Notables in Performing Arts – September 2023

Movers & Makers asked organizations involved in the performing arts to introduce their notables to our readers, part of a regular feature highlighting people making a difference in Greater Cincinnati’s nonprofit community. 

Christy Samad
Christy Samad

Christy Samad manages 3CDC’s many civic spaces for all to enjoy

The Cincinnati entertainment scene would not be nearly as vibrant, creative or expansive without Christy Samad, senior vice president of event management for Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. Under Samad’s leadership, 3CDC has become one of the biggest event programmers in the city, annually hosting nearly 1,600 free, family-friendly events at six 3CDC-managed civic spaces – Fountain Square, Washington Park, Memorial Hall, Ziegler Park, Court Street Plaza and Imagination Alley. Her team also provides support and infrastructure for hundreds of events hosted by third parties at these spaces. The 3CDC events team puts on a wide variety of events, from staples like Friday Flow at Washington Park and Salsa On the Square to new endeavors like Memorial Hall’s Reflection series featuring BIPOC artists. In her free time, Samad loves spending time with her family and expressing her creativity by painting wall murals in her daughters’ rooms.

Candice Handy
Candice Handy

Director-actor Candice Handy leads educational programs for Cincy Shakes

Candice Handy is in her third season as Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s education director in charge of programs that include PROJECT38, tours and workshops in schools, and educational matinees reaching nearly 25,000 students a year. She is also an actor, director and teaching artist. Handy was last seen in CSC’s productions of “Trouble in Mind,” “As You Like It,” “King Lear,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “All the Way.” Handy recently directed CSC’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and will be directing CSC’s 2024 production of James Baldwin’s “The Amen Corner.” She was the creative director for the Educational Theatre Association project, Finding Voice-New Works for Young Theatre Artists of Color, and is the founder of Cincinnati Black Theatre Artist Collective. In her free time, she likes to play piano. 

Caroline Sackleh
Caroline Sackleh

Caroline Sackleh creates ensemble to celebrate women’s musicianship

Caroline Sackleh is the founder and director of New Downbeat, a new-music collective that features women musicians performing works exclusively by living composers. She most recently received her doctorate in bassoon performance from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music with a cognate in chamber music, which is where the idea for New Downbeat came alive. Founded in 2019, this collective began as a group of like-minded, classically trained musicians and composers who wanted more – to create performance opportunities that celebrate women’s musicianship and to collaborate with living composers to create something special. Now entering its fifth season, New Downbeat has commissioned and premiered over 40 solo and chamber works. The roster includes 21 musicians and six composers, administered by Sackleh and associate director Alexis Shambley. In her free time, Sackleh enjoys gardening, knitting and exploring outside.

Daniel Parsley
Daniel Parsley

Daniel Parsley key force in expanding orchestra’s programming, relationships

Daniel Parsley, associate conductor of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, has been a key driving force in expanding the CCO’s programming to reach more diverse audiences through the We Are One festival series as well as the Walk with Little Amal. These projects have elevated the CCO’s status not just as an arts organization, but as a nonprofit serving its community’s members. Parsley also has helped foster artistic relationships for the CCO with partner organizations, including several vocal-based ensembles, given his own pedigree in vocal music. Parsley is a fitness enthusiast and enjoys kayaking. He also loves to cook and experiment with food of all cuisines and cultures. In fact, at the age of 33, Parsley has visited 34 countries for professional, academic and leisure opportunities. He loves experiencing new cultures, cuisines and landscapes, and bringing these influences back to his work with the CCO.

Isaac Selya
Isaac Selya

Isaac Selya eyes partnerships that resonate beyond the opera stage 

Isaac Selya, Queen City Opera founder, is notable for his entrepreneurial vision: He created the company from scratch, including its orchestra, and spearheaded innovative collaborations with the Ohio Innocence Project, the Nancy and David Wolf Holocaust and Humanity Center, Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired and many others. His upcoming world premiere reconstruction of Tchaikovsky’s lost eco-opera “Undina” is a collaboration with Green Umbrella and the Cincinnati Nature Conservancy. He enjoys coffee, exercise, vegetarian cooking and reading science news. He has studied eight languages, and he owns more pairs of red shoes than can fit in his closet. He is very talented at Nintendo games, although he does not have as much time to play them as he did in his youth, when his parents bribed him to practice the cello more by buying him video games. He has three cats: Tosca, Aida and Tamino. 

Doug Lillibridge
Doug Lillibridge

TV producer Doug Lillibridge doubles as advocate for local jazz

Doug Lillibridge serves as the executive producer at Channel 12 during the day, but at night you can find him rooting for the local sports teams or enjoying jazz across the Tristate. He serves as board president for the Cincinnati Contemporary Jazz Orchestra and board member for the Cincinnati Jazz Hall of Fame. In his role with CCJO, Lillibridge helps drive the organization’s fundraising efforts and serves as an ambassador for jazz in Cincinnati, including having launched the increasingly popular Cincinnati Community Jazz Calendar. Lillibridge has also helped the CCJO bring live jazz to Fountain Square every Tuesday night this summer, scheduling a variety of performers to present a wide range of themes and musical styles. Lillibridge may have the “NOOZGUY” license plate, but perhaps “JAZZGUY” would be equally appropriate.

Allison Kropp
Allison Kropp

Allison H. Kropp helps lead CTC in Emery Theater restoration

Allison H. Kropp is a community volunteer and former partner, of counsel, at the law firm of Dinsmore and Shohl. A member of The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati’s board of trustees since 2014, Kropp was recently appointed chairman. She has served as co-chair for TCT’s A Crown for the Queen City campaign to raise $48 million to reimagine and restore the Emery Theater as TCT’s permanent MainStage home and state-of-the-art venue. While at Dinsmore, Kropp focused on advising nonprofit and tax-exempt organizations on operational and compliance issues, along with board governance practices. Kropp is the vice chair of Cincinnati Museum Center’s board, the vice chair of the Pro Bono Partnership of Ohio, and recently joined The Christ Hospital Foundation board. Kropp loves to read and spend time with her children. She enjoys the outdoors and loves Cincinnati, and she was on the Uncle Al Show when she was a child. 

Meridith Benson
Meridith Benson

Creativity, inclusivity hallmarks of De La Dance’s Meridith Benson

Meridith Benson’s impact on the mission of De La Dance Company is remarkable. Benson has exerted her influence on the company as co-director, and has helped orchestrate a blend of creativity and vision, propelling the company to new heights of artistic excellence, innovation and inclusivity. Through her vision, De La Dance stands as a beacon of diversity and inclusivity in the Cincinnati arts scene. Its mission is woven into every aspect of its existence, from the works on stage, to the composition of its dancers, staff, and board. Benson is a nationally sought-out teacher, coach, and choreographer. Her passion for nurturing the next generation of dancers makes her an influential figure in the dance community. Alongside her busy career, she has managed to raise four children, exemplifying the power of determination and resilience.

Angela Williamson
Angela Williamson

‘Wonder Woman’ Angela Williamson  keeps orchestra running smoothly

Angela Williamson, general manager and CFO of the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, has helped power the KSO since she signed on as an intern in 1996. A former CPA, Williamson built and installed the KSO’s recordkeeping systems and databases (which she maintains today). She has overseen KSO galas and still runs the front of house at all KSO concerts, managing volunteers, ticketing and concessions, even chasing buses at KSO education concerts and selling popcorn at summer shows. Occasionally you may even see Williamson on stage singing with the KSO. Many think she is related to Lynda Carter (TV’s Wonder Woman). Williamson married both her job and her husband, KSO founder and Music Director J.R. Cassidy. 

Joanie Schultz
Joanie Schultz

Joanie Schultz has profound impact on array of Playhouse productions

Joanie Schultz is in her third season as associate artistic director at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. Her impact is profound, as she supervises all the organization’s artistic and educational programs. She assembles creative teams for each production, conducts national and local casting, and works on season selection with the Playhouse team. As a resident director, she helmed recent productions of “Frida: A Self Portrait” and the world premiere of “Origin Story.” This coming season, she serves as co-writer and co-director of the new production of “Dracula.” Schultz lives in Northside with her puppy, Apollo. She’s loving getting to know the Cincinnati community, where she has felt so welcomed. 

Cat Dixon
Cat Dixon

Cat Dixon rallies community to celebrate choral music

Cat Dixon is director of advancement and engagement for the Vocal Arts Ensemble and the May Festival, charged with raising funds and growing audiences to support these Cincinnati choral music institutions. Dixon was instrumental to the success of the May Festival’s 150th anniversary season of celebrations, planning and executing special events and projects throughout the year to complement the 2023 season of performances. Her work facilitated the 25 for 25 Launch Party, Community Choral Showcase, and the CET Documentary “The City that Sings: Cincinnati’s May Festival,” in addition to smaller touches to enhance the anniversary festivities. When she’s not rallying the community in support of the May Festival and Vocal Arts Ensemble, Dixon enjoys spending quality time and traveling with her husband and two children. The Dixons are always looking for the next natural wonder or urban oddity to explore.

Jemannie Severson Luong
Jemannie Severson Luong

Opera’s Jemannie Severson Luong uses arts to help enrich children’s experiences

Jemannie Severson Luong is the education manager for Cincinnati Opera and the owner of Picnic Party Cincinnati. Luong’s passion is to provide young people with meaningful childhood experiences and opportunities for educational growth through the arts. She especially aspires to provide opportunities to underserved youth, with a strong emphasis on Spanish-speaking youth and children of immigrant families. As an advocate of diversity, equity and inclusion, Luong uses her M.A. in communication from the University of Cincinnati to study effective methods for organizations to incorporate DEI practices into their workspace. Luong speaks English, Spanish and Cantonese Chinese. She is also a wife, new mom and dog mom. Her favorite thing to do when she’s not working is being a homemaker – cooking, cleaning and making her home comfortable brings her peace. She is a huge fan of salsa dancing and is a very good parallel parker.

Tyler Gabbard
Tyler Gabbard

Under new director Tyler Gabbard, Carnegie breaks attendance records

In his first three months as theater director, Tyler Gabbard smashed sales records at The Carnegie. “Singin’ in the Rain” outsold any previous production in the theater’s history. Not long after, “Kinky Boots” broke records again, selling out almost every performance and becoming the second highest-grossing production in Carnegie sales. Gabbard received a 2023 Next Generation Leader Award in the Arts, Entertainment & Hospitality category through the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. Gabbard isn’t just an administrator, he’s also an artist. For over a decade, he worked as a scenic designer at The Carnegie and other institutions. In his free time, Gabbard enjoys supporting the vibrant local arts communities. This includes attending local and national theater performances, checking out exhibition openings, and participating in the endless flow of arts programming happening across the region.