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  Our Teachers 

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Mary Joy Nelson

Dr. Nelson is the Founding Executive Director of InnOVATION Arts Academy. Previously, she founded the A.C.E. Preparatory program and Broadway Bound Summer Camps at the University of Kentucky, where she completed her DMA in vocal performance. Several students in her programs have landed major roles in national Broadway productions in recent years (Emily Hoder, Audrey Bennett, Brooklyn Shuck, Kyla Carter). She has been teaching youth and children in the performing arts for over 20 years and currently works at InnOVATION as an administrator, producer, director and music director.  She teaches students in Lexington, New York, LA, and Florida in voice, acting and audition techniques.

Liz Meredith

Liz Meredith is a life long theatre artist and performer. She began acting in her hometown of Harrodsburg, KY. After many years of pre professional training, she completed a BFA in Musical Theatre from The University of Utah in 2021. There she worked the Department of Theatre and served on the University wide grant board. While at university, she found a love for directing and teaching, leading her to assistant direct three university shows. She currently teaches private voice lessons and runs a small women's clothing boutique. In addition, she is Innovation Arts Academy's  Associate Program Administrator.  

Courtney Smith

Courtney Smith is a recent graduate of the University of Kentucky with a BA in theatre and an interdisciplinary arts minor. Despite being more music oriented, she fell in love with theatre after being in her high school’s production of High School Musical: The Musical, which kicked off her

involvement in various shows including The Music Man (Maud Dunlop), Xanadu (Euterpe) with the Appalachian Arts Center, and many more. Her time at UK can be well defined by her versatility- being involved in choral programs such as the Women’s Choir, Choristers, the auditioned Chamber Choir, and the auditioned acapella group Bluenote, being involved in theatre productions such as Bright Star (Mamma Cane/Ensemble), and involvement in the Opera Program’s productions of Showboat, It’s a Grand Night for Singing, and Bounce: The Opera. Courtney was the librarian, section leader, and co-president of the UK Choristers during her time there. She also performed at KMEA with Choristers and at ACDA with the Women’s Choir in the spring of 2022. Courtney wishes to connect with and inspire others through music and theatre and can’t wait for what the future holds!

Stephanie Valentino

Stephanie Valentino has been dancing, singing, and performing in Lexington, KY for the majority of her life. Stephanie has taught dance and choreographed at the Academy for Creative Excellence, Stage Right Acting, and Innovation Arts Academy. She has also worked on countless productions at many of Fayette County's public schools. During the school year, she teaches English Language Learners at Yates Elementary. Some of her favorite performance credits include Margot in Legally Blonde the Musical and Tinkerbell in Peter Pan. Some of Stephanie's favorite choreography projects include Xanadu Jr., Matilda, and 13 Jr.

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Erin Tuttle

Erin Leland Tuttle has been teaching music and theatre to young artists for over 20 years. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Music Education and a Master's Degree in Education with an emphasis in music and theatre. Over the years she has taught in elementary music and theatre classrooms, in her own music studio, in local theatres, with special needs choir groups, and as a contracted musical theatre director and director in local theatres and schools. Erin and her husband, Mike, have two bands: Station 22 ½ (their successful cover band that performs all over Central Kentucky) and Her Clever Machine (their originals band). They have two sons: Xander, who performs with Innovation Arts and writes/produces his own music and Addison, who attends The University of Kentucky in the Musical Theatre program. Erin loves working at Innovation and with the Innovation Arts Academy family! 

Grace Hensley

Grace Hensley discovered musical theater in 3rd grade thanks to Mary Joy. Now Grace is starting a double major in Theater and Elementary Education at the University of Kentucky, with a Musical Theatre Certificate. She attended the KY Governor’s Scholar Program with a focus on Dramatic Expression (2020) and graduated from TCHS with a Full International Baccalaureate diploma. Grace has studied dance (ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop) since 2011 and was on the TCHS Dance Team for four years. As a student choreographer, Grace choreographed “Dear Edwina” in 8th grade (TCMS) and “Madagascar Jr” for JTF. Fun fact: Grace has attended JTF every year Mary Joy has taken a group—10 years straight!—and can’t wait to take her own company one day! Favorite roles include Jojo in Suessical, Ariel in Little Mermaid Jr, and Kira in Xanadu Jr.

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Bailey Angel

Bailey Angel graduated from Belmont University with a BFA in Theatre Performance and a minor in Public Relations. While at Belmont, she received an Irene Ryan nomination from KCACTF for her performance as Amy March in Little Women. Originally from Kentucky, Bailey was an Actor for Pioneer Playhouse and worked in the Education Department at Lexington Children’s Theatre. Recently, she taught theatre at Maples Repertory Theatre (MRT). Bailey performed in and directed touring TYA productions with the Belmont Repertory Company and MRT. In addition to teaching acting at InnOVATION, Bailey is the current Marketing Coordinator at The Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center and is a Character Performer for Once Upon a Dream Tea Room and Princess Entertainment. 

Joanna Schnurman

Joanna Schnurman has taught voice lessons and audition techniques to students of all ages using Julliard-certified methods for over a decade.  She is an alumnus of the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre and has received vocal instruction for 25 years. Using this experience, Joanna brings individualized solutions to each of her students and brings their unique talents to the next level. Her students have gone on to attend prestigious institutions such as Interlochen Center for the Arts and Pennsylvania School of the Performing Arts; and have booked national commercials, voiceover work, and principal theater roles.  

Danielle Hughes

Danielle fell in love with theatre at the age of five after performing in the Music Man in Woodford County, leading to a childhood of performing shows all over the Bluegrass. After earning her Musical Theatre degree at Berry College in Rome, GA, she earned a contract with the California Theatre Center, allowing her to tour professionally all over the west coast. She returned to Lexington in 2010 and transitioned into teaching, earning her certificate for K-5 at Asbury University. More recently, she has also been able to focus on directing and giving back to the younger theatre generation through various outlets. Favorite performance credits include: The Secret Garden (Mary Lennox), The Tempest (Ariel), and Bus Stop (Elma). She recently directed: You Can't Take it With You, The Curious Savage, Charlotte's Web, and Father of the Bride. Danielle loves teaching acting classes and sharing her passion with all of these wonderful Innovation students.

Colleen Ireland

Colleen Ireland comes from the Garden State of New Jersey. She has performed throughout the United States and internationally, showcasing her talents in a variety of styles of dance. Highlights of her professional career include sharing the stage with Andrea McArdle who played Annie in the original Broadway cast; As a professional dancer, Colleen starred as Cleopatra at Caesars Palace in Atlantic city, New Jersey and opened for The Apprentice in Atlantic city. Mrs. Ireland has shared her love of dance showing love in orphanages in Russia, China, and Jamaica. She has taught dance and has choreographed for the Northern Kentucky
Theatre and Dance Department, The Cincinnati Ballet Academy and the School for the Creative and Performing Arts in Lexington, KY. Colleen holds her Bachelor of Arts in Dance from Northern Kentucky University. She has spent summers training at the Boston Ballet and Ballet Magnificat in Jackson, Mississippi.

Chelsea Russell

Chelsea is a recent graduate of the University of Kentucky, with majors in Theatre and Arts Administration, a Mathematics minor, and a Musical Theatre Certificate. While she is primarily an actress, she also has experience as a director, stage manager, fight director/captain, teacher, and arts administrator. She is certified in 6 of the 8 weapons offered by the Society of American Fight Directors, and is a certified Actor Combatant with the SAFD. Favorite performance credits include A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Hermia), The Watsons (Laura), Cabaret (Kit Kat), Into the Woods (Milky White/Little Red u/s), and The Wolves (#2). She is honored to have worked with companies like the National Women's Theatre Festival, Distilled Theatre Company, Merit Theatre Company, Studio Players, UK Opera Theatre, and UK Department of Theatre and Dance. She is currently based in Lexington, KY, works as a Project Manager for Storyboard Media (Durham, NC) by day, and serves as the Director of Operations for the National Women’s Theatre Festival (Raleigh, NC), Associate Program Coordinator for InnOVATION, and holds a variety of other freelance positions.

Isaac Jones

Isaac is a Lexington-based music director, vocal coach, director, pianist, and choreographer. In addition to spending 9 years in the high school classroom and in the church as a choir section leader, he has conducted and supervised a number of shows in the central Kentucky region since 2013. Currently, Isaac is focused on music composition and arranging, with an emphasis on table top and adventure role playing games. A graduate of the University of Kentucky, he is very excited to join the staff of InnOVATION Arts Academy and looks forward to working with promising young talents!

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