays.


Simone Zubkis (Student Teacher) has been a part of Garden Players for five years. She currently attends Russell Sage middle school, and is known for playing Pepper in a production of “Annie”. She created a role for a fellow student in the Garden Players production “Magic it Up”, and has continued writing scripts independently since then. Simone plays the piano and has been participating in musical theatre since she was six years old.


Eva Karagulian (Student Teacher) has performed as the Mayor in Magic It Up, a kid in Switch It Off!, a sidekick and now Jody in Your Turn, and so much more. She loves assisting the Rising Stars, where she began her acting training.

Marisa Quigley (Student Teacher) has performed as Truly Scrumptious in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and ensemble for Mulan at Queens College. This is her first performance with Garden Players, but she has known Betina for years from PS144 music and theater writing residencies.

Caroline (Student Teacher) has performed as Little Kid Spy in Switch It Off! and will be starring as Alice in the upcoming film Crescendo later this year. She is very proud to have assisted the Acting Improv class, and watched them improve throughout the year.


Special Guests:

Denver Casado
(Composer / Guest Teacher / Publisher of Garden Players Musicals at Beat By Beat Press)
Denver discovered early on the joy of writing songs and telling stories. This led him from a small town in California to New York City, where he studied the craft of writing musicals with some of the best in the industry. Since then his 100010 musicals (6 written for the Garden Players kids to premier) have been performed in over 35 countries. Denver’s innovative approach to exploring musical theatre with kids has earned him invitations to speak at the national conferences of the American Association of Community Theatre and the American Alliance for Theatre Education.He loves working with the Garden Players who make him smile during every rehearsal. He’d like to thank Betina Hershey, the Garden Players and their parents, and The-Church-In-The-Gardens community for their generosity and support.


Kate DeFeo (Musical Improvisor and Educator) is thrilled to be working with Betina and the Garden Players performers and team. Kate is a graduate of University of Delaware’s Theater program and holds her MAT in Theater and English Education from SUNY Stony Brook. She has studied and performed long form and musical improvisational theater all over NYC and ran a very successful fiction writing and improv performance program at Hunter College for a decade before becoming a mama to her two children. She has been performing Musical Improvisational Theater for 8 years in New York City and can currently be seen on three house teams: Sequel at the Magnet Theater, Freeze Frame at the People’s Improv Theater and The Magical World of Musical Improv at the People’s Improv Theater. She didn’t think that there could be anything more satisfying than performing and creating her own musicals, until she has watched the Garden Players learn and develop their own songs and ideas! FoHiImprov for Adults

STEPHANIE FITTRO (Actress, Director) starred in the Broadway musical Legally Blonde as Kate/Chutney. Past credis 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.

Amanda Talero (Teacher) spent most of her childhood as a Garden Player.  She is more commonly known for her role as Charlie in The Most Epic Birthday Party Ever and as Piano in Musicville.  Amanda then enrolled in Frank Sinatra School of the Arts for her high school career, as a vocal major.  Now, she’s returned to Garden Players, where she helps in directing students as they explore their creative liberties.  She is a recent theater graduate of City College of New York and is enjoying pursuing her acting career.

Paige Levy (Teacher / Social Media Director) is an actor and singer based in New York. A recent graduate of LaGuardia High School for Music and Art and Performing Art (better known as the ‘Fame’ school), she has nearly a decade of training in classical voice and musical theater. She is pursuing acting professionally and will be attending The Royal Central School in England as an Acting Major. Paige spent her high school years performing with pre-professional theater companies, playing roles from Julie in ‘Carousel’ to The Witch in ‘Into the Woods’. She has years of experience coaching and teaching kids acting and singing, helping her students get into acclaimed arts schools such as LaGuardia or Frank Sinatra. When not performing, Paige works in grassroots organizing. She firmly believes in the power art has to make the world a better place, and empowers those she teaches while helping them approach their work with sensitivity, care, and compassion. She is passionate about helping others grow and realize the power they hold through performing.

Julianne Abouzaid (Singer, ChoreographerGP Tuesday OCT2016-47 Julianne Circlehas 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.


Yurina Shin (Accompanist/Pianist/Arranger) is a classically trained composer who blends the richness of the classical tradition with the fast paced, moving rhythms of today. Her music has appeared in internationally acclaimed films and television shows, and has breathed life into video games, animations and commercials. Her compositions have been performed live at venues such as the Walter Reade Theater in Lincoln Center, international universities and music and art festivals around the world. Yurina holds a M.A in Film Scoring from New York University, a B.A. in Music Education from Chonnam National University and has studied orchestration at the Juilliard School in New York City.

Erin O’Sullivan (Director’s Assistant) attended LaGuardia H.S. for Drama, and came back to volunteer her time as a Garden Players assistant for the advanced classes during her junior and senior years.

Nicholas O’Sullivan (Director’s Assistant) attended LaGuardia H.S. as a Music major, and came back to volunteer his time as a Garden Players assistant for the advanced classes during his junior and senior years.

Sarah Lydon (Director’s Assistant) volunteered her time as a Garden Players assistant during her junior and senior years of H.S.

Arden Arabian (Director’s Assistant), dedicates her time helping students bring emotion to their scenes and songs. From Freshman  year at The Kew Forest High School through junior year she was a dedicated assistant.  She is best known for playing the role of Jack in Beanstalk! The Play!. She attends Saturday classes at the Young Actors Program at Strasberg in NYC where she studies method acting technique on scene and monologue work, as well as, Acting for Film and TV and Musical Theater.  When Arden is not on stage she can be found on the tennis court. Arden also plays the ukulele and dances. She attributes her passion for acting to Betina Hershey, who first instilled in her the magic of performing.

Stella DiCicco (Director’s Assistant) is an alumnae of Garden Players. She attends McGill University, pursuing her love of theater, science, and history. Stella discovered her skills from GP translated well to Speech & Debate. She credits her years with Betina as the reason she made State Championships this past year. Stella has loved working as a GP Assistant for Rising Stars and GP1. Watching the children develop new skills in improvisation, vocal projection, and portraying emotions has been such an amazing and rewarding journey. She is so proud of the hard work and energy they put into each class every week. Congratulations to both casts & the Rising Stars on a job well done!

Chie Monoe (Accompanist/Pianist) is from Tokyo, Japan. During her education at Tokyo College of Music, she studied various types of music ranging from Classical and Japanese traditional to wide array of world genres. After relocating to New York, she has been expanding her musical horizons adding new genres and styles to her repertoire. Alongside her solo carrier as a piano performer, Chie has been actively playing with a variety of artists and performers. As a piano player, she has performed in the Off Broadway musical “The Zombies: A Musical” and “Angie Jackson” as well as local comedy shows. As an accompanist and associate music director, she has performed with the award winning group, The New York African Chorus Ensemble and as a keyboard player, she has performed with the Bodoma Garifuna Culture Band.