Applause! Faculty

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Sara Croninger

Sara has a B.A. in Theater from Meredith College. She has choreographed for The Round Barn at Amish Acres in Nappanee, IN, and performed in Grease, Marvelous Wonderettes, and four national tours of A Christmas Carol with Nebraska Theatre Caravan. 

Elizabeth Evert Smith

Liz studied drama at the Long Island, NY High School of the Performing Arts, Lee Strasberg Theater Institute in New York City, Herbert Bergdorf Studio, and The Real Stage. Liz has performed as an actor in numerous venues, was a founding member of the Rogue Theater Company, and has been teaching, coaching, and directing professional and student actors for nearly 20 years.  

Julia Fair

Julia brings over 13 years of experience in music and theatre education and is the co-founder of Atomic City Children’s Theater in Los Alamos, NM where she directed more than ten productions. Since moving to NC, Julia founded Right On Cue Kids Theater, and has performed with the NC Opera, RLT, NRACT, Cary Players, and the Oakwood Waits.

Barbette Hunter

Barbette holds a B.A. from NC State University and has over 25 years of experience working as a director, stage manager, and award-winning professional actress in theater, film, TV, and radio. Barbette has been teaching theater for youth at Applause! and Raleigh Little Theatre for over ten years. 

Sean Jaenicke

Sean has a B.S. from UNC-Pembroke and an M.F.A. from Tulane University, both in musical theater. He works in theater professionally in the southeast region throughout the year. He is excited to share his love for the stage with everyone!

Katy Koop

Katy is a Cary-based writer, actor and stage manager. She has a B.A. in English and Theater from Meredith College. When not working with Applause!, she works onstage and off with Justice Theatre Project, Bare Theatre, ComedyWorx, and Sonorous Road.

Barb Lentz

Barb has been immersed in the arts since she was a student at the University of Toledo. Barb’s background ranges from contemporary dance, to visual arts, to ceramics, to floral design, to tumbling, to drama. A preschool teacher for nearly 20 years, Barb brings her creativity and love for teaching to Applause!.

Ashley Peak

Ashley holds a B.A. in Musical Theatre from Meredith College and has been a designer, painter, teacher, and actor for the last 10 years. In addition to teaching for Applause!, Ashley paints at the Shepherds Studio in Raleigh. Ashley’s favorite thing in the world is watching kids enjoy art in all its forms.  

Tony Pender 

Tony is an award-winning performer, director, and designer who has developed and taught educational programs and workshops in NC and GA. Tony studied theatre and acting at UNC-Wilmington and NC School of the Arts, and has worked extensively on and off stage throughout the southeast.   

Athena Reaves

Athena has her Masters in Theater Education from UNC-Greensboro and has taught high school theater for over 11 years. She has directed multiple shows, taught camps with multiple theater companies in the Raleigh area, and has acted in local community and professional plays. 

Ben Slate

Ben holds an M.A. in theater and is pursuing a doctorate in interdisciplinary fine arts. He has nearly 20 years’ teaching experience from preschool-age to the university level, and has also worked as an actor, director, playwright, and designer.

Maura Stewart

Maura holds a B.A. from UNC-Chapel Hill and M.F.A. in fashion design from SCAD. An instructor in the fashion marketing department at the Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham, Maura is working on her own collection of whimsical party dresses and ready-to-wear clothing.

Stacie Whitley

Stacie is a graduate of Meredith College's theater arts program and has her Master’s in Public Administration from NC State University. Stacie has worked professionally as an actor, technician, and director for Tecumseh! in Chillicothe, OH, College Light Opera Company in West Falmouth, MA, and White Iris Light Opera Company in Raleigh, NC.  

Renee Wimberley

Renee is a local teaching artist, director, actor, and arts integration advocate. She has taught drama to students from kindergarten to college-age in community theaters, Missoula Children’s Theatre, and in various NC school systems and universities. Renee is creative director of Seed Art Share where she produces site-specific plays, teaches arts integration programs, and creates opportunities for families to experience art together.